Lavaredo: Something had to give….

Well, looking back I guess the result was inevitable. It was all too much and in the end something had to give.

I’d had a good flight and drive up to Cortina; I was in great spirits. I went into town soon after arriving at 1pm and registered and visited the Expo. I met up with Jon Crooks for a drink who was doing the Cortina Trail on Friday.

Jon under one of many banners

I slept well on Thursday night clocking up over 10 hours sleep and felt great on waking. Then I had a 2 hour nap from 1.30 to 3.30, which of course I felt groggy waking up from. And I then continued to feel sleepy for the next 24 hours!

If I’m honest, my reflection on this race isn’t great. Arriving for the 11pm start at 10.20pm, the square was absolutely heaving with people. I was trying to meet up with mates Emma and Ryan but there was clearly no chance of that happening.

Then, when I saw people lining up inside the funnel I thought I ought to go and join them at the back. But then I realised there was a queue to join the queue and I was stuck at the back, on the outside of the funnel, looking the wrong way.

Everyone is pointing the wrong way!!

30 minutes still to go. I actually played Backgammon with a friend to while away the time but already I was yawning. I was putting that down to my relaxed approach to the race.

Well, I had to achieve something today

Eventually we were aware of the music changing and a hullabaloo going on and we realised we were starting. So began a long squeeze into and around the funnel, and finally out under the banner into the streets beyond. The crowd watching were amazing and making an incredible noise which was fun. You can see my Periscope here of the start.

I found the going hard from the outset. It felt hard physiologically. Although my heart rate wasn’t particularly high, considering we were going up hill from the off, it felt much harder than it should have done. I was gasping for breath. I wondered if it was the altitude (no idea if we are at any altitude in Cortina?) or just the frenetic pace of the start.

Soon however respite came in the form of another queue at the trailhead. I resigned myself to wait and eventually got on the first trail. For the next 11 miles the routine was then run behind someone else, slow to a walk/halt when whoever was ahead slowed or stopped. You could sneak past people in a few places but I didn’t think it was worth it.

Up and up we went, in the pitch black. Our surroundings were thick forest but I did get a glimpse of Cortina below us at one stage. Otherwise all was black.

My new poles, bought at the expo, came out (Leki Trail Carbon Pros) which I absolutely loved. Once we eventually reached the top of this climb, there were some good undulating runnable bits.

The poles folded down easily and because they were so slim and light I spent much of the runnable bits just keeping them folded in my hands. I much preferred this to running with them “out” – I curse anyone who does so; it makes it so hard to overtake on narrow trails.

Midnight running

By now we are on a much wider (and dull) stoney track; like most fire breaks in forests. There was an occasional glimpse of imposing rock walls or sharp black drop offs next to the trail but still everything is black.

Except for the dust cloud. Imagine 1,500 odd runners passing along the dusty trail and I’m sure in daylight you would have seen a large cloud over the trail. I was aware of it tickling my throat so had to drink regularly to stop that irritation.

Up until now the temperature has still been hot. I started the race wearing a t shirt and it was boiling being part of the crowd, whether standing at the start or running up and down the mountains in the throng.

But coming up to the first checkpoint at 11 miles I’m suddenly aware of a chill in the air and decide to dig out a long sleeved layer at the CP. I’d been sipping on the juice in one of my flasks so needed to top up water anyway.

It was chaos. You weren’t allowed to help yourself so the runners thronged the tables, all with their arms out, holding the water bottles, crying Agua like lost children begging for water. The volunteers had large jugs and were constantly yelling for them to be refilled. I think I stood there for about 10 minutes before mine was filled.

On the table underneath were bowels of food – what food I didn’t know because the bowels were either filled with spilt water or empty from the visiting locusts. Nothing that was left looked appetising so I put my top on and moved on.

I’m feeling really tired now. Running the runnable bits is taking much more effort than it should but again I put that down to the time of night. But the people I started with started to drop me as I slowed down more and more. At one point I had to stop – my eyes were drooping so badly I literally falling asleep on my legs. I sat on a log at the side of the trail and gave myself a bit of a talking to. I dug out my earphones and put on some loud dancing music and set off again feeling much better.

As I was little bit more awake now and we were going downhill, I put the poles away properly and started running properly. To my amazement, I passed absolutely everyone in my sight. Seems they don’t go down hill very fast over here because if I’m over taking them, they must be slow. The downhill was long but despite risking my quads for the rest of the race, I continued down, not at breakneck speed, but it was plenty fast enough to overtake one runner after another.

They also don’t like getting their feet wet because whenever we got to a stream, they’d peel left and right looking for a way across and of course I just went straight through the middle.

