Whilst organising our trip through the stunning Dolomites, I came across a running event which would be held whilst we were in the area. It was definitely not your average race – this was a trail run in the mountains with an emphasis on the local gastronomy! We’d planned for a wine marathon during our 2019 European holiday, so why not add a foodie trail run?
The Delicious Trail Dolomiti, based out of Cortina d’Ampezzo, had two options – a 44km run with over 3000m of elevation gain or the ‘short’ option of 23km with 1200m of elevation gain. Of course Mark was keen for the longer option, but this was going to be in the middle of our holiday (2 weeks after Marathon du Medoc), and was not exactly going to be a walk in the park, so we decided on the Short Delicious Trail.
The long course set off just below our hotel balcony in Cortina, with a lot of music and fanfare. After cheering off the runners, we took the bus to Pocol where the shorter course would begin. It was a narrow, winding road and a slow journey as local runners were driving out and trying to park in what seemed like ridiculous locations.
We collected our race packs and admired the views of the surrounding mountains. Pocol ‘village’ was a ski resort, which in summer is situated on a huge green meadow. We’d already gained a lot of height driving up from Cortina and with the green grass and beautiful mountains, it was quite ‘Sound of Music’ (except for everyone in their running gear). I was starting to get quite apprehensive about our lack of trail shoes as everyone else had huge lugs on their shoes, as well as trekking poles. Oh well, we’d just have to slow down if the terrain got technical. (I’d never run with poles and decided they would probably annoy me too much over 23km and there would only be a few places I’d use them).
The first part of the run was actually on the roads, then through some pastures and through a barn(!) until we got to the first stop, Rifugio Pezie de Paru. After this the running slowed, and then turned into fast hiking as we ascended up through the forest. Our last week hiking at altitude (compared to Australia) served as well. Although the trail was a little bit muddy and slippery in points, we were actually overtaking quite a few people in our road shoes. However, we discovered that overtaking people with trekking poles was challenging – I’ve never has to be concerned about being accidentally jabbed in a race before!
Finally, the forest thinned, and we came out into the rocky plateau just below the magnificent Cinque Torri (Five Towers) formation. For all our hard work climbing nearly 800m, we treated ourselves to some tasty speck rolls at Rifugio Cinque Torri.
The next section of the trail was amazing, and included running through some of the WW1 trenches below the rocky pinnacles of Cinque Torri. It was sobering to think of such deadly times in such a wild, beautiful place. There were some climbing parties on the crags and we dodged a couple of tourists who had caught the cable car up here. I definitely want to go back and spend a bit more time exploring here.
As per usual on this run, there was another uphill push and then we arrived at Rifugio Scoiatttoli, a highlight of the course. There was a fantastic deck and lots of yummy food on offer. We tucked into some forest mushrooms with polenta, while gazing at the views. Mark also ‘accidently’ had a grappa, so now had done two alcohol-fueled runs in Europe!
Across the rocky slope, we could see our next challenge, a steady climb for around 1km to the turnaround and highest point of the race, Rifugio Nuvolau (2575). There was a stream of runners going up and back, carefully stepping along the rocky path. Again there were very few people running at this point, most people hiking along and sucking in deep breaths!
Reaching the top, the views were, of course, amazing and we admired all the different direction, whilst having a tasty vegetable soup. We even spotted the Marmolada Glacier, so weren’t too far from were we hiked on Alta Via 2.
Being at the top, it wasn’t one of those races where the hardest part had been completed, now we had the technical descent… All the people who had been slowly hiking up, suddenly picked up the pace and started leaping down the trails! The first part of the downhill wasn’t too bad and we rock hopped down from Nuvolau to Rifugio Averau where we enjoyed some chicken and a fondue-like dish.
The race then contoured around the side of the Averau massif on what was a narrow, rubble strewn path. A man in front of us slipped off in a particularly narrow section, falling a little below the trail, and was dragged back up by some of the other runners. It was a bit concerning to see how quickly an accident could occur.
There was some fun bouncing through rocks and low vegetation on the plateau and then the worst part of the race, the steep descent on rubbly slope. With cable cars whirring past overhead, we carefully picked our way down the switchbacks. I lost my nerve and found it really difficult to balance myself on the descent. The more I tensed up with fear, the worse my balance. What seemed like two hundred European mountain goat runners overtook us in about 2kms. Taking the cable car down this section would definitely have been preferable (or having trail shoes and poles)!
I was very glad to get off the scree and to the welcoming site of Rifugio Bai de Donnes (with lots of biscuit items). It was then a leisurely 5km downhill through the forest, overtaking lots of the runners that had shot past us on the steeper sections. We looped back to the first refugio which was now serving desserts, through the pastures and then onto a wider trail/road for the final incline of the day. There was about 150m to climb between 20km and 22km, and lot of people (including me) looked pretty tired by now!
The final kilometre was a joyous trot down a down a ski slope which looked very inviting and caused me to somehow miss the last food stop, which Mark said was quite tasty. It was fun slaloming around the flags, running on the lush grass. It was the day’s fastest kilometre by a long way and probably the only time I will go down a ski slope (I never been and have no desire to go skiing!)
After nearly four hours, we hit the finish line together. Even with all our food stops and my snail paced downhill sections, we finished a credible 183rdand 184thand were the first (and probably only?) finishers from the southern hemisphere!
It was quite warm in the sun, so after hydrating (did we have a beer?), we got changed and headed to Pala Delicious, the giant food tent that was serving lunch. This was a key part of the Delicious theme, with many of the local chefs cooking regional delicacies. We ordered a few items off the menu and even though we’d had sweet treats all day, couldn’t go past the dessert buffet. I really enjoyed my beetroot ravioli with poppyseed sauce (casunziei all’ampezzana). It was a fantastic ending to a great day and they’d even put up the Australian flag for the post-race celebrations!