Saturday, July 4, 2015

LUT2015 Beat The Sun Challenge DNF

Official LUT 2015 poster.

The short version: No.

Race course 199km +5850m.

The long version: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I was going to beat the sun, but the sun beat me. Already the second DNF this year. This time I got a lot further before giving up. This is how it all happened.

NE-view from Tofana - this is the direction where LUT starts.
I finished Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2014 in 26:31. Then I won in the lottery and entered for LUT 2015. Running the same course again might get boring, even if it's the most beautiful course in the world. How to avoid feeling ├╝ber-deja-vu?

Becco di Mezzodi 2603m and Croda da Lago 2715m in the middle - LUT course runs between them!

I came up with Beat The Sun Challenge: Finish in Cortina before the sunset, 21:08 local time. So my goal was to finish in 22:08 hours - 4 hours 23 minutes faster than last year. I was in good health and fitness, the weather forecast looked good for the weekend and they said there were no snow on the trail this year, so this was a pretty realistic plan.

5 Torri from above.

After my arrival in Cortina d'Ampezzo on Thursday afternoon I headed to the Ice Stadium for gear check. They demand a Medical Certificate and they will check that you have all the obligatory gear. I was well prepared and got through quickly. I received my bib 689 - I was all set to run!

Enjoying Ra Valles views above Cortina.

For the first time they had a 20K long Vertical K called Skyrace on Thursday evening. I saw some of the 300 competitors while going out for dinner. There would also be a 47K Cortina Trail on Saturday morning with 1300 runners.

On the podium with TPjr - future podium finisher for sure!
The main event Lavaredo Ultra Trail would start 11pm on Friday. It also had 1300 registered participants. We were allowed 30 hours to complete the event - until 5am on Sunday.

Move on folks, nothing to see here in Cortina...just kidding!

The cable car to Tofana di Mezzo 3244m was scheduled to open on Friday morning 9am after the spring break and Team Finland was right there! It was awesome to get up there on a clear day like this.

Trailplodder with Finnish HC-ultratrail runners Make and Tomi.

Most of the photos in this report are from this fab high-altitude trip. I decided to save some time by not shooting any pics during the race.

There is always snow on Tofana.

After lunch I went out shopping in the afternoon with TPjr. Then I took my drop bag to the Ice Stadium and attended the Pasta Party with other Finns. Back at the hotel I felt tired and took a nap before heading for the start.

Tofana di Dentro 3238m.

When I woke up I put on Salomon capri-length tights, a long-sleeve shirt, short running socks, Hoka OneOne Challenger ATR shoes and Silva TrailRunner headlight. I really wanted to wear shorts and a t-shirt, but since we had to carry the long-sleeve and capri-pants anyway, I thought I might as well put them on to save weight in my backpack. This turned out to be a mistake as it felt much too hot.

The start of LUT 2015 from the back.

My Black Diamond Ultra Distance carbon Z-poles were attached to my Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest, which contained all the obligatory gear like cap, jacket, gloves and emergency blanket. For nutrition I carried two hard plastic UD bottles with fruit juice, 7 caffeinated gels and a bag of caffeinated sweets.

This Tofana NE-view never gets tired.

I hang out with Finnish HC-ultratrail dudes Tomi and Make at the back of the start area. I explained my strategy was to start conservatively and then pick up speed after dawn. They said yeah, but then shot off like a rocket at the start. Soon the familiar tune 'Ecstasy of Gold' by Ennio Morricone from the film 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' started to play and we were sent off with loud cheers of the crowds lined up along Corso Italia. My son and mom cheering on the balcony of Hotel Natale would be the last sight off Finns during this race.

Beautiful blue peaks forever in the East - from Tofana.

The U-shaped course around Mt Pomaganon was in darkness, but the sky was clear with a bright moonshine. For our warm-up we took the easy wide uphill trail with Mt Tofana on our left. Turning right, then followed a tricky narrow downhill trail to Ospitale. I can't believe how easy it felt compared to last year, when the trail was obscured by a thick layer of fog. Now I realized I rolled my ankle last time simply because the visibility was so poor that I couldn't see where I was stepping on.

SW-view from Tofana: Passo Giau in the middle green area.

The second hill between Mt Cristallo on our left felt also easy, although we climbed to well above 2000 meters at Son Forcia. I reached 33K AS in Federavecchia in 5 hours 12 mins - 18 minutes slower than last year and in position 726. I'm always one of the slowest downhill runners in the dark, as my eyes are not that good at night. Going slow down saves the legs for the climbs though.

Rif. Nuvolau 2575m, Rif. Averau 2413m (LUT Tea Service) and Averau 2649m.

Coming up next was my favorite part of the course: the ascension to Lake Misurina, Rifugio Auronzo and Tre Cime di Lavaredo at about 2440m. The dawn after 5am is a big part of the enjoyment. It's so nice to be able to turn off the headlight and run in sunlight! I passed a lot of runners on the steep boulders which were such a pleasure to rock climb that I was smiling all the time. Happy days!

