I fell in love with trail&trek within the first month of my active training with Zagreb Trekking School. Ok, that’s not true. It happened on the first Saturday on Sljeme. Maksimir Park on weekdays, Sljeme on weekends, Velebit, Klek, Samobor Hills…I’m in! And you know how it goes, you start Googling races around and you already see yourself at a start line, or even better, the finish line. And then you come across gelender.hr, this obscure, as they love to call it, website with all the information about the craziest underground races around Zagreb. When the man behind it is your coach, and you also met the people testing their limits exactly on these races, it is not difficult to catch the enthusiasm virus.
I’ve searched everything about Blatersa a month and a half ago, when I walked 7.5k to and from our Sljeme training session, whereas we crossed some 15k at the training session. I said to myself “Ok, you hiked 30k today, and you feel you can hike more”. The next day, I ran a 10k night race in Zagreb, I felt such heaviness in my legs, but the mind kept pushing nevertheless (that’s a first!), the body breaks the PB. I’m telling myself “Maaaaybe you could try the crazy 50k at Blatersa. You have 6 more weeks of training. Come on, at least try.” A week after, I hiked another 30k at a training session in the East of Medvednica (walking to the meeting point has become a must), and on 25.11. I was at a trek race in Samobor where I crossed 27k, feeling I couldn’t wait to come home and drop dead on my bed. But, I knew there was no one hour four-legged uphill at Blatersa, which exhausted me at the start of that Samobor race, but a nicely marked trail. How hard can that be? Ummm…You have no idea!
However, several days after Samobor, I started to feel that typical loss of enthusiasm; you know, when you fall in love, and you have butterflies in your stomach, but the butterflies fly away after a while. Never is the problem to fall in love, the challenge is to stay in love even when there are no more butterflies, the challenge is to love all the time, without being bored, the challenge is to maintain consistency. I had been battling loss of enthusiasm for three weeks before the race, but I still showed up at the training sessions as I know that everything will be better once I overcome this challenge. The biggest push not to give up on Blatersa was the Tuesday before the race, the slow-paced 15k at our regular training session in Maksimir. This was my first run above 10k after the half-marathon in Split in May 2006, and 16k of Plitvice one month later. The crew at the training sessions was great as ever, motivating. I was feeling perfect after the session, and one conversation gave me another push to try Blatersa.
It’s Thursday, I got the push to post my blog, and this overlapped with the greatest athletic and mental challenge of mine to date. I knew that upon publishing the blog there was just no turning back, and that the next blog post will be exactly the race report. And there goes the inner critic: “What if you don’t make it to the finish line? What if you fail? And you would have to write about it?!” Imagine that, Doomsday! The good spirit of the day told me that I would then write about acceptance. And honestly, I don’t even have to force myself to accept this DNF, as it came naturally that I’m ok with it. And I always learn a lesson, or two…or in this case, four.
The day has arrived, I tried to sleep that afternoon, but the pouring rain only increased my inner critic and its “Should you stay or should you go?”. I couldn’t sleep at all, and after two hours I got up even more tired. Not cool. I read the first blog post (for the 6th time J), published the page around 10pm, but the Facebook post, the mother of all distribution, was planned for the start of the race. It was kind of symbolic to start simultaneously two things that scare me most. As if one was not enough. I prepared two backpacks, one for the finish line and one for the road, kinesiotaped myself put my Salomon running shoes on and…upon getting into the car I stepped into rainwater! For crying out loud, miss! You could have at least arrived at the start line with your feet dry, it’s not like you’re gonna need them or something! 🙂
When I arrived at the start line, a real shocker – EVERYONE WITH THOSE SMALL TRAIL BACKPACKS! I was convinced that I had seen some Blatersa photos with people with larger backpacks; come one, guys, 50k, freezing cold, plus you gotta eat, right?! And there I was, with a Sport Billy bag containing (laugh all you want, I was LMAO-ing as I was writing J)
– 3L of water – I was so stressed out that day that when I was putting 3x1L of water I thought that I was putting 3×0.5L; and wondered how come was my backpack so heavy and how come I can barely fit in three small bottles (?!). I realized it was 3L at the freakin’ 10th kilometre! Facepalm, I know!
– 1L of tea – ummm, “1.5L” of water might not suffice, and, you know, the tea will warm up my soul so nicely once we sit on a bench (?!!) – it’s freakin’ middle of the night, I can barely see in front of me given the fog and snow, my fingers are freezing so much that I’m not even thinking about taking anything out of the backpack!
