Thursday, 3 July 2014

Lavaredo Trail 2014

Now where do I begin? I found this race through an internet search. It was a small entry (max 800) trail run through the Dolomites. I decided after the WHW 2013 this would be my focus for 2014. I waited patiently on entry opening in February, in between which it had been named as an Ultra-Trail World Tour race. Oh no, panic now begins about getting an entry!! No worries, got my entry in, bib secured and it was all systems go. Then I got injured, (already in previous Fling blog) after which my training was a bit stop start, my calf's never really fully recovering, always a niggle.
I was not particularly confident I was fully prepared, more hills could have been done, perhaps more weights or should I have done a bit more speed? Suddenly it was upon us. Bryan and me set of to Glasgow Airport , packing light and almost pretending it was a 'holiday'. A small mishap with a delay/missed connection and we didn't arrive in our hotel till the early hours of Friday morning.. the day of the race. I slept till 11am though then we set about getting registered. 3 times I had to go back to the hotel to collect things, yes they tell me they need to see the clothes I am running in? seems you have to have capri tights and long sleeve top. I do so all is fine. 50% of others don't on race night and I wonder what use these checks are when folk just show one thing and wear another?

Time for our last meal, I was a bit edgy and couldn't even decide where to eat let alone what to eat. in & out of restaurants we went, a study of the menu and another.. nope. Ended up having a slice of take away pizza and sprite. We went back to the hotel and I tried to sleep, no chance but I did get a couple of hours rest.

Then it was time to go for the 2300hrs start.

We walked the mile or so to the start. The weather was looking ok. Bit damp but no wind or rain and it was warm enough just for a light wool top. We lingered around at the back waiting for the off  (too many folk to get through to get a glimpse of Tony Krupicka but I did hear his short interview ;-). At this point I wasn't too nervous, for something I had taken a great deal of time planning I realised I has no real idea of the route the checkpoints etc. I had emailed asking about backup and food to be told back up was not encouraged and food including soup would be available at checkpoints.

We set of and I was told by a sweeper he would be following me!! must know me then! As I was at the back I enjoyed taking it all in, the whole way through the town was lined with people clapping, cheering, ringing cow bells. Great start, a gentle uphill out the town for a mile or so then a left onto a rocky trail and the first hill. ok... well let me say OMFG, never been on hills like these, they just went on & on & on. Our Alpine friends with their poles power yomp, huge steps lots of force through the poles into the ground, glad I didn't connect with any!! I was tiddling up with my tiny wee steps and wondering what the hell I had let myself in for. Eventually we top out, oh thank god thinks me, then it seems the other part of Alpine racing is bouncing as fast as you can down windy ,slippy, technical terrain in the pitch black, poles with pointy bits out the back ready to pierce any unfortunate runner. A few times I stood to the side, partly not to trash my quads (we are still on the first hill) and partly I was having a feeling of self preservation and had no wish to be stabbed with the points or taken out by out of control runners. Into the first checkpoint, I met Sharon Law who was with other Brits crewing, she was following Scott Bradley who was well through at this point and running well, Sharon looked after me, getting my water etc I tried to get some food in and had a small bit of a jam tart, everything was sweet, no soup or bread. I took coke in 2 of my small bottles and water in the other 2. I think I also tried a small biscuit which I ate while walking.

I quickly got the idea of the race. Huge uphill (walk) Huge downhill (take time) Little flat (run what I can).
I settled in as it got light. There was still very little room to run at your own pace. Narrow paths, runners with elbows at right angles, poles stabbing or dangerously skiteing backwards of rock. I'd ban the bloody things but hey, when in Rome and all that.
Once daylight came, wow, this place was just simply stunning. I stopped to take a few photo's but my camera card was full!! We came to the gorgeous Misurina, a stunning lake with equally stunning trails.

At ground level
From the checkpoint

We ran round the far side before starting the climb up to the 48km (2300m) checkpoint. The second part of this climb for me was a death march, it was soo long and soo steep, scrambling at points. On the other hand the Milka coo's were wandering around ringing their bells and making me stop and look back down the valley towards them :-)  I finally got something to eat, noodle soup and bread. This is also where our drop bags were, I had clean tops, buffs and gloves, shoe change and a couple of treats with more tablet and caffeine gels. In good Italian way, there was one dressing room and you just got on with it!! Quickly deleting some disturbing scenes from my retina!!

After my break and food I walked out the Refuge towards the Tre Cime Lavaredo at 2400m, my fingers had gone numb (white & tingling) I was feeling a bit rattled but stopped again to get my dry gloves on. The only thing on my mind was to remain comfortable, not only in pace & energy but my general well being.

