It's 18.30 and I'm driving.... I'm still in Italy but quickly approaching the Karst. Just a few km after Trieste Airport "Ronchi dei Legionari" you may see the first rocks, the same I'll be running om, the same rocks I played on when I was a child! A strange feeling filled my body, I felt a rush, cold, warmth.... wow..... After paying the motorway toll the road to the Istrian peninsula is just straight forward. No more stops...... apart a short one to exit Slovenia. And yeah.... I was just a few km away from Umag, the sun was still shining. Like last year, the weather was lovely - warm and great colours. I took my BIB and again as last year I'm running this "homeland" race as a swede! Have to get used to that! LOL
So, I had it all.... checked the gear, took my gadgets.... ! "BREATHE dude!.... The show is not starting!.... Not yet!"
I had to drive approx an hour to reach my home, and after 10PM I was finally ready to eat, I was starving! :)
The next day I woke up fresh and ready to.... work! Yes, I decided to work to the last second allowed in order to minimize the race stress and to "fool" my body! It worked just fine I guess.... During the lunch break I managed to prepare my gear and got ready with pretty much every single detail.
3PM - Time to go to the start line!
Once arrived to Labin there was a little bit of traffic chaos so I decided to get out of the car and walk to the main square. Wow, there was people everywhere and almost everybody was more or less the same "outfit" as I had - great! Is it?! A moment of panic.... What the hell am I doing here? 100 miles... wait... 171km!?? Am I insane?!! Am I prepared, will I survive this? Am I pushing my luck?
I met Branislav Pavic near the Pizzeria Napoli in the very center of the old town of Labin just a few meters from the start line, a great guy I met a few months ago in Gothenburg thanx to a common running fellow. We chat a little bit and discussed on many things... mainly trying to remove the stress waiting for the start of the race. The idea was to run together, to push and take care of each other it it's OK for both of us of course... but I knew that he was much more experienced and stronger than I am. I can't really compete with some beasts.... not yet! :)
AC/DC music in my ears, ActionCam ON, clock ready and GOOOOOOO!!!
We were running through the lovely and narrow streets of the old city center of Labin towards Rabac. The downhill is not a technical one, it was a lovely and slow dowhill. I was running behind a few slower runners and in front of Branislav. He was chatting with someone he met before and I decided to relax and.... enjoy! The day was perfect! Sunny and lovely temperature, almost a summer feeling om my skin! Down in Rabac I noticed that Branislav was way behind me, i turned myself to check but nothing. In the meantime I chatted with a Norwegian guy for a few km just before the uphill leaving Rabac. This is something I love about Ultra running - the community is just amazing! You can meet great people, inspiration, great life stories, athletes whose different paths got together for this single event running together through Istria! Amazing! This can be soooo motivating!
As mentioned before, leaving Rabac there is the first uphill. Not a tough one, very runable, but I knew that I must walk these in order to preserve my legs. I did that, power walking is something you do a lot during a ultra-marathon unless you are an elite athlete (I'm not)! Stunning views from ca. 400mt above sea to the Cres island, and the Ucka mountain, the one we will climb, the max, maybe the toughest climb.... something I never did before, not from this side of the mountain.
The first downhill came, the sun was shining, the warm air, stunning views.... the running flow came.... the running zen! I let my legs roll, took out my camera and took a nice video clip. Soon we were down under the old town of Plomin. The first trail climb was about to start.
After a short uphill we were in Plomin. The first aid station and the first place to refill with energy. I guess this was one of my fastest "pit-stops" on the course. I wanted to run as much as possible before the night...
The temperature was just lovely, perfect! Stunning views, nice trails, great runners.... just great. The first uphill was an easy-to-run gravel road than a trail with high grass... It's always a good idea to run in a group of runners these technical trails where you don't really see the ground in order to produce noise and vibrations and scare the snakes and other "interesting" inhabitants that you don't want to see or step on while enjoying the trails.... just my opinion! :)
After a few hours Branislav was behind me! Finally! Now the uphill was a lot easier. To chat and hike/run uphill is not the easiest thing, still after approx. 30k both Branislav and I were "fresh" and chatty. The night was falling and we were able to enjoy the colors mixing and changing. The wind was stronger and stronger.... not the one from the last year which was horrible and cold. This one was a "friendly" one but still, we needed a wind jacket in order to preserve our energies. It was dark now. The second aid station "Bodaj" was behind us now and we were approaching the last uphill the one to the top of the Ucka mountain. It was a stunning view to see all those lamps one after the other in a serpentine moving forward to the top, and over the top all those stars.... millions of stars.... on our right side the city of Rijeka - millions of lamps shining and reflecting on the sea and on the left side the whole peninsula of Istria like "on the palm of the hand" so silent and calm.... only the wind was talking to us! Nobody was talking.... those 200mt were just magic! We kept moving, the wind was strong, there was just one thing rolling in our mind - to get to the top and back inside the woods!
