Addio un grande campione! Addio Donald Ritchie

giugno 17, 2018 in NEWS

Oggi ha lasciato la vita terrena l’amico, un grande ultramaratoneta scozzese, Donald Ritchie, che ha contribuito a renderla più importante e internazionale la nostra 100 km del Passatore vincendola negli anni 1979 e 1980.
Donald Ritchie, mantiene ancora attualmente il record mondiale della 100 km in pista di 6h, 10m, 20s realizzato a Londra nel lontano 28 Ottobre 1978.

A.S.D. 100 km del Passatore


In March 1979 I received an invitation from Giors Oneto to participate in a 101.5 km race from Firenze (Florence) to Faenza. As I had not visited Italy before, I readily accepted the invitation to this race to be held on a Saturday near the end of May. To reach Faenza from Firenze the Appenines have to be crossed, and the race was named ‘Del Passatorie’ after a bandit who operated in those mountains. Passatorie from what I gather was a Robin Hood sort of character.

The arrangement for this race was that I should organise my own travel, and would be reimbursed in Faenza. Following some correspondence with Giors I established that there was no airport in Firenze, so I would have to fly to Milan then take the train.

Arrangements were made for travel and soon departure date arrived. From Elgin the train to Aberdeen was followed by a bus to the airport and then the flight to London. This part of the journey had already occupied some six hours. Next there was the flight to Linatie airport at Milan. From there I got a bus into the city and managed to locate the Central Station. By now it was 8 p.m. and I found that the next train to Firenze was at 9.30 p.m.

My next priority was to get some food, so I headed off to see what I could find. A restaurant provided spaghetti something de Mar which I deduced should be some seafood. It turned out to be spaghetti mixed with a sauce containing a sort of shellfish hotch-potch including the shells. There was quite a variety of shells, some of which, including the razor and mussel, I recognised. Some had edible bits inside, or at least remains, but mostly they were empty. I also found bits of chopped-up octopus tentacles in there. It was quite a change from Luigi’s fish and chips at home. Once I had reduced this course to shells only, I finished off with some excellent ice cream and fresh strawberries.  

Suitably refuelled, I returned to the station, purchased my ticket and carefully located the correct train. Although it was half an hour before departure time the train was packed and there were people in every corner. Train travel was inexpensive here so I expect this accounted for the popularity. I resigned myself to a long stand in the stifling heat.


We got underway exactly on time, and the draught through the open windows, caused by the train’s motion, reduced the discomfort caused by the heat. Eventually after a tedious journey Firenze was reached. It was now half past midnight and I had to find my hotel. Clutching the letter from Giors with the name of the hotel on it, I sallied forth. There were several police in and around the station, but they did not seem the type you ask directions from: they were wearing bullet-proof waistcoats and carrying sub-machine guns. Later I found one with only a pistol so I asked him. He could not speak English and I could not speak Italian but despite this he was able to indicate the general direction to go in. Further directions were sought from one of several painted ladies I passed and I found the hotel or at least a door with the sign ‘Melegano’ above it. What a relief; I had been travelling since 6.30 a.m. and it was now 1 a.m.


After repeated bell ringing the door was unlocked and opened by a sad- looking man with a very pale complexion, who was wearing a striped nightshirt and spectacles with very thick lenses. I showed him the letter, he looked at it and then said, “No English”, which I took to mean he could not understand or speak English. He did have a few words of English, such as ‘Hotel full’ and ‘you tomorrow’. It was clear that he was not going to invite me in or suggest any alternatives. As he closed and locked the door, I thought to myself ‘this is another fine mess I have got into’.


I decided the best thing to do was to return to the Railway Station and make use of the waiting room. The station is a very grand building with marble floors and many marble pillars supporting marble arches and the roof.  Even the benches in the waiting room were marble. It was fairly crowded in there but I got a bit of bench. Some people were stretched out on the benches sleeping soundly and snoring profusely; others were in sleeping bags on the floor; while some played cards, smoked and drank wine.


During the remainder of the night, I managed to doze off a couple of times. At about 7 a.m. there was a stir as the cafeteria at one side of the room began to open up. It took me some time to establish the system for obtaining some food. You had to go to the cash desk and pay for the items you wished to have. You then get a receipt which you present to the assistant behind the service counter. She then hands over the required item without having to touch the unhygienic money. I managed to get the equivalent of a buttery roll and a cup of coffee. 