It is a nice wide path along here and I now had plenty space to do my own thing. Plenty snow too but it wasn't too cold and no sign of the rain that had been forecast. I put my wee shuffle on at this point, there was really no one to speak with. I looked at most folks bibs which had our country on them and did find a few Brits. The Killers and others kept me company along what felt like a very long 15km. I was told by one Italian to relax.. we don't run the flat, keep it for the hills, a different take on it but I can see why you would plan to race like that.
I got to Cimabanch in good fettle 65K and again met Sharon, again I was looked after well, Sharon was trying to get me to eat something, anything, I knew I needed to but my stomach was having none the super sweet foods on offer. I had eaten a few gels and one bit of tablet, along with the soup. I knew it wasn't enough but thought if I could just get the gels to stay down I'd be ok. I took a couple of small biscuits and tried to eat them but with no saliva I had a mouth of glub... yeuck. Birdies got the biscuits.

I was still plodding along happy. I had no real pains I was still walking very well even if my running legs were not as strong. Thankfully, as I was to really need those walking legs later.
I think Malga Ra Stua was where Bryan had waited hours on me but missed me. I met a lovely family from Helensburgh who were supporting their Italian son in law. I also had soup, which turned out to be water with stock. No veg, noodles or anything. I had a small bit of bread and took advantage of real toilets. Leaving the checkpoint was a pretty technical downhill, slippy, steep & rooted and I was having to be very careful. My legs were getting tired and my shoes were not exactly gripping the terrain. I plodded on waiting on the next uphill, a few false starts and we were away again. Steep and never ending, I was starting to overheat and managed to get my buff soaked in some ice cold water.

It was a long slog & I remember feeling ok, then we came to the part with water. Here there were no paths, just flags between the rocks, 4 river crossings, each step carefully placed as the water was running fast. Bloody freezing it was too! Some folks were taking there shoes and socks off, not for me,straight through and man up. I wondered if any of them had put there pretty matching gear and feet through such extremes as a Scottish hill run or English Fell, actually think not. After topping out there was a very steep downhill on a nice wide track, you could see the runners below going round the hairpin bends towards a tunnel. Below the tunnel you could see the refuge and I along with many others stupidly thought that was the checkpoint, and technically it was, only after the tunnel a marshal pointed us back uphill, more hairpin bends, never as much fun going up them though, then eventually a steep descent holding onto trees and bushes to stop myself falling.
Crossing the bridge coming out of the hill the Helensburgh family were there and I got the loudest cheer.. so put a smile on my face and a wee bounce in my step. I ran into the checkpoint with a runner form England who had been just in front of me at the bridge when he heard the accents, we had a wee blether about our joint tiredness and misery but both of us still smiling & determined.
As I ran into the food station Lucy, who had been with Sharon for the early part of the day came over and took control. Sharon had went on to be at the finish for Scott and asked Lucy to look out for me. I really can't say what a huge difference these small gestures make. Thanks so much Sharon, Lucy and the others who looked after me. I had soup here again and was offered chips! but tummy was having none of it. Soup was all I could manage.
Meanwhile Bryan was still trying to find me :-) I think he almost blew the engine out the wee 1ltr panda hire car trying to get round the course and up the hills!

I ran out the checkpoint feeling ok. I was still eating so in my mind I was getting it right. I wouldn't say my energy was high but I was still running the flats etc. Feeling a bit sick but the soup remained in my stomach. After this point though, I ran very little more. Looking at the figures I only had 24km to go. I was well up on the cut off times and I think in front of my hoped for 24-26hrs.  My Garmin had packed in somewhere here I think, probably gave up waiting on me completing a km as it seemed to take a lifetime to cover any distance at all!
I started noticing things go wrong pretty soon onto the climb up to Rif Averau. The road map looks like the 2nd half of the race is short uphills and downhills. I had checked previous times and noticed that 6 and 7 hours was normal for this final part of the race. I wondered why, well wonder no more. It is brutal. When you start passing chair lift stations and snow is all around you know your high. The view was gone as I was now in swirling mist and it was getting cold. Ahh well, tough it out, how hard can it be. Looking desperately at my road map, I'm kidding myself on that it can't be too bad. I soon started wheezing and coughing, I was now pushing hands on knees and if my memory serves me right it wasn't the steepest I'd been on. Eventually I topped out, mountain rescue at the top. They gave me a wee cup of something, lost in translation for a while till I worked out it was tea :-) didn't taste or look like tea!! Leaving this wee rest stop I went round the side of the building into a freezing wind. I put my thick wool top on here before continuing. Here was a nice runnable twisty downhill, then onto another single track that was crossing the hill slightly on an incline. I was running/fast walking as much as I could but feeling more and more nauseated. As the time and little distance passed I was feeling awful. I had started wretching but holding on to my tummy contents at all costs.

Eventually I reached Passo Giau and I knew I needed to regroup. I was totally rattling, shaking, dizzy feeling sick. I sat myself down inside the tent. Took some water and they had fruit cocktail here. It was cold and yummy. I only had one cup. I tried to work up to eating some thing from the table but simply couldn't face anything. 10 mins passed and I was starting to get cold. Ok lady off you go only two short hills.. aye right. I somehow conveniently managed to forget I was in amongst mountains, not hills. A 3000ft Munro barely gets you off the ground around here. In my mind I was still in the Munro range though, keeps it doable if slightly unreal.