Once we arrived on the very top of the mountain one part of the race was over for me... I wanted badly to see this part of the course, to be able to climb the mountain from that angle during the first night hours - pure magic I have to say! I was surfing in all those impressions, the great nature and stunning night sky... impressive!
Branislav started to push me now... I guess it was his turn now! Eehehehehe
No... I needed a nice push - we stopped for a minute or two too long and my legs were like Pinocchio's. I got almost scared by that! After 50k I felt a little bit tired for the very first time, Brane reminded me to eat, magnesium and salt etc..... It felt really good to have somebody near me, somebody I could speak with, the same language and culture - without misunderstandings! He has a good Ultra-experience and that knowledge was really crucial for a newbie like I am!
BAM! ......Ahiaaaaaa! Goallllll! Yes..... I scored! My foot scored to be precise! A lovely full-power kick to a "tiny" 10kg rock on a trail that decided not to move from my running! Sh*t! That hurts!
It was than that I realized that after 55k I was getting tired and loosing it..... but no problem., nothing was broken, no serious injury... just a wake-up call!! :)
We were now running in a group. Different runners from different former-YU countries. Politics doesn't matter in the Ultra-Trail world - this is the world I love, where everybody is respected because suffering the same stress, the same difficulties and coping in the best way one in able to. Everything is reduced to simple nature-designed rules. You have to obey those rules, natural rules, to respect the power of the nature, your limits and limitations, be prepared to help and accept help and keep moving forward! The social part of trail running is something I adore! I met a lot of interesting people, great people, great stories, pure motivation and inspiration! I still have contact with many of the racers I met during my first ultra-trail race last year (2015).
This part was a nice running part with a good group pace together with Branislav, Mirsad Abdakovic, Sanja Kavaz, Jelena Filipovic and Marina Nikolic.... Sometimes we were running together, sometimes in front, sometimes left the group in front of us..... sometimes it felt like running tiny races and having fun... until the next BAM! Oh no.... oh yes! Another stone sleeping in front of my "laisy" shoe! This one was a powerful kick! I felt the pain through each and every nerve in my body I guess.... I almost shouted my full knowledge of bad words in all the languages I speak!.... Pain, pure pain! And after that kick I needed to slow the pace. Really slow.....
Not much after that kick I managed to play football again, bu this was just one of the "I-dont-remember-how-many" kicks I did due to lack of concentration. The first kicks I did were mostly due to the fact that my head torch was "dancing" too much and I never felt OK to simply stop and fix the thing.... I decided to continue running with a dancing lamp that obviously never illuminated the right way the path and I could never visualize and "remember" the 5-10mt in from of me which is translated in poor visibility depending on the pace you run. So please, do not repeat my error! During an ultra-run you must have the time to fix things, you have to be comfortable running in day or night otherwise it could be a problem... a huge one sometimes!
Brgudac aid station.... just a quick refill after 57k. This time we were fast enough. I did not allow to my legs to fall asleep. One thing amazed me in this station. A guy was sleeping.... everybody thought that that was the finish line for him, but after a minute or so he jumped, and alive like a rabbit ran away.... stunning! I met the guy a few times along the course. A stop & go tactics I guess! :)
I was preparing mentally for Trstenik aid station - ca. 74k. Not really to get to the station, but to the fact that Zbevnica was in front - the last peak before Buzet! A 100mt peak is not a problem, not in usual and "normal" conditions, but like the last year this year too Zbevnica was a misty and windy beast. A cold beast. The problem is not to climb up the mountain.... there the problem starts! A downhill to Buzet, maybe not the worse in the world, maybe not that difficult like it appeared the first year, still, with all my toes aching and the Salomon SG shoes killing my feet that was a difficult downhill! I was dreaming the shoe change down there... that was the one and only "mantra" I have inside my head! Not even the usual "what the hell am I doing here" was "good enough"! :)
As we approached Buzet, we reached again the group of runners from before.... At this point I decided that it was a proper idea to let Branislav and friends move forward. I was in pain, and I needed to check my feet before proceeding the race - if possible. BUZET! half of the race is done! The "difficult part"! Still, due to the fact that the race is a "roller coaster" - the fatigue accumulated in the first part of the race makes the other "easier" part to be tough too, still quite enjoyable and very runnable if compared to the trails in the first part with all those up and downhills.
