Guide to trail running races in northern Italy

Written by on May 14, 2021 in Sport and Adventure

Tor330 starting from Courmayeur - Guide to trail running races in northern Italy

Guide to trail running and races in northern Italy

What is Trail Running?

Trail running is a popular activity for the period of April – September, focused mainly for the summer season. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have mountains for trail running. Trail running can in fact be done everywhere. It is considered a “trail run” when you are not on surfaced, paved, sealed or asphalt roads. For trail running, it’s all about the movement outdoors in nature in fresh air. The obstacles and the terrain are constantly changing – first you’re on rocks, then on grass, occasionally over rivers, roots, dirt road and in between you may go up and then go down.

For road runners and racers are often focused on time and speed, like for example the London Marathon. On Trail running, it is much more about the type of terrain, the “dislivello” (elevation gain), the technically challenging routes, obstacles, altitude.  It is not about the length of the trail but the journey. Trail running races cannot be compared to each other, there are no 2 races the same.

It is challenging, surprising, exciting and always different. On a trail, both your body and soul are alert and challenged.  You always need to make sure you have the right clothing and equipment with you for the sudden weather changes.  You are more likely to be in a remote area than when you do road running races.

You can either run or hike fast, on a paved or unpaved clear path. This is why Trail Running is an activity that people at all levels can enjoy.  Both sport-addicted people who are looking for their next challenge, and amateurs, who just want to stay fit or enjoy the towns and area from a new fresh point of view.

Guide to trail running races in northern Italy

Trail and Ultra Trail

And there is the Ultra Trail… which I suppose every serious trail runner’s aim to do at least one in their lifetime. According to Wikipedia’s definition and according to guidelines from the international athletics association, ultra runs or ultra marathons are running events on a course that is longer than the 42.195k or 26.2 miles, a marathon distance. However, ultra trail running is not a very clearly defined event. You can say that anything is longer than a normal Marathon, can be defined as an ultra.

To run a 100k gives the runners the chance to get deep into their thoughts, concentrate and relax, depending on the type of terrain…explore, discover, overcome obstacles and challenges, enjoy the long route, rather than just getting to the End. With all this exciting experience, endurance races and long distance trail running (50k+) are getting more and more popular. Organisers are responding to the higher demand by introducing and increasing the number of trail running races.

le 5 torri Cortina d ampezzo marco Brugnoli

Trail Running in Northern Italy

Northern Italy is a paradise of Trail Running enthusiast. You can find the greatest and hardest trails in the Alps and in the Dolomite for its elevation gain and its terrain. There are different types of trail running races, tracks – such as Tour Trail Running, Ultra Trail and Verticale.

The first 2 types we already talked about earlier. The Verticale races have normally shorter distances (few kilometres), but steep from 1000m elevation gain. You can find several companies and guides organising trail running outings as holiday, without being a race. But if you are looking for the thrill and adrenaline of being part of a race here are the most important and tough ones in northern Italy.

Italy’s Aosta Valley region brings us one of the world’s greatest trail races, notably the 330-km Tor des Geants along with dozens of others. There is a constant buzz of trail running activity here as well as in the Dolomites, Lombardy, Piemonte and Trentino-Alto-Agide region. Also in Veneto and Liguria.

Tor des Géants - trail running through the mountain path - Guide to trail running races in northern Italy

 Most important trail running races in Aosta Valley region

The most difficult and challenging race is the mentioned Tor des Geants that starts and finishes in Courmayeur. It is the first and only race to combine long distance with the individual style of runners: the organisation does not impose any compulsory stages, and the winner will be the runner who completes the race in the shortest time. Making his or her own decisions on when and how long to stop for rest and refreshment. The elevation gain or positive altitude difference is 24 000m+, and the maximum time to complete the race is 150 hours. Together with Tor des Geants there are less difficult races such as Tor130 (Tot Dret) and Tor30 (Passage au Malatrà). From 2020, the organisers added another event called Tor450 (Tor des Glaciers) starting also from Courmayeur with a positive altitude difference of about 31,040 metres! On the route there are no markers, therefore the runners will need to find their bearings using their own satellite navigation devices. The Tor races are on during the month of September (10-18th September 2021).