We are not going to run out of mountains in Dolomites!

I arrived at the Rifugio 49K AS with our drop bags in 8:26 - 22 minutes ahead of my 2014 time and in 538th place. I received my bag, filled my bottles with fruit juice, drank a smoothie, returned the bag, ate the soup and bread, visited the best toilet on the course, and took off. I believe the whole visit took about 10 minutes.

Official race pic at Tre Cime.

There were some snow around the highest point of the course, but nowhere near as much as last time. The views were spectacular, as they always are around here. It was difficult not to stop for shooting pics. What an amazing place.

The terrain looks deceptively easy from a distance.

We headed down to Val della Rienza. The sun was up and the heat was on. I don't know how all these runners were able to pass me so easily with so much clothes on - some even had jackets! In Italy they don't say anything before passing you, they just attack left or right and take you by surprise - possibly with a little elbow to the ribs. I wish they would learn to say something like in other countries, so I could give way to them in a civilized manner. Just a grunt would do, please.

Sadly the beautiful waterfalls were almost non-existent and Rienz river in general had way less water than last year, but there was one river crossing with stepping stones and logs. I always welcome a chance for a nice balance exercise like this. After crossing easily with my poles I heard the girl who ran behind me shout out for help. Being a true gentleman, I went back. I'm not sure if she expected me to lay face down in the river while she walks across my back or what. I just extended my carbon stick to her and made her jump while I pulled. It worked!

The top of 5 Torri.
We soon passed Lago di Landro. I was shocked to see how dry it was. I kept wetting my cap in cold streams, but my pace was dropping fast. It wasn't that warm yet really, but we have had a cold June in Finland and just 20°C seemed to be too much for me.

Cortina with Sorapiss and Antelao in the back.
Finally I came to Cimabanche 66K AS in 10:57. I had moved up to 479th place and was about one hour ahead of my LUT 2014 pace. I filled my bottles and grabbed a Red Bull just like last year here. Suddenly an angry bald guy in yellow staff shirt smoking a big fat cigar took the can away. He spoke only Italian but I picked up the word 'bicchiere', meaning a cup. I produced my foldable silicon cup from my pocket immediately, apologizing profusely and begging him to give the drink back to me. He held on to the can while pouring most of the contents on me and the ground instead of the cup. I thought of having a photo taken with this funny guy. To avoid any violent conflict I simply took off - you never know if someone is on drugs or something.

Acclimitizing with TPjr on race morning.
I power-walked up what Stefano at Hotel Natale affectionately calls 'Killer Hill'. Forcella Lerosa demands yet another push above 2000 meters. The sweat was pouring down like the water in mountain streams under the bridges we crossed. I noticed someone slowly passing me, not a big deal - then I realized that he was a MTB-rider and working hard to get to the top! Right over the hill at 76K was already Malga Ra Stua, the last AS for a long long time so I made sure to take a bit of everything on offer. The problem was I didn't find any of the foods on offer that palatable. I reasoned taking just a small piece of everything would be better than nothing.

Yellow Alpine Poppy.
'HIGHWAY TO HELL' sign greeted us as we approached the scenic Ponte Outo bridge. I'm sure most competitors took it as a joke, but unfortunately I knew better. We were entering the dreaded Val Travenanzes, aka 'Death Valley'. On our left side was the steep rock wall of Tofana mountains and beyond that Cortina - not far away as the crow flies. On our right was the river Travenanzes and another rock wall. If it had felt warm before, now it was like in a Finnish sauna!

Pomagagnon: first LUT runs around this mountain clockwise.
"There is magic in misery", Dean Karnazes once wrote. If that's correct, then there certainly was magic in the air! Reading about running through the hot valleys of Western States 100 in his book 'Ultramarathon Man' years ago had got me inspired enough to try ultra trail running. Perhaps not surprisingly, here I was now in a similar situation! "Damn you Dean", I muttered while staring at our next peak Col dei Bos barely visible on the horizon. It didn't seem to get much closer, no matter how hard I pushed forward.

LUT course profile: Col Gallina is actually at 95K.

The Travenanzes river crossings were almost too easy, because the water level was so incredibly low at this moment. We didn't even always get our feet properly wet, but that didn't stop me from deliberately splashing cold water all over myself whenever I had the chance. Had the water been deeper, I might have gone swimming with all my gear on like they do at Rucky Chucky in WS100.

River Boite runs through Cortina.

I had decided not to apply any sunscreen to save a few seconds and consequently felt my neck and face were starting to burn. Fortunately it got a bit cloudier and I was able to save my skin from any damage.

At Ra Vales with TPjr around noon on race day.

Soon after the last river crossing we arrived to the Malga Travenanzes hut at 88K. They only give you the same water you get from the ubiquitous mountain streams, that's all. I jokingly told a staff guy there it's too hot out there for us poor Finns and I hoped it would start raining like last year, when the rain had started exactly at this point. The guy laughed and said he hopes the rain would stay away this time. We both knew a thunderstorm was likely on a hot day like this, but avoided saying it.

We were not allowed to walk on snow/ice on Tofana.

Col dei Bos offered magnificent views in every direction. Truly a fantastic place and well worth a visit. The dry roller-coaster down-up-down trail to Rifugio Col Gallina was so much easier than in last year's wet conditions. I arrived at 95K AS in 17:52 - 1h38min faster than last year and in 487th place. I grabbed something to eat and prepared to leave at 5pm. I had no time to waste if I wanted to finish the remaining 24km before the sunset in four hours.

Saturday the race day was the only day with a thunderstorm.

At this moment the thunderstorm started and I decided to wait it out. I thought it might last a quarter maybe. 30 minutes tops. Then I would be on my way again. I had already climbed about 5000 meters of the total 5850m ascension. I knew the final section would be technical, but not impossible by any means.

Tofana skies.

First I put on my rain gear and waited the rain to stop at the AS. But it didn't stop, it got more forceful with gusts of wind. So a few of us run to the medical tent for shelter. They had bunk beds and everything. Then the wind almost lifted the whole tent in the air, but the medics managed to keep it on the ground by hanging on to the supportive metal structures.

My iPhone-GF wasn't much help during the race.

After 6pm I was still in the tent. I was feeling hungry and cold. It's amazing how quickly the temperature dropped. We were wearing all our clothes now and still doing jumping jacks inside the tent to keep warm. That was pretty funny, considering how hot I had felt all day. I figured there was no way I could have finished by 9pm now. It would be 10 or 11pm, or possibly even Midnight with the soaked muddy trails and all.

I had seen none of the other Finnish runners or any of their supporters all day and had no idea where they were. I asked my trusty iPhone-GF, "Siri should I run in thunderstorm or quit." She answered, "I'm afraid I don't know what you should do." I texted TPjr in our Cortina hotel that the rain continues and I might DNF. He just replied calmly: "Ok".

I wondered if I could sneak in inside the warm Rifugio to buy some dinner and go to the toilet. Curiously the aid stations didn't have any toilets, although they usually do in most races. The Rifugio building itself was technically outside the competition area and marked off-limits by plastic tape.

Panorama at the top of Tofana di Mezzo 3244m.
Outside the tent I stumbled upon a minibus driver, who said he was leaving now for the Ice Stadium in Cortina and could take one more passenger. I said that would be me! I gave away my timing chip to a guy at the AS and jumped in the minibus. At that moment the rain stopped of course. That was the end of my LUT 2015.

SW-view from Tofana.
I was at the Ice Stadium before 7pm and was served a nice dinner free of charge there. Also the minibus drive was free. I was also able to pick up my drop bag there. I'm generally very pleased how well LUT organization works. They take care of finishers and also of us drop-outs. Most of the vols are cheerful, friendly and helpful. In some tricky technical spots there were staff ready to help, although I didn't require any assistance. The bottom line is that I have a high respect for the people living in the Dolomites. You can trust they will always be effective and efficient.

Hanging out at Ra Valles with TPjr before the start.
The race was a great experience despite the thunderstorm. Actually I was probably the only one whose race was affected by the storm, as all my friends finished without whining. Anyway I got in some excellent mountain running training for my next races. I was going to beat the sun, but the sun beat me!

My mom and son watching me cross the finish line in sunshine - unfortunately this didn't happen in the race!
Funny that I was able to finish last year, when the course and weather were more challenging and I sprained my ankle in the beginning. I was surprised to hear that my favorite Tim Olson had dropped already at 77K after the sunrise. Like Forrest Gump said: "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Another gorgeous Tofana panorama.
I was safely in our hotel by 8pm. On Sunday morning we would go for an exciting trailrun adventure around Lake Sorapiss with TPjr - but that's another story!

TPjr having fun on Tofana.

"I'm pretty tired... I think I'll go home now."
-Forrest Gump


Paul Wolff said...

Awesome recap, TP! Considering the weather change and your upcoming Swiss Irontrail Adventure I really think you did well not to force it even though you could have beat the sun in more favorable circumstances ;)

Then again you and TPjr got in a great day out! So in terms of run-family balance you're surely a winner! Very inspiring!

Trail Plodder said...

Thanks Paul! Despite having low energy levels I probably could have been able to finish like I did last year, I just felt the death march wasn't worth the risk of falling or spraining an ankle. Since I knew from last year that the last steep downhill is very muddy and slippery in these conditions, I chose to DNF. My goal was to get the necessary training effect for SIT200 and have a fun weekend - and I got it! I'm very happy with the results now and it seems I made the right decision.

Fegrig said...

Great set of pics TP

Trail Plodder said...

Thanks Fegrig!