How to Choose You First Italian Ultra

It can be quite a challenge just considering which Italian ultra you’d like to run.

We’ve come up with several pointers that may be helpful when deciding which Italian ultra trail best fits youSo read on and keep an open mind.

Remember to aim for a balance between your head, heart and soul

#1 Information Available

This can be a major factor. The more information that’s available on the race website, the better. It makes preparation so much easier.

All Italian ultras will have strict rules and regulations, you may find our bilingual article on mandatory kit useful, in getting to grips with the often stringent Italian requirements.  Thankfully, many of the bigger ultra trail races have multilingual websites and this can make the whole choice process much easier.

#2 Manageable Course Profile

That amazing summer Alpine Ultra with its snow capped mountains, dramatic lakes and perfect blue skies might look tempting from the comfort of your own home, whilst idling away on your tablet on a blustery October evening, but look closely at the race profile, change meters into feet, and ask yourself if and how you may need to adapt your training. Do you have the time and possibility to incorporate and make any changes that will be required to successfully finish the event?
You may want to consider an entry level mountain ultra where the level gain is manageable. Or if you can plan long term, pick an ultra sufficiently in the future which will enable you to get in any training will be necessary for yourself. Don’t rush things!

#3 Technical Terrain

Don’t be caught out by a really technical race route, if that’s not where your strengths lie!

Skyrunning AND Trail and running in Italy can pose rocky, technical terrain, exposure, scree and Via Ferrata.
Check out as many photographs and videos of the races you’re interested in. It’s important to study the terrain, and get a realistic idea of what you’ll be facing, and then again, decide if you are ready for it, or if you need to put in specific training.

#4 Wilderness Vs Villages

Even though Italy is a relatively small and densely populated country that doesn’t have the wild spaces say of the USA and also in some cases, like those in the UK, there are still areas where a certain type of wilderness can be found, for example in Sardinia and some parts of Southern Italy.

Decide if you can handle perhaps 80km without crossing even a tiny hamlet. Would you feel more comfortable passing through villages along the route? Study the course route in Google Maps, download the gpx tracks and read up on the area.

#5 Running High – Altitude

Are you used to running at altitude? If you choose an ultra in the Alps or the Dolomites there’s a strong possibility that, at some point during the race you’ll be easily be running on terrain that’s over 2000 meters above sea-level. This means a decrease in oxygen. How you react varies so much between individuals and there’s no fast rule. So bear this in mind. It’s vital to check the race course profile and the highest points en route. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of altitude why not consider an ultra in the Apennines, or along one of the coastal regions, like Liguria or the Amalfi Coast.

#6 Get Your Moneys’ Worth!

Race registration prices can vary. Many have early bird tariffs and then several windows for entry which price increases. Remember that this adds to your travel costs. 

Read the race regulations to clearly find out what you will get for your hard earned cash. Is there a Pasta Party, a finisher’s gadget? Are there plenty of aid stations, volunteers and facilities?

#7 Cut Off Times

One of the biggest factors that can determine the outcome of a first ultra can be any cut off times along the race route, and also the final time limit.

Here races can differ widely. Even just one hour, in an ultra can make a big difference. You don’t want to come all the way to Italy to participate in your dream ultra to find only to find out that the max time limit was just that bit too tight. If speed is an issue play it safe and choose a race with wide cost off times.

#8  Weather

Bear in mind that it can get hot in Italy during the summer months, yes, even high up in the mountains. And we mean scorching! Although weather is as we know, unpredictable, do spend some time looking at past weather stats for the areas where you’re considering running your first ultra trail.

If you prefer running in cooler weather you may want to consider an ultra in late spring or early autumn, and avoid July, August and September.

#9 Go With Friends

Travel with friends, share the adventure, double the enjoyment and create some great memories.

Loved ones can provide an added source of security and therefore take some of the stress away from practical issues, such as travel, and help ease pre-race tension. The thought of having a partner en route, can be a big incentive throughout the race with the promise of big hugs and comfort at the finishing line.

#10 Tie in some Holiday Time

Do be sure to allow extra days to get the most form your trip, therefore enriching the running experience and enjoying other aspects of the country too. Try to organize yourself so that the ultra falls in the very first part of your holiday, that way you’ll have time to unwind, and have some fun off-trail too.

#11 Be Inspired

But most of all let yourself  be inspired. You deserve to have an unforgettable experience for all the right reasons. The best trail races are the ones where you somehow fall in love with the race beforehand. The ones which tug at the heartstrings and get you feeling super excited and positive. Those are the ones that should be your first Italian ultra contenders – then build your training and preparation onto that base.

by Maria E. Bellini
This article first appeared on www.italyontrail.com, a personal project that was live for 3 years – 2016-19. 

Maria E. BelliniMaria Elisabetta Bellini, born in the U.K. now living in Italy.