I feel like throwing up and fainting.
That’s what I told Mihaela when she caught up with me on the final descent in Lavaredo Cortina Trail, asking me how I was feeling.
And I was way down in the less glamorous part of running.
Of course we always know there’s going to be pain involved, but this time, in Lavaredo, my first race longer than 45K, it was a kind of unexpected discomfort.
Still, the days spent in this beautiful UNESCO heritage mountain, the race vibes and the amazing people around made everything an incredible adventure.
I had been waiting to come back to the Dolomites since last year, when I first went there cycling. That’s when I promised I’d be back to run and let’s say I got more than I asked for.
Before the race
I was lucky enough to travel to Cortina d’Ampezzo with the runners in Datacor team. A very talented and hard working group of athletes, who were also a great company in the days previous to the race.
Cortina welcomed us full of runners, in a very chill vibe. Like I said, we had been there last year, in August, cycling the beautiful routes around because I couldn’t run.
But this time I wasn’t injured anymore and really felt like letting my legs get a feel of the trails. And so did almost 90 other Romanian runners. Think about it this way: there are competitions in Romania that don’t have 90 Romanian runners at the start line.
My plan was to do a good race without pushing too hard, especially after being injured and not training at all between half of March and half of May. I’m not feeling in such a good shape.
Besides, it’s such a big and high level race that, being realistic, even in my best day I would still be way down in the results list. So it’s not the place to give 200% and still be on the 100th position. Not worth it. That’s why I decided to take it easy, be careful with my left ankle and only push as long as it still lets me to enjoy it.
We had a few days to get used to the area, staying in a very cozy mountain challet. We took advantage and went with some friends to do a hike and some geocaching that ended up being longer and more difficult than we thought. It took us more than 8h to finish the route and left us with tired muscles, worried that we didn’t have enough time to recover until the race. This was probably mistake number one, but it didn’t matter that much to me. I definitely prioritized enjoying the Dolomites over having a good result in the race.
The closer we got to the start of each race, everyone in the team started getting prepared. Food, required equipment, last easy runs, and trying to get over the anxiousness.
On Thursday evening, the half marathon race took place and Nicolae Balan (of Datacor Running Team) won it. The difference between him and the second runner was quite big also (7 minutes), proving that he’s in a great shape and a very hard working athlete.
A funny thing is that I wanted to run in a Datacor branded shirt, but because I didn’t have one I borrowed Nicolae’s tank top. I think it was a lucky idea 🙂
The second race was the Ultra, the 120k that started on Friday at 11 pm. One hundred twenty kilometers. It hurts even when I pronounce it.
It was about 9.30 PM when Andrei was prepping his stuff for the race and I told him:
“You know what? If I knew I had to run a 120K race that starts in one hour, I’d probably faint right here and now”.
But hey, we all have our dose of madness.
Wake me up when the race starts
On Saturday morning, I had some white rice with avocado and that was it. Not my usual pre race breakfast, but I hadn’t brought my cereals with me as I usually do, so probably this was mistake number two.
At the start line I was in the first hundred runners to pass through the gate. We started pretty strong and looking back I realize that I pushed too much on the first part of the race, when I should have saved some energy. I know nothing about running distances longer than a marathon and this proved it once more. Rookie mistake number three.
Also, I hadn’t planned very well my nutrition and refreshment points. I had written something on my forearm about what and when to eat, but I couldn’t respect it. Not to mention that I was expecting to find water in some places and I didn’t. I was totally confused and kept checking the profile to see where the water points were.
I was waiting to get to a refreshment point with water at km 6, but it either wasn’t there or I didn’t see it. All race long I had the feeling that the refreshment points were not where I was expecting them to be.
The weather was ok, not too hot, but by noon, the sun was bothering me a bit. The views were spectacular and I was really enjoying them. If I were to describe my feelings in the first part of the race it was about trying to catch my breath (I was huffing and puffing), trying to save some energy for later, not to push too hard (but I did), being impressed by the scenery and lucky to run there, and also grateful that my ankles didn’t hurt yet.
Around km 20 is where I made mistake number four, drinking water from a torrent that had probably been a result of melted snow. That might have been what caused me stomach pain later. The water or the bad eating combined with the effort, or maybe all of the above.
I arrived a bit tired and thirsty in the first aid point, Col Gallina, where there was the first refreshment station with food. Too bad I couldn’t eat. I had forced myself to eat a 35g cereal bar that I had to split in 6 small parts to be able to eat it, and that was all the food I had in the first 24km.
I felt like I spent an eternity looking at the table and didn’t know what to choose.
Catalina, a Romanian friend who was there to cheer for us and her husband to be (congrats, you two!) told me to have some bananas. I had two small pieces and some raisins and that was it. She filled up my flasks and I left chewing on the raisins.
