We have just returned from a trip to Northern Italy where we took (a small) part in an annual race series, the Lake Orta 10 in 10. This was our second time running at Lake Orta – we were there two years ago in 2017 when Cam was recovering from a tibial stress fracture, so the memories of that trip were slightly overshadowed by concerns about her recovery. During our recent visit we were reminded of what a brilliant event this actually was and thought that others might be interested in hearing more about it.
Lake Orta is a little-known lake in the Piedmont region of northern Italy just 20k west of the better-known Lake Maggiore. It is a magical place of quiet beauty. (Our photos do not do it justice.) The waters are crystal clear and the wooded shoreline is dotted with tiny secluded beaches. Orta San Giulio is a picturesque town built on a hilly peninsula jutting into the lake. With its maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with warm ochre and sand coloured buildings it is like something out of a film set, but it’s the small Isola San Giulio, some 500 metres from the shore, that adds the special something to the scene. The island is dominated by a Romanesque Basilica which is now a Benedictine abbey.
Add to this the majestic backdrop of the foothills of the alps, and every turn rewards with stunning views.
The main square in Orta San Giulio
One of the steep cobbled streets in the town
The beautiful Isola San Giulio as seen from the shore
Orta 10 in 10 is a race event series put on by the Supermarathon club D’Italia. Over a period of 10 days you can choose to run 10 10k’s, 10 half marathons, 10 marathons, 10 ultra marathons or any number or mix of the above. Signing up in advance gets you a price reduction and signing for ’10 in 10’ gets you a further discount but there are also places available of the day for those unsure of what they would like to do.
The course itself is a 21k out and back so a marathon involves running it twice but with stunning views, pretty villages and even convenient places to take a cooling dip in the water, there is plenty to keep your interest.
We found the races to be very reasonably priced. The race fee includes chip timing, an interlocking medal, well stocked aid stations and a dish of pasta at the finish. The start/finish is at the Lido Gozzano where there are shower facilities or the opportunity of a post race swim.
One of the quirky aspects of the race is the supporters / helpers who hang around race HQ finding entertainment in the daily race drama. They are made up of local people of all ages, and form a very enthusiastic crowd. The resident photographer uploads thousands of photographs onto the race Facebook site (Club Super Marathon Italia).
The race director Paulo Gino, President of the Clubsupermarathon of Italy, also arranges excursions in the evenings during the event. We took the boat trip to explore the beautiful Isola San Giuliano, and to eat at the island’s only restaurant.
A medical certificate is necessary for runners (this is Italian Law) but if you are a member of a running club in the UK and are UK Athletics affiliated, then the medical certificate is not necessary.
We flew to Milan Malpensa and hired a car for the 46k drive to the Lake and for getting to and from the event each day. The trip can be done without a car but it is more restricting. See the event official website for accommodation and travel information, including some free lodging for a limited number of 10 in 10 participants and a very economical race hotel that provides breakfast and evening meal at a very low cost.
There is also a camp site with good facilities such drying rooms etc very close by. There are other reasonably priced hotels in the area if you have transport. We stayed at the L’Approdo in the town of Pettenasco, a 12 minute drive from the race start/finish.
Being Italy there are plenty of restaurants serving very good food at reasonable prices.
Our hotel restaurant over looking the lake
The Venus restaurant in the main square of Orta
Sant’Antonio, another lake front restaurant just 10 minutes drive from the race village.
The course is a mixture of road and trail, and is very varied. It starts off flat but has undulations along the way. Winding through birch and chestnut woodland, it skirts the lakeside and passes through pretty villages. The lake is never far away and offers possibilities for a mid-race dip at a number of small isolated beaches. The views of the island and the mountains beyond are spectacular.
There are aid stations at approximately 5k and 10k on the way out. These are a delight, with water melons, tomatoes in salt and balsamic vinegar, water, electrolyte drinks, coke, beer, fruit, nuts and biscuits.
The turn round point is at Ronco, a tiny village which is literally the end of the road. But the road ends in a steep down-and-up loop, with a timing mat at the bottom so there’s no option for a shortcut!
As well as visiting the two aid stations twice each, along the route there are water fountains and pipes fed by mountain springs with very cold water for both drinking and splashing. There are also roadside cafes to buy drinks and snacks if necessary – or ice lollies on hot days.