Because of the fact that we were approx 2-3 hrs faster than the time I predicted back home, my mother and sister were not in Buzet. Probably still eating breakfast! :)
I took my drop-bag, took off my Salomon shoes and.... my socks were not only a little bit dirty.... I didn't like the color! I decided right away to check the situation with the medical crew. The nurse tool gently and slowly my socks off and.... wow, that was definitely something I will never forget! She asked me directly: "Are you really willing to continue with the race?".... I was like: "Yes!".... what a question. Still, the big right toe needed some love. It had a nasty blister all around the nail. The nurse started applying the tape just to fix the whole thing after a generous dose of disinfection first. After the round two the whole thing bursted! The blood was running all over! Nasty! She told me that she was trying not to burst any of my blisters, not even those under my left foot (I never felt having one!).... but that one exploded. So, she taped the thing and after a minute or two I was eating and refilling my body with energy. I was ready to dance! :)
I left the building and after 50mt. I felt the need to visit the bathroom. No way! It has to be a false alarm - I figured. 50 mt more and I was sure it was most definitely not a false alarm! I needed to go back or.... a restaurant in front of me just behind the crowd that gathered to start the 69k course. I need to get thing done before the start - I needed to run away fast! :)
I know from my childhood that that particular restaurant makes a great Baklava, still a baklava in my body right then would collapse the whole system I figured.....
The Mirna river, I was now running along the Mirna river.... I was thinking a LOT about my family, my kids, my daughter (her middle name is Mirna - which in Croatian means "calm" - she is NOT! Eehheheh). The flat section allowed me to relax, enjoy the sun and move easily forward. So easy that in one section approaching the "smallest city of the world" Hum I was thinking on reaching Branislav again.... just for 5km I guess. During the first uphill I remembered that I was really soaring, the pain was OK, but "controlled". I had to decide: "Do I want to play the hero" or "Do I want to see and enjoy the whole course and maybe return and run it better the next year?". I decided for the second option of course.
The Mirna river valley and the river is something unique. The nature is fantastic and the colors, the smell, the sound of the birds, the frogs.... well, a open free concert - sounds of nature! A pure relax for the soul! This is one of the best parts of an ultra trail - where you relax and enjoy, feel the nature and become one with the nature! Just perfect! You cross the Mirna river several times. During the last crossing there was this racer taking all his clothes off and getting ready for a nice refreshing bath! Really temping... I was sweating like a pig! But after 25mt I just continued forward.... direction: Hum!
I was reaching the city of Hum which is situated in the center of Istria with barely 20 inhabitant and I knew that my sister and mother were there waiting for me. After more that 100k that was a nice thing. To see a familiar face, to speak with somebody again, eat something and... run away again.... :) A quick stop there, Hum is always lovely to visit! The best Fuzi pasta with truffles! Great wine too! :)
More info about Hum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hum,_Croatia.
I knew now that the "roller coaster" had begun! I had something like 70k of hill running in front of me. Hills off 300-500mt but not like the ones we have here in Sweden, those in Istria have a "beasty" ups and downs, rocky and technical trails. Still very enjoyable. Fantastic panorama from the top of the hills.....
The hill after Hum was a nasty one, the heat was not really helping - not at all! Than the area before Draguc... nice! After that part and after a strong downhill I was just waiting for Motovun. I remember all those lovely images from the year before I was so inspired by.
But before arriving to Motovun I had to see another interesting place in Istria. The artificial lake of Butoniga. Lake Butoniga is a water dam in Istria, on the same named river. Its main purpose is to supply the population with water, serves to retain water waves and for irrigation. It is not allowed to swim or fish in the lake. More info: http://www.istriasun.com/istria/butoniga.php
I never considered this hill, I guess because I was never in this part of Istria. I mean not in the trail around Zamaaaask!!! Zamask is something, a brutal uphill, a stone next to the other, after 10mt you just shift to "roll mode", relax and push up, up and up.... then when you arrive to the village you get the price - a great view to the village, the surrounding area and after a few fast meters a crazy downhill where your legs just keep asking.... "What?!.... Again!??"....
