Lavaredo ultra trail was my year goal, I wanted to race hard and have a good time. Two years ago I came in Cortina d’Ampezzo with Saskia to run on those amazing trails in the heart of the Dolomites, but the excessive snow falls of the winter made it impossible for the organizers to allow runners on the high points of the course. The race was 85km long with 3000m elevation gain instead of the 119km with 5850m elevation gain. It was still a tough and beautiful race but it was not the same, it also did not unfold as planned, Saskia had to stop after 33km due to a stress fracture she got while training one month earlier, as we had planned to run together it felt strange to continue alone.
This year there was no snow, good fresh weather conditions, all the ingredients to make a great day of running in the high mountains… but the unexpected is always there!
After my 35hours trip to fly to France I spent 8 days in Nice and enjoyed being in the nicest region of the world (sorry Queenslanders!). On Thursday, one day before the race start (Friday 11pm) we drove with my parents and brother to Cortina, a nicelittle city squeezed in the middle of giant cliffs and mountains. One night left until the race… I had a horrible sleep, my brother was snoring and trying to get a cuddle (thinking I was his wife), when I woke up I was not at my best, this bad sleep was tough on me, I had not recovered properly from the jet lag! I did spend the day relaxing but did not manage to do a nap. Finally this long day of waiting was over it was time to get to the starting line, we had a hotel à 100m from the start line so I left the room only 30min before the start. Once arrived at the starting line I managed to jump above the protection bars to get well placed on the starting line. I was feeling sleepy but my legs were good and all excited, good bye parents, good bye brother, see you in the morning.
After 20minutes of waiting it was finally 11pm and the start was launched, 1300 crazy runners ready to go on the fight with this hilly course. I decided to push a bit during the flat road 3km section so I could be in the top 150 before we started running the first hill. This first bump was a bit of a shock, it was the first and shortest hill of the day and it felt endless, my legs were feeling strong but something was wrong. After 1h on the course we were on a flatter section and I started to understand that my digestion was wrong and my eyes were very dry and burning a lot. First aid station was at the 18km mark, and I was already sick, I had trouble to eat and drink. But the worst were my eyes, I could hardly keep them open, they were burning and my vision was blurry. I did my best to keep pushing as my legs were fine. At the bottom of the second hill (a bit longer than the first one) I reached km33 aid station, filled up water and walked towards the start of the first giant ascent of the day, 1200m elevation in 20km to reach the altitude of 2450m (rifugio Auronzo, tre cime di Lavaredo), and that felt long, hard and took everything out of me. I couldn’t eat, felt dizzy, could not see well and the last bit was pure sufferance in steep rocky paths. I forced myself not to think about the 71km I still had to do because I knew from now each step would hurt!
My family was there to cheer me up, I got changed in lighter clothes, got rid of my head lamp, drank soup and a 1/4 litter of coke. It was time to go (by then I was already 20min of schedule). After 3minutes of shivering in the cold (it was 2C°) I got warm again and started going down in the most beautiful mountain scenery I have ever seen, a crazy single track facing the tre Cime di Lavaredo, three 800m rock towers that are the icon of the Dolomites. For a few minutes all my issues disappeared.
But once I reached the flatter section at km60 my body was empty, I had no more energy and could no more run properly. I managed my way to km66 (Cimabanche aid station)
where I tried to eat, but I could not swallow food anymore, so I kept drinking coke. After thinking about my options, should I stop or continue??? I cheered up and decided to walk to the finish line (yeah I was going for a long struggle). I reached km75 tripping a few times, but still running in the downs.
Then I managed to get some pasta soup in, sleep in the shade for 15minutes and got going again to attack the last massive climb, but this time I had a secret weapon… my brother joined me (yes it is not allowed!).
At the start I was feeling better, the pasta were doing the work, we were walking up an amazing valley with waterfalls going down the cliffs and jokes were flying. But that was at the beginning… my diluted 30ml coke and my half banana did not allow me to reach km95 without a massive struggle. At the end of the hill I had to stop every 100m to take my breath, my lungs were hurting (asthma or altitude or both). Anyway at km95 I was empty, fell asleep on the grass and decided this was enough. I was 16h in the race and moving slower and slower, I had seen the most amazing spots of the Dolomites and had shared great time with my brother and parents. This was it, time to give up. Once again the mountains were stronger, I will have to come back …
I have done 95km with 5000m elevation in 15h45 and did not sleep for 34hours. After that I had the best sleep in a long time. On the picture you can see where I stopped.
Now that I think back at this experience I can see some mistakes I did : - Not allowing enough time to recover from my jet lag - Going for a tough mountain race while training on small hills is not the best preparation for long hills. - No altitude acclimatizing before the race: This race had long sections above 2500m, when you leave on sea side it affects a lot your performance. - Eating at restaurants before the race instead of cooking my own dishes