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Behind The Scenes of Ultrabericus

runner trans d'havet
Image: Nadia Pietrobelli

Enrico Pollini and the Ultrabericus Team are the minds behind two of the most popular races in Italy's northeast: Ultrabericus and Trans D'Havet. During the past 10 years, they refined their organization to offer the best experience to runners and build a truly local experience on Monti Berici and Piccole Dolomiti. Enrico is the man keeping everyone on track and ensuring the events run smoothly.

How did the first editions of Ultrabericus and Trans D’Havet come about?

For Ultrabericus, the thought was linking all the Monti Berici in one single push, starting and finishing in the heart of Vicenza's historical city center. The 65k course doesn’t go through all the Berici, only when we did the 100k we encompassed the whole area, nevertheless, the classic 65k race crosses the hills from north to south and back.

Trans D’Havet is different. There was already another race covering half of the current course, but that was it. I ran it and then I thought of continuing the journey to Valdagno as part of one of my training sessions ahead of UTMB. The course follows a mountain range, Piccole Dolomiti, that you can observe from the plane below or Vicenza. So, I decided to organize Edition 0. We were two groups of 15 runners at different levels. This is how it started.

enrico pollini
Enrico on race day

From a corporate perspective, how does Ultrabericus work?

We are affiliated to the Athletics Federation and we have many athletes running with us. I am the one pulling all the strings to coordinate our activities, from marketing to logistics. Back when things were small, I was involved in all the details. Now, I oversee the relationships with the outside world, from the press to the third parties involved in the races. Each area refers to a team that works independently and walks on its own. We have a solid structure.

We have a core group of nine people who are always engaged and a larger pool of loose dogs. Each person in the core group is the leader of a specific team. They know what to do, when to do it, and to solve problems that might arise. So, they are independent and after years of hosting these events, they operate efficiently. The loose dogs are engaged in specific tasks, like driving, marking the course on the day of the race, or being the sweeps. Overall, we are around 50-60 people involved from our end. Below that level, there are some 450 volunteers, coming from different groups and associations, with one person leading each team and reporting to one of the nine “area managers” in the core group depending on the specific tasks.

We adopted this structure because it is impossible to manage every single person involved during race day. More than 450 volunteers are active, usually for more than 24 hours. We rely on the local community to support the event and we commit to cover their costs so that they feel some sort of reward for their time. This structure makes it easier for new joiners too. Let’s say you want to volunteer next year but you don’t have a clear idea of what to do, I can direct you to a team where we need help and they’ll figure out what you will do.

Ultrabericus happens at the beginning of the year, while Trans D’Havet is in July. How does the organizational timeline look from your perspective?

In terms of the timeline approaching race day, the two events are similar. First, we open the registrations months in advance, and we promote the race with some dedicated content. Around 3 months before the race we start working on the logistics engaging with the third parties and local municipalities. At the same time, we recruit the volunteers. This process lasts for two months. Then, we focus on the race procedures: entry list management, bib numbers, and so on. The 15 days before the event are very busy. A few weeks after the race, we organized a dinner with all the volunteers and local associations to reward them and foster that community feeling we want to preserve.

Ultrabericus volunteers
Ultrabericus volunteers during the post-race celebratory dinner.

Both the events started between 2011 and 2012 and became well-known in Italy. How did you see them changing during these years?

The number of runners increased significantly. Ultrabericus surpassed 1,800 runners thanks to the shorter distances. Besides this, the races did not change much. Of course, we made mistakes at the beginning. Luckily, some of them weren’t noticed by the runners. We improved a lot. We found the right formula some 4 years after the first editions and since then we haven’t changed much from an organizational perspective. There are still small things we can always improve and a proper debrief after each race is essential.

Looking at the future, how do you plan to improve your events?

Improving how we communicate the races is key. We started to improve when we had funds from the sponsors. Better communication brings more sponsors and so on. It is a circle. But it is not easy since there are many races nowadays. Streaming the race is a big commitment in terms of costs, from the people to the equipment. It is a big investment. We will focus on improving our communication and the content we produce.

Runners at Ultrabericus
Image: Nadia Pietrobelli

How would you rate the state of trail running in Italy?

From my experience, average runners are around their forties and typically they pick up running after their fun days of going out are over and they need to lose some weight. They start improving and getting some good results, so they can talk about it with their friends. After a bit, they realize that to improve your time in a marathon you need to put a lot of work behind. So, they switch to the trails and longer distances where nobody cares about how long it takes to run 65k. Then, you become the cool guy again and you can impress your friends who only run marathons. This is how trail and ultra running picked up in popularity.

The community is in good health. It's much bigger than 10 years ago. 10 years ago, all the trail runners in the country were on the Sprito Trail forum and we all knew each other. Now, it is ten times bigger. The community is more diluted, more diverse, and less personal, but still in the same spirit of the past. In the end, the sport is still about spending 7, 8, 9, and 15 hours in the mountains and it is not easy.

With the growth of the sport and more runners at your event, you might get more complaints about anything, from the medal to the aid station. Anyway, there is still a vast majority of runners who just want to enjoy the scenery and the experience. The trail spirit is still alive.

At the elite level, a lot is happening. Of course, we look at what UTMB is doing and changing the sport. There isn’t a real competitor to that organization. I am involved in the World Championships and World Athletics and am doing a lot to improve the competition of these events, even though it is hard to compete with an economic superpower. The next two or three years will be very interesting for the sport.


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