Published on: 07/31/2023
Set in a stunning location around the beautiful Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites, the La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB (1) is one of the iconic races on the international ultrarunning scene. It’s changed sponsors and official names a few times, but the 120 km tour around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and gorgeous valleys and waterfalls has kept the essence of what makes this event unique. In 2023, it was as rewarding and challenging as ever.
Extended to five different events, the Lavaredo weekend is a party like no other. Along with the full Dolomites experience of running on rocky, challenging terrain, runners of all abilities and experience levels get to discover unique scenery and Italian hospitality. From night running in the 10k to a 30-hour extravaganza in the 120k, it’s a must-do set of races for trail runners and still one that you can get into (relatively) easily.
In this article, we’ll recap the 2023 edition and tell you everything you need to know to be able to toe the start line in Cortina d’Ampezzo yourself.
Introducing the Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB
This iconic ultra trail race started in 2007 and has been growing every year. Headquartered in Cortina d’Ampezzo, host of the 1956 Winter Olympics as well as of the upcoming 2026 edition (in partnership with Milan), it’s set in one of the most famous landscapes for mountain lovers. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to fantastic peaks and renowned as one of the most extraordinary destinations in the Italian Alps.
Videos of previous editions confirm this. From those crossing the finish line to secure a victory, to the regular runners finishing in over 24 hours, every Lavaredo finisher has a unique story of breathtaking views, tough conditions, and an unforgettable experience.
Affiliation with the UTMB Group
Before there was a UTMB World Series (2), there was the Ultra Trail World Tour. Lavaredo was one of its highlights and would be among the sought-after races that seasoned pros would look to do every year. Starting in 2023, the event joins the UTMB ecosystem and will be offering running stones and qualifying indices for UTMB World Series Final events in Chamonix (3).
The new connection with UTMB is likely to lead to more athletes heading to the Dolomites every June. While entry to the races is still relatively relaxed, with a lottery system that doesn’t leave many without a place (more on that below), we expect this will change soon.
History of the Races
It was in 2011 that the Lavaredo Ultra Trail became more international, with Frenchman Sébastien Chaigneau securing the win. La Sportiva athlete and all-around ultra running legend Anton Krupicka took the victory in 2014 in an American dominated race, which saw Rory Bosio take the women’s win. The relatively more runnable terrain has actually made Lavaredo a good destination for US runners. In 2017, Seth Swanson placed second, while in 2018, Hoka runner Hayden Hawkes took the win, with Spain’s Pau Capell in second and American Timo Tollefson in third (also running for Hoka at the time). Similarly, Kelly Wolf (an American La Sportiva runner) won the 120k in 2018.
Timo Toleffson returned for the win in 2019. After a break in 2020, one of the stellar performances on the 120k course was set by Germany’s Hannes Namberger, who pulverised the record winning in 12:02:12. He then lowered this even further the next year, setting 11:56:28 as the new reference point.
2023 brought a few new events to the Lavaredo Ultra Trail family: the Lavaredo 10k night run and a revamped 20k race. Most races start and/or end on the Corso Italia, the heart of Cortina. Here’s all you need to know about each.
- Main event, starting and finishing on the Corso Italia in Cortina d’Ampezzo
- Challenging and varied route through the Dolomites, with views like no other ultra trail event
- 120 km with c. 5800 m of elevation gain
- Iconic 11pm start
- Outside assistance allowed at key aid stations
- One drop bag at 66km checkpoint
- 4 Running Stones for finishers
- 30 hours maximum time
- Starting in a different village every year, with a changing route
- 7am start
- 80 km with c. 4600m of elevation gain
- Outside assistance allowed at a number of aid stations
- 3 Running Stones for finishers
- 22 hours maximum time
- A loop around Cortina d’Ampezzo taking in spectacular views and challenging trails
- Starts and ends on the Corso Italia
- 8am start with 12 hours cut-off
- Assistance allowed at one aid station halfway through
- 50 km with c. 2600m of elevation gain
- 2 Running Stones
- Evening run with steep climbs and technical downhills
- Starts in Cortina d’Ampezzo and takes in gorgeous sunset views of the Dolomites before returning to the town
- 5pm start with 4 hours cut-off
- 20km with c. 1000m of elevation gain
- 1 Running Stone
- The Dolomites experience by night
- 10pm start in Fiames on the outskirts of Cortina d’Ampezzo
- 10km with 200m of elevation gain – cut-off at 1h45min
- One checkpoint at 5.3km where outside assistance is allowed
La Sportiva Lavaredo 120K 2023 – The Race Experience
2023 was a hot year, which was a relief after weeks of heavy rain all around southern Europe. However, this meant that athletes lined up on the start line already dehydrated and facing a serious challenge in managing their race nutrition and water intake. Here’s how the race unfolded in the flagship Lavaredo Ultra Trail 120k event.