All of these races have limited entry numbers and most competitors of previous year have priority to subscribe for the following year. All the entry above the limited numbers are entered into a draw and the lucky ones can participate on the race after paying their subscription.

The other popular event of trail runners is the Grant Trail Courmayeur , where you have 3 different distances: 100k, 55k, 30k. From this year among the finalist of the 100k (7 900m+) race, 100 finishers will have the opportunity to enter the Tor des Geants 2022. The race is on normally in July, this year it starts at midnight of 9th July 2021.

The UTMB® International (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) has become a “must-do” international event in the last 15 years, known as the ‘World’s Summit of Trail Running’. Its unique expertise inspires many organisers especially in countries or continents new to the sport. The UTMB starts from Chamonix and finishes its 170 km trail in Courmayeur, going through France, Italy and Switzerland. To participate on this race you need to collect at least 10 points by completing other “qualifying” trail running races in the past 2 years.  It also includes 7 other events mainly between Chamonix and Courmayeur and normally during July. Although,  this summer (2021) will be taking place from 23rd August. It attracts 10 000 trail runners from all over the world and 50 000 visitors!

Discover all the best trail running races in the Aosta Valley.

lavarendo trail - running throught the Dolomite mountains

Most important trail running races in the Dolomite

Moving to the Dolomite we are not short of choices either. Starting perhaps with the most difficult one the Lavarendo Ultra Trail with its 120K and 5 800 D+ that runs through the stunning Dolomite starting and finishing in the well-know town of Cortina. Ultra Dolomites (80K), Cortina Trail (48K) and Cortina Skyrace (20K) are the other races taking place from this location during the same time, 24-26th June 2021.

DXT – Dolomiti Extreme Trail has also various distances and routes in Val di Zoldo and it is one of the most appreciated trails in Italy. A magical journey, full of emotions in Dolomite, an uncontaminated environment, officially UNESCO world heritage. The hardest race of the DXT is the 103K with 7 150m+ elevation gain and it is the famous round-route of the Val di Zoldo! The less extreme endurance lovers can join the 72K, 55K, 22K or 11K race trails. These races are on during the month of June (11th June 2021).

The Dolomiti di Brenta Trail is an exceptional journey: starting from the splendid beach of Lake Molveno, passing through Andalo, in the group of Cima S. Maria and Cima di Campa, then reaching Passo del Grosté.  It is covering the entire central part of the Brenta. The total route is 64K with 4 200m+ and you have 16 hours to complete it. It is another qualifying race for the UTMB and is taking place in September (11th September 2021).

The Dolomites Ultra Trail is a team race, which runs exclusively in a team of two. The athletes start together in Brixen, go through the checkpoints together and reach the finish in Brixen together.

Arco sul lago di Garda - Guide to trail running races in northern Italy

Trail running races around Lake Garda

Around Lake Garda, again you are spoilt for choices! Garda Terntino Trail takes place in mid-May and it is 62K race with 3 800m+ elevation gain staring and finishes in Arco. Other races in the area are Ledro Trail starting from Pieve di Ledro and arrives in Arco completing 42K. Tenno Trail and Garda Trentino Run are covering shorter distances and more suitable for medium level runners.

Running through the vineyards in the Langhe wine country

Trail running races in Piemonte region

Piemonte region includes the other side of the Alps from Aosta Valley with the Gran Paradiso National Park, going down until Cuneo area, offering you fantastic trail running opportunities.

In the Cuneo area, there are 2 main trail running races, Iron Trail – La Via Dei Lupi (31/07/2021) 11.4k with 650m+ and the Cro Trail 48k and Half Cro Trail 25K (04/07/2021) all starting from Limone Piemonte. This race also gives points for UTMB race.

The Ultra Trail del Moscato (UTDM) takes place in Santo Stefano Belbo, in the Langhe area this year 26th June 2021. If you are dreaming of a trail running race among the vineyards, then this is the place and event to participate. The main race is 54K with 2 800m+ elevation gain, however there are also 21K and 10K races held at the same time. It is actually a fantastic event for the whole family as you can participate in a 10K nordic walking, a Kids Fun race and also a Food and Wine walking tour (7 km), that takes place the same weekend.