 I could now relax a little, knowing my kit was on the bus and that my support was organised, so I went off to find some shade from the blazing sun. The temperature was about 32 degrees centigrade.

There was quite a carnival atmosphere with a band playing traditional music, and a group performing with huge whips which they cracked loudly.

I found some shady steps and sat down and began sipping from my pre-race bottle. While packing for the trip at home, I found that I was short of a few drinks bottles so I took whatever was available, including an empty half-bottle labelled Smirnoff Vodka. This served as my pre-race container.  

A reporter from one of the Italian Athletics magazines recognised me and began to ask for some information such as: how would I run in the race? How had I prepared? What did I think about Firenze? What did I think about Vito Mileto? Etc. As I had never heard of Mileto, he explained that this was the winner of the race last year and the year before that. Finally he asked what I was drinking on such a warm afternoon. Being in a rather flippant mood by now, I just pointed to the label on the half-bottle containing the colourless glucose polymer solution. He noted it down in his pad with a rather puzzled look on his face. Perhaps he thought it was a refinement of the carbohydrate loading diet.  

Once he had exhausted his questions and gone, I made my way to find a toilet, for a final pre-race check. These were hard to come by, but I managed to use the facilities in a café off the Piazza. On emerging from the café, a reporter with a camera crew from a local TV station recognised me and wanted to interview me. I was reluctant as it was now only fifteen minutes before departure time, but agreed when it was pointed out it would only take a few minutes. About five minutes later, the interview completed, I made my way to the start line, and observed that there appeared to be a lot less runners in the Piazza now. I reached the front row with a couple of minutes to spare. Ahead was the lead car containing the starter, who was standing so that his torso was protruding through the sun roof. He was holding a stopwatch in one hand and a raised flag in the other. On either side of the car were police motor cyclists who kept revving the engines of their Moto Guzzis impatiently. As the 4 p.m. start time grew closer and closer, the tension heightened as a sixty second countdown was started and the revving became more vigorous and more frequent. Suddenly the tension was released as the flag dropped and we surged forward, after the speeding car and the motor cyclists.  

After about 2 km I was joint leader with a tall thin Italian, and we continued to pull away from the rest. Just before the climb out of the city began at around 5 km, I was surprised to overtake some runners wearing race numbers. They were jogging and as we continued the 900 feet zigzag up to Fisole, we passed increasing numbers of these joggers. I could not understand how this had occurred. At first I thought that somehow we had gone off course and ended up doing a loop, and were now passing through the field. I abandoned this notion and decided that the less serious runners, who just wanted to complete the course before the cut-off time, midday tomorrow, had set off a little early. By the time I reached Fisole at 10 km, I must have passed about 1500 runners struggling on the stiff climb. My cyclist met me there and he gave me my first drink with an anxious look. “Prima fifteen minutes,” he said. “No, I am Prima,” I said. He repeated his information, and I suddenly realised that it was not only the joggers who had got underway prematurely.

I was furious, and immediately increased my pace. In my early days, I used to run handicap races: quarter, half and mile races at Highland Games, but I never dreamed that I would do a 101.5 km handicap race. The course now undulated and on sections I could see runners, not so many now, various distances ahead. As I caught these up one by one, it was obvious that they were not joggers. I began to think that my pace may be suicidal in the warm conditions, but these thoughts were ignored, and I continued my anger-driven charge.  

After Vetta le Croci at 23 km, and a height of 1560 feet, the route descends into the next valley, and there was some shade. At about 30 km I caught and passed one of the French runners. “You have a problem?” he asked as I swept past. I did not attempt to explain and simply grunted yes.  

In Borgo San Lorenzo at 35 km it seemed like the entire population had come out to cheer the runners on. The main street appeared to be completely full of people, but as one approached they moved apart, providing a metre-wide path to run along through theft cheering midst. What an inspiring atmosphere they created. I had never experienced anything like it before.     

