“Our bus is at 7pm from Umag to Lovran, where the race starts at 10pm and we are heading back to Umag 110 km on foot.” As soon as I sent this text to my friend, I realised that what we are about to do is out of the ordinary, and hence on my to-do list. The impressions are still there, and my injuries as well – my legs are swollen, I walk like a cowboy, my left knee and right ankle are larger than usual. My headlamp also gave me a blister in the middle of my forehead. 🙂 But, I can’t choose my hurts, only my reaction to them, and mine is that all this shall pass and I will soon be up and running. The benefits are huge, and one is particular: I have a feeling that I got myself a large dose of mind cleansing from all the toxins of daily life. A one-day meditation in motion and mindfulness did their trick. As the song goes: “I can see clearly now.”
Istria 110 km was challenging in every way, from training sessions to the start line, and the whirlwind of emotions during the race was a copy of the whirl of wind, snow and rain we encountered in the first half of the race. Never before had I been exposed to northern wind for 40 kilometres, and the snowy conditions made it particularly cool. 🙂 I didn’t find these conditions something new to me, which was key to successful completion of the race; the novelty was the duration of those conditions, as they lasted 10 times more than those I was used to (Blatersa, 1M, Mrak komba, JGL). And so, after 25 hours, 37 minutes and 35 seconds of runner’s focus, self-fight and crazy weather conditions, I reached that finish line, the hug and the kiss that I would practically see on each step of this 110k long mission.
When it’s hard, your mind moves the body, and your heart moves the mind.
So let us begin. 🙂
1. Lovran – Poklon (11,8 km, +1384 m of “either move or die”)
Ever since I first saw the trail profile I panicked about this part of the race as I still kind of hate going uphill. I was told these 9 km to summit Vojak amount to 2x from Sljeme mountain foot to mountain lodge Puntijarka, only the terrain is harder. Not to mention I did not expect all those stairs from the very beginning – I live on 4th floor, no elevator, and I still hyperventilate as I climb them. 🙂 In the first part of the trail, I would stick to other people, I did go fast uphill (so atypical) and would tell myself to slow down (atypical again). These several kilometres were spent in meditative silence, but that was just the silence before the storm – literally. Each following step would take us from spring into autumn, and then winter. I still shiver when I remember the moment I was surrounded by fog, followed by “I can barely see two feet in front of me”. There were less and less people both in front and behind, I was alone, and then all those slidings started, my half-broken pole shortenings and flag detection with the corner of my eye. I would walk carefully on that steep, narrow trail and would tell myself one thing:
Walk, you m…f…!
I was PMS-ing all the way, and although I have reduced the swearing, I just let myself do it in those conditions. 🙂 All of a sudden this uphill ended and I saw a snow-covered board saying “ZTŠ”. 🙂 First tears of joy. (For those who don’t know, ZTŠ is Zagrebačka Treking Škola – my running club :)). Yes! We are done with the uphill, it is all downhill to Poklon now. I was sooo mistaken! I had realised my delusion after several hundred meters of windless running with the night wood fairies. I then saw in the distance headlamps towards me – what’s going on, is someone lost, did I miss something? I soon realized that I arrived to the point where the Red course (100 miles) and mine, Blue course, meet. I was faaar from summit Vojak, and in that moment the snow-windy conditions were getting brutal.
The volunteers would register us on this part, and I would point out my blue bib, God forbid they missed it. Let them just register me, and I can then fly away, the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service will at least then know where they can start locating me. I yelled to the volunteers: DO THE BLUE ONES GOOOO HEEEEREEE??!!” They replied back: “YEEEESSSS, FOLLOOOOW THEEEEEM!” I then joined the 100 milers, but I was surprised it was uphill again, and I would reprimand myself for not having checked out what summit Vojak even looks like, and for not having checked on map where the red course continues after crossing with us. I started to panic and I thought I was on the wrong trail, that the red course was not heading to Poklon and that the volunteers pointed me into wrong direction. I would look behind to look for that girl that was just behind me before meeting the 100 milers – but it was dark, just like the dark we were stepping into. I couldn’t believe it, I became nervous and I had to check whether I was on the right trail:
(CROATIAN) “OPROOOSTITEEE, JESTE VI NA RED KOOORSUUU???!!!
