Everything about Italy warmed me: the intense heat of the midday sun, the incredibly beautiful mountains around me, the flavorsome food, the people I met. I am not sure if it was this Italian effect, but going into this year's Ultra Trail Lavaredo, I felt so relaxed, so comfortable, so at ease. I was camping about 2km out of town, meaning I was away from the build up and increased hype that goes along with race day. I had no internet, no phone contact. I spent the day lazing under a tree enjoying the simplicity of pre-race resting.
Familiarization with the route:
When the sun finally dropped behind the mountains, it was time to walk to Cortina. I dressed for the race fairly lightly as it was a balmy evening. I hoped this warmth was an indicator of the temperatures up through the mountain passes we would cross during the night. In town there was barely time for a quick espresso and head torch double-check before runners were summoned to the starting line. As with the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, there was a certain solemness pre-race. Beautiful operatic music played, runners stilled and focused on the immense task ahead, and then we started.
Starting line (Photo courtesy of thenorthfacejournal.com):
I must admit that the whole race is a blur, and only certain parts really stand out. From the beginning I was running very conservatively. I knew the elevation I had to cover (5740m), I knew the terrain would be technical, I knew I had a day of running through 30 degrees +. As we ran through the town of Cortina towards the first trail, I let some of the women go ahead of me. I kept my pace steady and controlled.
The first climb to Col Rosa (about 500m+) allowed me to settle in to a pace where I passed a few of the women. I really tried not to make this the focus though, and instead just kept a steady rhythm, watched my HR, and enjoyed! The downhill that followed really allowed me to stretch the legs a little, and to settle into a pattern that would continue for the whole race: up-down-up-down. At this stage of the race I was using primarily liquid nutrition (produced by Infinit Nutrition).
At various points during the night I ran with a few groups, usually for a few minutes, and then either they would pick up the pace, or I would. Camraderie was high! I remember arriving at Lake Misurina, the mist hanging heavily onto the water in the pre-dawn light. I remember the slow lightening of the sky as I started the climb to the 48km checkpoint at Refugio Auronzo, located just below the fabled Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The climb passed through lush green meadows tucked between the rocky shoulders of the surrounding mountains. At this stage I was alone, and it was eerie to be in these misty valleys, early in the morning, alone with my thoughts and breath.
Refugio Auronzo at 48km, Tre Cimes di Lavaredo behind:
My transition at the checkpoint was fast: I grabbed some more liquid nutrition (pre-mixed into a bottle), picked up some gels and honeystinger wafers, ate some soup and continued on. My highlight was when the startled volunteers asked me "you are running in a skirt?" I found out later at the presentation that the volunteers were all very appreciative of the fact that I was running in a skirt. It was so "feminine."
Running around the flank of the Tre cimes:
Famous view of the Tre Cimes di Lavaredo:
The descent into the Val Della Rienza:
The next section was a blur. I just remember the final flat dirt road that seemed to go on forever to the aid station at Cimabanche.
From Cimabanche there was another 500m+ climb through the Val de Gotres to Forc Lerosa, a mountain pass at 2000m. By this stage the day was warming, and I was making use of all the little streams to refill my water bottle or simply to wash my face and wet the top of my head.
My memory sharpens for the monstrous climb through the Val Travenanzes up to the Forcella Col dei Bos (a climb of almost 1000m). The terrain was beautiful. A glacial formed valley, blindingly white rocks forming the path (but also reflecting the heat), lush alpine meadows filled with bright flowers in other sections. We were literally following the path of an ancient glacier up into the mountains. This section was tough. I was hot, by now my feet were aching from the constant harassment of rocky terrain, the climbed seemed to go on forever.
View down the valley:
View back to Forcella Col Dei Bos (we crossed through the pass between the rocks):
The descent down to the aid station at 94km was a clear example of how much energy and inspiration people give you. By now I was the only woman around, and the field had spread so that there were not many men around either. I was hurting, and a french man picked me up, encouraged me to run with him down to the aid station, and by following his steps, focusing on breathing, rather than pain, I arrived stronger because of his energy.
Descent down to the aid station at Pian dei Menis (94km):
The next 25km hurt. It was a section of deceptively steep ascents and descents that tested the legs, heart, mind and spirit. Each ascent I just focused on the fact that I could do it, that I was doing it, and that I was closer to finishing. I took in a lot of water with nuun ( the ginger flavour was so, so, so tasty at this point), as well as red bull and coke. I enjoyed the company of the 50km runners out on the trail as well, passing me most of the time, but encouraged by their enthusiasm.
One of the small pitches up that tested mind and body:
Spectacular day, a small refuge hidden below the mountains:
One of the refuges below the Cinque Torri (another famous attraction in the Dolomites):
Gabriele and myself (photos courtesy of Simonetta Lazzarotto):
I finished the race behind some super strong female runners, inspired by their strength. I finished in 4th place, in 19:18hrs.
Female 120km presentation:
Female Top 5 podium:
Photos courtesy of Alessandro Regnano (sourced here).