Down and down I go and I start to feel great. I can see the faintest glimmer of light in the sky so I know dawn is fast approaching and I’m thinking finally I’ve shaken off the drowsiness and my race can start.

Pre pre-dawn

I’m so hot from running down the hill, and because dawn is coming I feel it’s time to remove all the layers. It is warm as I continue and soon we reach the next checkpoint, 20 miles in.

More chaos but I manage to get topped up quicker and I’m straight out and on. I look around for the timing mat but can’t see one so continue on. About half a mile down the track I see it at the junction with a road. Weird but ok.

Leaving Valbona checkpoint

The next checkpoint is 10 miles further on and I have 6 hours to get there. Even I should manage that!

However here things start to blur again. The drowsiness returns and I’m back to fighting a battle I know so well from my regular runs to the Peaks. When the eyes want to shut, it’s a very hard battle to win and I’ve learned the best way to deal with it is to pull over and sleep for 10 mins.

I come upon another Brit who I say hello to – the first person I have exchanged words with since I left the hotel the night before. He’s got his own struggles however so I don’t press him and drop back.

I see people lying by the side of the trail catching some sleep; something I am desperate to do. But they have a mate with them, keeping an eye. After all, you don’t want to fall asleep only to be continually woken by concerned passers by asking if you are ok. This wasn’t an option for me.

I drop back more and more, struggling up another hill, this time on a cursed road. We dive off into the woods and there’s a magical path through the trees; it’s stunning. But all I do is focus on the narrow path ahead of me and every now and again stumble or trip as my eyes win the constant mini battles I’m raging with them. I look for somewhere to curl up but it’s thick forest or narrow trail. No floor space to lie on.

Wonderful views peaking through the forest

Friends are keeping me going with text messages and updates on CP timings, cut offs and encouragement. I’m immensely grateful for this one source communication – I feel so isolated otherwise.

Misurina Lake

I struggle hugely over the next 4-5 miles to an intermittent checkpoint at Lake Misurina where I get a phone call. This cheers me no end and finally I’m not struggling against sleep. But I’m so slow now. I’m pretty much broken. Somewhere further back it got cold again and I only put my waterproof jacket on. I’m still freezing as I walk, no energy to stop and dig out the other top. It’s frustrating to see the sun yet be moving constantly in the lee of a mountain or inside woods. But I knew soon enough I’d be in the sun.

I’m happily chatting when I notice a man, in hiking gear, pass me and tear off the trail marking flags. My first thought this was someone maliciously removing them and I looked around to see a few runners coming up behind me. I shrug and continue chatting for a bit when I realise one of the runners is walking next to me, wanting my attention. It suddenly dawns on me this is the sweeper and he looks regretfully at his watch, does a cut off sign with his hand and shrugs at me.

Oh! Having just been discussing the fact I had 3 or 4 hours to do 3 or 4 miles, we had thought I had loads of time. Perhaps the cut off is superseded by the sweeper catching you?

The Party at the Back

To be honest, I’m so tired and moving so slowly I’m hugely relieved. I’d enjoyed about 1 hour of this run out of nearly 12 and frankly it wasn’t worth it to me.

For what it’s worth, that last hill took forever would have killed me anyway. It did take our sorry little party nearly the whole time to reach it and we finally reached the Refuge at 10.15. I was cursing the whole way up knowing I was being forced up there only to be driven straight down again!

Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Sanctuary at the base of the mountain – so near and yet so far still!

Lessons learned? Lavaredo was one of the first races on my list because of all the wonderful things I had heard about it. But really, it wasn’t my cup of tea, and even had things gone right for me, those things that annoyed me wouldn’t have changed. It was an experience to do one of the big European races but I’m definitely sticking to the small stuff in future. Not small length-wise of course, just numbers-wise 😉

And I do miss running with my friends. I’m not a loner and while I’m happy to put my head down and do the job in hand for a marathon, for the long stuff I do seek companionship. I count myself very fortunate that so many friends run at a similar pace and I look forward to further adventures with them.

I am really not remotely bothered about DNFs. In my opinion people put too much pressure on themselves to finish at any cost. We do this for love and I think people should trust themselves more that they’re not actually skiving if they feel shit and want to stop; acknowledge it’s just not your day and live to fight again another time.

As I write this blog a panicked text conversation with Charlie has highlighted the need and desire to focus on her and my new home for the next few months. And I’m ready for a rest.

I really can’t complain. I’ve had a great 6 months of running this year and made so many improvements: running Hebden 22 with Mac; finishing HM50 with Con despite my back; The Fellsman with Chris and Dan; smashing my marathon PB at Halstead and learning new skills and finding a new love of the mountains at Scafell. There’s so much still to look forward to!

View from the Refuge

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