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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Lavaredo Ultra Trail, 24th June 2016 (119km, 5,850m +/-)

I'm not quite sure why it’s taken me 10 years to get round to running the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (LUT) and I sure do regret that now. It’s a belter of a race and for everyone who likes a challenging mountain ultra, it should be high up on the list.

So over a period of just a few weeks I’ve totally fallen in love with the Italian Dolomites, enjoying every moment of both my training for the LUT and the race itself. It’s a fabulous playground for trail runners, with vistas dominated by the jagged limestone summits and cliffs, criss-crossed with well-maintained scenic trails, providing enough variety and technicality to keep even the most hardcore runners entertained.

LUT almost feels like a hidden secret because of it’s relative modesty when compared to races like UTMB, and for many years it hasn’t hit the radar for most elites, however since it’s inclusion in the core group of Ultra Trail World Tour races a couple of years ago, that’s quickly changed. This year’s field was arguably far deeper than Western States, enough said.

I flew out to recce the route a couple of weeks before the race, providing a nice opportunity for some crash training as well as getting to know the route, something I find helpful with mental preparation, particularly when lots of ascent is involved. Running the course over two days, it blew my mind, and it was great to have the opportunity to properly take it all in, seeing the whole course in the daylight which is something the 11pm race start time doesn’t permit. With a roughly figure-of-eight course I ran one loop on each day, conveniently splitting into 40/ 35 mile days respectively with a roughly even split of the 5,850m total elevation gain. Despite some rainy and thundery spells, it worked well, and logistics just about manageable within a big weekend’s effort.

LUT Training

LUT Training: descending from Col dei Bois

LUT Training: Forcella Ambrizzola, Cortina below

LUT Training: top of first climb

LUT Training: Val Travenanzes

LUT Training: Val Della Rienza
I seemed to be back in Cortina for the race in the blink of an eye, standing on the start line alongside 1,300 fellow adventurers, doing battle with my chimp about the sense oinwhat I was doing. 11pm on a Friday night feels illogical in so many ways, particularly with a well timed electrical storm passing overhead just an hour before the start, but perhaps that’s what double espresso’s are for? Having abstained from caffeine for many months, it was particularly effective to get the adrenaline going and keep fatigue at bay. 

The day before the race, hanging out near Rifugio Auronzo with Gem.

Pre race with the lovely Lizzy Hawker
Pre-race I hadn’t felt quite as level headed as I usually do, with a particularly busy spell of work and other commitments creating stress and tiredness. I spent a week with a mouth full of ulcers, and frankly just waiting for a cold to break out, but I rode my luck, and thankfully it never prevailed. Just before we left for Cortina on the Wednesday I was ready to call it off, feeling far from ideal, and worried that a poor performance would dent my confidence when the really important outcome of the race was to get a strong performance in the bag. It felt like a fairly pivotal race on my ‘bounce’ from a troublesome 2015, so I didn’t want to get it wrong. But sometimes going in to a race feeling a little blasé and a less than perfect build up can actually ease the pressure. Whatever. Have a go and take it as it comes.

After the usual hussle and bussle of the start and first mile or two of road leading out of town, it was nice to soon gain some space, and join the snaking line of head torches up the first climb on the course, soon thinning out as is always the case. Before long the stress and anxiety I carried into the race had dispersed, and I was free to do my thing. The storm had passed through, but the humidity was high and a cloudy haziness hung in the air. This coupled with regular flashes of lightening far away in the distance created a sense of drama which I really liked. 

There was a sizeable group leading out which I tucked in the back of, content to settle in and find my legs for later. Running at night creates a lovely sense of freedom and solitude, despite being one of hundreds doing the same thing. I just really appreciated being there, running in my little bubble of head torch light and having the opportunity to take part and to savour the experience.

I ran some early spells with team mate Rory Bosio, including the descent to Federavecchia at 33km, where we arrived some way down the field (57th) to a raucous reception from The North Face team. What a great bunch supporting the team athletes all through the night. I was enjoying it, and met with Gem for the first time for a quick replen of liquid. I wolfed down a couple of pots of custard, and cracked on.

It was from there that I started to get going, building some momentum, which I intended maintaining all through the race. Momentum was about picking off places, steadily working my way up the field. After the excitement of the start and early spells, I knew the last few hours before dawn would mentally be the hardest - still significantly before half way, still dark and with mental tiredness at it’s worst. But despite this my head was in a great place, just savouring the experience, remaining positive.