Although the marathon course is two out-and-backs, the ever-changing scenery of the lake and mountains beyond, the aspects of village life, the goings-on on the lake, and the constant stream of other runners doing their own thing in their own time keeps interest levels high. The other ever-changing aspect of the course is the weather, as we will talk about next.
In the early kilometres the route passes along the wooded lake shore
One of the many bathing spots en route
The pretty village of Pella is entered just before the climb
We have found the weather in the Piedmont region to be very variable in August. One day can be 30+ degrees and clear blue skies, the next torrential rain and thunder storms. The mornings can be cloudy and a cool 20 degrees, the afternoons clear and baking hot. You can start off in the sun and end up running along rivers that used to be roads. The next day they are miraculously dry again.
The weather forecast isn’t much help. During the 5 days we were there we had all of the above. This all helps to make the event more interesting.
Clouds sitting low on the hills
A warm, sunny beach day
One of the wetter days
Although mainly Italian, runners from a number of different countries participated in the event, including other Europeans, Americans and Australians. The race is full of characters, as is often the case in these multi-marathon events. On this our second visit in three years we recognised some of the ever-present regulars.
The UK’s own Adam Holland (an Orta regular) currently holds the marathon course record, though this year he lost it and had to regain it again from one of the speedier Italian runners. The record now stands at 2:36:39. Adam has also set an unofficial world ’10 in 10′ marathon record of 27:38:36 on this course
All abilities are represented in the event, which has a generous 8-hour cutoff. This year, 90 plus year old Angelo Squadrone completed the ’10 in 10′ half marathons. 50+ Laura Failli ran ’10 in 10′ ultras. And no less impressive, Alan Lovell from the UK ran his first ’10 in 10′ 10k’s. There were some incredible performances. To name but a few.
And the there are others like ourselves who dip in and out doing runs on just a few days, but are still made to feel incredibly welcome and very much part of the whole event.
Some of this years runners including Adam Holland (top centre) overall 10 in 10 marathon series winner and course record holder. Presidente Paolo Gino (top left), Michalangelo (bottom left), Alan Lovell (bottom centre), Lua and Zara (top right) and Laura (bottom right).
We travelled out to Orta with the aim of trying to boost our endurance since taking a break after Comrades without it being too taxing; as we have said before we are not particular fans of long training runs. We planned to run three days.
On the first day we both ran marathons. The weather was reasonably cool to start off with a fair amount of cloud, but it got hotter as the morning progressed and the sun burnt the cloud away. Cam ran 4:04 and came in first lady. Jacquie ran 4:40 and came 4th (some of the other runners had already been running for 3 days).
We woke up on the second day to rain and thunder storms which got so much worse as the day went on. Cam ran a 3:58 marathon (first lady again) and Jacquie a 2:29 half, stopping to avoid getting too cold as the conditions worsened. We don’t know how the other runners – some taking 7:30 hours – managed to stay out and complete their events in appalling conditions, but many of them did.
The next day the sun was out, Cam had a few niggles and a blister. Jacquie was weary of running in the heat. As we wanted to come away fit to train for our Autumn marathon, we made what we thought was a sensible choice and decided to walk the course together. We thought it would be a good chance to admire the views and to take some photos.
Having walked every step we were delighted to finish in just over 6 hours but we definitely felt the difference the next morning. We ached far more after fast walking than after running and were very aware of the different muscles used. Nevertheless, a reasonably successful outcome as far as we were both concerned.
Cam out en route in Pella
Jacquie pleased to have finish the half marathon on the second day
The half way point during our marathon walk.
We will definitely go back to Lake Orta to run in future years. And If you are looking to run in August and enjoy low-key events, then we thoroughly recommend the Lake Orta series. They are reasonably priced races, friendly and flexible, and take place on a stunning and varied course.
For those who are unsure about running in Italy in August, it is probably worth mentioning that there is also a Lake Orta quadrathon in April – 4 marathons on 4 different courses – that runners might like to consider.
If anyone has questions please contact us and if we can’t answer them we can put you in touch with someone who can.
Another enjoyable trip is over. Next up is something different – we are off to Berlin in September but this time as supporters. Should be really good fun!