The Lavaredo Ultra Trail is 120km long with over 6,000m of climbing and descending, set in the stunning Italian Dolomites.

Starting at 11pm in the evening in the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the race route winds its way over mountain passes, and through wooded valleys before returning to the central square in Cortina and the finish line. The route includes passing the iconic Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, three colossal pinnacles of dolostone rock stretching high in to the sky, which represents the highest point of the race. Competitors are treated to fantastic alpine views, cheering crowds, and generous aid stations, along with some seriously long climbs and descents.

Training Approach

A 120km race with 6,000m of ascent and descent meant a training plan with long days training in mountainous terrain, along with some warm up races to fully test kit, and doubling up as long training sessions.

The plan I devised involved working back from the race in June to include a 50-mile race, Ultra Trail Snowdonia (UTS), in early May, and a 100km race, Kielder Ultra Trail, in early April.

After a period of preparation and base work involving steadily increasing weekly mileage and elevation I had a short taper period prior to Kielder, and then post Kielder a short recovery period.

The next build phase of training involved a couple of back to back longer days. This wasn’t something I had previously adopted, and so the first day would tend to be shorter, and involve more hiking than a normal training run, then I would follow with a longer hillier run. I made use of the Black Mountain and Brecon Beacons for a lot of this training, since they were the closest hills with a decent amount of elevation to where I was living.

Ultra Trail Snowdonia was next, and presented a good test of fitness as it involved the same amount of climbing as Lavaredo, albeit over a shorter distance. This race went well, and gave a lot of good insight into kit choice, using poles, and fuelling strategies.

I then had a couple of weeks of build before tapering down for Lavaredo and ensuring my legs were fully recovered ahead of the race.

The Race

The first challenge was starting a race at 11pm at night. Often the races I participate in involve an early morning start, not a late evening start, and trying to relax and rest during the day was a real challenge. It also presented a challenge in terms of what to eat prior to the race start, as I would normally have porridge for breakfast and then race. However, as we were in Italy there was no problem in finding a pasta based dinner a few hours before the race start.

The crowds were lining the streets, the music was blaring and the compere was building the atmosphere. The unmistakable first few notes of Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold started to play…as the music rose, the countdown started for the race to begin. Before I knew it I was being swept through the streets of Cortina, crowds cheering 3 deep on either side, and a festival atmosphere… The most memorable of race starts. However, this was quickly left behind as we snaked our way out in to the darkness, a stream of headtorches in front and behind.

The climbing started almost immediately, and after an initial narrowing the race opened up and I was quickly able to find my rhythm. After the first climb came a flat section where I could glimpse car lights far in the valley below, followed by a steep technical descent. As I had found out at the Dolomites Skyrace, the Italian trail runners can descend fast, and the odd competitor was flying past me, whooping in delight, their cheers ringing out through the still night.

I approached some bright lights - the first aid station. I passed without stopping as had planned to make it to the second aid station before refilling my pack with food and water, so I carried on up the second climb. This one was longer, but as it was higher we emerged above the tree line and I could see the sky filled with stars above. I was moving well, and maintained my position on the next bit of flowing descending single track. A road crossing passed in a flash, before another section of single track, slightly more technical, and I passed my first casualty of the race; a runner had fallen. I stopped and offered support, but she didn’t understand English, and I don’t speak Italian. Luckily an Italian runner stopped and was able to call back to the road crossing to the First Aid. I carried on down the long descent to the second aid station where I quickly refilled my water bottles and grabbed some food before heading out up the next long climb.
I was 50km in and moving well, I was still gaining the odd position on the climbs, and although still dark and head torches required, there was a faint glow showing dawn was not far away. I passed by a lake on a flat section of trail, a moment of rest from the climbing, before the final push up to the highest point in the race - Tre Cime Di Lavaredo. I knew the aid station at the top of the climb was over half way, and soon I could see it high above me.

By now it was light and I put the head torch away and pushed on, my breathing heavier as I gained altitude. Another quicker stop in the aid station, before beginning a long fantastic descent down a stunning valley. I overtook some runners here, surprised at how fresh my legs were feeling after over 60km of effort. I carried on pushing on the descent and passed another runner, who I could tell was trying to keep up by their heavy breathing close behind me. I pushed the pace a little, the competitive edge taking over and I heard a fall behind. I stopped and went back up the trail to check on the fallen runner. He had some cuts on his knees so I gave him some bandages from my first aid kit, my lack of Italian failing me once again. We set off together, but this time he didn’t try to keep up and told me to go on.

I reached the next aid station at 66km, a chance to get my drop bag and refuel. The sun was up fully now so I spent time putting on the Factor 50 sun cream, before heading out for the next climb. The field had thinned out, and I was yo-yoing with a female runner in front of me for the next 20km, I would pass her on the descents, and she would catch me on the steeper climbs. My power hiking still needs work.

At 85km I lost her. All of a sudden my left knee started to ache. I was feeling great, full of energy, eating and drinking well, but with every step the pain increased and I had to slow down.

The final 35km of the race were a hobble, using my walking poles as crutches. On one split I averaged 1 mile per hour! I had been on track for a 17hr – 18hr finish, my energy levels were up and my legs still felt strong - this was extremely frustrating.

I crossed the line at 23hrs and several seconds, I couldn’t even manage a simple jog to get sub 23hrs. My knee had swollen like a balloon and it took several weeks of rest for it to recover.

Despite the injury, the race was fantastic. I have never paced and fuelled so well, and I knew my training had been spot on. The scenery, crowds and volunteers were all superb. A truly epic race, and one I can highly recommend.

Training Points and Lessons Learned

If you are doing the race here are my 5 key points to build into your training plan:

  • Practice your uphills. Long uphills are a key feature of the race. I calculated the distance and average gradient of each and replicated these climbs onsessions on the treadmill. This helped both physically and psychologically.
  • Practice your descending skills – in particular on rocky and rooty terrain. They aren’t overly steep descents, but are long and given that I passed a few fallen runners are suitably technical to present issues
  • Do at least one training run where you start late in the evening to replicate race conditions, with the 11pm start. This will let you know how your body responds starting later in the day compared to a traditional training session or race
  • Practice fuelling strategies during training. I knew exactly what aid stations I would stop at, what I would take with me, and what I would have in the drop bag. Although carrying slightly more weight, I saved lots of time being efficient at the aid stations and not stopping for food at each of them.
  • Include strength work to build up leg strength, such as squats and step ups and step downs. This will be beneficial on the descents. Also make sure you do ankle strengthening drills to help with the descents.

The video I made is available here:

If you would like more advice or training plans on the race please get in touch.

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