“SOOOOORRY, I DOOON’T UNDERSTAAAAAND, SPEEEAAAAK ENGLIIIIISH!”
“AAAAARE YOU ON THEEEE REEEEED COUUURSEEE???!”
“AAAAAAREEE YOUUU GOIIING TOOOO POKLOOON NOOOOOW???!!!”
“WEEEELL, THAAAAAT’S THEEE IDEEEAAAA!!!!”
I was somehow not convinced; that poor lady, she was on km 40 and there I was, a Croatian girl, pushing her buttons in awful weather conditions. The wind blew so much in my face on that point that I felt my lazy eye from the cold I had had several days before became lazy again. Great, if I am to be one-eyed Jack from now on, I will end up in Slovenia. I soon saw something man made – a tower. Huh, a tower, she says. Is this it? Is this finally Vojak summit? You idiot, just by one Google click you could have seen what the end of this uphill agony looks like! A saw from afar a board covered with snow and approached it to clear it and check whether I was now finally where I thought I was. And the snow had a writing “Dog runners.” Tears of joy again! I didn’t have to clear anything, I knew right then that I was on the right trail and in good company – xy kilometres apart, Ivor, I knew that both boards were your piece of work. I heart ZTŠ. 🙂 I can’t describe what relief I felt, instantly; I wept the next kilometer – of happiness and luckiness. And I would feel those same tears several times during the race.
Detox, I’m tellin’ya. 🙂
The long awaited after-Vojak downhill finally started, but my bones would still shiver from cold, it was slippery as hell, and I fell down as soon as I started to run. I started questioning whether I will at all reach the cut off time in Poklon (4h), because if I can’t run I and I keep falling down – bye bye finish line. The flags then took me from road into the woods and although the wind was milder, my fingers were still frozen. And I have to eat. I started imagining that once I arrive to Poklon I would have to ask the volunteers to feed me with a piece of cheese. 🙂 Of course, this out-of focus moment and thinking about food, caused my pole to fall down the trail, sideways. Getting it took only several meters, but it felt a hundred. The wind was far in the distance, there was less and less snow, my fingers started melting painfully and I finally saw the town night lights. I came to the checkpoint’s tent and sat on an empty bench. I had a feeling that volunteers are giving me weird looks, and at this hour, after all those weather conditions, there are all sorts of feelings that you have. Perhaps this was because of the gaiters I had in my hands, instead on feet; or perhaps my pants fell down and I couldn’t feel it as my ass was still half-frozen…or something else. It was probably this something else which was me sitting on the bench which said “Croatian Championship” and I saw that on my way out. And there I was, wind blown, half blind, barely made it within the cutoff time…empty bench, all championship contestants are long gone, together with their support, and here comes little Soldo…Their eyes were saying “Poor little girl, she’s doing her best, and she doesn’t even have the support…” I couldn’t care less, and I had all the support I needed, in my head. I wasn’t part of the championship at all. What mattered to me was that I reached the cutoff time. I left Poklon, it was 1:45h and 12th kilometer.
2. Poklon – Brgudac (14,5 km, +244 m of night heaven)
I think that after Poklon the nature wanted to reward us for having survived the storm up there, so it granted us almost 15 kilometres of sort of care-free running. I have been hoping for a while that I will hack the flow state, in the zone feeling, and it did happen in that part. I felt as if I was flying, my legs were light, I ran downhill and flat, and I was using my poles uphill hiking fast. There was no wind nor snow, and that added as well. I would outrun people, which you sometimes feel a bit embarrassed about, especially if you are doing this to the red course people, as you wish to bow to them and shake their hand. For the first time in my life I heard: “Someone is faster than us, let them pass.” 🙂 100 milers, I’m tellin’ya. As I would run past them I would hear: “You are alone, are you scared? It’s dark. If you slow down, we’ll keep you company.” I shouted that I am using the strength that I have and kudos to them…at the same time I was all too surprised that I didn’t freak out due to the dark, considering that until not so long time ago I would check whether there were monsters under my bed. 🙂 I arrived to Brgudac, drank and ate, filled in my flasks and continued forward. It was 4:15h and 27th kilometer.
