The Dolomites Skyrace, now rebranded as the DoloMyths Run Skyrace, is a 22km long race involving a 10km uphill to start with followed by 12km of descending.

Starting and finishing in the beautiful mountain town of Canazei in the Italian Dolomites, it involves 1,950 meters of climbing from 1,450m up to the summit of Piz Boi (3,152m) and then a slightly less direct route back to Canazei.

The route starts off climbing up wide tree lined ski slopes, before arriving at Passo Pordoi, where the climbing becomes stepper and rockier with a large section on scree, then arriving at the summit plateau. There is a short rest from the climbing on a flatter section of the trail before the final push up to the summit.
The route then descends down a stunning valley, initially on rocky trails, with lots of loose scree, before descending through glorious wooded single-track trails back to Canazei.

Training Approach

There is no getting away from the brutal nature of this race – essentially a 1,950m climb followed by a 1,950m descent. With an average gradient on the ascent of close to 20%, and a 12km long downhill, I had to look at my training, and make some significant adaptations.
First off, I spent a lot of time doing hill repeats, and practicing my power hiking, to try and replicate race conditions. Unfortunately, I was unable to do as many sessions on long climbs in the UK as I would have liked, but I substituted some of these with uphill treadmill sessions.

In order to try and prepare my legs for the 12km descent I introduced more strength work to try and develop the strength in my legs, in particular my quadriceps, as I knew that if I wanted to finish strongly I needed to ensure that my quads were not too sore.

The Race

Unlike at most races, I had signed up for a preliminary race two days before – the Vertical Kilometer (VK), a short (in distance anyway) race involving climbing 1,000m in elevation. The Dolomites VK is one of the steepest around, at only around 2.4km long. This was a good test of my climbing speed, and although it is an extremely hard effort, I always enjoy doing VKs.

The VK went well, but I could feel the excretion in my legs, and wasn’t sure how they would feel on race day.

The morning of the Skyrace dawned with a beautiful summer’s day, and I couldn’t wait to get going. My calves and Achilles’ tendons were feeling slightly tight after the VK, but having done a short run on the day between the two races they were not too bad, and I was feeling prepared. As I knew the race started straight with a climb I made sure I had a good warm up to try and get my lower legs feeling slightly better.

By the time I returned to the start area the majority of the field had shown up and I was towards the back.
Once the race started I found myself struggling to get past people in the first km as it wound uphill through the narrow streets, but luckily we were soon on the wider ski slopes and I was able to start running at my own pace, and not be held up.

I was steadily overtaking people as we gained height, and this continued until we reached the Passo Pordoi, where the track narrowed again and overtaking became slightly harder.

This was the steepest part of the climb and I had my hands on knees power hiking. I was surprised at how good I was feeling and that was continuing to gain positions. Looking up I could see the leaders zig zagging their way up the climb ahead, whilst behind I could see the field stretching back below me. This remains one of my favourite sections of a race route ever.

I was soon passing through a large snow drift (a path had been cut though it) and I emerged by a hut and the plateau where the track levelled off for a kilometre or so. I started running, and although not able to push on due to the altitude I held my position before the final effort up to the summit.

This section involved a little more technical climbing, and I again found myself gaining positions. I was (again!) surprised at just how good my legs felt, and this sensation continued on to the descent. The descent is often my strongest area and I gained a few positions, but not as many as I would have expected. I also had the odd person passing me as well, and I tried to keep up with them, but they were flying down. The Italians around me were superb at descending steep rocky trails.

I made it into the wooded section, and carried on running hard knowing that I was getting close to the finish. Unfortunately a stone had got in to my shoe on the upper slopes, and had worked its way under my heel making running extremely painful. I decided to stop and remove my shoe to get rid of it. It was at this point that, as I bent my leg to undo my laces, my leg cramped due to the exaggerated position I had put it in.

I sat down, stretched, and successfully managed to remove my shoe and the offending stone. There was a lot of blood on my sock, but that was less of a concern than the steady stream of people passing me.

All in all I was probably stopped for around 3 minutes, and as I started running I could feel the cramp. So for the final few kilometres I ran it easy, enjoying the scenery, and accepting that I would not finish as well as I had hoped. I was quickly back in Canazei and the cheering crowds, which formed a funnel all the way until I crossed the finish line.

Despite the stone incident this remains one of my best results and best I have felt in a race… maybe I should do a Vertical Kilometre before every race?!

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 steep uphills. The first 10km of this race are up hill with large sections of greater than 25% incline, so make sure you incorporate power hiking and running into your training plan
  • You start ascending straight away. Therefore, at the race have a good warm up, with some short hills, to get the muscles working and blood flowing.
  • Practice your steep descending skills – in particular on rocky terrain. The steepest sections of the descent are higher up on rocks and scree. Once in the woods the gradient reduces.
  • Do a lot of speed work. This is a short sharp effort. My average heart rate was 170bpm – and on the climb it was reaching the 180s at times. Therefore, introduce speed work that will get your heart rate up, so that you are used to running with a higher heart rate. This will partially help combat the impact of the altitude
  • Include strength work to build up leg power, 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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