“Oh and I remember this one year”, Keith Byrne continues, laughing, “at 1am a Swiss man crossed the finish line and immediately declares he needs to be disqualified as he had deliberately gone off route to explore. We were gobsmacked and didn’t know how to react to his honesty!”
Keith first raced The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail in 2008, the second year of this iconic event, and he has attended the race every year since. Bitten by the Lavaredo bug all those years ago, he has attended as a runner, race support crew, route marker, aid station volunteer, and any other job that Simone Brogioni and Cristina Murgia, the founders, might have needed help with. His passion for the event, and his extensive involvement over the years is down to one thing; the unique and beautiful heart of Lavaredo.
Keith’s enthusiasm for the race infectious. As he is telling me stories about moments, both good and bad, there is a love and affection reserved for a personal celebration, or even wedding day. “But that is exactly it,” he exclaims, “all year, Simone and Cris are working so hard, planning everything, then it all has to come together for this one perfect moment, just like organising a wedding.. but every year!”
Lavaredo started with very humble beginnings but something magical was created and nurtured by Simone and Cris. When Keith first ran it in 2008, he was warned by Topher Gaylord, the then President of The North Face, that this will be the hardest 60km he will ever run. Remote, hot, dry, and technical, the race did not disappoint but through those difficult and challenging kilometres, Keith fell in love. Not just with the race but the the landscape, the region, and the people.
His respect and commitment to the organisers is not unique, however. It is something that is seen in everyone who is involved with the race. From any of the more than 500 volunteers who tirelessly cheer on and support the runners, to the 3,400 athletes starting this year - many of whom who are returning for another helping - onto the local municipality, landowners, and businesses of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
True leaders, they say, lead from the front and this is nowhere more true than with the Lavaredo organisational team, setting the tone for the whole event, smiling and motivating everyone from beginning to end. They are determined and resolute in the commitment, spending 51 weeks a year negotiating with the hundreds of parties involved in staging an event of this kind but their job does not stop there. You will always see them at the finish line, welcoming in weary runners whatever the hour; be they the elites, mid-afternoon on Saturday, or the courageous amateurs, dragging themselves across the finish line at 2am.
As Keith talks about them he can’t help continuing with stories of the same commitment and strength at all levels. “The aid stations, I mean, they are open for 7 or 8 hours each but they retain the same energy and enthusiasm for all the runners, if not more for the amateurs.” Keith tells me, “The elites have teams of support crew but those who are coming round after are on their own and the aid station teams take it as a personal responsibility to make sure they have been fed properly, their water bottles are filled up and they are ready to carry on on their odyssey.”
It trickles down from the top, to everyone involved, and, now in its 11th year, that heart is growing bigger and stronger than ever. With a new event opening up the sport to children along with dozens of activities, hikes, and side-events, it has developed into a true celebration of not just trail running, but Cortina, the Dolomites, and Italy, herself.
Whether you are returning to the fold and coming back to share this amazing experience again, or making your quest to Lavaredo for the first time, you will be welcomed, you will be included, and you will become part of the the very fabric of the event - once you have taken part in Lavaredo, you will always be a part of this wonderful and beautiful story.