Saturday, 29 June 2013

Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2013

I have to start out by thanking Gretel Fortman and her race blog from last year's Lavaredo Ultra Trail for drawing my attention to this run. My plan for 2013 was to wait until the Western States lottery was drawn to find out if I would be going to California or elsewhere. As it turned out for 2013 I would be going elsewhere. Elsewhere turned into the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. The course looked appealing (118km with +5740m) set in the Dolomite Mountains.

Tre Cime already had plenty of snow before the snow fall that cause the course to be altered.
Brian and I (Brian really) organised our trip so that we would get to Cortina two weeks before race day. Arriving early would give us a chance to explore the area and acclimatise. It worked out even better because Mum and Dad would be finishing their 4 week holiday in central Italy before joining us for the race before heading back to Sydney.

Arriving in Cortina I was overwhelmed by the size of the mountains. I know I've been told that the Blue Mountains, Australia are really just small hills, and that the Snowy Mountains, Australia are just as insignificant, but having seen real alpine mountains, well they are impressive. The trails around Cortina are well set out and easy even for me to navigate, all you had to do was follow the numbered trails and the red and white trail markings. Even someone as navigationally challenged as I could do that. On our first afternoon in town Brian and I set out on the start of the Lavaredo Trail for a short run without any navigation problems. Everything about the area was just brilliant. For the whole week Brian and I logged lots of kilometers on the official Lavaredo (my race) and Cortina (Brian's shorter 46km race) Trails. To get to the far reaches of the course we utilised the local buses which were easy to use and allowed us to extend our range.
Forcella Giau which was another part of the course that still had snow on it during my earlier training runs.

On our trip we scheduled a forced taper period in the form of a few days in Venice. It was hard going from a region like Cortina where the mountains are constantly calling out to be run, to a place like Venice where running at times other than first light in the morning is impossible because of the crowds. The only benefit of Venice was that I got plenty of practice using the navigation menu on my Suunto Ambit 2 GPS watch. There was plenty of extra kilometers logged trying to navigate my way around Venice's crazy layout.

When I returned to Cortina on the Wednesday before the event we found out that they had had a recent now fall of around 30cm up on the higher sections of the course. This wasn't helped by another follow up snow fall before the event which was causing race organisers grief. On my previous recce runs I was already aware that there was plenty of snow still on the course and that in parts the race organisers had cleared sections of the course. These more recent snow falls however were jeopardising the race itself. The race was originally scheduled to start 11pm on Friday night. All day Friday there were updates being posted on Facebook (mostly in Italian which added to the confusion), but before the 6pm briefing it was announced that the course would be altered and the start delayed until 8am the following morning. In my frustration I went for a run, which in hind sight probably wasn't the best idea as I went further than was planned. At briefing the race organisers said that they had to concede to the course conditions and in the interests of all competitors shorten the course to 85km, +/-3000m and avoid certain sections of the original course that were heavily affected by the recent snow falls.
There was no snow up there when we left for Venice.
I was hugely disappointed that I wouldn't be racing the entire course. I also felt sorry for the race organisers that through events completely out of their control they were forced to make such drastic changes to both their events; Lavaredo and Cortina Trails. I didn't feel entirely robbed however as I was fortunate enough to have traversed the majority of the course on some pristine days.

So on Saturday morning I lined up on the start line with all the other anxious runners ready to run. After a short musical piece the countdown began then we were off. The race was a real community event and from the start line in the centre of town the race heads up the main street of Cortina which was lined with more people cheering than at any other event I had been to to date.

The start/finish chute in the centre of town.
It wasn't long before we headed up on to the trails and in to pine forests. We climbed up several hundred meters before the trail leveled out and skirted around the mountain with glorious views of the d'Ampezzo valley. At this stage I was sitting comfortably with the other lead girls in the race, but as the race developed I felt myself starting to lag. I was just starting to feel flat. At first I thought I could run it off, so that's what I did for the next 10-15km's, but it wasn't working. I thought about the food and drink I had been consuming and it wasn't any different to what I normally do in training and in races. It couldn't have been the altitude as we weren't that high. Even so, I had been training at a higher elevation the weeks before the race and the highest points of the course had been removed, so the average race elevation was lower. I just wasn't sure what was happening. I had in the back of my mind, Western States 2011, where I felt sick, although there I thought I knew the reason and also the solution. The result in this race was that I started to slip back down the field.
Lago Ghedina, one of the checkpoints.

I'm a strong believer that ultra events go long enough that when disaster strikes you still have the distance and time to sort yourself out. In this instance I pulled back a gear to help compose myself. It was frustrating having other girls run and even walk past me but I just couldn't push to stay with them. There was one section of the trail at about 55km where I had had enough. If there was a checkpoint there and then I probably would have called it quits. Instead I did something I had never done before in an ultra which was to lie down. I walked off the trail and found a small patch of soft grass under a tree and just laid down. Gee it felt good. Laying there with my eyes closed it felt like 'nap time', and for those that know me well, that is an important part of my training/day. After a few minutes I got up, brushed myself off and was ready to make up some places. Running back on the course felt remarkably different. It was as though the gun had just gone off, only now it was a 30km race and not an 85km race and the girls ahead had a good head start. Looking ahead I could see a girl ahead and focused on closing the gap to her. I passed her on the climb and she must have thought I was running a different race. She had passed me not too long before my nap and saw the way I was feeling. Now I felt different, rejuvenated.
Lago Misurina with Tre Cime in the background.

The last 20km or so of the altered Lavaredo Trail joined up with the last 20km of the Cortina Trail which we shared to the finish line. It was refreshing to have this second wind while passing other runners. As we passed each other I would encourage them in English while they would encourage me in Italian mostly, I think?. We didn't have to understand what was said as it was the way we were saying it that conveyed the message. We had all shared the trails and had similar journeys, and given mother natures recent medelling we were just glad to be participating.

I managed to move my way up from 7th to finish on the extended podium in 4th place with a time of 10:16:10. Brian finished his first ultra in more than 2 years, covering the 46km Cortina Trail in 6:37:08.

In reflection I would like to think that I could have run faster and done better. I've had some time to think about why I was feeling flat and I still don't have an answer. I didn't have the same problems in the following races I did in Europe. Even though those other races were shorter I had none of the symptoms  during or after the races. I've since spoken to some other Aussies who were racing in Europe and they said that they'd experienced similar issues. I suppose that is the nature of ultra running. You are pushing your body to the extreme to test the limits and when doing this sometimes unwanted things can happen. When I start having consecutive 'perfect' races I'll think about doing some other sport. 

Here is a short video of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail by The North Face.  

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