The Cortina Trail is an extreme trail run that allows participants to run longer than a classic marathon in a charming mountain setting. Nico de Corato shares his experience.
This month, there were three separate trail running events featuring both short and longer routes, therefore offering as many as 3,400 runners from 64 nations an opportunity to race along the Dolomite trails around Cortina d’Ampezzo. Located in the North East of Italy in the regions of Trentino Alto Adige and Veneto, the trails, which take in the Dolomite mountain range, have significant elevation changes yet are still suitable for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels, ability and experience. Participants came from all over the world for this incredible race that embraces the most spectacular parts of the Alps that offer challenging high-altitude treks with interlinked paths and a quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
The most challenging race of the three is the The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail (LUT). With a total distance of 119 km and a variation in altitude of 5,850 meters the LUT is part of the “Ultra-Trail World Tour”, the international network that gathers the 12 most famous races in the world, selected according to 5 criteria:
• Long distance trail running races of at least 100km
• Emblematic venues
• Popular races (a minimum of around 500 runners)
• International events (a minimum of 20 countries represented)
• Minimum 2 realised editions
The second race is the Cortina Skyrace. Now in its second year, it takes place along paths in the Dolomite Mountains, covering a distance of about 20 km and with a variation in altitude of 1000 meters. The route allows you to discover the entire Ampezzo valley and provides a fantastic view of Cortina and the mountains that surround it; the race is for expert excursionists.
I decided to take part in the third event; the Cortina Trail. At 47km with a variation in altitude of 2,650 meters, this is extreme trail running. I confirmed my entry only four weeks before the event, when my training should have been at its peak. However, the goal was enjoy a new challenge, so I spent those four weeks training on the rocks in JBR to simulate the trail ride on the steep terrain of the Dolomites, and training on the stairs to simulate the variation in altitude. Ultimately, I decided not to have too many intense workouts, because of the lack of proper training time before the race.
During the race, athletes had to pass some rivers
The morning of the race began with a fantastic surprise. I found out that one of the organisers of the race was my friend Antonio Colli, with whom I had the pleasure of trying cross-country skiing for the first time in Cortina. Shortly before departure Antonio asked me what my expectations were for this race.
3, 2, 1…, the race started and I began to run very slowly for the first few kilometers. It was going to be a long run and I didn’t want to force my pace. I enjoyed the view while running, but felt my lack of training on the climbs and the “technical” slopes. Unexpectedly, I found that we had to wade through several streams; luckily I had spare socks and insoles.
Unfortunately, one of the competitors fell, suffering a nasty gash to her forehead. Being a rescuer, I supported her together with other people until the arrival of medical personnel. After a wait of about thirty minutes and some brief refreshments, I continued the race with Daniel, who initially helped the fallen runner. During long races it’s not unusual to make new friends. After several kilometers we reflected on the need to pass a check point within three and a half hours, under penalty of exclusion from the race. It was then that I decided to force the pace and leave Daniel behind. At one of the refreshment stops I was informed that I had 20 minutes of walking ahead of me before the check point, with only 23 minutes available, so I did not even stop or refill the water in an effort to make it on time.
At the medical point at 16km
Next, whilst running on a technical slope I got a (slight) sprained ankle! Daniel reached me shortly thereafter and escorted me for the next 2km, up to the refreshment point. There, I asked the medical staff to get me a tight bandage. I wanted to try to finish the race despite the still difficult path and 16km separating me from the finish. With difficulty I reached the last refuge. There was still 9km to go, which was all downhill and very technical, and only 90 minutes before the cut-off time. I didn’t know what to do, but a few minutes later one of the volunteers, Gianluca Bucciol, pushed me to go on and offered to escort me to safety.
With Gianluca one of the volunteer who supported me following my run after my distortion
We set off again, with the next four or five kms being quite slow because of the terrain. Suddenly, the ground became less technical and then something happened in my mind: I started running again despite the pain in my ankle. I passed several competitors from both the Cortina Trail and the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (the two paths overlap in the final stage). With about 2km to go, I slowed down, but one of the competitors of the LUT gave me a pat on my shoulder and screamed, “Do not give up! Run with me!”
I accepted the invitation. With about 1km to go he went ahead by about a hundred meters. However, in the last 500 meters, as we made our way through downtown Cortina, my brain gave me the command and I start running like never before. At about 50 meters from the finish line I reached the guy who initially spurred me on, and I took him by the arm and screamed, “Let’s speed up! Fast! Come on!”
We passed the finish line together and fell into an emotional embrace before Antonio Colli handed me the microphone and asked me my feelings. After a few minutes, Gianluca came and I received another hug. Upon seeing me at the finish line, he realised that I must have covered the last 5km by running. I am among the last finishers, but I feel the same thrill as the winner.
After that my body reminded me I spent had spent 12 hours working out, including 18km with a sprained ankle. Maybe I needed a medical check, but in my mind was just one thought: I did it!
Filling my bottle
I would like to thank the Cortina Trail Organisation for this fantastic experience and impeccable organisation, Cortina Marketing SE.AM, Hotel Ambra and Restaurant Il Passetto for the hospitality, my water
sponsor Monviso for the support and all those friends who made this experience unforgettable.
Words by: Nico de Corato
Photos by: Nico de Corato and provided