The Women of Negev Adventure


Elisa, Arianna, Eleonora, Francesca and Federica are the 5 runners who ran last fall in the Donna Moderna Negev Adventure, the 80-kilometer ultratrail in the Negev Desert.

“The selection was not easy,” admits coach Federico Bertone, who helped select the five from among 300 candidates, “But at the end we managed to do it. These five athletes consistently trained for 40 kilometers or more per week, have already had great results in races, and are quite familiar with trail running.” But these ladies were selected for their enthusiasm as much as for their athletic ability: Having never run in a desert, they were anxious to compete in the Negev.

At the end of October the five flew to Israel to participate in the competition of woman vs. the elements. Waiting for them there was a route through wild, marvelous scenery where everything– landscape, colors, temperature and even the wind–is extreme. “In my experience, to prepare for the first race in the desert, many think they need to try to eat and drink less. But this is not how you train the body to manage fatigue and the stress of a special environment,” recommended the coach. “It’s better, to the contrary, to eat a bit more, but break your food down into smaller portions, having a bite to eat every 45 minutes and a drink every 15 minutes during training. We have found this provides the burst of energy necessary to meet the challenge they will encounter in the Negev Desert.

Francesca Valassi

Cheering for her: her mom and dad. Her secret weapon: the mantra, “Another hill to climb.” Born in Voghera, Francesca has lived in Milan for 6 years where she works in the legal department of a bank. Thanks to a newfound passion for the bike, she’s joined a cycling team, and gets around the city on two asparagus green wheels. She races to push her physical limits. “This summer I did the Sellaronda, in Trentino, with very few kilometers of cycling in my legs.” She started running in high school to prove that she could do it. “I didn’t even consider cross country.” She first ran on the streets, but then suffered an unfortunate stress injury that caused her to take up trail running to reduce the strain on her bones. She found she really liked running alone in the woods. “It’s my natural element. When I was little I used to go with my papa, who is a mushroom picker.” It’s the love of nature that drove her to try out for the DM Negev Adventure. “I can’t wait to run in such an immense landscape which I imagine to be filled with light and so different from my usual.” She doesn’t relish the competition between women. “I would love to live this experience in a spirit of sharing. And take home a suitcase full of emotion, a beautiful load of smiles, tears of joys, hugs, friendships and handshakes. And, also, some great bottles of wine, given that she is an expert Onav wine taster. “I’m not familiar with Israeli grapes, but I’m studying.”

Elisa Adorni

Cheering for her: her boyfriend Matteo and her colleagues from the hospital where she works. Her secret weapon: never giving up. Born in Parma, Elisa is a doctor of architecture, physical therapy and sports sciences. As an architect she participated in the archeological excavations in Damascus, Syria and Rabat, Morocco, but followed her heart and returned to her home town. Now she works with the elderly in a hospital. “Last Sunday I accompanied my ‘old folks’ on a 5-kilometer non-competitive walk, which was really beautiful.” She has always been a swimmer and, since starting to run, has encountered considerable successes. Although she often trains alone, at other times she goes with a group from her athletic club. And moves like a high-speed train, particularly in long distances. “I’m familiar with the desert in Syria and in Death Valley. Now I dream about the Negev and its atmosphere, but mostly I want to run in a group of just women, something I’ve never experienced.” She knows well how important the competitive spirit is for achieving results. “But the competition begins when you pin the number on your shirt, and in the CM Negev Adventure I won’t be wearing one, right?” Distance, terrain and heat don’t worry her. “Worse is Parma with the terribly humid heat.” She is feeling strong these days because although past injuries slowed her down, they have not stopped her. “I just keep going back for more.” Running clears her mind. “I wrote my graduate thesis in my head while training, then put pen to paper at home. The sport is my life.”


Federica Verdoya

Cheering for her: her coach. Her secret weapon: Repeating to herself: “Come on, you can do it!” Genovese by birth, Federica lives with Alberto, her boyfriend and running partner. She splits her time studying and training between Padua and Venice. Her biggest dream is to be able to enter the sports division of the Forestry Corps. For 15 years she swam competitively. “With flippers, like a mermaid.” Then two years ago she started running. “At the end of my first race I was so happy to hear people cheering for me. With swimming, you always have your head under the water. When I run I feel my breath and it moves me.” In a short time she has broken records. She imagines the Negev as a primitive place, where she can again challenge herself. She considers herself fair but competitive: if she has a goal, she does everything she can to succeed. When she found out she was selected, she was incredulous. “Noooo –AMAZING!!” This summer she prepared in the mountains with double runs each day. A tough summer! She has never run in the desert, but has seen Namibia’s. “The desert landscape can bring out of one strength and emotion that normally remains in the subconscious.” 

Instagram @federica.verdoya  Facebook

Arianna Bianchini

Cheering her on: her team. Her secret weapon: To convince herself she is almost at the finish line. Born in Tuscany, Arianna moved to Milan and now works in a communications agency. She lives alone. She started running seven years ago after an autoimmune disease caused her to gain quite a lot of weight. Today, the sport is her security blanket. “It calms me right down.” She runs with a group of friends on the Red Snakes team. She’s doing well with half marathons because she likes to challenge herself on speed. When she found out she was chosen she couldn’t believe it, and quickly warned her trainer.  She imagines the Negev to be hot and vast. “A bit like when I arrive at the top of a hill. I feel microscopic, because you can challenge nature, but only up to a certain point– it’s so much bigger than you.” She’s competitive, but knows that this experience is unique, and feels it would be a shame to squander it for a few minutes less on the gps. She shows her concern for others different ways. “If I’m not running to improve my personal time, I think about others. When the Stramilano takes place, we stand at the last kilometer to cheer on others who are struggling.”

Instagram  @arianna_bianchini_ 

Eleonora Suizzo

Cheering for her: The people in her home city of San Gregorio di Catani. Her secret weapon: visualizing the face of her son. Eleonora lives with her boyfriend and nine-year-old son Giordano. A sports counselor, she worked for years in personal management, but recently opened a boutique because fashion is her true calling. She swam as a young girl, but switched to running at the age of 12. She started out by walking, for fun, but quickly picked up the pace. Her favorite distance? “The supermarathon of Etna (from 0 to 3000 meters). It starts at the sea and finishes at the southeast crater. From there you can conquer the world!” Running is her oxygen. She’s competitive, but likes to lose herself in the countryside when racing. Which is why she can’t wait to be in the Negev, a place she imagines to be similar to the volcano that dominates her city: a lunar landscape incredibly fascinating for its colors and millions of years of history. When she found out she was chosen she almost jumped out of her skin. With Donna Moderna, she feels comfortable. “For someone like me who loves fashion, style and running are the perfect combination.” Only she’s a bit nervous about the heat. She knows that a body in distress can exhibit strange reactions. “You won’t believe it, but once I fell asleep while walking.”  

Instagram @eleonora_suizzo_Facebook eleonora suizzo (catania)