3. Brgudac – Trstenik (17,6 km, +893 m of “why don’t I just fly already??!)
And so Mother Nature and Father Terrain decided to make things interesting again. The part from Brgudac to Trstenik was truly challenging in every aspect – the terrain, snow again, northern wind and the three peaks we were to cross before descending to Trstenik. The only Trstenik I had known until then was my hometown of Split borough – the sea, the sun, the seagull. And now, not even single one. After the first peak, instead of going fast downhill, I went crazy doing the mud sliding. I have never seen so much mud in my life, on any race or training session, it was tiring and it took too long. Neverending…that’s where my PMS swearing was at its worst.
All of a sudden I realized it was the dawning hour, something I had awaited for so long as I was told that 100 k race dawns are truly beautiful. Before the race, I had pictured that moment like this: I am on a hill, watching the sunrise from distance, I can hear birds chirping, and mild spring breeze is caressing my face, I am lifting my arms and taking a deep breath of that beautiful spring morning air…
Still, I have to admit that some birds were trying to fight the wind, and so I was granted the opportunity to sense a tiny bit of the beauty of 100k race dawns. This was the second peak to Trstenik, one more left – Gomila. I hope I will reach it soon.
No, I won’t.
A hiking sign showed there were around 3 hours more to Gomila, and I was just devastated. But, it’s the ultras that teach me that all bad things come to an end. I don’t recall that part very well, apart from the signs telling me that I will practically never reach Gomila. The wind was getting stronger. I was fascinated by the pits along the trail, with a warning sign, and luckily I was not too curious to have a look how deep they were. Mild halucinations started, nothing too serious, nothing too long: there were wolves running through the trees, snow falling when it actually wasn’t, and the funniest was the bat standing next to a flag: hey there, cutie, what are you doin’ here in daylight, waiting for us to pass.
It was a leaf. 🙂
All of a sudden I saw a peak and I thought it might be Gomila, but I kind of hoped it wasn’t as I was still soooo far away from it. However, I noticed some miniature movements climbing it up and I realized that’s my destiny as well. I’ve finally reached that peak, meaning that a carefree downhill run to Trstenik was next…
No, it wasn’t!
My ITB knee pain started to kick in even more so I was really really slow, occasionally moaning and cursing, and I also realised that my jaw moved a bit. :-/ I finally reached Trstenik and went straight to the cheese plate to insert some salt…what I found was two crumbs. :-/ I filled my flasks and moved forward. It was 44th kilometre.
4. Trstenik – Buzet (15 km, +555 m of “why don’t you just kill me?!”)
Žbevnica above Buzet was waving at me ever since I left the Trstenik tent. I somehow didn’t want to believe that I have to climb that part, but the flags would just smile at me pointing me exactly to that direction. And when I thought that it can’t get any worse with respect to wind, Žbevnica showed me the opposite. That climb was, luckily, spent accompanied with a runner on the same route, so we talked a bit and thus made the agony of the whirlwind climb a bit easy. We talked about, pardon, yelled about the races, running shoes, these impossible conditions that we went through, and our better halves who also run trail, and kick ass along the way. 🙂 “My wife is great in trail running, she is on the red course now and way better than me. People say that if someone shot her legs she would still be running.” I just thought about the trail running crazy guy who was waiting for me at the finish line. 🙂
Finally, Žbevnica peak where a volunteer registered us, and then the 10-kilometer descent to Buzet started. With the painful knee. The winter all of a sudden turned into spring, and into summer at some points. I called my love to tell him that everything is ok, and that I hoped that winter conditions are now gone, but that my pace is also slow now as my knee is hurting me. I was almost crying on the phone: “I was doing so great, the uphill in the beginning, and you know how much I hate uphill, I felt great and now my knee is hurting me, the other one, are you disappointed in meeee…” Quite honestly, there should be a volunteer in this place just to slap us when we act like this. 🙂
Pull yourself together, woman! 🙂
Buzet. Finally. I arrived there at noon, an hour before the cutoff time. I took the transfer bag, sat on the floor and tried to remember what I had to do.
Luckily, I had prepared a to-do list; it is better to order your brain to remember one thing (“Have a look at the paper.”) than all those 5 things on it, no matter how simple and logical they are. You never know in what condition you will reach more than half of the race.