The 120k is the queen race of the weekend. However, it was not over subscribed (the honour went to the more approachable 50k, where some of the lottery entrants were unsuccessful). Still, 1551 runners started the demanding route. 1182 would finish in the allocated time.
The start is one of the most emotional in the world trail running circuit. The lit up Corso Italia, just by the clock tower of the Basilica dei Santi Filippo e Giacomo, was filled with nervous runners. Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold played just before 11pm, and then we were off into the night.
The first few miles are relatively easy running on closed streets. Cortina locals and friends and family cheer along the way, until the route turns up a steep trail and we leave behind the urban setting for an adventure in the Dolomites. For the first marathon up to Lake Misurina, the route isn’t particularly problematic. There are undulating climbs and descents, some on wide forest tracks, some on more technical trails, but nothing particularly taxing.
Misurina and Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Arriving at Misurina, for mid-pack runners, it’s really early morning and cold. However, it’s also the first point where we see our crew. We restock and head on a lap around the lake, easy and flat. It’s afterwards that the tough part begins. Climbing steeply up the same road that the Giro d’Italia cycling race took in 2023, athletes start to get a bit of the high-altitude Dolomites experience as we head above 2000m. Switching into trails, it’s very steep and it gets rockier before we finally see the Rifugio Auronzo, where a small water station awaits.
It’s now that we discover the highlight of the race, which the elites will have encountered at sunrise. The fantastic Tre Cime di Lavaredo tower over an easy, wide track, from where lots of photos and videos can be taken to remember this unique location. All around, the scenery is breathtaking.
There’s no time to waste. Next up is a long descent to Cimabanche aid station at 66km into the race. The valley down from Forcella Lavaredo goes on for about 10km, so it’s worth preparing your descending legs! Once on flat ground, it’s a never ending run on wide bike lanes through the scorching heat for another c. 5km until the aid station.
Val Travenanzes, Col Gallina, and Passo Giau
Much needed hydration and nutrition stocks refilled, runners head up into the wilder, tougher second half of the race from Cimabanche. Climbing back to over 2000m altitude, it’s a demanding course for the legs all the way to above Malga Travenanzes, around 93km into the race. This part isn’t particularly technical, but the heat also made it tough to negotiate this year.
Once through the most of the climbing and descending into the Val Travenanzes, we cross gorgeous rock formations and spectacular waterfalls. If only the legs were not so tired, there’s another opportunity for unique videos and photos. It’s also a welcome respite from the heat, thanks to the massive overhanging rocks and the deep valley which keeps us in the shade.
The biggest deception of the race followed upon approaching Col Gallina at 97.5 km. As we crest over a high point, we can see the car park at the bottom of the descent and it looks like it’s all smooth sailing down wide ski slopes to meet the crew. But, actually, after making good progress for a few miles, we have to hike back up to some ruins and struggle with more elevation gain before we can finally approach the aid station. Something to remember if you’re doing this race!
Night approaches as we move from Col Gallina to Passo Giau, admiring more beautiful views as the sun sets over the rocky peaks. Getting to Passo Giau is a victory in itself. “Only” 16 km left, even if they need to be done with a head torch!
The final plateau and descent into Cortina isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably the rockiest, slowest part of the course for tired legs and minds. It goes by fast enough under the head torch light, thankfully, and we’re past the Rifugio Croda da Lago – the last aid station at 113 km. Then follows a muddy steep descent into the woods – a challenge for core strength and shoe grip!