Once, on the bottom of Zamask I needed to turn around and check once again that hill, a 410mt high hill. I thought directly - if you think racing the next year you need to save the energy for these hills! You do one and the next one is next like on a roller coaster! And yes, the next one was in front of me! But this time I recognized the hill and the town! It was Motovun! Motovun is a medieval town that grew up on the site of an ancient city called Kastelijer. It is situated on a hill 270 meters (886 feet) above sea level with houses scattered all over the hill. On the inner walls are several coats-of-arms of different Motovun ruling families and two gravestones of Roman inhabitants (dating from the 1st century).
The city is a beauty - a MUST see if you are in Istria!
After a short break and a nice chat with a few Italian runners I found out that I had another problem. My right foot was swollen, more than "normal". One of the guys said that it was due to the fact that I tied my laces too hard. But I didn't. It just "cannot be done" with these Inov8 Ultra 270! Oh... my Lord, Salomon shoes... I had my Salomon shoes tied too hard, and probably that was the main reason of my slower pace on the last downhill before Buzet. Shit! The damage was done, I managed to hurt my foot due to inexperience! I was both sad and really angry to myself! Now I know that thing, and I knew also that almost 50k were left in front of me, I had to slower my pace.... What slow down my already slow-ish pace?! Yes! The Italian runner was positive! I needed to slow my pace in order to finish! That was my verdict! I relaxed, talked a few minutes with my mum and sister, and started running again, this time downhill (again). My focus was not on the injury, or the trail..... no, I had just one thing in my mind - my family: my kids and my wife waiting for me!
That picture in my head gave me a kick, a positive one, yes I needed to move forward and I needed to do that with caution. After Motovun and after crossing the road, a long asphalt road back to the next hill and than.... wow, a lovely abandoned village. Those images are just inside my head. My only focus at that point was the next aid station: Oprtalj (km 138,6). I managed to arrive to Oprtalj before the dark. The original idea of avoiding the dark just vanished as the sun was vanishing behind the hills... There was enough light out there so I decided to move fast enough to the next station. Oprtalj is the point where the year before I saw a lot of DNF runners just shaking and shaking heads.... this year everybody was smiling - except me!
I knew that the second night could kill my race. I never did that and I was not mentally prepared to a 35+ hrs race. Still, the alternative were two: run or not to run! :)
The trail from Oprtalj to Grožnjan is a really lovely one. Tecnical trail, a nice one that keeps you awake and focused. Lots of up and downs. Mixed vegetation and.... dark! I have to say at this point that my Nitecore HC30 head torch was performing just great. I used just one battery in this race and it was just fine with the 210 and just sometimes the 400lm mode. I never needed the max 1000lm. I was able to forget the pain, to actually enjoy the trail again even after 140k! Just 30k to the finish or like somebody earlier stated: "Just one more marathon to go!" :)
Grožnjan is something really lovely, even in the dark, even if you are soooo tired like I was. You have to love the place!
Read more about the city:
After a quick stop and eating a lot on the aid station, drinking a lot of Coca-Cola, eating more I was ready to..... sleep! Just like another racer that had the same idea and was actually sleeping there.... But I knew, I had to move otherwise I'll never earn that nice & shiny medal to carry to my kids waiting for me to return back home.... :)
So I moved forward and I don't remember a lot there in between Grožnjan and the next aid station at km 157,5 except the fact that I received messages with like: "it's just downhill now...."! "Yeah right"! I thought.... "I see no downhill here"..... Still, the gravel road was OK to run/walk/hike but I was having issues for the very first time and approx 17k to the finish I started seriously think to DNF, to stop this insanity. It was hard, tough to the limit.... every uphill, the smallest uphill was a fight. Not the body, but the mind!!! I started loosing it!!! There, in the middle of nowhere...... but... wait.... lights.... I focused on lights and tried to fool the mind that those lights were Umag - the finish of the race. Instead of me fooling the mind it was the mind that started to fool me... I started to see things, to smell things.
"Rise your leg dude! You don't want to step on a clean green child carpet with your dirty shoes!!!".... "No I don't!".... and I rose my foot and "BAM"..... the carpet was gone! I started laughing at myself..... not far away from that point I noticed a lovely villa..... It was a huge tree! Than a large lady near a tractor.... it was nothing again..... Great! Me in the woods seeing things.... was I having hallucinations!?? YES!