-10 energy bars, as this is a school trip and I should share with Steve, Emily and Kevin.
– 4-5 magnesium bags, the only smart thing I brought, as I needed it when the crisis hit, and one should always take some more for Michael and Jennifer.
– several painkillers…one might think this is ok, if I had brought pills, but I took the granules…g.r.a.n.u.l.e.s. ’Cause, you know, it is warm at a bench out in the sun, I will drink some nice tea from the thermos and, if I have a headache I will sip in a bit of Aspirine.
– 2 cellphones, as the main one shuts down in cold, so I dug out some old piece of sth with a one-time-only number for this purpose, so if I wander somewhere I can let the organiser know so that he does not wait for me…and then call 911…yes, that order. 🙂
– spare batteries plus spare headlamp, as you never know when you will fall flat on face and break the only thing that lights your trail
– spare contact lens! 🙂 🙂 LMAO-ing over here! Well, you never know when a branch will slap you and poke out the lens from your eyes, so, on a mountain, middle of night, rain and snow, you can always find a way to put on new contact lens. 🙂 I also brought glasses with me, as you never know when will another branch slap you and poke out that spare pair of lens. 🙂
-spare jacket plus a spare rain jacket, 2 warm shirts and 3 pairs of socks – ‘cause, remember, this is a school trip and it is not ok to walk soak and wet…I don’t think even ten pieces of waterproof clothes would save me from that blizzard pouring
Items used: 1dcl of water, 1dcl of tea, 1 magnesium bag, 1 energy bar. My dear God!
And there I was, at the start line, Facebooking my blog so that I can distribute my first blog post, and the posting was exactly at 23:59h, the race start. I love symbolism.
The race started, everyone ran and I can already feel the weight of my Sport Billy on my back. I ran 4 minutes in total. 7 minutes in, barely, and we were already at the wrong trail! How is this possible?! All the trails are marked, I read the article Blatersa for Beginners 5 times, printed out the freakin’ map, bought the map of Medvednica, drew the path…but nooooo! Ok, stop, go back, this is not the first time, we were still in Podsused for a while commenting that we manage better there than on concrete. What you ask is what you get – mud breaking loose, just so it justifies the name of the race (the stem of the word “blatersa” is “blato”, namely, “mud”). I am sliding at a frequency of 2 times in 30 seconds, and I’m just praying that my backpack doesn’t pull me left or right, especially with abyss around. Soon, we are getting lost again, going back, the right trail, getting lost, going back, a big pool of water, going around (swear to God, I’ll swim next time!), trail 6, 1M, searching for trail 8, finally finding it, followed it nicely, only to hear a member of our fellowship say “I think I haven’t seen trail markers for some time now”…For some time??!! FOOOOR SOOOME TIIIME?!! Do you know what that means in Blatersaspeak??! Additionally freezing our a*** off, that’s what it means! Ok, calm down, Margita, don’t throw snow, twigs, mud, backpack at him…after all, it is your own fault, you should mind the markers, not stare at your feet in front…if you fall, that’s ok, if you fall on your back you won’t feel anything courtesy of all the clothes you had in your backpack! 🙂 And so we had to cut a hill to get back on track, luckily it was a downhill, snow all over the place, and this same member of our fellowship figured that he just might turn on that torch on his forehead, so he lighted enough feet so that we can see the right trail. He made it up to us…not!
Ok, back on track, literally…and here comes the crisis…getting lost, honestly, is the biggest demotivator. Been there, done that. Each stopping was detrimental to our bodies, we are cold fast, and I was afraid of this ever since the unwelcome event on Sljeme a week before, when I was defrosting my feet on the radiator for an hour! That time I didn’t have gaiters, and although this time I did, nothing actually stops water, mud, snow from getting in, sooner or later. The trail 8 to Grafičar (mountain lodge) was never-ending, and with a sporadic “Are you ok?” you couldn’t hear anything. I don’t know what was going on in other people’s minds, but having felt painful freezing of my fingers and that I have to keep them in my jacket’s pocket all the time..and we even haven’t crossed the 1/3 of the race, not to mention that we won’t make it to top of the mountain (gelender) by the recommended 3:45h…I thought already then that gelender is the finish line of this night. And there it came, self-battling, and following a white path with a feeling of not having end, takes out the worst from you towards yourselves: “How stupid are ya, so many things you carried, you can’t even run, your shoulders are falling off, your 70k per week are in vain, roll downhill, you don’t have to let anyone know, no one cares…” Worst of the worst, as if that’s what you need in that moment. What really made me angry was that my legs were fine, but they slowed down, too, out of spite towards the stupid mind and useless kilos on my back. In the sense “Here you go, crazy, you’ve trained us for weeks, we were good, did our best, and you f*** up like this. We are slowing down, we’re not moving, we don’t wanna.” And so a bit of a monkey mind middle of the mountain, not the first nor the last time when it’s hard; luckily, I picked up my gaze and saw three more souls taking step by step, and I was scared to ask them about what was going on in their minds. So I ran when they would be out of sight (which, considering the conditions, was really fast). In that moment you realize: you are not alone…and you move forward.
