We met Francesco, an old friend and passionate marathon and ultra runner. We asked him to share with his feelings after his transition to trail running, culminated with The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail race (link to website), a 120km 6.000 D+ trail in the Dolomites, taking place in June.
Movimentore: Hi Francesco, what was the driver of your transition to trail running?
Francesco: I always liked running but, after many years on tarmac, I was looking for peace and tranquility you can get on fields, woods and peaks only. That’s why I entered the trail running world.
M: Straight. And what about Lavaredo Ultra Trail, was that the hardest race you took part?
F: Yes, definitely. Everything began last November, on a Friday night. I received an email from the LUT organization informing I was in. In fact, there’s a ballot, because there are too many registrations. I’m not sure I was happy or worried, since 120km with a 6.000m D+ can’t be improvised.
M: Tell us about your race.
F: I arrived in Cortina, after more than one year on trails, ready to take part to one of the top races in the circus. A heavy rain didn’t turn me down, so much was the adrenaline. It was 2.000 of us, many foreigners.
At 10,30 p.m. I entered the grid and started wondering about the other competitors. I always study their shape and equipment, such as new lights, minimal backpacks (I still don’t understand how can they dealt with the compulsory equipment), retractable sleeves, waterproof jackets under or over the backpack. Anyone is of a kind!
I never ran nighttime before and, specifically, I never started nighttime before. I was worried about sleepiness, but I had no problem at all and it was a great experience. Running in the dark you focus on the narrow limb illuminated, in order to avoid falls. But if you look up you see an enlighten serpentine climbing in the wood, really fascinating.
M: Could you really see something? You mentioned it was raining.
F: Actually, it stopped raining few minutes before the start. That implied a high humidity ratio (especially within woods): in fact, runners smarter than me wore very light tops.
In the dark and silence I ran and walked fast, so I went past mileage and refreshing points. I had some intestinal trouble, but I reached quite easily the checkpoint at 33km. I filled my water bottles, bite three lemon slices, ate a gel and went on. This way, I overtook 60 contenders that stopped to eat fruit, bread and pieces of cake.
Attacking the third ascent it was 5 a.m., and I saw a really spectacular sunrise on the pink dolomite stones.
After 3km on a muddy terrain in the wood, I arrived at the Misurina Lake, where I met nobody and a sense of peace gave me a boost to attack the ascent to Rifugio Auronzo, behind the “3Cime”.
M: At this point you probably reached the halfway.
F: Not yet, at Rifugio Auronzo I felt like a conqueror even though I was at 48km (2800m D+) and the place is reachable by car. This time I stopped some minutes to swallow some soup and parmesan cheese with bread. I filled again a water bottle with lemon juice, then I went again uphill towards the 3Cime. Once after the 3Cime, a long downhill started until the Lando Lake and Cima Banche, where stood the 66km checkpoint. There I completely changed my clothes.
M: Did you find changing clothes was useful?
F: Yes, it might sound strange, but changing socks, shorts and t-shirt and also putting on some fresh vaseline is really helpful.
M: Good to know, how did your journey continue?
F: I managed to restart within 30minutes, as I planned, and go ahead until Malga Ra Stua at 75km, where I got some food and re-filling again.
I accessed the Val di Travenanzes climbing up for 7km wading across a stream in 3 points (the water was freezing and arrived at the middle of my calves). At the 90km mark the downhill started again towards Passo Col Gallina. It started raining and thunders could be heard from the highest peaks.
I suddenly saw a bar where I coundn’t resist to buy a bottle of sparkling water, that I really found refreshing. And again I had to face a steep ascent to Rifugio Averau. From there the weather turned really bad, and I found myself through a hailstorm.
I just went on as I could, wearing everything I got, until Passo Giau (102km). I felt like I was outdoing myself, and any further step was an achievement. I stopped under the checkpoint tent, where many athletes were recovering a bit. Some of them were withdrawing from the race and waiting for the bus to catch them up. Rain, wind and low temperatures have a weakening effect, also consider it was getting dark again.
I told myself I couldn’t afford any wasting of time, so I wore my headlamp and restart with three other contenders.
I knew I had only 400m D+ left and I went through them like I was climbing a wall. Fortunately, it stopped raining.
The last 13km had been the toughest. At 7km to go I had visual hallucinations because of shadows in the wood and real tiredness: I then have been running for more than 24 hours. I could only think I had to finish.
I crossed the finishline in Cortina in 26hours 24minutes.
M: That’s exciting but, as you initially said, a little worrying. Do you have any suggestions to share?
F: Well, I have three suggestions.
In this race I ate quite only gels. That’s because I find other food too heavy to digest. I have been suggested so by other runners and a nutritionist. It seems solid food reclaims too much blood to the stomach, at prejudice of the muscles. I tried so, and it’s feasible.
Then, I used walking sticks. I don’t use normal sticks, though. I use N&W Curve sticks, that have a special shape, now used by champions such as Marco Olmo. They help you not to waste energy.
Finally, I always bring some salt bags. In fact, you often find rivers and streams where you can refresh and drink. But in the mountains water tends to be too poor of salt to be thirst quenching.
M: Thank you! See you on trails!