Lavaredo Ultra Trail (review) – The darling of the Dolomites
For those of you who follow the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) you would have heard of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (LUT). Previously (prior to Covid19) LUT was an event on the UTWT (why the current exclusion i’m not sure – maybe someone can enlighten me in the comments below) which meant it drew revered trail athletes from around the globe to participate in their various races and gain vital ITRA points. Keep reading below for our Lavaerdo Ultra Trail race review….
Lavaredo is placed in arguably one of the most beautiful and picturesque regions in Europe, The Dolomites, northeastern Italy. The race passes the defining feature of the Dolomite Alps, “Tre Cime De Lavaredo” or “The Three Peaks of Lavaredo”, after which the race is named.
Easiest access is via numerous flight into Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. Even closer, but not quite as well connected, via Treviso Airport to the north. As i’ve only ever taken the Venice option I can only comment on this route. The airport is fairly hassle free and modern but becomes VERY busy due to it’s location to Venice itself. I would suggest if travelling with a group or couple, for one of you to go ahead post immigration control and head straight to the car rental kiosks a fair walk away. As the baggage is handled manually the wait at the carousel is often lengthy. This will be just the start of the waiting you are going to encounter for the day. Sending your partner/wife/husband/friend ahead to the car rental to grab a ticket may save you hours of waiting. You have been warned: The car rental kiosk is CHAOS. The past two trips to Lavaredo had us waiting for a rental car, on average, 3 hours!! Getting a head start on this is a MUST.
Once you have your steed (upgrade perhaps?) the drive follows the highway north from Venice into the Dolomites. You’ll find yourself in absolute awe as the road twists and turns between the towering peaks of the Dolomiti Alps on either side. The drive itself should take you a maximum of 2.5hrs with a stop at a “Servizio” for that silky Italian espresso and panini combo deals.
Where to stay?
About 10km prior to Cortina d’Ampezzo (the famous ski village that hosts LUT) a small village named San Vito De Cadore, along the SS51 route is a cheaper and viable option for those late at making an accommodation booking in Cortina. The village has all the essentials and is generally cheaper (coffee, ice cream, groceries) than Cortina. Having previously stayed here we did feel a little removed from all the LUT weekend action as you’d have to make a daily drive into Cortina to attend the registration, family races, start line, etc. However, the town itself is charming and trails (both bike and running/hiking) are very accessible from this area.
Staying in charming Cortina d’Ampezzo is the golden ticket, and staying within walking distance to the town square is first prize. Some opt to stay IN the town square but beware, the race PA system and music is relentless and you’d find sleeping very difficult to achieve.
The four distances
The big daddy – LUT120
Having only ever competed in the longer of the 4 distances, namely edition 11 & 13, I can only give my accurate account and review of the 120 kilometre distance.
A predominantly high altitude race (lowest point 1,210m in Cortina) with an elevation gain of D+5800m makes this a 120km distance challenging undertaking. An unusual 23h00 start is a hive of activity as the town square throbs with music and cheers as the runners countdown (in Italian of course) to the starting gun. The vibe is electric as people, both young and old, hang from every balcony over looking the starting chute, cheering their runners on. The sound of cowbels can be heard throughout the first (long) climb into the mountains.
Climbing up to Tri Cime as the sun rose over the alps gave me goosebumps, not just because it was zero degrees but the beauty of it all was insane. So much to take in. Endless peaks rose in the distance as the sun warmed the runners and greeted us with views of this UNESCO heritage site. Aid stations are well stocked throughout the race and every mountain station offers something unique from the village nearby, be it local cheese or sausage. One (of the many) great things about Italian mountain trail runs are the aid station goodies – olive oil shots for max calories, various cheeses, saucisson, crackers – all make for multiple delicious aid-station-buffets en route.
“An eating competition with some running thrown in”Jimmy PHILLIPS
The sounds of cowbells and local villagers cheer you on as the race continues through varied terrain. The final 12km downhill is a total quad busting section leading you back into Cortina and along the streets where the cheers grow louder and louder as you approach the finish line. What a final straight and ending it is – people in bars and restaurants sprawl out offering high 5’s and congratulations as you make it over the line. A very memorable event. One for the books.
I was due to undertake my third LUT during 2020 but, as we all know, Covid19 thwarted those plans. I have deferred my entry to 2021 and retained the accommodation, hoping to return in June 2021 for some of that fresh Italian ultra mountain air.
Also, check out this Trail Runner Nation podcast (Spotify) from fellow float member and ultra runner Romain Blanchard.