On leaving Borgo, the climbing began again, a short sharp incline and then a gradual rise into the Appenines where the real hill climbing started. I could see the road ahead zigzag up the mountainside, terrace upon terrace. Now the sun was much lower in the sky and often blocked by the surrounding hills. I caught the Gennari brothers running together, and they shouted some encouragement as I passed. My cycling second was pleased with my progress, and kept calling me Daniel. He pointed up to the road a couple of terraces above, and indicated that there was the Prima. Next I caught and passed the Canadian, Chovinard, as we neared the top of the pass, at Colla di Casaglia, which was at 3000 feet.  

The top of the pass is at 52 km, and the remaining 49.5 km to the finish is almost entirely downhill, steep at first then gradual, until the flat plain is reached 5 km before Faenza. I let rip on the first downhill and soon caught the second, a Czechoslovakian, and gained on the leader, who was accompanied by a posse of cyclists, motor scooterists and others on mopeds.

I caught the leader, Vito Mileto, and swept past into the lead with about 45 km to run. I was running strongly, although my feet were very sore from the hot road and my quads were becoming very painful. Every 2 km there were marker boards indicating the distance to the finish, which I found quite comforting. As darkness fell at about 8 p.m., the entourage of bicycles, motor cycles, mopeds, scooters and cars, which I had acquired on assuming the lead, provided plenty of light, but too much company. The continual blowing of horns, general noise and exhaust fumes, especially from the two-stroke engines, became increasingly annoying, as I became more tired.  

We came to a level crossing with the barriers down, but some of the cyclists rushed ahead and opened them bodily. I had enough sense to check that the train was not too close before running across the rails. I passed through more towns, and it seemed that all the inhabitants had turned out to cheer the brave runners. There were bonfires and bands playing, which all contributed towards producing a really stimulating atmosphere.

A car with a TV film crew would draw alongside me every now and again, to make some recordings with the aid of some powerful spotlights. I was longing to be finished, but I had to be patient and just keep working away. At last I reached the final five kilometres of the race with the lights of Faenza clearly visible. Crowds of people lined the route over the last couple of kilometres, all cheering loudly. I actually had to jog the last 100 metres, as the TV crew had difficulty making its way through the crowds. At the finish, one had to run up a ramp on to a stage, so that one could be presented to the huge crowd gathered in the floodlit square. It was a marvellous few moments, which I will always treasure.

My feet were very painful, and my quads were not much better, so I requested some medical assistance. I was helped to the room where the medics had set up their centre.

After some foot repair work, I requested some aspirin to dull the discomfort I was experiencing. A couple of minutes later, a doctor appeared, bearing a fairly large syringe. This did not look like any aspirin I had ever seen, so I informed him that I wanted aspirin, not an anaesthetic. He assured me that it was indeed aspirin. I decided that I wasn’t feeling that bad after all and declined the medic  

After a shower, I was taken to the Hotel Vittoria, and on passing through the square I could see that a whole ox had been roasted on a spit. People were queuing to purchase roast beef rolls with salad, along with cups of red wine. At the hotel I consumed a large quantity of strawberries and ice cream, plus a few beers before trying to sleep.

The prize presentation was scheduled for midday on Sunday. Before this I got a note of the results: my time was 6.52.23; Mileto was next in 7.7.05; and Chauvinard third in 7.10.41. The times were good despite the heat; even the Italians said it was warm.

I bought some newspapers to see if there were race reports. One paper had a full page report on the race and had the headline: ‘Ad Uno Scozzese Amante delta Vodka Ia Centro Chilometri del Passatorie’. This and a further mention in the report referred to my pre-race bottle. I wondered how many Italian ultra runners would try this ‘method’ before their next 100 km.  

Prize presentation took place in the square, on the finishing stage in front of a large crowd, which had gathered to show their appreciation of the runners’ efforts. My award was a ceramic plaque, about one metre by three-quarters of a metre, portraying Passatorie in three dimensions. The other prize from the main sponsors, the wine company of the region, was one hundred bottles of wine: fifty each of Trebbiano and Sangiovese.  

This was rather unexpected, and I began to ponder how these might be transported back, or, alternatively disposed of.  With Giors Oneto’s help, the latter option was more feasible. The method of disposal was not novel, but was satisfactorily accomplished. 

‘Del Passatorie’ had been an unforgettable experience and a ‘good adventure’. All I had to do now was get back to Lossiemouth for work at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.”

Don Ritchie

Don Ritchie: The Stubborn Scotsman