About Me

Harpenden, England, United Kingdom

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vitosha 100 km, 2013

If you prefer, see the Bulgarian version of this post.

The last month just flew by, but my satisfaction with how this year’s Tour de Vitosha race went has not faded much. It feels good to finally get this (mostly) right, after 16 years and five attempts, each of which was a failure in some way. There was the cramp year, the getting lost year, and the list goes on and on… 

If you are following this blog, you will know that my recent training has been a lot different from what I used to do, as well as from the way people typically train for ultramarathons. It was therefore a bit unnerving to toe the line of a 100-km (OK, more like 90+ km or ~57 miles) race without having run beyond the marathon distance in the previous 11 months. But I had decided firmly to try Matt Carpenter’s approach (not that I would ever compare myself to him) and stick with it until the end.

A few last fits of anxiety and superstition (not so sure about running with race number 1), and we were finally off. The night was a bit cooler than last year, and I was feeling good. As usual, the only person who could mess up this race for me was myself …

As expected, I shared the first few miles with Plamen Tsukev and Iliya Kutsarov. Both of these guys had run their race debuts in just over nine hours in 2012 – really impressive stuff! I knew they would be strong and confident, and I had even prepared myself to let them go, if they started too fast for my liking. Plamen was over-heating on the first climb and dropped back a bit, but Iliya and I ran together and helped each other with navigation and distraction from over-thinking for about 25 miles. At that point, he slowed down and let me go, which I accepted a bit reluctantly at first, but I ultimately embraced the fact that I would likely be running alone and scared for a while. As it turned out, I did run alone until the finish, but was never particularly scared. Not necessarily because I did not think I could get caught, but because I felt that I was running well and managed to keep my usual mid-race blues at bay.

Perhaps the key change relative to previous years was that I was patient and just went with the flow, when the lull finally came. This seemed to help, and by the time I hit the smoother running surface near Yarema (~37 miles), I was ready to push again. Having some energy to enjoy the last 15 miles of this race, all on very fast trail, is something I had always dreamed of, but had started to doubt I was capable of doing. This is not to say that I was not hurting, but the realization that I was finally able to actually move on this section was enough to numb the pain a bit and even allow me to accelerate as I was getting closer to the finish. 

The sun was now out, and it was getting hot, so I was soaking my vest in every creek and then tying it on my head like a turban. At some point I was wondering if that may lead to my second near-arrest on this trail (some 20 years ago I was misidentified as a wanted criminal by some passers-by, and was greeted by no fewer than three police cars (!!!) on my exit from the forest in Boyana). But there were no mishaps this time, so all this did was to provide some much-needed cooling of my skull, as well as entertainment for the race volunteers and random people on the trail. Before I knew it, I was in Boyana, and running the descent to the finish, where a bunch of excited friends, not to mention my parents, awaited. 8h18. Wow, a night to remember then!

Off we go – about 300 runners this year!
Sharing the early miles with Iliya was really nice.

 These guys were not far behind.

Halfway point – just before my demons descended upon me.

 Crewed by my mother-in-law. She was so efficient that one 
would have thought she had done this all her life.

 A proper tape to brake!

And a great atmosphere at the finish.