My main goal for the first half of 2015 was the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
When I began my journey in the ultra world, I chose to run the LUT in 2013 even before I had the qualifying standards to enter. Eventually I earned a spot for the 2013 edition by running the North Face EC – Bear Mountain just two months prior.
When I participated to the 2013 edition I left the race with a very sour taste. I was hoping to run well and enjoy the all the climbing that the course offered along the Dolomites. Unfortunately, due to a snowstorm that occurred the night prior to the start, the course was changed, the race postponed by 8 hours and the total length was reduced from 120 km to barely 85k.
I was not too happy about the change, but I was also glad to run “only” 50 miles, since that was a distance I already covered before with some sort of mediocre success.
Something that day went wrong, and even if I was initially running ok, when I reached the aid station at Misurina Lake (about 26 miles into the race) I dropped out, pale and unable to digest any food I was eating.
It was a tough lesson that left scars to this day: the fear of dropping out and the sense of failure that goes with it are always present when I line up to start a race. Especially because that day I did not really realize what went wrong and what I should have changed to make it a great race instead of a failure.
For sure I have learned that I was not prepared to run the full race. In 2013 I was not in any type of decent physical shape to attempt running 120km in the Dolomites, especially with the type of vertical profile the LUT offers. Maybe hiking, but running was not an option.
With this said, one would understand that getting into the 2015 LUT was for me a big responsibility: it meant going against the demons of dropping out again, it meant testing my running on terrains I can’t train on, it meant challenging all aspects of my training to something very new and as such, unknown.
Sometimes the unknown rewards you, sometimes it knocks you down and gives you a sense of failure. But from these negative moments one can learn more about him or herself. I’m not referring about “how strong we are” for enduring pain, or suffering, or persevering during a race.
When the unknown conditions of a race make it a death march, one can really think about what went wrong, what can be improved and how. That is the beauty of making mistakes and having a bad time: learning from them.
Also committing to the LUT many months prior to the race meant giving up beautiful and competitive races in the north East: the classic Manitou’s Revenge and the newly inspiring VK and Skyrace set up by Jan Wellford and Ian Golden in the Whiteface.
The 2015 LUT was epic, in terms of hopes, in terms of positive feelings during it, and in terms of frustration and negativity during it.
The week before the race Michelle and I were able to spend a couple of days running through some sections of the course to get some sort of education of what we were going to expect.
Day 1 included Val Travenanzes from Pian de Loa to Passo Falzarego; or at least that was the plan, because my poor vision made me take a left turn onto the 407 trail, instead of continuing along with 401. The result was an incredible massacre. After a gentle downhill escorted by cows hanging out around the trails we started the uphill section. We were supposed to go for about 6-7 miles before reconnecting with my parents that drove to pick us up at the Falzarego pass.
When I made the wrong turn we climbed for about 2 miles along a trail that did not exist, basically scrambling on loose scree. Every step up was 3/4 of a step back. We kept sliding back. I wanted to get a decent work out while Michelle was more conservative, so I went on ahead alone.
For about 45 minutes I kept pushing and pushing, feeling somewhat miserable. Along the path I was greeted by a mountain goat that ran across the valley looking at me a little perplexed.
Once I made it to the top I thought something was wrong and questioned myself about the race course. I ran back to pick up Michelle, so we could make it to the top together, and she kindly informed we took the wrong turn. Given my pride for always having a good sense of orienting myself, I thought she was wrong, but slowly understood I messed up.
Once at the very top together, I realized it was not going to be feasible to continue to the other side of the Pass, since a storm just started to hit us and in front of us we were facing a couple of “vie ferrate” through Le Tofane, meaning technical trails requiring skills, equipment and decent weather to go through.
With some complains from Michelle we headed back to where we came from, disappointed for the lost opportunity and the terrible conditions we faced. At least the race could not be that hard. Bottom line, we explored the Valon de Ra Oia, instead of Val Travenanzes.
Drenched by the pouring rain we made it back to the parking lot where my parents were waiting for us.
Day 2 instead brought us to the middle part of the race from Federavecchia to Lago di Landro.