A light. A light behind me.... A swinging light.... left, right.... left, right.... moving like I was (more or less)... and I was moving like a pest-infected dude I guess. A bench. Finally a place to sit down and get my shit together. The light got closer and finally arrived. The dude watched at me. He was tired, really tired. I asked him: "Are you OK?!" "No! I see things, I think I'll stop racing in the next aid station.... I have to arrive there though. It´s really tough now!" he said. I asked him if he would like to walk this together and he accepted. His name: Tomislav Renić.
We started chatting and.... shortly after that we were moving faster, and faster..... I noticed that I was just fine again, he was OK too! Great, "let's run a little".....
Near Buje Tomislav had to stop. He had to "visit the toilet". I moved forward towards the city and the next station. A scream.....silence.....nothing. Than I figured: to bend your legs after almost 160k is not the easiest thing to do! That was Tomislav..... all good during a ultra-race.... all good! :)
I arrived to Buje. My s mum and sister were a little bit scared due to the slow pace, but that was something I announced before to them, that I had to slow down and relax in order to finish.... We chat a little, Tomislav arrived. He was OK. A short time just to throw something in the body and we were moving again. I remember asking a volunteer if we were the last crazy dudes left on the course: He replied that there were approx 100 runners behind us!
Wow, what a kick of power that information gave us! We started chatting and took off positive that we can make this - we will finish the race!
After Buje all those gravel roads are just lovely to run - if you can! If you are able to run that's just lovely.... fast! For us it was a fight! Four... I mean do you understand? 4 hrs in order to cover 12k!!! That's insane slow! I guess that a snail is faster! I mean.... what is that pace? There was no pace! I remember Tomislav correcting at one pint my direction before walking down in the river! We were sleepwalking I guess. It was fine when we were able to chat. But we were too tired to chat sometimes... and that was kinda dangerous.....
It was lighter now. The dawn... the smell in the air. The humidity... it was nice. Refreshing.
A person in frot of us... running towards. A crazy dude? A morning crazy jogger? The person in smiling... what the h****?!! Wow, that was my sister!!! She was sick and tired of waiting and she wanted to do the last 2-3k together with us. A nice walk together. We were not too chatty there, still, a conversation was made. She told us that we were moving quite fast! I guess she wanted to be nice to us! Eehehehehe :)
Something like a km to the end and I felt something in my body. I needed to run! I can't walk to the finish! No way! I asked Tomislav if he would like to run together, but he was tired, really done..... He told me something like: "Do that, I'll walk...."
And I did that.... I started running!!! After 171km I was running! I enjoyed running those last meters and it felt ..... well amazing!
I DID THIS! I FINISHED MY FIRST 100 MILES RACE!!!
The feeling before and just after passing that finish line is just amazing. No words can describe that tornado of feelings inside your body, your mind, every single cell...... Just amazing!....
The question of a non-runner: "Why!?" - My answer: "Because I like this!"..... the face after my answer is just priceless! :)
Yes, I like this. It's just fantastic that after just 2.5 years I was actually able to change my body from a fat 115kg something into this machine capable to take me loooong, over mountains, rivers.... and me thinking that it's lovely! Maybe I'm strange to many..... sometimes I'm crazy to myself too! Who cares!?
The fact that I don't feel pain because of my two disc hernias, the fact that I never used my asthma medicine during my running sessions... the fact that I feel better now at the age of 43 than when I was 20 is just brilliant! Is there a limit? I don't know. Running long races gives me the opportunity to meet amazing people, great stories of life, I just adore drowning in those stories.... it's like a fairy tale read from the very artist in real-time! Great right! And you get it almost for free, just the race-fee! I met people older than me, the same age as my parents are and they perform..... I mean they kick ass!!! Superb people! They inspire and motivate me! I hope I'll be able to motivate and inspire somebody.... Maybe starting with my kids! :)
I have to thank my daughter, my son, my wife - without them I'll never be the man I am today! Thanx to my mother that made me, my sister that has a lot of patience! Thanx to all the volunteers, the race organizers and friends cheering and pushing me online! you're simply great! Thanx! :)
Is this my last 100-Mile race?
More info here: http://www.istria100.com/index.php/100-miles-gpx-map/
The first part of the race on Strava:
The second part of the race on Strava: