Not even the roosters are up when they hear the alarm clock go off. They eat pasta with olive oil and only drink water to express their solidarity. They wait for hours and hours, glancing at their watches and smartphones. But they wouldn’t have it any other way because they are surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and then there’s the thrill of seeingthe racers cross the finish line. These folks are the trail-runner groupies! A cheerful crowd of girlfriends, relatives, friends, children, buddies and grandparents who would never pass up a chance to watch their household hero run that crazy race in the mountains.
LUT. Here is the chance to tell the story of those people who are there to applaud the runners at the starting point and to cheer for them at the finish line. The folks who are there to encourage them at the refreshment stands and wait for hours on end along those trails in the middle of nowhere! This is LUT, the upcoming Lavaredo Ultra Trail: from 21 to 23 June, Cortina will become the world capital of trail-running with its memorable races. From the initiation experience for kids on Friday morning and the 20 kilometre race with 1000 metres of elevation gain (quite an endeavour for some) to the 48 kilometre race with 2600 metres of elevation gain on Saturday morning when the heroes who left the night before start to show up – 120 kilometres of pure beauty and hard work with 5800 metres of elevation gain to chew up and spit out!
TRAINING SESSIONS. Right up front we’ll see Laura Fagan, a 36 year-old mom who, for the past couple of years, has been following the daring descents and climbs of Stefano Fantuz, one of Italy’s finest athletes. She says, “I admit that I used to be a sea person, but once I discovered the mountains I got the feeling that I had wasted years: the people you meet on the trail-running circuit are authentic and straightforward. They bring sound values to your soul”. Living with an athlete is no easy feat. There are training sessions, certain rhythms and diets to follow. The rituals of runners are very different from a normal lifestyle and its crazy pace and junk food. “But I have learned to accept his demands. I tell my girlfriends that all the time. What really matters is that I leave him alone before a race. Sometimes he’s tense and anxious”.
THE TRIP AND THE DINNER. But then the day of the race arrives and it’s the perfect excuse for a great weekend together. We leave on a Saturday or on a Friday. When the event is LUT, some people even arrive on Thursday. Cortina gets filled up with fans and tourists. Some people compulsively check the weather forecast while others just relax and study the trails. Laura, who has just started running a few trails here and there, tells us: “I run or walk a little if I can during the weekend of the race. I bring my 10 year old daughter with me. She’s a bit lazy. We always discover wonderful places, though, whenever we accompany Stefano”. Then there’s the sacred tradition of the pre-race dinner the night before. Runners would ever eat anything except plain pasta, considering what the next day has in store for them. And seeing a table filled with friends pouring glass after glass of wine and eating huge rib-eye steaks is quite a sight! Laura smiles when she says that “…Stefano always eats pasta with tomato sauce – better if it has been cooked by his mom. I, on the other hand, like to have a beer!”
THE BIG DAY. LUT is an epic race. One of those that begins after the sun has gone down, one where you wear a headlamp so you can run all night in order to have half of the race under your belt before sunrise. It is very exciting to watch that group of heroes take off for the mountains. Cortina celebrates for hours as it watches them clamber upwards towards an unknown fate. But the races begin at night only for the professional athletes. Usually, departure is around dawn. On your marks, get set, GO! The mountain village is emptied of the athletes as their parents and friends start to rush in.
THE RACE. Following LUT at night is like a journey through time under the starry sky illuminating the Dolomites. The organizing staff has organized a special series of passages for family, friends and assistants in order to give them an opportunity to enjoy some memorable trails. Departure is a little after midnight from Sant’Umberto (around kilometre 16) and continues to the Passo Tre Croci Pass (kilometre 28) or to Federavecchia (kilometre 33) with the final arrival at Misurina (kilometre 42). For the top runners, it will be the middle of the night while 8:00 a.m. is probably when the last runners will arrive. And it is here that we’ll see just how vast the difference has become. The professionals will see dawn (estimated for 6:15 a.m.) while the final racers will arrive around 4:00 p.m.
THE FINISH LINE. Laura confides that she has “… downloaded every App I could find so I can follow Stefano passage by passage in real time. I’m always worried about him but as soon as I see him I feel better. I follow him to the refreshment stands. I’ve even been his assistant for a few races. But I’m done with that. I don’t do it anymore because once I almost got lost on these impossibly narrow roads and barely made it in time to get his nutritional supplements to him”. Arms stretched to the sky, hugs and kisses. Some get there holding their children’s hands, some kneel in front of their loved ones. Some cry and other can feel their hearts break at the wonder to the goal achieved.
I’M THROUGH WITH THIS. A classic! Both the runners and their folks curse each other out. The community of runners must endure either the exhausting wait or the exhausting effort. “I swear, this is the last time I’ll ever run”. Relatives and friends are always anxious between one passage and the next. You can never tell if the racers will arrive with smiles on their faces or with twisted ankles. “I swear, this is the last time I’m coming along”. But then they get to the finish line, there are the hugs, the showers and the group ritual: the pasta party with the speaker who gets everyone all revved up and the thrill of the awards for the handful of big winners – and then there’s Laura. She’s a lucky woman because she’s seen Stefano stand at the podium many times.