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A Talk With: Yulia Baykova

text by Davide Fioraso

Explosive, stubborn, strong athlete. In 2015, due to fulminant myocarditis, she risked losing her life. In a few months, with strong determination, she picked up where she left off. Yulia’s story is one of a kind, she was reborn when the doctors gave her no more hope. We spent two days in her company at the Masters Clinic&Run, an event created to learn about and better understand what is the model of poles most suited to your needs and your running technique. But let’s start from the beginning.

“I died on February 3rd 2015”. Just a few words that leaves you stunned, a punch in the stomach that you don’t expect. But she, Yulia Baykova, an important member the Vibram Team and Masters ambassador, says it with great serenity. That same feeling of who is not afraid anymore. Years ago her story moved the whole trail running world, including myself. Why? Just stay with her for a few hours; it will be natural to like her.

Yulia was born in Latvia to Russian parents. Since 2005 she lives with her husband Vincenzo Bertina in Novara and together they share the organization of the Ultra Trail of Lago d’Orta. “I started running when I moved to Italy. I looked at the green meadows in the winter season and thought it would be nice to run over it. In my home country, snow and ice make the landscape grey, monotonous. The scent of grass and wet earth made me fall in love with this sport”. Together with Vincenzo, Yulia began to train on medium distances and to experience the first long runs, immersed in the nature of her woods. “He looked at me and told me: well, you run fast” she recalls. “And when I tried my first half marathon I realized that the asphalt wasn’t my piece of cake: it was so boring.”

In December 2011 Yulia took part in her first official trail, in the Sierra de Chiva, Spain. It was love at first sight “I ran for 63 kilometers, it seemed endless, but despite my fatigue I was dazzled. I discovered a new world, I understood that this was my sport”. That moment was her turning point. Yulia, with great determination and willpower, decided to devote herself to that sport even more until she became a great athlete of international fame. “I never thought of becoming an ultrarunner; as a teenager I dreamed of being a rock star. I played the drums in a band and my goal was to study music at Boston’s Berkley. Let’s say that part of the dream came true: I continued to follow the rhythm of another music, the one of my steps and my breath”. Words that immediately bring to mind the UTLO 2019’s promo video, where she is the protagonist: “Running is the only thing that matters. I compose my symphony one step after another”.

“Running is the only thing that matters. I compose my symphony one step after another”.

So far nothing strange. Yulia’s story is the one of a young athlete who carries on the dream of her life. But the cold shower arrived in January 2015. “We were in Castiglion Fiorentino for the Ronda Ghibellina. The day of the race I got up and I wasn’t feeling well. I thought I was just nervous, just a  little weak so I decided to run anyway”. Yulia imagined it was just a typical seasonal influence. But in the following days the situation got worse. At the umpteenth round in the emergency room Yulia fainted, her heart gave way. “I was reborn sixteen days later thanks to the doctors at the Le Molinette hospital in Turin, who did everything they could to keep me alive.” The same doctors who had initially lost hope of saving her, but who, seeing her clinging to life with such force, attempted the impossible. Yulia resisted, fought. And finally she opened her eyes and woke up. All her organs started working again. “I wanted to get out of that place with my strength. That wasn’t my place. The sacrifices and training for long distance runs had taught me to go on, to not give up. Like when you face a climb and you’re exhausted, but you grit your teeth and go on because you have to reach your goal”.

A long and tiring physical rehabilitation began, complicated by a lung out of play. “I had to learn how to breathe again” recalls Yulia. After four months she was at the start of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, where she run a part of the race. 18 symbolic kilometers, but she was there. “It was my obsession. Getting out of the hospital, being able to run and enjoying freedom through my senses. I wanted to smell the scents, see the blue sky and embrace the earth”. Meanwhile, the Vibram Team didn’t stop believing in her: “I’ll wait for you”, Jerome Bernard promised her. And Yulia didn’t make him wait long, she went back to Cortina d’Ampezzo the following year finishing 10th in the queen race, 120 km and 5800 of positive gradient. 2016 was a wonderful year, with the podium at the Vibram Maremontana and a 6h place at the CCC.

“After everything that had happened I had to try. I wanted to show everyone that it’s always worth fighting for your dreams. Nobody believed I could succeed.”

Nowadays Yulia is fine and her heart has returned as strong as before. 2019 brought her a 5th place at the Scenic Trail and at the EcoTrail de Paris, a 3rd place at the Grand Trail Courmayeur, a 13th place at the UTMB. In May, Masters announced its entry into the ambassadors team. A pure coincidence for her, who, as a Nordic walking instructor, had always relied on their products. “Some elements of Nordic walking are useful in the race. With moderate slopes, up to 15%, I use the classic technique of the alternating step. On the steepest slopes double support comes into play”.

Meanwhile, we run past the former Costalunga quarry. “A Poe o sventa o pioe” (in Pove when there’s not wind, it rains) tells a popular saying. This is not how things are today. Strong gusts come out of the Valbrenta canal. It’s raining cats and dogs. But it doesn’t matter, because we are immersed in a magnificent autumnal landscape, on paths along the coast, rocky walls and tunnels that dug into the rock. At the Madonna del Cornon we take the mule track that leads back to the village. Here comes the descent and we put our poles away.

Yulia looks at me and smiles: “What do you think? Shall we run?”

Let’s run.

Yulia runs with Masters Trecime Carbon Fix and is part of the Vibram Team

The perfect model for those who like Yulia know exactly the size they need, with the advantage of reducing the weight of the pole and being able to fold it quickly when not using it. 4 sections, one 100% carbon ø 14mm, two in Calutech ø 12mm and one in Alutech 7075 ø 12mm. Push-pull system in the first section, the rest are connected by the useful probe mechanism. The hawk knob ensures a perfect grip and the tungsten tip guarantees a secure traction on any terrain.

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