Caked in Mud

A 60km Vacation at the 100 Miles of Istria…

So, I went to participate in this first race I’d planned for this year – the 100 Miles of Istria.

Finally (again, perhaps, after one vacation as a child) I visited Croatia, which is close, in a way, because the village where I live has enough of a Croatian background that I had learnt some of the language in elementary school.
And, I came away with very different lessons from the expected.

The very drive had been rather easy for most of the way, until things got really adventurous towards the end.

Construction work made the road – or was that the detour? – a dirt track snaking up a mountain, just barely admitting the space for traffic in one direction to stop and permit the other to squeeze through.

Single-track road

Many a place, that road would have qualified as single track for a running event. Oh, how I wish it had…

For the race, everyone met up in Koromacno, the finish for both the 100 mile and the 100 km event. Over we went by bus, towards the sinking sun, to Umag, the start on the other side of Istria.

At the start in Umag

I started out on a strong foot, perhaps overly so, concerned with the check points where we’d have to punch the race pass – meaning that people would get held up there. The more the people, the worse.

That part of it all worked out nicely enough, except that the fast pace saw my heart rate do its usual leap up, and part of even the earliest ascent went over tracks that were a mixture of grass and rocks, some bigger, some loose, some wobbling, … and this is pretty much how it went on, skirting the side of that hill, and many a one that was to come.

Well, except when the trails were sucking and slippery mud. Or, but rarely, solid roads to pound the knees even worse.

At one point, I first nearly turned my ankle (thanks to low-drop shoes, not too badly) and shortly after took a plunge that might have ended badly if I hadn’t managed to catch myself and just so happened to manage the “landing” where there were no sharp stones sticking up.

The views, even during the night, were great, though.

Groznjan

Not just approaching towns, but also under the starry skies.

Starry Sky above the Trail

Eventually, there came a descent which just went on forever, in mist that made it hard to even see the ground (remember, that was all at night) and switching round and round with loose and rather sharp stones its covering.

The following? An ascent that went some 40 degree slope up, with some of its starts, with a road in between, a few steps climbing up rocks.

Right this way...

By the time I reached Buzet, the 60 km mark where the 100k race would start, I wondered.

I might well have made it through the whole race (the time limit was long enough that we still met people who continued on at the last manned checkpoint/aid station in Labin as we sat down in a restaurant close-by for some excellent pizza, one day later), the sunrise made the next, highest mountain beckon – but there would have been another 100 km of distance and another 4000m altitude difference to come. Not to forget that the 1000m ascent and descent I had just gotten over were the easy ones…

Caked in Mud
Can’t you tell those were the easy trails, up to that point?

(Indeed, I was later told that there were descents there which basically went down over cliffs, securing oneself by holding on to steel ropes.)

So, I rather remembered the promise I gave my wife, to come home safe and sound, and decided to throw in the towel while I could still walk.

This is just what I did as I wrote these notes – walking around where the race would end, content with the decision given the up and down on gravel that would be involved to the very finish. Instead of racing on, I proved to myself another kind of strength: the strength to stop before things get to worse.

Funny thing, though: Even as I’m content I can still walk around, the early out has made this trip feel more like a little vacation. And for that, I’d rather have looked for a short trip to Rome with my honey to check out what new flavors Gelateria Del Teatro has to offer or whether Gelateria Fata Morgana’s wares only sound or indeed are interesting.

Feet in the Sea
Didn’t help with feeling a sense of accomplishment that this is how I spent part of that day…

But, I digress.

The experience has convinced me even more of my argument that traveling far and wide for races is not the best idea. A burden on the world, a financial burden – and it increases the pressure to participate, to compete. Even at, perhaps too great, a cost.

I do have the races in Lavaredo and the Traunsee Bergmarathon (mountain marathon) coming up, and I have to admit to wanting to deliver a better performance at the first of those (and somehow get through the second, which is just one week later).
I like working on being able to move the next day and cover long distances, one shortly after another, but I’ll focus on my own exploratory, adventurous running, without the added pressure of competition. (In fact, with Suunto apparently about to release a/the Ambit2, you can expect a new exploratory run – and review – from me rather soon.)

Oh, the funnyness: I feel like it’s just become a vacation – but I covered 60 km over 9 hours, on highly technical trails, in the course of one night – which is rather more than I’d have done if I had been one of the thousands who participated in this Sunday’s Vienna City Marathon. So, strange definition of vacation, of not having done much, that this frame of reference gives.

Usually, these kinds of posts end with notes to the effect of “I’ll be back.”

Honestly, I don’t know about that.
I liked the idea of the event well enough, it was organized rather well (for a first edition especially), the landscape is quite worth it – but what Croatians apparently consider normal trails is evidently quite different from what Austrians (all of whom who wanted to do the 100 Miles dropped out…) consider run-able trails.
It is also closer to what the runners here call a ‘trekking’ competition – which most would consider an orienteering race – in which using the maps well to find better paths can help a lot.
Knowing all that would, perhaps, make a big difference, but it’s still a very hard course the organizers chose there.

So, I don’t know about going back for a second try.

I do know this, though: I hope to see you out there, whether in Croatia, in the Alps, or anywhere! It’s worth it!

And what's your take?