The other big event is on the boarder of Aosta and Piemonte region in the Monterosa mountians, the Monterosa Est Himalayan Trail (MEHT) organised from a charming village called Macugnaga. The main race is the 105K route with 8 000D+ starting from the Frazione Pecetto, this year 16-18th July 2021. Again you can participate less challenging routes during the same period 60K, 38K, 22K, and 14K.

Stelvio trail through the National Park, snowy mountains

Main Trail running races in Trentino-Alto-Agide and Veneto regions

The are other two big trail running races in northern Italy. One is the Stelvio Ultra Trail in Solda all’Ortles, Balzano, Trento-Alto-Agide region.   And the other one is the famous Alpe Adria Eden and Ultra Trail that starts from Tarvisio, Italy.

On the Stelvio Ultra Trail race, starting your journey on the slopes of King Ortler, crossing the glacier at sunrise and climb the exposed Tabarettascharte at 2900m… It gives you the most magnificent views and later your journey goes through the magical forest of Stelvio National Park by completing your  84K race with 6 340m+.

Alpe Adria Eden Ultra is a 137 km with 6 500m+ elevation gain race and it claims to be one of the seven most beautiful trails in the world. It starts and finishes in Traviso and crosses three countries: Italy, Slovenia and Austria. The route runs entirely along the route of the Alpe Adria Trail, a fast terrain that is also suitable for the roadrunner with a few technical difficulties.  And of course with the most beautiful views. The Alpe Adria Ultra Trail with its 60k is designed for those who are looking for an extremely scenic route, with a fairly important difference in altitude  (4 400m+) and a terrain that does not represent technical difficulties. There is also the Alpe Adria Trail with 25k.

Both Stelvio and Alpe Adria races are providing points for the UTMB.

tarvisio - Guide to trail running races in northern Italy

Main Trail running races in Liguria region

Most trail running races are held during the spring in Liguria, because weather is as hot as in the summer. This year because of Covid-19, the most important races are postponed to 2022.

ALVI Trail Liguria  is an international ultra trail and a wonderful journey along the paths of the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri and the Alta Via delle Cinque Terre: a mountain race in 8 stages starting from Rocchetta Nervina (Ligurian Alps) and arrival in Porto Venere (Gulf of Poets).

There are 4 different distances: Alvi Ultra is 400k covered in maximum 8 days , crossing 7 natural parks with ever- changing and fascinating environments and landscapes. Then Alvi East and Alvi West with both 200k and finally the beautiful Sea 50k starting from Castiglione Chiavarese and arriving in the wonderful Porto Venere.

Trail Maremonta and Trail del Marchesato both are fantastic trail running races and both are held in March. Trail del Marchesato follows the Ermano Fossati sentiero and it is 60k with 3 000m+.

Trail Golfo Dei Poeti – 47,8 km – 2900 D+ starting from La Spezia, the route winds through centuries-old stairways and vineyards. Passing through typical villages and showing fantastic views of the Gulf and the sea of ​​the Cinqueterre until reaching and crossing the town of Porto Venere. Then following on in the heart of the Cinque Terre National Park.  The route ends with an admirable view of the Gulf of Poets, finally arriving at the starting point in La Spezia. Trail Golfo Dei Poeti has also shorter races 27.8k and 14.5k and running in the month of May.

Unfortunately all these trail running races mentioned above are cancelled for year 2021, but will return in 2022.

Trail running race along the sea in Liguria

Obviously, there are numerous other races in the whole of northern Italy and there are several websites and orginisers specialized in Trail Running races listing them with details. Also the main races have their own websites, where you can register and receive all necessary information.

If you are looking for a trail running race on the snow, go and try 10k Sunset Running Race in Prato Nevoso in Piemonte, normally taking place in April.

Trail running is a growing trend all over the world, and Italy, with its beautiful and diverse nature is a very attractive tourist destination for trail running holidays.

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