E.A. Sports Today

Alberto’s on the go

Italian exchange student, less than two weeks after arriving in America, wins In The Heat of the Night 25K; Kuhn, Larkin win 100K runs

Italian exchange student Alberto Ruggieri leads all the runners off the In The Heat of the Night starting line. Ruggieri won the 25K race. (Photo by Jesse Kokotek)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Alberto Ruggieri isn’t the type of fellow to let any grass grow beneath his feet. As an ultra-distance trail runner, an activity he only recently discovered, that’s a pretty good philosophy to have.

The 17-year-old Italian exchange student has met every adventure head on and grabbed them with both hands.

When he had the chance to study abroad, he jumped at it. When presented the option of running to stay active during his visit, he didn’t waiver. When given the choice of running a 10K or a 25K for the first time, he took the longer option and got in it to win it.

Ten days after landing in America and less than a week after settling in Alabama, Ruggieri found himself running in the forest in the middle of the night, winning the 25K race of the In the Heat of the Night trail run.

He was in a new land, doing a new thing. It was just another adventure to him.

“I wanted to do something out of my home country,” he said. “I’m just excited about it. When a new opportunity comes I don’t even think about it.

“It’s not even about (being) brave or anxious, because I don’t really think about things. As soon as I have the opportunity, I try to get it most of the times. So, it’s not about anxiety or courage. I just want to do it.”

Ruggieri came to America from Vieste, Italy, a small town on the Adriatic Sea where his father runs a store about 2½ hours up the coast from Bari. Getting to Alabama was an adventure.

He landed in Newark on Aug. 3 and spent several days in New York getting his bearings. The day he was supposed to fly to Alabama, his flight got canceled. The next day he had a layover in Miami, but because his first flight was delayed he lost his connection to Birmingham and had to spend the entire day in Florida. He finally arrived in Rainbow City Aug. 8.

Five days later, he was toeing the starting line at the Frog Pond Overlook in the White Plains area getting ready for the longest competitive run of his life. Swiss housemate Simon Baltensweiler was there, too. They were among the youngest runners in the entire field and the youngest by five years in the 25, 50 and 100K races.

Host dad Matt Lovato wanted his charges to be active during their stay in the States. Ruggieri was planning to play soccer, but after going the distance in the Heat of the Night he got interested in cross country. He was excited to learn Tuesday that running and soccer are played at different times of the year in Alabama and earlier in the day reached out to inquire about running on the Southside High School cross country team.

The farthest he’d ever run before Saturday night was 8K over flat seaside terrain. When given the options of a 10K or 25K run last weekend, he chose the longer distance. He won the race in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 11 seconds.

“If I have to do something I want to do it well,” he said. “A 10K, I can do it everywhere, but the 25K maybe just here. I just wanted to do the 25K.”

He hit the tape some four minutes before the next 25K runner, but with so many runners around him he didn’t know where he stood.

“I started in the front line so I was first from the beginning and I didn’t want anybody to overcome me,” he said. “About five minutes a guy overcame me, but he said he was running the 50K so I told him OK, you can go. From there to the end there was a man behind me, so I just had to keep going. After I finished first I found out he was doing the 50K, too.”

He plans to stay in Alabama until the end of June with the possibility of relocating to New York through August to help the next wave of exchange students in the program. He already has his eye on a local half-marathon later this fall.

The grand-daddy of the night was the 100K. Sam Kuhn of Auburn entered to get in a “good overnight race” as he continues his training for the Pinhoti 100 (miler) in November and he led the last batch of runners across the line in a satisfying PR of 12:04:04. 

He won his second 100K of the season and fourth ultra race in the past 16 months by just under four minutes over Matt Johnson of Birmingham, but it was a lot closer than the 36-year-old Hoover native could have imagined as he was running on empty when he came to the wire. He credited his father, Jimmy, who introduced him to ultra running, for helping get him through.

“I had no idea, actually,” he said. “When we left the start-finish to go out to the last loop I had my pacer with me, who’s my dad, and I told him to let me know when you see the first 100K guy so we’ll know how far ahead we were. We were almost two miles back on the course when we saw the first guy heading back in, so that put us about four miles ahead on that last loop.

“Unfortunately, on that last loop I was hitting low spots mentally, my legs were gone, I was starting to feel nauseous, so I really slowed down. I still knew I had that cushion, but I didn’t know how fast the gap was closing until I actually finished and sat down in the chair to rest, then three minutes later I see this guy come running in, which was quite shocking to me because as we were running the last few mile we kept looking back to see if we could see any lights and never saw any.

“I was guessing at that point I was at least 30 minuets (ahead). I even told dad that would be amazing if I won this thing by like an hour, but it was only three minutes. If my dad had not been pacing me that guy probably would have caught me because I was at such a low point, throwing a lot of pity parties, and he really pulled me out.”

Sam Kuhn (foreground) and his pacer/father Jimmy coming into the finish of the 100K race of the In The Heat of the Night trail run. (Photo by Hayley Long)


Sam Kuhn (36), Auburn, 12:04:04
Matt Johnson (42), Birmingham, 12:07:48
Jeff Hogeland (46), Oneonta, 13:12:12
Emily Larkin (54), Suwanee, Ga., 16:46:37
Jeanne Maire Bailey (55), Fernandina Beach, Fla., 18:33:02

Matt Deyo (28), Fort Rucker, 4:41:47
Patrick Bussey (36), Oxford, 5:01:46
Ryan Garcia-Carroll (40), LaGrange, Ga., 5:03:33
Lindsey Clemens (37), Grovetown, Ga., 5:12:52
Brooke Jones (40), Atlanta, 5:35:36
Hawley Jervis (37), Prattville, 5:54:46

Alberto Ruggieri (17), Vieste, Italy, 2:27:11
Josh Forrest (38), Attalla, 2:31:38
Patrick Proctor (34), Hoover, 2:33:09
Brooke Nelson (64), Munford, 2:42:24
Mary Alforn (45), Piedmont, 2:45:45
Cassidy Romans (25), Birmingham, 2:50:09

Avery Reddish (29), Lineville, 1:01:00
Adam Graben (39), Lineville, 1:01:11
Owen Vinson (13), Ohatchee, 1:09:02
Hayley Long (54), Anniston, 1:06:13
Luvern Blackwood (70), Trafford, 1:30:32
Megan McGahee (29), Colbert, Ga., 1:34:08

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