Each little head torch light on the trail ahead was a target, and gave me a mini lift, particularly on the stiff climb up to Rifugio Auronzo (48.5km), now up to 50th place. After a murky and humid night, the first signs of dawn were on their way towards the top of the climb, and being up high next to Tre Cime di Lavaredo felt very fitting. Over the pass near Rifugio Lavaredo, not only was it a new day with the head torch switched off, but it was a clear day, like a different world with visibility and clear skies. Dawn always seems to bring freshness and strength, but this was better still, and I then enjoyed the big 1,000m+ descent down Val Della Rienza back towards civilisation.

Approaching Cimabanche
Cimabanche (66.1km) was my next opportunity to meet Gem. I had claimed a further 6 places and was now in 44th. It was possibly the part of the race when I felt at my weakest, having the run the previous long leg with little by way of sustenance. My stomach had been somewhat unsettled, but I was determined not to let that get me down, and hoped it would pass. After nailing a load of fruit I felt a lot better, and psychologically felt rejuvenated by the feeling that it was a new day and I was making strong progress all round.

The most enjoyable section of trail was now ahead, in particular the spectacular Val Trevanzes. The path is benched into the lower left bank of this dramatic valley, working it’s way up to the pass across scree slopes, under dramatic overhanging cliffs and regularly crossing the clear mountain streams. It felt like a bit of a slog physically, but the beautiful surrounding fuelled my legs. I knew I was still moving well in relation to others, merely by the fact I was regularly overtaking. At Forcella Col due Bos (2,331m) I gave in to the nagging discomfort from stones in my shoe, momentarily perching on a rock to empty them out.

Then a fast descent to Col Gallina (95km), starting to feel like I’d broken the back of it now, but also a tad weary. I hadn’t got a clue what position I was in (actually now 36th), despite being rather keen to know, but the information wasn’t available, so just keep your head down and don’t fret about it!

Leaving Col Gallina
I felt buoyed from seeing Gem and the team again, loads of positivity around, and ready to get this thing finished. The climbing was really starting to get tough, now well over 4,000m in the legs, and the temperature was also climbing quickly. The next climb was steep albeit the final big one, a real-hands-on-knees grind to the top, eventually reaching Rifugio Averau (2,413m) where an adhoc water station was setup. “Grazie mille” – so grateful to one and all of the volunteers dotted around the course, always smiling and positive in their words – particularly as this one was completely unexpected, and well needed in the heat.

The final part of the course stays high until a big long descent into the Cortina. The views remained first class, with rocky drama all round and some lovely sections of singletrack. Lots of great spots for a picnic I thought, but perhaps now’s not the time.

By the final support point at Passo Giau (103km) I had caught a bunch more guys, so arrived once again feeling buoyed and positive, now in 27th place. There wasn’t much point lingering because aside from a couple of shorter climbs, it was about beasting it down the final descent to the finish. There comes a point when looking after yourself (as is the priority in ultra running) just goes out the window, knowing that the scent of the finish line will carry you through, come what may. Get it done.

Reaching the final pass at Forcella Ambrizzola (2,277m) was a satisfying moment and I let out a vocal sigh of relief. How hard can 11km of descent really be? Well rather ugly to be honest, particularly my form, but no marks for that fortunately.

There was a great welcome from the afternoon crowds back in Cortina after over 14 hours of effort, and I felt genuinely pleased with my finishing place of 22nd. It wasn’t as fast as I’m capable of, but there were other priorities for this one. Most importantly I loved every minute of the experience and had re-found some of the strength reserves which have served me so well over the years. Knowing it’s still there is all I needed to know, and hopefully with a bit more training and consistency, I can tap in for a bit more.

Thanks must go to my amazingly supportive wife Gem who did a perfect job with the support, as well as all The North Face folk who were so enthusiastic throughout.


Daryl Bentley said...

Well Done Jez!! Great write up, keep up the good work!

Unknown said...

Nice one bro, great to catch up!

softexiaa said...

Nice Posting

Anonymous said...

read that with great interest. Thanks Jezz. I might need to rethink my planned 15 hour time :) !!

chilan said...

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