This was a much more pleasant experience than the day before. The weather was great and the fact that we kept following a marked trail kept our spirits high for the whole day. At the start we spotted French female ultrarunner Natalie Mauclaire checking out the course. After the initial steep climbs alternating muddy and rocky terrain to sections of asphalt roads, we hit Lago di Misurina.
After leaving Misurina the course kept going up to hit rifugio Auronzo, where we stopped for a quick lunch. A small sandwich seemed to be ideal to fuel before the last part of the climb to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the long downhill to Landro Lake.
Too bad the sandwich was so big that it took me a long time before I could move a decent pace on the trail.
We hiked to the Tre Cime, slowly, with heavy legs and heavier bellies.
Eventually we got down to Landro Lake where Gigi was in charge of the rescue crew and brought us back to the start where we left our car.
Day 3 was pretty good in terms of weather, but demoralizing in terms of feelings. The plan was to go from Falzarego Pass to almost the end of the race, going through Averau, Passo Giau, Giau Fork, Ambrizzola Fork and the final downhill to Croda da Lago and Cortina.
Michelle’s foot conditions worsened and the fact that the last few miles of downhill were very technical and fool of roots, rocks and slippery mud did not help; despite our effort to move at a fair pace, we were making little to no progress.
We decided to shorten the effort and jump out on the road asking Gigi to pick us up along the road going up to Passo Falzarego. Very kindly he did so, and that helped us get back home in time while waiting for our friend Rua coming for a quick visit from Ireland.
Unfortunately the evening of his arrival went differently than what we planned: due to an accident he missed the flight and he did not make it to join us in God’s country (which is Italy, despite what he believes).
We spent the next few days relaxing, learning a few things about cooking and making home made pasta, and enjoying a few good meals, as well as getting upset for some immigration issues that came up after I visited the US Consulate in Milan.
In the meantime Pedro joined us as part of his European summer trip.
Fast forward about a week and we found ourselves driving to Cortina to pick up our bibs for the race. In an effort to remain relaxed and rested prior to the race, we booked a room in advance hoping to take a nap before the 11pm start. The race prep, food planning and sleeping plan were all under control. We just needed to execute them.
The first to fall apart was the sleeping. The day before the race not only did I get just 5 hours of sleep, but I had to drive back and forth to Milan to pick up my passport without the Visa I had been waiting for. The morning of the race I woke up at 5:30 am, for a total of 6 more hours of sleep because I was a little preoccupied for my parents who went to Milan that morning to deliver my passport to the US consulate, again, and get the Visa finally stamped.
Therefore, at this point, the room we booked just outside Cortina became vital te be 100% ready for the race. Instead a group of Chinese tourists checked into the hotel together with us and for hours could not stop yelling from room to room, knocking doors, talking loudly, even after our repeated requests to keep it quiet. I have never seen a group of people more rude than these tourists.
A little nervous and feeling the pressure building up we asked my parents to pick us up and bring us to the start line. In fact, Rodi, Claudia, Pedro and Gigi in the meantime came up to Cortina to follow our race and support us along the way.
If we were entering an endurance race, they already started their personal challenge 15 hours earlier running errands for us (me in particular) and they were about to spend all night and next day driving from one point of the course to the next just to assist us.
Gigi and Pedro were in one car following me. Rodi and Claudia were following Michelle.
When we arrived in Cortina we spent a little time with Cristiana, who was been running extremely well in these last few years and has earned a great reputation in the community of endurance athletes.
We headed to the start at about 10:15pm and – sure enough – everyone and their mother was already lined up. I tried to make my way to the front but there were just too many people. That is one aspect I do not like about races in Italy (since I experienced the same at the Dolomites Sky Race), but I must admit this is true for every race everywhere: people love to step to the very start line to appear in pictures, to show off and just sprint the first few hundred feet. How many times have I seen this in NYRR events, as well? How many times have I had to deal with that dude from Queens with a yellow singlet elbowing everybody seconds before the gun went off and then finishing 3 minutes behind in a 5k? or 9 minutes behind in a half marathon? Runners should know their place…but that’s another topic.
…see next post…