Friday, 3rd February 2023
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Dedicated mid-pack runner joins the elite for a day

by @garyfallsover
Tuesday 30th June 2015

Run247 columnist Gary Dalton travelled to Italy for The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Nursing an injury he was unable to participate, but instead saw a different side to the race when he joined Timmy Olson's support team

The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Photos: The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail has moved up to the top of Gary's list of 'must do' events

I have a list. You’ll probably have a list as well I imagine. On my list is an ever increasing number of races in far flung parts of the world that at some point in my life I vaguely want to do.  An ever decreasing pot of time and  finite resources mean that most of that list will sadly go unticked, they’ll get usurped by more accessible events, bigger and better sounding races arriving in my inbox and scrolling along my timeline every day.  But last weekend, courtesy of the North Face, I not only moved  a race from mid table to the coveted number one spot but also added a must do tag to the bibliography.

Now in the interests of honesty I need to add here that I was invited to Cortina for the Lavaredo Ultra Trail weekend at the expense of The North Face via Run247. All my flights, transfers, hotels and supplementary Haribo were paid for in full by TNF and they even threw in a goody bag with some shoes, shorts and t shirt. They’d obviously not seen my #willblogforsocks trending though as the bag was sadly hosiery free. Sort it out TNF eh?

And so it was I arrived in the Italian mountain town of Cortina on Wednesday evening before the inaugural Skyrace the following day. I’d been asked if I wanted to run but because of my increasingly common habit of falling over in races (HERE), I was still nursing some torn ligaments in my right ankle and with my A race coming up in September I decided it’d be best not to tempt fate and fall over on yet another mountain range. Don’t worry Dolomites, time enough yet.

So when I got an text from my TNF PR contact Emily asking me if I fancied dinner that night, I thought why not, I need to eat and it’d be nice to say hi. It was only when I sat down and said hi to some fit looking people I realised I’d just joined the TNF elite runners of Fernanda Maciel, Manu Vilaseca, Yeray Duran and Tim Olson for their evening meal. No problem I thought, just don’t say anything stupid. Which I promptly did by asking Duran if he was here for the race. Oh well, at least I didn’t ask the famously gluten free Olson if he fancied a beer. Oh, wait a sec, yes I did….

I then sought comfort in chatting to the TNF support team, who asked if I fancied helping crew Olson during the race, to which of course I played it absolutely cool with a squeaked ‘yes!’ And from that moment my mantra for the weekend was born: ‘Don’t feck this up, don’t feck this up, don’t...’

So over the course of the next couple of days I wandered around Cortina, hiked around some of the surrounding mountains and chatted to the TNF team and  got a real sense of how special this race series was. With the loss of the UTMB, the TNF group now have only two headline races in Europe, the  Lavaredo UT and Transgrancanaria in March and it seemed to me to be a deliberate move to smaller more focused races, making sure the community feel of ultra racing was preserved, whilst still providing a competitive field for the elites. Cortina did indeed have the feel of a small town and there was a real sense of anticipation in the air as I wandered around, observing runners compete to out t-shirt each other with UTMB,  Transvulcania and Zugspitz shirts particularly prominent.

With the increasingly popular evening start time I could easily get out on Friday morning to recce the start of the course and even with only a few miles seen, I knew the athletes were going to have a treat in store. Sadly the night-time start meant that some of the fastest of them would not get to see the most incredible sights of the Tre Cime at the refuge Auronzo. From my wanderings I knew that this was a course and an area to rival the most beautiful in the world. I had a job to do however and such frivolous thoughts were far from my head. As evidenced by the 876 photos I took of very similar looking mountains, with occasional gurning selfie for good measure.

The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Photos: Runners gather at the start

We waited at the start line as the runners assembled and the familiar scene played out again and again, as athletes checked and re-checked kit, occasionally looking up at the moonlit mountains, then back down at their feet, most lost in their own private world of hope. The elites appeared one by one, looking comfortable and relaxed as their faces were illuminated by flash after flash, smiles and greetings as they recognised friends and team-mates, each with their own game face on. And then they were off, cowbells and shouts of bravo and forza ringing in the narrow streets.

I now had a job to do and with David and Aless from the North face we quickly packed Tim’s supplies into our sponsored Jeep and made our way to the first aid point at Ospitale, which was set up by the side of the trail on a few trestle tables containing the elite's supplies, like some rubbish fitness freaks car boot sale.

First in was the Frenchman Clavery, followed by the British runner Lee Kemp. Athletes flashed past, some with barely a glimpse at the laden tables, but there still was no sign of Olson. Not to worry we thought, we knew the plan was to start conservatively and to push on shortly after the half way point. And then he was in, a quick chat, a water bottle refill and a hurried “Thanks guys!” and he was off again.

A sigh of relief from David and Aless, and we disappeared back into the car, German techno was our soundtrack as we negotiated the winding roads to our next stop at Federavecchia, a layby where the trail crossed the road before disappearing back into the long climb to the mountain refuge at Auronzo.

