Energe team was trailing along Istrian paths at 100miles of Istria race again last weekend. 100 miles of Istria is Croatia's biggest race. It started in 2013, when at the start line there were 200 runners. This year, more than 1600 trailers from 52 countries started the race. From 2016, the race is part of the world-class Ultra Trail World Tour, the selection of the attractive trail races around the world.
I return to Istria every year, because the organization of the trail is outstanding and the views along the path are magnificent. I come also because almost all Slovenian trail runners, my friends, come to Istria to run the race and I can’t miss the opportunity for a pleasant gathering. I know the trail almost by heart, since this year I am going to run it for the forth time. The weather forecast was promissing a wonderful spring weekend at seacoast.
The fun begins on Friday at nine in the evening, when my supporters accompany me to the bus that will take us from Umag, where tomorrow we will cross the finish line, to the start at Lovran. The lights on the bus are turned on, and when we stand in the middle of the dark Umag, we feel like golden fishes in the aquarium. Our supporters stare at us till the lights go out, the engines of the buses start and slowly we head towards new adventure. I sit on a broken seat. It is moving a few inches to the left and to the right. Therefore on every left bend I fall into the lap of the friend who is sitting next to me, trying to catch the last minutes of sleep before a long night.
The ride from Umag to Lovran seems infinite. The fact that the bus ticket is only one-way and that we will go back on foot, seems like a bad joke. And on the top of it, we won’t take the shortest way, but we will cross all the Istrian mountains and hills.
This time I feel no anxiety at the start. I feel calm and concentrated. Maybe it's just a lucky coincidence. Finally, this time I'm starting a race healthy, without injuries and well rested. I wait in a large group of Slovenian trail friends. The time until the start passes by in a pleasant chat. Just before midnight I leave the group and take a place in the start box. I want to take a moment with myself to calm my mind.
My view flows somewhere up in the dark. Although the moon is still almost full and beautifully illuminates the clear night sky, my view can not detect the beauty it is looking for. A kilometer and a half in height above us there is the mighty Ucka. Climbing its steep slope is our first goal of the day or better to say of the night. Soon the crowd of runners will lighten up and awaken its night peace. I look back, where the glitter of thousands of lights of Rijeka glistens on the sea. It's nice. This is the last contact with civilization for several hours. Start in the middle of the night is magical.
The river of runners flutters over the start line and immediately we bite into the steep slope. The first challenge is a vertical and a half kilometer to Ucka. I quickly catch the group with a comfortable pace and the annoying takeovers stops. First minutes after the start of the race might be dangerous, since there is a lot of unintentional tripping and mashing with the poles.
My only concern from now on is that I do not reach the top of Ucka too soon. The excessive pace on the first ascent is usually paid at the end of the race. In the dark we pass the forests, we climb up the muddy sections. There is the stream, which runs along the path. Higher on the route there are some snow sections. Somewhere there I overtake Romanian trailer Diana for the first time. We are going to be together the whole night and day and overtake each other for numerous times, except that we do not know it yet.
Running meditation is suddenly interrupted by a burning pain in the toe. What the hell?! I was bragging myself with my perfect health so much, and now this. Let’s wait till the aid station and see what is on the matter.
I distract myself with watching the trees passing by in the small mysterious circle of light from my headlamp. Suddenly I'm on the last slope before the river of lights from a 100 km course merge with the ones struggling with the 100 miles course. The slope is severe here. But slowly, step by step I’m approaching the ridge.
Less than two hours after start I look down at the Rijeka lights from a height of 1400vm. The view is magnificent. My legs are light, my soul flies. I take just a glance of that beauty and I’m already on my way down to Poklon (12km/1440vm) to the first aid station. It’s not easy to get there. The path is slippery, muddy and on some sections still covered with snow. I sleigh some steeper parts on my bottom. It’s safer and funnier than risking to slip and fall. The toe on my leg stops hurting me while running downhill. Great! I can hear sounds of cheering from the aid station up the hill. It is crazy to run toward this high energy through dark woods.
The next section to Brgudac is changed this year. I like it a lot. A long descent and laid ascent follows the forest road. I can turn of my brain and run automatically. I overtake the girl from Romania several times, and then she overtakes me. All the time to the next aid station we run close together. These 15km pass really quickly. But on the last ascent the pain in my toe suddenly comes back. I have a very high pain threshold, but this is almost unbearable.
At Brgudac aid station (26km /1600vm) I take off my running shoe and check the toe. I suspect that I have a problem with an inferior nail. It’s not a question what to do! I pull the nail and tear it of. I feel instant relief. The pain is gone. Let’s call this the trail way pedicure.