As soon as we hit the pavement again at Mortisa (120 km done, around 2 to go!), it felt as if I had wings again. And, although I was finishing after midnight, lots of people were still lining the Corso Italia with celebratory drinks, creating a wonderful welcoming atmosphere on the approach to the finish line.
Recap of Lavaredo 2023 Races
At the front of the race, it was Swiss runner Jonas Russi who secured first place in the 120 km, followed by Romania’s Robert Hajnal and Italy’s Georg Piazza. In the women’s event, French ladies dominated: Fiona Porte and Maryline Nakache took first and second place, respectively, followed by Irish runner Emma Stuart.
The 50k was also extremely competitive. Italian Francesco Puppi won in a blistering 4:02:16, setting a new course record. He was followed by Nadir Maguet and Jan Margarit Sole. The women’s race was won by Irene Fuertes Molina, followed by Romana Rudolf Lojková in second place and Raluca Burtea in third.
How to Enter La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail
If you’re inspired to try one of the events of La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB, you’ll need to pre-register in the winter for the following June. It’s a good idea to sign up here (4) so you can be notified as soon as pre-registration opens. However, no rush: it’s not a first come, first serve system. Everyone needs to enter a lottery, so all you need to ensure is that you don’t miss the window for signing up.
There are 1800 places available for the 120k race, so if more people register, there is a lottery draw to determine who gets a spot. However, there are no pre-requisites to run the Lavaredo Ultra Trail. We’d recommend some good mountain experience and at least a 50k race finish before you start, though.
For the 80k, there are 1000 spots, while the 50k is open to 1800 runners. There are 700 slots in the 20k and 400 in the 10k.
Getting to Cortina d’Ampezzo is relatively easy by public transport. Fly into Venice and take the daily shuttle bus service from the airport to the resort. It takes just under 2 hours and you can book your return trip, too.
Once in town, it’s worth noting that this is a ski resort first and foremost. This means that a lot of accommodation isn’t open in summer, despite the number of athletes coming to the Lavaredo Ultra Trail. As a result, it might be a challenge to find somewhere central to stay unless you book early on. Many people book before they even know they have a place in the races, so don’t wait until June to find somewhere to sleep!
Finally, although well maintained, the roads are challenging to drive on in this area. There are lots of hairpin bends and steep climbs in between mountain passes, which is where the aid stations are located. Ensure that, if you have a support crew, they gather enough information about travel times and conditions from point to point.
How to Prepare for Lavaredo Ultra Trail Races
The La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB is a brilliant event with challenging, but manageable races in every distance. To succeed in the 120k, you need to practice climbing and descending, as well as prepare for running at altitude.
Here are some tips based on the preparation of runners who finished the 50k and the 120k in 2023:
Practice running on rocky terrain.
The Dolomites rock can make your feet quite sore if you’re not prepared for it. Most of the race is on pretty hard ground so ensure you have shoes with adequate cushioning and be ready to change at halfway.
Prepare for the heat.
Most of the time in June, it’s very hot in Cortina and the surrounding valleys. Even high up in the mountains, the sun can be unforgiving. Prepare by running in hot weather as much as possible and taking hot baths or going into the sauna immediately after your long runs to get ready for this.
The heat and the altitude take their toll on the body really quickly. It’s good to have a bit more water than you’d normally take for the distances in between aid stations – you’ll need it!
Vertical training is key.
There is a lot of climbing and descending during the race. Even during the descents, you often have to navigate boulders and small climbs, so you’ll need strong quadriceps and calf muscles. Train on climbs and descents to help you on race day and supplement your running with strength and conditioning work.
Know the route.
If you can do a recce in advance, that would be ideal. But there’s plenty of information about the race if you can’t, especially as the route hasn’t changed in years. Watch other finishers’ videos on YouTube, read race reports, and study the GPX file to know where the hardest climbs are. Make a route sheet with details of the distances and elevation gain to each aid station so you don’t become demoralised when the gap feels long. It will do wonders for your mental state and help you live a fantastic Dolomites experience!
La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB (retrieved on 07/19/2023)
UTMB World Series (retrieved on 07/19/2023)
UTMB World Series Final events (retrieved on 07/19/2023)
La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB Registration (retrieved on 07/19/2023)