For me it was enlightening to see this end of a race, as I’m usually somewhere mid-pack, battling with my own demons. Up here with the running Gods, I saw how efficient their checkpoint changeovers were. Though I try to convince myself at every race that I’ll not waste time faffing about when I get in, I invariably enjoy the rest, taking a couple of minutes to re-charge before heading off again. Not the elites. They seemed to almost resent the time it took to get through, spooning down food as their crews swopped over bottles and gels. It was an incredible picture of raw determination not to waste a second unnecessarily, as if the CP’s were a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to recharge.

The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Photos: A course and an area to rival the most beautiful in the world

Tim charged in, chugged some water and was off, leaving us looking at each other and the detritus of our carefully arranged table in wonder. With the genuine fear that  we’d get caught out on the twisty mountain roads we packed up and got on our way, Haribo and smarties now staving off a sugar crash.

Refuge Auronzo was where we thought Olson would start his attack and we waited anxiously as Yiray Duran, Dapit, Hawker and Hermansen  and the other front runners came through. Lee Kemp, the first British male, came in looking supremely composed and comfortable, adjusted his pack and was gone, all whilst we anxiously looked out the windows into the gathering dawn for our man. And then there he was, scanning the room for us and his supplies, calling out for what he needed as we stuffed the necessary items into his pockets, saying he was now ready to start pushing for the front places and seeing if he could catch the front runners. At last we thought we had a race, we were back in the game and spirits were raised; our man was going on the hunt and we found ourselves energised by the prospect.

The hope however was sadly short lived. When Olson was late into Cimabanche we knew something was wrong. Athlete after athlete ticked past, place after place lost, until eventually he walked into sight. All of us still smiling as we fussed around him but each knowing that the revival was over. He said he was physically fine but lacking power, his body wasn’t responding as it should and, though he was happy to continue the chase, I think we all knew it wasn’t going to be his day. As a pro he knew it wasn’t just about him out there though and he continued.

At Malga Ra Stua at just over 75k in it ended. When we saw Tim walking down the trail we knew it was over. He took a seat, threw on another jacket and told us his day was done. His heart rate was spiking every time he pushed the pace and he didn’t feel safe to continue.

The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Photos: The highs and lows of an ultra race - Tim Olson drops and Didrik Hermansen takes the win

Occasionally we hear of elites dropping from races when they’re outside the top ten and I for one have always wondered whether it was a tactical decision; whether they had weighed up whether the physical damage done was worth it for a low placing, and had taken the view that a drop would enable them to get back to training quicker. I didn’t get that impression with Tim though. I think he was genuinely concerned for how his body was responding and  didn’t want to push himself into some potentially permanent damage.  His, and our, day was done. There was nothing left for it but to pack up our stuff, scoop iRunFar with the news of the drop and get Tim back to the refuge of his hotel, where he could get some rest and a hot bath.

However, there was still a race on out there and I wanted to see the end of it, so back on came the techno, out came the Haribo and David and Aless navigated their way to the penultimate checkpoint at Passo Giau, around 2250m above sea level and arguably one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Incredible rock formations tower over the mountain refuge with a panoramic view which stretches dozens of miles. I stood there captivated clicking photo after photo and never once captured the beauty of the sight. It was at that point this race moved up from a ‘want’ to a ‘must do’ on my own personal calendar.

First Hermansen, then Duran and Clavery came into sight. Charging down the steps, grabbing what they needed from their crews and they ran back up the grassy slope into the next climb with barely time to adjust their step.

As we waited at the finish line, the commentators were doing their utmost best to fill the waiting minutes with chatter. Every eye was straining to see who would be the first to turn the corner at the top of the street and take the kudos of being the 2015 TNF Lavaredo Ultra Trail winner.

As  expected, it was Hermansen, high fiving his way down the street to take the accolades and the win, with barely a hair out of place as he crossed the tape to be crowned the deserving winner. Twenty seven minutes later he was followed by Clavery who, after leading for much of the race before falling back, had rallied magnificently to take second place ahead of Duran who finished a mere three minutes later.

A magnificent display by Caroline Chaverot saw her take the first women’s win, with the recent world champion Nathalie Mauclair coming in second and The North Face’s Fernanda Maciel rounding out the podium in third.

But that was only the part of the race I was unfamiliar with. It’s almost as if there are two races on whenever you go to one of these events and for me the real race, the one I knew best and had taken part in many times, was still out there.

Men and women would still be coming in nearly seventeen hours later. Their races would be almost unrecognisable from the one I had seen but it would be no less of an achievement. Battered and broken but largely smiling they’d lope down the finishing street, their gait immeasurably changed from the one that started with, but each one deserving of their finisher’s gilet.

Each had their own story which was no less deserving of telling than the one I had witnessed and in a way I find far more affinity with them than I did with the front of the field. Though it was incredible to share Olson’s race, I had no idea what it was like to be in the position he was in, pushing at the front looking for a win. I do however know exactly what it’s like to wonder if you’ll finish, if you’ll beat the cut-offs and if there’ll be any Haribo left at the CP., and if I’m honest I think I know where I’d rather be.

The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Photos: Gary with his team mate Victor Mound, the course record holder for the SDW50

For more information on the race or to sign up for 2016, please visit: www.ultratrail.it/en/


About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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