The route was magnificent. In all the best ways and worst ways possible. I was in awe with the landscapes, but to admire them I had to go through a series of challenging climbs. Whenever I hoped it would become a bit more runnable, I’d see a steep climb in front of me. I felt like whining “oh, no way, not another one“.
I was running with new shoes, Saucony Peregrine 7, and I was nervous about how they’d behave after getting my feet wet. Luckily, they proved to be just fine and we got along very well.
***Message for future self. If I ever do this race again I will definitely use poles. Actually, the only women that overpassed me were those using poles. Including an Italian runner who had absolutely no idea how to use them and kept hitting me. I wasted a lot of energy a few times just jumping in front of her just to avoid getting kicked again.***
It was the kind of race where you don’t really have time to rest. Even the flat parts were relatively technical and the descents were short and rocky, with not enough time to breathe. And the number of short steep climbs seemed impossible.
I had a low point around km 20, and then another one around km 34. By the last one I was already feeling sick, almost like throwing up.
Along the route I met a few Romanian runners and I was happy to chat a bit with them and take my mind off the effort.
I was looking at my watch and thought about what the other runners I knew, especially those running the ultra, might be doing. It turned out in the end that Robert, Radu and Alin had abandoned the race because of some problems. Also, the ones who finished it admitted it was a pretty tough race with difficult conditions, especially during the night when temperatures were about -6 degrees Celsius.
Ultrarunning is definitely not a kids’ game. The smallest detail can make or break your race.
For both marathon and ultra races, the last 10-12km were only downhill and I had been looking forward to it. But I was already tired by then and my stomach was killing me, so I couldn’t enjoy them.
My plan for that descent was to go relatively fast and also rest a bit. I couldn’t do either. With every bounce against the trail, my stomach rebelled. And the fainting sensation? That was definitely a first. It never happened to me before and I hope it never does. I’m not 100% sure what caused it. Might be a typical case of hypoglycemia because of not eating enough.
It was the first time in my life when I felt like fainting and I should have known better and avoided that by forcing myself to eat or have a plan B, more electrolytes, more gels etc. I spent the last 2,5 hours of the race splitting a gel in three small portions, which was not the best thing in my life.
I remember being in km 36, taking my last sip of gel and thinking I wished it would be over. But I still had a long way to go.
When the final descent started, I knew it would last around 10-11km. I was happy that I hadn’t hurt my ankle up to that point. Yes, I could feel the tendon, but not as painful as to stop running. However I knew I always screw up when I’m tired, on the last few kilometers, so I went slower than I would have just to make sure it can hold up until the end. Also, the sickness and faint state were starting to worry me. In that moment I started having doubts that I would finish the race.
Lucky for me, I met Mihaela on the downhill. She seemed so fresh!
– Let’s finish the race together, what do you think?, Mihaela asked.
– Ok, let’s do it, but I’m going much slower than you could, I said. Maybe it’s better to go ahead in your own pace.
She replied with the same thing I was thinking. Neither of us were there to win that race so we might as well make our last kilometers more enjoyable by running together. Of course, I was more than grateful, although I was also a bit frustrated that I was running downhill slower than I expected. At one point we caught up with Marmo, who was finishing his ultra race. We overpassed him after a while.
As we were getting closer to the finish line, we noticed some of the locals had set up improvised refreshment points in front of their houses. I couldn’t eat or drink anything, but one family actually set up an outdoor shower and I stopped for a few seconds under the cold water. It helped so much and it was a fun moment that I really needed!
The long way to the finish line
Mihaela and I passed the finish gate at the same time, but with a big difference: she was strong and feeling fresh, while I could barely speak anymore. If it hadn’t been for her, I’m sure I would have done a mix of running and walking.
We finished the race in 6h 37min, which was kind of in line with my estimations. I thought I would do between 6.30-6.45. Probably there is some room to improve, but on that day that was what I could do. Not to mention Mihaela, who I’m sure that can get a much better time if she decides to go through this again in the future.
At the finish line we met friends, supporters, a lot of people who had been waiting for us. It was finally over and it felt so good to see friendly faces around. In my head, the only thing I could think about was:
“Thank God I didn’t sign up for Marathon 7500’s 90K race and I’ll be doing *only* the 45k.”
That’s the next plan, in just a few days – to finally team up with Andrei and run together the Marathon 3200 race in Bucegi. Enjoying it and seeing what we’re made of.
As for Lavaredo Cortina Trail, I’m not sure I would run it again. Maybe the bad memories are still too fresh. But if I were to compare running in the Dolomites with cycling, I’d probably choose the bike. Less pressure, less pain, more flexibility and fun. But if you’ve ever been to running competitions, then you and me are alike – we say never again and then we sign up for the next one.
Congratulations to everyone who gave their best in Lavaredo and lots of thanks to Datacor and to everyone who made this adventure possible!
Cheers to feeling alive in the mountains!