Carl Johan Sörman Runs The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2018…

I had spent half a year dreaming about this trail running race, yet… I only got to ‘gently’ scratch its surface.

By Carl Johan Sörman

In the months leading up to the race, my training had been quite intense, with most of my runs being at least 20km long with 1000 meters of altitude. But I was feeling strong. The weeks prior to the Lavaredo Ultra Trail had brought me 2 victories in two mountain races – one of which you can read about here in my GT5 race report.

This meant that both my form and confidence were at peak levels.

However, as there often IS a ‘however’ in the sport of trail running… on June 22nd 2018Lady Luck must have been on vacation and come race day,  was nowhere to be seen!

But let’s take it from the beginning – The lead up to the LUT 2018

2 days before the North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2018 race start, we’re making our way around the Dolomites’ skinny, winding roads in our fully packed car. This is our first visit to the area and both myself, my partner and our daughter are very excited, and quite dazzled by the sheer beauty of our surroundings.

Seeing the Dolomites for the first time

Veneto’s Dolomites are of such a different character to the mountains in northern Tuscany’s Apuanian Alps where we live and I train. I marvel as my eyes and soul take in the craggy pinnacles that reach up to the sky, how the light plays with the rock face giving us different hues of soft pale greys, pinks and purples. The immensity of the environment strikes me immediately. Even though it’s now June, I can still see traces of snow left over from winter stubbornly packed into the crevices.

We drive towards the camping area which will be our home for the next 4 days. Surrounded by tall fir trees, it almost feels like the woods back home in Sweden, with the crisp clean Nordic air.

What a place!

You may be interested to read Italy on Trail’s Introduction to the Dolomites

Race Day – The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2018

The following day we go to Cortina, to collect my race-pack and bib. The little town is alive with runners! The whole community breathes Lavaredo Ultra Trail, left right and centre. Next to us in the grocery shop, at the checkout, stands an elite runner, shopping for snacks.

Slightly starstruck, I pay for our goods while I try not to ogle him.

Cortina Kids Race

When waking up the morning after, it really hits me. It’s finally race day! But I have a long wait in front of me since the race won’t start until 11 o’clock that night.

At least one family member gets to cross the finish line in Cortina. In the morning, my 7-year old daughter runs the Lavaredo Kids race – a 800 meter race along the streets of Cortina. At the final stretch, before the finish line, I get a high-five from her, but she doesn’t even notice that it’s me since there are so many hands stretched out towards the kids. Both Hayden Hawks and Zach Miller take part in the event, but the kids are probably happier enjoying the post-race treats than running along Cortina’s streets together with world-class runners.

Bib number 65

A couple of hours before the race start, I run a short shakeout on the soft forest paths to make sure the body feels ok. Earlier in the week, I’d been worried a bit about my Achilles tendon and hip, which had been giving me minor but strange sensations… although today everything feels good. A bit later, calm in both mind and body, I make my way to Cortina to finally take my place at the starting line. I have a low bib-number, 65, which lets me start right after the elite runners.

Behind me, I have about 1600 runners ready to take on this wonderful challenge.

As the tradition goes, Morricone’s theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is playing right before the start. It feels like the music will never end and my body is almost at exploding point.

I have never before wanted to run as much as I do right now. I can hardly stand still. The same probably goes for the masses behind me, because when the starting gun finally goes off, it’s like the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Someone’s elbow actually manages to stop my watch, although I notice and immediately restart it.

When we are out of Cortina, the crowds ease off and I can run in at a kind of fast-but-comfortable speed. The race leaders are within eyesight, but I must ignore them. I must conserve my energy.

After 4k, we leave the paved road and run up into the forest. It’s uphill, and on my customary way, with small steps, without poles, I tip-toe up the hill. Most of the other runners are power-hiking, and without too much effort I “run” past several people. Once we have reached the top of the 600 meter high ascent, I let some of the runners pass me again before finding my place. It is mostly low numbers on the bibs around me, but I know that I cannot allow myself to get caught up in an over fast pace.

It’s cold – I’m guessing 5 degrees

I have a beanie and gloves on, and I’m one of the few runners wearing tights instead of shorts. When it’s time for the first descent, I realize that I have made a mistake. I did not tie my tights properly, and in the downhill they constantly slip down.

Behind me, I have a tail of runners and I let them pass, one by one. When I finally have an opportunity I stop to resolve the issue. Although, it turns out that getting this fixed is not enough for me to be able to push on down the descent.

We have only been running a bit longer than 10k, when I start to feel something bad in my right glute. Something, which has not happened during any of my training runs lately, even though those have been much tougher. I continue running a bit easier with the hope that it will go away.

We run deeper into the night

Despite the late hour, clusters of spectators appear here and there, cheering on the runners, giving us that extra welcomed energy boost. I pass the first aid station without stopping since my water bottles are not even half-empty. Even though I have lowered my pace, I’m in 26th position after 18k (which I find out after the race.) Again, our path goes up, up, up. The trail is mainly dry but is sometimes crossed by small water courses. I avoid getting my shoes wet and instead choose to tip-toe on rocks or jump across.

The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2018 – Change of plans

My glute is unfortunately not getting better, and I change from plan A: running at my maximum, to plan B:  finishing at a decent time. Runners start passing me, but I still hope that the pain will go away and that my slower speed will pay off later in the race.

At the second aid station, I stop to refill my bottles, drink some coke and have a slice of banana. When I start running again, it does not feel good at all.

Time to change to plan C: just making my way around the course. Now and then I stop to stretch, which gives me temporary pain-relief. But the shorter it gets in-between the stops, the more I realize that 2018 will not be the year that I will get to cross the finish line in Cortina.

After 42 kilometers of running, I decide that it’s time to break

At this point, I’m limping like a peg-legged pirate, and I would not be able to finish the race even if my life depended on it. A sympathetic Spanish lady gives me a lift to the top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, where I can later catch transport back to Cortina.

Carl Johan Sörman - The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail
Carl Johan Sörman – The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail

So, what went wrong?

Was it the cold, the heavy renovation I did in our apartment the week before, too little running during my tapering…?

I had some kind of sensation in my hip-flexor during the couple of weeks prior to the race, but I never expected the body to crash as it did.

Today, 10 days after LUT, I have imposed a running ban on myself until I’ve healed. I have come to the conclusion that my right psoas is overworked, which tears into my pelvis and forces other muscles to compensate.

Psoas is now getting tons of love, consisting of massage, yoga, alternative training on bike and in-lines, core training, foam rolling and stretching.

The thought of the LUT does sting, but now I’m looking forward to the CCC in 2 months.

And, as consolation for my DNF I have also registered for UTLO – The Ultra Trail Lago d’Orta, which is a race that is similar to LUT – same distance, same starting time 11 in the evening, but with even more vertical meters!

Next year I hope to be back in Cortina – stronger and smarter – to finally finish this magnificent ultra.

Carl Johan Sörman
Carl Johan Sörman – born in Sweden, returned to trail running whilst living in Italy, where he now trains and lives in northern Tuscany together with his partner and daughter. “I have this urge… when I see a mountain summit… I want to get to the top. Running of course.” You can find Carl on Instagram