Just three more ascents and descents and I’ll be in Trstenik. The night passes by on muddy trails, mountain paths, meadows, forests and mountain peaks. I meet the girl from Romania several times. As everything circulates in the nature, so swings also our mood and energy. At some moments I feel strong, but in the next moment my energy is low. But the crisis come and go. In a quiet meditation I climb up to the rocky peak from the dark forest and in the distance I can see two moons. One is glowing up in the sky and the other is glittering at the surface of the sea down there. I know I can’t reach the one in the sky, but if I run really fast, maybe I can catch the one at the sea surface.
Sunrise is one of the most marvellous things that can be experienced in the mountains. The nature is being softly kissed by the sun rays and I feel like I’m in heaven. I’m so blessed that I almost forget that I do not like the last ascent from Gomila down to Trstenik. The shrubbery bushes that cut my legs and rocky section is waiting for me to beat it.
In the very next moment I pass houses of Trstenik (44km /2500vm). At the aid station I eat and drink at the same time. I ask for coffee. A friendly volunteer pulls the cappuccino from the package to the cup in a slow motion. I'm becoming impatient. She is in no hurry. She patiently waits for a jug with boiling water, because there is another volunteer standing in front of it. But I'm in a hurry. Actually I don’t know why, but I am. So I take coffee making into my own hands. I pull the cup out of her hands, I grab a jug of water, I pour the water, I pour the milk and I swallow the coffee in a gulp. I grant a grateful smile to the volunteer and I’m back on track again. Just before leaving the aid station I see that the Romanian girl is still following me. I feel a bit guilty for my impatience at the aid station later, sice volunteers use their free time to be there at the race just for us and you can bet that we are not a friendly customers at the times of our crisis.
I run towards the Zbevnica. The most beautiful part of the trail is waiting for me. Bora is slightly blowing. I inhale fresh air with full lungs and I enjoy every minute of coldness, as the sun is already rising and a hot day is about to start. The summit of Zbevnica is glittering in a morning sun that turns those endless meadows into the field of gold.
On the ascent I feel pure pleasure. I admire thousands of landscapes of nature. The real prize, of course, is waiting at the top. My body stands there but my soul is flying together with the view over the Istria and all the way to the sea. Somewhere there is Umag that I’m headed to today, to get to the finish line. There is no pain in this thought, only a pleasant expectation. And just like the mind, also the body is fresh in this emerging morning.
The descent from Zbevnica has somehow shortened in recent years. The mountain trail vanishes under my step. The birds are singing in the trees and my heart is singing as well. I’m overtaking tired runners, but at the time I’m not in the mood to chat. At this moment I am a part of the nature. I quietly meditate. I do not run, I simply fly. I feel like I’m ethereal.
I shorten my route with some contemplation. This time it is about a hygiene standard on trails. This is usually a special challenge. Well, I'm not talking about sweaty and stinking running tops. No. On my way down to Buzet, I’m analyzing something else. I find that I strictly use my forefinger to blow my nose. Jet for putting on Vaseline on my lips I use ring finger, and middle finger to putt Vaseline on my bottom. But I always lubricate my lips first. Jet at the aid station I usually eat with all three of them, so there is no quarrel between the bacteria. When it crosses my mind that I have to find a puddle as soon as possible, since above Buzet there is usually a photographer taking pictures and I have to wash my muddy legs before I get there.
On the balcony just above the Buzet my view overflows again. I stare, I breathe, I hug it. Tears of happiness are shining in my eyes. I have to share this filing of overwhelm with someone. I call my mom. I want to tell her how infinitely I am grateful that she is helping me with the children for all this years, so I can do these crazy running. "Mom, thank you! Without you, I would not have been who I am! "
People often ask me what’s the point of running so long distances. While answering I often can’t find the right words to explain. But now I can feel it. There it is! And I realize that these feelings can’t be described with words, but that they are possible to experience.
In Buzet (59km /3000vm) I change into light clothes for a long and hot day. I quickly eat some food, have a short chat with my friends and here I am dealing with the other half of the trail. I’m calling Andrej to announce that I’ll be in Zrenj, where he is going to wait for me for the first time today, at noon. I can’t wait to see him and get loaded with extra love energy. I don’t know how it is working, but it’s a fact that the energy of our loving ones is the best fuel.
Up the hill and down the hill, and so it goes. The sun is burning. I’m thinking cold thoughts and I don’t let it to warm me too much. Suddenly I'm at the river that we have to cross. Usually the water is not so deep and it is possible to cross it by using the big rocks. But not today, the rocks are deep below the surface. Never mind. I'm ready. I take off the running shoes and wade into cold water. I enjoy the moments of cooling and look up for the right rock on the other side. I sit down on it, I pull out the towel from my backpack, this year I'm ready. I wipe my legs and I put on dry sneakers.
The bells in bell tower in Zrenj are ringing for noon. I come around the corner and I see Andrej. "Didn’t I say I'll be here at noon?" I get the loving hug I've been waiting for twelve hours. I take a moment to rest in the shade of a bus stop when the Romanian girl overtakes me again. I can’t believe she caught me again. All the way from Buzet, I had the feeling that I get rid of her. I follow her along the meadows towards Oprtalj, but I see that she's in the element. I do not have a slightest chance to catch her.
At Oprtalj (87km / 3800vm) I get a cold drink, a massage and a kiss. The hottest part of the day is coming. I dream ice cream. I hardly bear the heat. In front of me there is an ascent towards Završje. I do not let the heat comes close to me. I use the tunnel at Parenzana and the fountain in Zamask to cool down.
At Groznjan (90km /4100vm) a girl from New Zealand, whom I left behind at night on forest tracks over Brgudec, suddenly overtakes me. The volunteer tells me that I just slipped to the fourth place. What?! I had no idea that I was ranked so well. I run as hell down Parenzana. I see a young rival running one hundred meters in front of me. The situation awakens the hidden competitor inside me. I'm running as crazy, although it's not clear to me where my energy is coming from. I catch the girl after a kilometer and I overtake her. I can feel that she has surrendered and I can continue in a comfortable pace.
On the ascent to the Buje I see a Romanian rival in front of me. I feel a new wave of power. I run the whole ascent and I catch her right in front of the last aid station (97km /4300vm). I see that she is surprised, because she was convinced she got rid of me. Although we are so close together, I feel peace in myself and at the aid station I take time for refreshment. The Romanian girl takes a different tactic and doesn’t stop at the aid station. I feel now more than ever that I need Andrej's support, and I ask him to come to cheer once again somewhere on the last section of the trail.
In front of me there is the last 13km long section that crosses the meadows in front of Umag. This section of the trail is the one that most of the trailers do not like. It is flat and infinite. But I kind of love it. This is the section where I usually put all my limitations behind and I run like a hell. Andrej says that I’m talented for muddy trails. I feel that there is still some extra energy inside of me. I passed the whole trail in my comfort zone. I feel no pain, I have no injuries and I do not feel tired. I accelerate and run to the full power. I run so fast that I do not have time to see green meadows, vineyards and orchards that I pass. But I know they're there. And I know that they are beautiful.
I'm thinking how it is possible that the route has changed so much over the past few years. The stones on the track are not so sharp anymore, the roots are less slippery, the streams are easier to cross, the slopes are mild and the descents are shorter. I conclude that maybe it is me, that has changed.
Few kilometers before finish there is Andrej cheering at the side of the track. He says that the Romanian girl is not far ahead and that I should try and catch her. I want to, but I feel tired. I can see her in the distance, just when I'm overtaking a friend. I ask him to support me with energy. He immediately understands what I want. When I pass him I can feel his look on my back, that keeps me going.
My world narrows into a red dot. Not the one that's seen when you are pushing yourself too much. The red dot is Romanian’s red running shirt. This point is my target. It's hard to describe the feelings that are overwhelming me. It's not about overcoming her, it's not about overtaking her, it's not about winning a medal, it's not about the result. No. It's about finding calmness, firmness and focus inside of me. It's about believing in myself. Do I believe that I can do it? I slowly approach and overtake her a kilometer before the first houses of Umag. This is my victory. This is beating myself and my limitations.
Till the late evening, I’m waiting for my friends at the finish line, and I’m watching all the tiny and great victories. The joy that you can only feel when you overcome yourself. And wide smiles that are all over the faces.
The next day while standing on the big stage of the Ultra Trail World Tour hugged by Alen, something squeezes my stomach and instead of my eternal smile there are some tears on the photos. At this point it is just too much of everything to handle it. All the events, all the feelings, all the inner and outer fights, which brought fat and anxious perfect girl to this stage. The thought crosses my mind: "Good girls go to heaven, but bad girls can go everywhere." That cup in the shape of a hill that is pushed into my hands, belongs to all of us. To all of my dear ones, my friends, my running tribe. To all of those who are part of my path towards here. To those who have paved this way with a smile, embrace, advice, view, or a comment. It was a hard way, full of soft hugs!
In case I made someone cry, let me fix it. After Friday, when I waited for the start for the whole day, Saturday, when I was at the track all night and day, Sunday, when I celebrated for the whole day, I ran out of batteries on Monday. I woke up literally stoned. I do not know why I did not ask if I could come to my job a bit later and sleep longer in the morning. I didn’t. Dressed for work, with a handbag in my hand, I locked myself out of the house with keys of a caravan, instead of those of a car, in my hand. Good start of the day. Andrej came home from work and saved me. But then I came to work without my laptop and I could go home once again. It would have been much better if I’d slept up to ten and come to work normal and at the same time.
Thank you 100 miles of Istria for another great race!