by Larry Carroll
Running through the streets of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy is an experience like none other. Located in the Southern Alps on the Boite river, the charming ski town is lined with walking streets, simple storefronts and a church spiral in the town center. The crowd cheers “Bravo, bravo!” as you jog past, head torch reflecting the path ahead; the sounds of bells and vuvuzelas pierce the evening air.
For more than a decade, thousands of runners have traveled from all over the world to do exactly this, via the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, renowned as one of the most beautiful running races in the world. With 6,000m of ascent and a journey around northern Italy’s Dolomites that puts runners up close and personal with the region’s beautiful and distinctive mountain ranges, the race is as picturesque as it is punishing.
As the years go by, a formidable American presence has been increasing in visibility at Lavaredo. This point was underlined last year, as Minnesota’s Tim Tollefson finished 3rd behind countryman Hayden Hawks, the Lavaredo winner. In the 2019 installment, Tollefson returns with his eyes on the prize. An elite runner and full-time physical therapist, Tollefson typically keeps a lighter racing volume than his peers, which he believes helps with recovery.
Will the vuvuzelas blow for Tollefson on June 28, as participants race away from the starting line at nightfall, head torches ablaze? The 34-year-old certainly hopes so. Tollefson recently tweeted that he “began listening to podcasts and music intermittently while running,” but “very quickly it was realized that Apple earphones were designed by the devil.” Calling his attempts to grapple with the ubiquitous white earbuds “comical,” here’s hoping that Tollefson’s Lavaredo experience goes more smoothly than his battles with technology.
Another storyline this year is the return of American trail running legend Anton Krupicka, who won the 2014 Lavaredo while calling it “the most beautiful race I’ve ever run.” Known for his long hair, beard and minimal running gear (often sans shirt, wearing lightweight shoes), Krupicka ran his first marathon at age 12, ran 200 miles a week in his twenties, and was a prominent figure in ultra-running before his 30th birthday. Five years ago, Krupicka won Lavaredo with a sprained ankle; now the Nebraska native returns, and if he’s healthy the sky appears to be the limit in this race through the Dolomites.
Over on the women’s side, any runner regardless of nationality seems likely to have their hands full with Brazilian superstar Fernanda Maciel. A onetime gymnast who was competing on major events by age 10, she then studied martial arts before eventually falling in love with running at age 15. In the years since she has won numerous races — including the 2011 Lavaredo. Another run through Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2015 had her finishing third, so the 2019 Lavaredo offers a chance at redemption.
This year’s Lavaredo is one of transition and, as they say on their website, “novelties.” Most significantly, after ten years of sponsorship by The North Face, the race will now be branded La Sportiva. Lavaredo has also added a 4th trail length (the 87km UltraDolomites), and the start of the Cortina trail has been distanced from the others to reduce congestion. Some things, however, never change — and Lavaredo will always be a race of breathtaking beauty, physical punishment, and infectious charm.