We finally arrived at Grafičar, and, in accordance with our school trip attitude at the time, we took out food and drinks and treated ourselves to full two minutes of rest (considering the cold, 90 seconds too much). The trail to gelender is known to us, so we were safe with getting lost. Instead of 3:45, we were there at 5:30; we decided to descend to Gračani. There was no point in going further; yes, I do have food and water for myself and the whole class, but we would arrive to Zelina (the finish line) at the finish of Blatersa 2018, sooo…My shoulders and back had been falling off for quite some time, I could barely move my toes, I was defrosting my hands in pockets, hoping that I won’t fall down, as, honestly, I don’t think anything would make me take them out of the pockets, I would rather be washing my face in snow and giving in to the 10k pressing me into the soft whiteness. 🙂 We used the downhill to fool around as much as we can, probably because of being so tired, but there was silence too, but it doesn’t mean that there was no conversation. We were probably talking to ourselves. It dawned, we reached the car and thought: “If everything had gone well, we would have been in Laz now.” We crossed 17km of the official trail, plus kms of getting lost, plus the descend by Leustek trail (6.5k).
We decided to go to Zelina by car and greet the people at the finish line. I was dead frozen, wanting a hot shower and bed, it was already 7.00. But something just pulls you to see the people who made it to the end as they are an inexhaustible source of inspiration and motivation for any athletic goal. Anyone who would enter the finish line (fire department in Zelina) would be greeted by a loud applause…and we would shout “We made it to gelendeeeer! We came here by caaaaar.” 🙂 What truly thrilled me were the words of support by the girls from the trekking school who were at the finish line but also in Laz where they would cheer the trailers passing by. In that moment, you wish that you made it further just so you the faces of support that give you an additional push. Actually, they confirmed what I wrote in the first post, my attitude towards this race – you start and go as much as you can. I like to push my limits, and to tell you the truth, of course the feeling would be much better if I had crossed the whole 50k. I would watch those exhausted bodies thinking that it could be me. But I have reached my goal – I showed up at the start line and did as much as I could. This is my first DNF ever, no race was anything close to Blatersa, not regarding the length, weather conditions, not kilos on my back. The goal for Blatersa 2018 – the finish line.
And the lessons this inexperienced enthusiast learned?
- Run as much as you can – Blatersa is not your ordinary walk in the park, in any way. This is a night race, middle of the night, with unexpected conditions, there is not much hiking there, you should use your running fitness to the maximum. As simple as that.
- To run as much as you can, your trail backsack should contain only the bare minimum so that you could be lighter. Of course, run hills. As simple as that.
- To have a minimum weight backpack – I still have to figure that out.
- Don’t get lost – if you know you are in a team of people who never crossed the trail, regardless of the markers, the conditions are such that a wrong step will cost you, not to mention a mile. For the past three months I have been soloing on Sljeme and I always go on the same trails, instead of having researched the trails I have not stepped foot on before, part by part, it doesn’t matter (Podsused-Grafičar and Hunjka-Zelina). One big facepalm for me.
What did Blatersian experience give me? The return of that lost enthusiasm. 🙂 Unexpected, right? I thought that a DNF would bring me down me, that I will lose the will, instead, having recovered after a long sleep, I looked out the window, the mountain was bathing in the sun and I wished to run uphill immediately. The priorities of the day, were, however, a bit different.
What I really learned I will have the opportunity to test in spring on Traversa, the daily version of Blatersa, where it all started. Until then, TTT (trail, trek and train). 🙂