On exiting the checkpoint I pass the last pull out bus. Didn't give it a 2nd glance, within 50meters I was doubled over throwing up my much prized tummy contents. A quick look back at the bus, it's still there.. not a chance. I pulled myself up tucked in my petted lip and started walking towards wee hill Forc Giau. To get to this hill I had to slide down a mountainside, scramble over rocks perched on the side of said mountainside before crossing yet more snow fields which had slides cut into them on the downhill, haha just balance yourself and slide, scary fun and slightly mad. I started the scramble up the hill in not to bad a shape but before long I was struggling like never before, only managing 5 or 6 steps before having to stop for a breather. Eventually I could take no more, put my jacket on, zipped it up, kept my rucksack off and and lay down on a large rock for a sleep. I felt warm enough to begin with but soon cooled down. I knew I could recover from this blip, I just needed time. I was soo tired and had no breath but dragged myself back up thinking I'll get to the top then rest. I caught up with a guy from Denmark, he was struggling with his breathing too, hanging over his poles unable to get another step. Eventually we both managed to get moving, the mountain rescue guy came down the last 20-30ft, took my elbow and practically dragged me up... humph, I was managing fine you know!!!

I sat myself down sheltering at the same large rock as the rescue guys. They brought me water and bread sticks but again I couldn't manage. Food and fluids were a thing of the past. I'm now at 105km according to the road map, I now believed nothing that was on this damn useless piece of paper. 10mins later and I'm on my way. New rules though. I was going to walk it out. Swing your arms get some air in your lungs. Last noticeable hill. I'm not prepared to do a carbon copy of previous hill, also I think my fat stores were starting to utilise into energy, my legs were moving, 'Left foot, Right foot what way are we going? Forward... yeah' I turned this into a little chant. This hill went by in no time, I'm well chuffed, there is a downhill, I'm running.

Less than 100m I'm chucking up. Ok. I'm not quite recovered but I am moving. And that is how I finished the race. My stomach didn't recover although my legs did. I walked a very long slow death march through the Dolomites. I could not even walk fast as it made me sick so I picked a pace where I was coping. I was sick many times during the last 20km I rested many times and I got a lot of support from fellow runners. All asking after my welfare and could they do anything to help. What can I say, when the chips were down all those pole carrying, matching expensive clothed runners were only too happy and quick to offer help and support. Thanks.

On the final 5km into Cortina the route takes you down but then back up again, moving away from the town, WTF I can't do this.. but off course I could, I eventually entered the town, right at the top where we had begun our journey on the trails. I was now walking faster, I was heaving constantly but the need to finish was stronger. I passed a marshal.. how far I ask , 1km in distance he tells me, I will share with you all right now just in case you ever go to Europe to run... they have no F***ing idea how far a km is!!!! So 1 mile later and I've taken a tour of the town, I now turn into the finish. Bryan appears, he's been there since 5pm it's now after 11. I try to run to finish line and I manage it without being sick... it's over. 24hrs 18mins. I would have been delighted with that beforehand and I still am delighted. No point asking what if. I have learnt yet more lessons that will help me in the future. It also made me realise the real meaning of single mindedness.
The Helensburgh couple appear and congratulate me, son in law is still out there, I thanked them for their support, it truly meant a lot.

It was a quick drive back to our hotel and I was so glad to get a shower. I was really hungry and tired so bed first. I was up early and took the lift to the hotel restaurant for breakfast before heading back into Cortina for the prizegiving.

All in all, it was a great experience. Not one I'm in too much of a hurry to repeat though. The route was tough and in parts mental with snow, melting snow, rocks, land slides etc. If you want a challenge def give this one a look. Thanks to everyone who organised and helped out and to Sharon for making sure I was looked after.

Then it was tourist holiday time :-)

Well if you have got this far, you'll be needing a wee coffee... enjoy


  1. WOW! Karen, fantastic job well done!! Sounds really scary in bits xx
    hope you enjoyed the rest of the trip :-)

  2. Well done Karen, congratulations! I know it's hard to tough it out for 20 or 30 miles without eating or drinking, but you'll feel you really earned your finish. Your symptoms suggest you may have been affected by altitude - it gets to some people as low as 2000m, nothing to do with fitness, just the luck of the draw physiogically - so it may be worth considering a few days acclimatisation if you do another Alpine event.acclimatisation if you

  3. Fantastic tough lady :) X Karen D

  4. Congratulations Karen - it looks and sounds absolutely amazing, and what an achievement!!!

  5. a little worried! We've got this one this year (wife is doing the Cortina Trail). We're already training on the Pentlands which sounds as though they are now molehills. you think serious lugs are req'd (x-talon, mudclaw etc), or something like Trailroc would be okay?

  6. It is a great race and yes the hills are tough, I was ill through stomach issues but if you have a strong gut and able to eat and keep the energy up it will be more fun :-) there is not much tarmac, I used Hoka's, wouldn't advise them particularly on the rocky technical 2nd half. The final descent was a mud bath with recent landslips. I'd say an all rounder like the la Sportiva raptors / roclites / cascadias etc. ps. Save a bit for the great wee run down to the last checkpoint, awesome. Enjoy :-)