Lavaredo Race Report
The Lavaredo Ultra Trail is one of the big European events in the ultra running calendar, North Face sponsorship and adding it to their World Series no doubt helped give it this status. It’s 119km (about 75m) with 6000m ascent. Some elite runners have commented that it’s the most beautiful race on Earth. Well we’ll see…
They apparently had over 4500 entries for 1300 places but they must apply a quota for foreigners – three of us applied and we all got in (my inner geek tells me that’s a probability of 2%). Something tells me next year will be less favourable for British runners.
For me, the most unusual thing about the race is the start time, 11pm. This was a massive pain in the arse having to kick your heels all day trying to stay off your feet. After so much training over the last six months, it felt hard to believe that race day had finally come. I was confident but over such a long race, you can’t help but be apprehensive about things outside of your control, falling, tearing a muscle etc.
From about 9pm race day there were massive thunderstorms. Really impressive watching how quickly a road can disappear under a foot of water, but not so good for morale. My running mate Tom and I kept laughing (nervously), commenting “what the hell are we doing here” and plenty of other less family friendly comments. Luckily by 11pm the rain had eased to something more like Britsh-style drizzle. The air was lovely and cool too.
At the start line you could feel the buzz in the air, the atmosphere was absolutely electric, 1300 runners full of nervous excitement, knowing they will push themselves to the limit within the next 30 hours. Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme tune) was played just before the start gun, this was brilliant for getting the adrenaline pumping even further. It does have the unwanted side effect of everyone charging over the line like they’re going for a 5k PB.
The route started on roads winding up the valley, despite the unsocial start time the support from locals was fantastic, the whole town came out to clap, cheer and bang drums etc. We entered the forest and slowly wound up to an altitude of 1800m, first climb boxed off. It felt great running through the night, the coolness, and fresh forest pine smells with just the beam from your headtorch for company. The descent was a bit tricky as the ground was wet and runners were still on top of each other.
The first aid station was a road crossing at mile 13, a quick top up of water and get going. It amazes me how the French and Italians treat them like a full-on picnic, chatting away like they’ve all the time in the world.
I was expecting to feel tired in the wee hours, but nothing, not even a yawn. As daylight arrived I reached Misurina and was blown away by it’s beauty. A tranquil lake, completely still, watched over by enormous granite peaks like Tre Cime de Lavaredo, which was the next big climb.
Early morning view at Misurina
The climb to Lavaredo (2400m) went well, still firing on all four after 10 hours on the move. There was a good aid station in a mountain refuge with hot salty soup, bread and cheese. Unlike me, I sat down and indulged for 10 mins absorbing the energy. The descent was really fast, most of it runnable, which was uncomfortable with a belly full of food but it was great for ticking off miles quickly. By this point I had covered about 35 miles and was still feeling good.
View from Forcella Lavaredo
Near the halfway point, I made the fateful mistake of saying to myself “this is going well, I’ll be finished by teatime”. Five minutes later the wheels fell off. Usual “hitting the wall” story, feeling sick, no energy, OD’d on carbs. I slowed down, ate a Cliff bar, which was like eating the sweepings from a hair salon, and dragged myself towards the next aid station. This was on a wide path with an incline that was just enough that I struggled to maintain a run. It took ages. At Cimabanche, I restocked my food and water, taped up a couple of blisters and headed back out as the French settled down for another picnic.
The next hill was a 600m climb to Forcella Lerosa. The views again were fantastic and nearly helped to ignore the jelly legs. By this time I was slowing on the hills, not helped by the heat rising and I deeply regretted not having walking poles to share the load with my upper body. The following descent was “technical”, that’s the organisers way of saying it’ll take ages and there’s a fair chance you’ll fall in your arse. It was tough work, quite rocky, also needing to dance over tree roots but there were parts through beautiful pasture land.
At this point only one major climb remained. I’d covered about 55m in 14 hours and was still feeling pretty chipper. Always one for making the same mistake twice, “I’ll be done by teatime”. Little did I know that the next 20 or so miles would be the hardest I think I’ve ever run anywhere.
The last climb was about 1000m up a valley called Travenanzes. In the midday heat this was gruelling, the scenery was, again, fantastic but I struggled to notice. The 2-3 hour climb included three river crossings, only about knee depth but this did the blisters wonders. I listened to some music but even Springsteen’s Born to Run wasn’t making the climb any easier. This picture is at about the halfway point of the climb, the route went over the distant pass on the left.
Half way up Travenanzes valley.
After the climb the sky darkened and there was lots of thunder in the distance. I found myself explaining to an American bloke the 7 second rule. He didn’t seem to get it at first, but then said “okay so when the sound and light is at the same time, we’re knaxkered?”. Spot on.
After a checkpoint at Col Gallina, the thunder and lightning coincided and we got wet, very wet. The next 15 or so miles were absolutely brutal, really “technical” boulder fields, steep inclines, slippy, muddy descents. The rate of progress was pitifully slow on the terrain with tired legs.
Finally I reached the final aid station with now only 9km of downhill left. “I’ll be done in an hour” the inner eternal optimist said. The rain had turned parts of the 1000m descent into small muddy rivers. Even the Speedcross’ were struggling to keep me upright. It was like a scene from a cheese rolling race, arms and legs flying everywhere as runners tripped and slipped around, bumping into trees. I managed to only fall twice, the first featuring a 5 metre mud slide, the second a 4ft drop off the path into a mini ravine. For the last 5km the route joined a forest track for the remaining descent into Cortina. Despite battered legs, a bruised back-side and blisters, it’s amazing how tiredness evaporates near the finish. As I left the forest into habituation, some families had setup unofficial aid stations for the runners, manned by local children. I really just wanted to finish but felt obliged to partake; a glass of fully carbonated coke, a piece of cake, and then I burped and sloshed my way towards the town.
Arriving into the town at 10pm on a Saturday night, the bars and restaurants were rammed, people packed into outside shelters hiding from the rain. There were also hundreds of supporters lining the streets under umbrellas. The cheers and applause was brilliantly deafening as I ran the last few hundred metres to cross the line. The feelings of utter elation, exhaustion and massive sense of achievement is awesome after an ultra. I crossed the line in 23:12. Pretty chuffed with that, even more happy that I’d generally felt good and could still run right up to the finish.
I fully understand these events aren’t for everyone, but one thing I will say…I’ve ran a number of important events (to me), my first 10k, half marathon, training like a man possessed to scrape a sub-3 marathon, but the feeling of lasting achievement after completing an ultra beats these hands down. It’s a huge undertaking, not to be taken lightly, but the rewards and feeling of accomplishment outweighs the discomfort a hundred fold. Be warned though, they’re a bit of a one-way street, few go back.