Trying to find words and your own place in the world after completing a challenge you thought wasn’t possible to accomplish, hit me hard. You revaluate your priorities, your goals, your dreams and suddenly you’re not sure what’s left. What is important. Until next challenge. Until the next dream.
Last year I had this great idea that after all I may sign up for 100 miles race. Even though I was always saying I will never ever do so. Because it is too long. Because I’m not ready. Basically because I was scared. Then I came across 100 miles of Istria, 100 miles with 6,500m elevation gain. Somehow the elevation gain made me feel comfortable. Few pictures and videos later, I found myself on their website hitting sign up button. So I quickly closed the page and laughed. 100 miles. Me? Yeah sure. Not gonna sign up. Basically because I was scared.
It was November in Chamonix, soon enough we got first snow of the season. And I decided to keep on running. Mainly because everyone was telling me I won’t be able to. Long story short, the idea of pleasant spring race in warm Croatia looked more and more appealing. So I signed up. Thinking I can always try to downgraded the distance. Saying I actually will. Basically, because I was scared.
Then it was January and cross country skiing took over. So did the fear that I definitely won’t be able to train for Istria. So I signed up for Cami de Cavalls in March. As a warm up. Three days stage race, in warm Menorca and with my bestie. Sounded like a perfect preparation and much needed mileage which I was totally lacking since start of winter. But it will be so flat. So I got myself touring skis. Who cares I can’t ski! I’m a stubborn little shit and I work with what I have. So I started ski touring uphill before work taking the cable car down. You can imagine how much abuse I was getting considering I live in Chamonix. But somehow as I got pretty good going uphill. But still, I was pretty scared.
Suddenly it was April. Shit. Probably too late to downgrade the distance now. Something inside me was telling me I’ll be ok. I was probably the fittest in a while. But not really running wise. Training for a spring race when you live in the Alps is really bad idea. Snow in town melted so cross country skiing was out of question yet there was still too much snow higher up to go running properly. I’ll just go and try what I can do. I kept on saying to everyone. It doesn’t really matter – I was saying out loud. But inside of me, suddenly I could see some sort of confidence, growing slowly. Problems and hard situations always motivated and made me get the best of out me. I knew I’m going there to make it happen. Suddenly, I wasn’t scared. It was just me against me. Nothing to be scared of. It is me. I can do it.
The nice spring warm weather? Forget it. The weather forecast was rather Chamonix style. Including snow. Oh I never wanted to have it easy, right? After rather epic (and way too long) journey, I found myself in Umag waiting in the queue to collect my race number. And there she was. With her big smile, perfect hair and sparkle in the eye. Carrots for lunch aka Rachel – my Instagram pal and hard core runner and woman. Rachel is on her mission to run 12 ultras in 12 months. I didn’t really knew her but as we chatted the idea that we may try to run together came around. Would be cool, but I’m not sure if I will be keep up with her – was my first thought. We browsed around the expo, then I went to bed, then I woke up 5 times in the middle of the night and then it was Friday the 12th also known as The Race Day.
I’m very OCD when it comes to sorting out things, so had my kit prepared since Wednesday. The weather forecast and Rachel’s raised eyebrows made me change my naive decision to run the race in skirt and I opted for long tights instead. And packed those waterproof over trousers. Just in case, you know. And took extra long sleeve. Just in case, you know. Just in case I ended up wearing all my layers including two pairs of gloves.
100 Miles of Istria is part of Ultra-Trail World Tour series and one of the first races in the season. It runs from eastern part of Istria – from Labin – through the highest mountain and ends in Umag – western part of the peninsula. The terrain varies a lot, rocky paths, beautiful forests, muddy downhills, old towns, roads, uphills, downhills.. and to our big surprise snow and very strong winds. The route is 168km long with main aid station in Buzet – 88km in. I decided to take the race aid station by aid station so the distance won’t sound that overwhelming. With 13 aid stations every 10-16 km it sounded rather doable.
1pm bus took us from Umag to Labin. It was rather spectacular start, shame the weather wasn’t on our side. Drumrolls and we started. I found myself running with Rachel since very beginning and both of us were hoping we will make it together through the night. It helps so much to be with someone. You don’t have to chat the whole way, you be can comfortably quiet, it is the presence of that person that keeps you feeling safe. The fact that someone is looking after you. And you look after someone.
After the aid station 15k in the race the proper climbing up starts. You go from sea level 800 metres up, then little bit down and then up 850m to the highest peak. We were told there will be snow. Ah well, just like at home.. The first peak was brutal, it was so windy, that I started running uphill like maniac so I won’t get cold. Keep moving, keep moving – I kept telling to myself. Second checkpoint and the proper climb followed. By the time I was wearing all my clothes. Including waterproof over trousers as it obviously started snowing. Two pairs of gloves. Four layers of clothes. Buff on my face, buff on my head. Head torch. Goretex jacket. Poles. Beautiful spring warm race. Yes.
