I have always wondered about the ratio of fitness vs. mind in ultra-running, as both parts certainly play an equally important role to cover those great distances and heights. Due to my day-to-day life in banking, unfortunately I lack the time to follow the ideal training plan, which means that my mind is more critical, when it comes to race day. Luckily, I was able to count on the latter at the Lavaredo Ultra-Trail.
The weekend kicked-off with a slightly adventures arrival. Some of you may know that I am currently living in Frankfurt, so I decided to leave on Thursday night, pit stop in Munich and then continue driving to Cortina on Friday morning. Unfortunately, due to my mentioned job, I was unable to leave work earlier, so that I only entered the Autobahn by 22:30. With more than one hour to go to Munich and the clock nearing 1:30, I was too tired to continue driving and decided to take a nap. However, instead of napping for a half an hour, I figured that it would make sense to just sleep in my car and continue the trip next day. I slept for around four hours in the back of my car and continued the trip early in the morning.
I arrived in Cortina D’Ampezzo around midday. The sun was shining, it was warm and the stage was set for an exciting weekend. There were was an incredible buzz in the streets of this beautiful alpine resort. I picked up my bib number and found my way to Pizzeria Porto Rotondo. I had only found about this place through one of my favourite YouTubers Dan Whitehead. Truthfully, I only know him through social media, but he seems to be a cool dude. He produces great content and tells top-notch stories, so make sure to check out his videos (Click here). In his video about his experience in Lavaredo, he pointed out Porto Rotondo’s tasty pizzas. I can confirm that it was a great recommendation. After I stacked up on my carbs, the rest of Friday was pretty calm. I strolled through the village, enjoyed some quality Italian coffee, was breathing in the atmosphere, before heading to bed.
After a few hours of sleep, at 3:00 my alarm rang. I showered, put on my gear, enjoyed my porridge and made my to the bus, which left around 4:15 to bring us to the starting line in Auronzo. The sun slowly started to rise and at 6:00 the UltraDolomites trail commenced. 87 Kilometer and 4600 vertical meters were lying in front of me.
As I had mentioned before, my current training routine very much differs from the previous years, which also meant that I had to adjust my ambition. After the experience at Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc last year, I learned that my sole goal for those major events shall be to enjoy the ride and complete the course. With this mind, I have also achieved a complete different perspective on the sport. While each event is obviously a competition measured by who can run the fastest, for me ultra-running has turned into something greater focused on a personal quest I set out to achieve to challenge myself.
UltraDolomites has been one of my favourite, yet toughest races I competed in thus far. My extreme tiredness and lack of training combined with the grueling heat, steep inclines and challenging trails, turned this into a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding adventure. The first half of the trail I was feeling surprisingly good with no issues at all. I was able to keep my pace and climb up the hills. I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape. In fact, I had never seen such stunning rock formations with the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo being the most spectacular amongst them all.
I was enjoying the technical terrain and was able to run the downhill passages pretty well. However, as I progressed through the mountains and temperature started to rise, I felt my body starting to get more and more tired. I was forced to lay down and close my eyes at three check points between kilometer 40 to 60. Though it cost me a significant amount of time, I was able to find some energy reserves and progress along the course.
After 62 kilometers, I arrived at Rifugio Col Gallina, where to my great surprise, I was greeted by my sister, who was also in Cortina and had run the Cortina Trail on Thursday. It remined me how much it means to have someone to support you during the race, as well as to look forward to at a specific check point and above all know that there is someone awaiting you at the finish line. I sat down in the tent, while my sister took care of refilling my bottles and bringing me food to eat. I must admit that when I left the station to continue the race, I was touched by this surprising encounter and support of hers. It meant a lot.
As the sun started to set, every step I took brought me closer to the finish line. I turned on my head lamp and moved along the path. A final downhill passage and few more kilometers through woods, eventually, I was able to see the village in the horizon. I turned left into the streets and started running. With every stride I took, the noise from village became louder. A little uphill, then a right turn onto the main pedestrian zone. People were sitting in cafes, enjoying a glass of wine, fresh Italian food, while clapping and cheering us on. Then, the last few hundred meters were closed off with gates. Music was playing and the crowd was drumming on the barriers. After 17:50:34 hours, just before midnight, I crossed the finish line. As I stopped my watch, for a moment, it felt like I was pausing time. I was exhausted. I sat down. I was grateful for this incredible experience and I was thinking back to what the last few months had brought me. I could not help it, but to let a few tears roll down my face.
People often ask me what I feel and experience, when I am running around for such period of times. Truthfully, as cliché as it sounds, but it is incredible hard to put into words. It is an emotional roller-coaster of joy and agony. It is time that you spend with yourself, reflecting about life, or just running and thinking about nothing at all. The mountains give you perspective, and with the right perspective you might understand better what is most important in life and what is not. The mountains are always teaching us something, we just have to open our eyes and take it all in to fully understand.