(The paper said: – change clothes; -eat and drink; -put sun cream on face; -put deodorant; -move forward within 30-40 minutes) 🙂
I was really taken over by fatigue in Buzet, and I apparently then become more honest and open than I usually am…and so I opened my soul to a volunteer:
“Oh my God, the weather up there, the worst is gone, luckily…it is really beautiful now…I’ll have Nutella…you now what, Istria is really beautiful, I mean, I am Dalmatian, it is also a beautiful region, but Istria is really beautiful, I saw this last year when I was running 67 km, it is really beautiful, and I am from Split, I better shut my mouth, because Dalmatia is also beautiful, but Istria is also beautiful, I am thrilled…Oh, I can’t eat that strudel with cheese, the dough is bad for my stomach, I mean I would be happy to eat it as I eat with my eyes and my heart, but this pastry really does bad to my stomach, so I better avoid fainting somewhere along the way…I still have 50 km to go…but Istria is so beautiful…Thank you so much, byeee….”
I’ve deloaded my backpack, changed the clothes, took a painkiller and moved on. I did everything from the list as planned, apart from the time leaving part, as I moved my ass after 40 minutes. It was 12:40h and 60th kilometer.
5. Buzet – Oprtalj (19,1 km of psychological oscillations, more frequent)
I have to admit that I regained strength in Buzet so I felt better the following 5-6 kilometres. I reached that famous stream which was soooo cold, but it felt sooo good.
I sent a text message to my Mom here, and she was by now informed that that marathon I was running was actually a 110 km race and that I was up on my feet whole night. “I am sooo proud of you, but don’t you run again during the night.” – that was the first message when I reached the finish line. 🙂
After the stream, I started to get blisters, as soon as you wet your feet, that’s it. And I still had 40 km to the finish line, ugh. The stream really woke me up so I exchanged some text messages with my ZTŠ crew, to lift me up even more. You have nooo idea what that did to me, and THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT!!! The uphill to Oprtalj started, and although it was sunny and the birds sang, all of a sudden I just felt so sleepy. I would look at the trail profile all the time trying to figure out how much to the end of that uphill, and I was texting my best friend in Split as well. I finally reached Zrenj where two kind volunteers would register us, the crazy people. “Oh my God, Istria is sooo beautiful…I should shut my mouth as I am Dalmatian, but it is soooo beautiful. Is it downhill from now on to Oprtalj? Great!” It took 6 more kilometres to Oprtalj, but they took too long at this stage, even though it felt as if you were running fast. I finally reached Oprtalj where the blue and the green trail (67 km) joined. I have to admit that I felt soooo cool when I came to that tent with the blue bib, and I was surrounded by the green people of the 67k race, the fast kind. That was the first and the last time that I will be in the same place in the same time with those kind of runners. 🙂 I ate and drank a bit and moved on. It was 16:50h and 78th kilometer.
6. Oprtalj – Grožnjan (11,3 km, +340 m of drunk walking)
At this stage, I was not alone anymore as I was outrun by the green guys all the time, with an occasional “Well done” and a “Let’s go, ZTŠ!”, which, at this point, come like a shot of positivity and strength. When you see someone drunk walking, fully trail-equipped, it can only mean they haven’t slept the whole night as they are doing the red or the blue course. One guy recognized me from Blatersa race so we spent a couple of hundred meters talking about Sljeme, surviving this night and how precisely Sljeme crazy experiences help you in these situations. Additional fuel to brain and soul is always welcomed, and thank you for that. And yes, next year, the blue course is yours! 🙂 I was finally approaching Grožnjan, with people cheering, mostly for the green ones, but when they would see us, the blue ones, they would shout: “These are the blue, well done, well done, let’s go!!!” My dear God, I felt as if I had just conquered Vojak summit in night winter conditions in the middle of spring! 🙂 🙂 At the checkpoint, I was exchanging head nods with my fellow blue runners, we understood each other, we know what we’ve gone through, and we still have a half-marathon ahead of us. Juuust a half-marathon. I am leaving Grožnjan, it is 19:30h and 89th kilometer.