In the meantime Rachel was getting through some sort of disorientation as she lost her gloves like three times, same for cup and other stuff. She found them all and we were giggling that next she will lose her head. And that actually happened as her head torch gave up as we started descending. The cables on her head torch basically froze and spare battery wasn’t any help in this situation. So we’ve worked together. Step by step, running next to each other whenever possible. It was probably 3 or 4am in the morning and we kept going this way for almost an hour. Then we hit a very steep muddy slope and she kept on slipping because she couldn’t see a thing. Good things come to those who wait apparently and a Norwegian guy stopped, gave her his spare head torch and suddenly we could run normally again. What a relief. Rachel was a total hero, she stayed composed and focused. I honestly don’t think that me and my short temper probably couldn’t handle that the way she did.
Sunrise! And Buzet. The main check point. Clean dry clothes. New food reserves. Dry socks. Dry shoes. I spent there about 40 minutes which is way too long for me but I think I just needed that. Rachel caught up, we ate a little bit and set off again. From there the paths for Blue course (110k) and Red one (100 miles) split into two directions. Later on as I was delirious I was 100 percent sure I got lost. Just after we put nice dry socks and shoes on, there were river crossings. Three of them. But it was nice and warm suddenly and it was new day. It wasn’t that bad. And I had 90k in my legs with only 80k to go. Hilarious how such a crazy distance can change your perspective.
Second half of the race is definitely milder. The longest climbs are only about 400m and you don’t go that high up. Which meant no more snow! Something inside me came alive and suddenly I found myself power hiking uphill. Bless you ski touring at 7am!! And then hobbling downhill. And then the hobble turned into running. And I was even running on flats. My legs, my whole body was in agony but somehow I kept on going. I kept on running. My body was running and I was inside of it.
Somewhere on the way – believe it was in Butoniga – our route met with the Green one (67k) and to my biggest joy my Menorcan girls Caitlin and Jess were at the check point! My heart jumped a little bit! In the meantime I lost Rachel as I blindly followed the sudden second wind. They waited for me as I was faffing around and then we set off. I’m always amazed by the strength of human body. That you can run 120k and somehow the engine restarts all over again and suddenly I was speeding up the hill again. I left my friends behind yet again and as I was approaching the top, it hit me. I got this. I’m gonna finish this!! I just needed to get the 150k mark, from there it is rather downhill and flat so I can basically walk it. I met more people on the way and everyone I overtook – who was running Green or Blue course – was cheering me on like crazy. I’ve just realised who I’ve become. I was the person I was looking up to during a race in the past. When I was running shorter distance and some muddy crazy fanatic looking person who was running double distance and actually overtook me. I was that mental case. It made me really proud!
Last uphill and there were two guys sitting on the side. I came around, raised my hand and said let’s go. And he stood up. And started running again. Sometimes you need that extra little push from a random stranger. Earlier on, a girl was running behind me and I wanted to give her priority and we started chatting. Suddenly she was like: oh, you’re trainersoverheels? I started laughing like crazy. Mojca was running her first 65k and she was flying. I let her pass in the end.
I still think I was lucky. I had a good day. My body was working amazingly. I was eating. The whole time. Caffeine was working. I wasn’t desperate for sleep. The thing I was most worried about. I’m no one special and I haven’t really trained for that distance. I’m just little stubborn one. I do things to feel alive.
The last 30k were brutal. It was getting dark again. A super nice Czech passed me by and I’m gutted I don’t remember his name. He seen me at my worst so if you happen to read this: sorrrrryyyy!! My body suddenly shut down and everything hurt so much that I didn’t knew it was possible to experience such pain. I was tired. I wanted to get over with it. But there was still a long way to go. Only 25k. after 155k in legs, 25k is such a long way. even 10k is a long way. Persistence. Hobbling, walking, moving oh so slow. Yet again it was people and my stubbornness that got me through. And anger. With 10k to go, the route took us on a flat path next to river through wet grass, cow shit and frogs. I was so angry. So angry. So frustrated. I was so done. Swearing that this is so sh*t I suddenly bursted into run. Work with what you have. Even when it is anger. Just keep going. I was ready to stop and walk last 5k when I suddenly overtook a girl. A girl we’ve exchanged smile at Labin. At the start line. She was running my race. And that made me not to stop. I sped up. I went for it. For about 100m I ran in wrong direction. Got back and continued. The field finally lead to a road. Road that was leading to the finish line. It was there. I was there. I finished. 31h 39 minutes. First 100 miles. 13th female. One stubborn little shit. Done.
Istria 100 stripped me down. And I have a proper post race blues. But as the sun comes down and then comes up, there will be a new day. Until then I’ll surround myself with people who matter. People who make all the difference. Because at the end of the day, it is just running. But people, just like memories, they are the ones that make all the difference.
As my friend and partner in crime Rachel said:
“Each success is a road bump for the next one. This was a huge feat and milestone for you to accomplish. Relish in what you have accomplished. There will always be another experience that will make you take that step into the unknown. That’s the beauty of this life. You are a seeker, an explorer and an adventurer of the human soul on fire with passion. You are an anomaly to the world but you also have people who understand your path. The select few will always have your back in your conquest for achieving the impossible. Remember… the word possible is in impossible. Nothing can’t be done. Especially for someone as powerful as you. You stubborn little shit you.”