7. Grožnjan – Buje (7,6 km, +89 m of the longest shortest leg)
I started running as it was downhill, but at moments I would just just shut down…you know that feeling when you run and then you just stop and make several drunk steps…the two wires need to be connected…and then again…The trail near Buje was not wide, and the 67k runners would outrun me all the time…I would let each runner pass me by moving a step to the right, and then spending 10 seconds to find the balance and come back that step to the left. And this happened 20 times at least. It was getting darker again, so I had to take out the headlamp…that meant squating, which was really painful and the whole process was slow.
At that point a well known face and voice ran next to me, the one I was really hoping to see, the dear Beata who was running 67k. You are now leaning on any external support, as the inner one has been asleep for quite some time now. 🙂 The squating caused an extra slow standing up and a 3 second blackout while standing tall…hmmm…I will assume it was 3 seconds. And then I had to reach my poles on the ground, God forbid I remember to pick my both my backpack and the poles in one go. 🙂
I made it to Buje…13 km to go.. Or “12,8 km if it’s easier” – as a kind girl volunteer girl said… in a moment I felt this was the same girl with the same sentence like last year at the 67k race. It was 20:50h and 97th kilometer.
8. Buje – Umag (12,8 km, +138 m of “finishlining”)
And then, to conclude, ladies and gentlemen, the mud! That was not cool at all for my painful left knee, ever since Oprtalj, and the front part of my right ankle – stiffness, cramp, stop, stretch, moan, shut up…in 15 min repetitions. I turned on the headlamp and it stopped working after 3 minutes. “Gaddamit, I have to squat again!” The battery change took ages, I was using my cell torch and paying attention not to lose it in mud…Come on, stand up now, this will be the last squating. Just a bit more and you’ll be in Umag, just a bit more…run, you can do it, you are not sleepy, you are not sleepyzzzzz…come one, 5-6 km are already behind you…all of a sudden there was a board saying “10 KM”.
Will somebody just shoot me??!
After several minutes, my left feet blisters just burst.
Anyoneee??! Why don’t you just kill me??
The needles I felt in that feet made me walk for another 10 minutes, but then I started running again. And then… a shut down…several drunk steps…then running again…I felt I was keeping a straight line better whilst running than walking. To drink or not to drink, I’m not thirsty, shall I eat, no, I don’t wanna, I have to pee, I don’t have to pee, I don’t want to squat…I was completely fatigued, if I had closed my eyes for longer than 3 seconds, I would have fallen. Run, walk, run, walk…come on, you can do it, you know who is there at the finish line. Just a little bit more…come one, just another 2-3 kilometers…After 10 minutes, there was a board saying “5 KM”.
Who moved the finish line??!! Why are you playing with me??!!
Come on, slowly, don’t worry, your knee will be swallen a bit, the ankle, tendon,stretching, cramp, this and that…whatever it is…you are not the first nor the last…just a bit more.
5… 4…. 3…. 2…..1….. I speeded up the last 1km as the adrenaline kicked in…classic. I stepped on the concrete, followed the flags, made it to the roundabout and saw my love…the hug, the kiss, the tears, the joy…running towards the finish line…
It was not taken on footage, but this smile was followed by: “When are we doing it again?” 🙂
Oh, and do try to reach the finish line with almost the same smile you took to the start line. You know all too well that you can’t wait to hit the trails again. 🙂
I can sum up the whole race with one sentence:
What you see is what you get.
But I like to often replace the “seeing is believing” with “seeing is doing” as with no training of your mind and body, you cannot reach that goal. So, SEE IT, DO THE WORK, and GO GET IT. I saw that finish line as I was training on Sljeme, Maksimir, as I was practicing yoga, working at my keyboard, as I was walking, right before the bedtime…and I would see it from the very first steps of that climb on Učka…that image would pick me up every time I would fall. The moments of motivating myself during the race would most frequently be accompanied with tears, thinking how happy I am, and lucky, and I would experience flashbacks of everything good and bad that has happened in my life. Ah, the flashbacks, during that physical burden they take out the emotional one as well.
And these races are a copy of our lives, anyway: step by step, after the rain comes the sun, then rain again, snow, mud, wind…and then the sun again….
And the finish line is not the end, but yet another start.