In 2013 I participated in the 100 km race from Buzet to Labin. When I first came across the 100 mile runners which where on the same course than us, I said to myself “never will I attampt an 100 miler on that course”.
However I signed up for the original 100 miles of Istria in Autumn 2014. Training and preparation really went well, I was able to do some ski-mountaineering and because of a really dry February and March there was some decent mountain running possible. I never got so many kilometers and vertical meters so early in the season. Well I never decided to do a 100 mile race before.
So a few days before race day, Anders, Mike (did the 65k) and I where going down to Umag, Croatia. Apartment check in, Bib number collection and grocery shopping. A short run in the afternoon as a kind of heat attaptation. Unfortunately the weather for race weekend was looking more like rain than sun.
After stepping out of the Bus in Labin (where the race started) I noticed a light drizzle and wind which felt cold. Instead of waiting outside for 45 minutes till the race starts I went straight to the restaurant across the square for a cup of tea. Other runners allready in, eating, preparing, checking headlamps and the race course. It was warm inside and the tea tasted really good. I felt calm. Just minutes before the gun went off I sneaked trough the field to get a little closer to the starting line. And off we where. I could not believe how fast others went out at the very beginning of a race that long. I was not too impressed, found a comfortable rhythm and cruised down the first downhill to Rabac. I noticed that it became really warm further down, runners in front stopped and removed their jackets. I jogged along the seafront in Rabac, out of the town and followed the marked course on dirtroads up to the mountains toward the first refreshment station at km17. It got dark, but still enough light to save batteries on the headlamp. I closed the gap between some runners in front by mostly walking uphill.
As it got completely dark, the fog came in. Really thick fog, making a visibility of maybe 1 meter. Headlamp strong, blinded. Headlamp dim, tired eyes. I played around between those two for most of the time, remembering how technical this terrain actually was. My hopes that the fog is just along the coast where high. I closed up to more runners on the downhill into the first aid station. The fog cleared below a certain elevation.
I just filled my bottles and off I was again, climbing up a dirt road for the next section of single trail. The further up I climbed the more fog appeared again. I caught up to more runners, and after about 25km in, I was right behind Nerea Martinez. I started questioning myself:”Am I too fast”?
No matter what, I felt really great and could go a decent pace without putting too much effort in. The terrain certainly got more technical, sharp rocks in all sizes and heights all over the place, slippery from the dew, hard to see because of the fog. It did not take long till I hit my toes in full motion. From the sharpness of the pain I knew that the rock was hitting the nail hard, I had this before. Refreshment station II came in sight. Not really actually, I just noticed a bunch of headlamps gathered around a few other people. The volunteers wrote my bib number down and offered me refreshments, I filled my bottles again and continued further on the trail towards Poklon. I remembered a really technical stretch in that section from 2013 through the beech forest. Fog, night, slippery terrain and mud did not make it easier this year. My headlamp started blinking as indication I have to change batteries, which I did not immediately of course. I calculated..still more than 6 hours darkness, the first battery did after 4..what should I do If I run out of batteries before daylight? Wait somewhere till darkness disappears? What If it shuts down right now? Will I be able to change the batteries in complete dark? Will I loose orientation and wander around like in a dark room? Of course nothing of my mind made scenarios happend, at the next checkpoint there was enough light to change the battery pack without to hassle.
Rolling down the trail into Poklon was cool, I could see the yellow streetlights around the aid station through the trees and people chatting and cheering. I knew I had some pretty though terrain behind me and also the first 42km under the belt. Still in a good mood without beeing too tired. I had some segments of an orange, filled my bottles with tailwind and water and left after drinking some coke for the first time during this race. I was happy to be on easy rolling forest track where running was possible. The hours went by pretty fast, sections of technical terrain followed by more runable and forest track. Up a mountain and down and up again. At around 06:00 am I arrived in Trstenik (km 73). I remembered the place from 2013, It is a really small place but very cool place with houses built of stones and the refreshment point in a really nice driveway of one of them. I felt a bit tired from the last downhill where I noticed also the burn from a couple of blisters on my toes. I got water, more coke and left towards Buzet (halfway) after chatting with the volunteers for a while. One told my that there where only about 10 100 milers through at this point which was cool and gave me some sort of boost. Daylight broke trough the clouds, I could hear the birds singing from the trees and all in all I felt really good getting new spirits into my head. I stowed the headlamp into my pack and started marching uphill. After a while I saw somebody in front of me, from the dirt on his calfs and moving from left to right I could swear it is a 100 mile runner. Indeed it was Adam Hewey. Again I started asking myself. Am I too fast? But still I felt good without giving all my efforts on the uphill. The downhill into Buzet, which is one of the longest on the course was hard tough. About 1000 meters descent and again very technical trails. Down there my toes hurt from kicking rocks all night long. Not even really in the refreshment station I got allready my dropbag offered from on of the very attentive volounteers. Thanks!
I really took my time here, thoughts from quitting came into my mind. Do I really want to go for another 85km? What If my toes are getting worse? Why am I doing this? I took of my shoes just sat there for minutes. Runners came in, runners went out. Some looked fresh, some looked tired. My mind said, continue! So I changed socks, got my sore toe taped, put on my trusted Cascadias and out of Buzet I was. After taking a break for about 40 minutes. I knew that the second half was not so technical anymore, also I had just 2000 meters of climbing left at this point. While pausing in Buzet, both Nerea Martinez and Adam Hewey caught up and left the aid station before me. I caught up to Nerea just a couple of kilometers later, Adam nowhere to be seen. The terrain really felt easy after the hard first half. Even with not the freshest legs I was able to run good chunks. Instead of rocks there was mud now, a lot of mud, making shoes really heavy and sticky to the ground. Rivercrossings, a pool of mud, relentless uphills through sections without trail and so on. I arrived in Hum having done roughly 100km now. The rain that started earlier got heavier now. I decided to put on my jacket, which was not the most waterproof of all. Leaving Hum I felt really cold allready, but with less than 10k to the next checkpoint I was in good spirits. Heavy winds and more cold rain, I doubted I could last long out here with no change of clothes and weather that does not look like it is improving soon. I said to myself if it is not getting better in Draguc I have to bail out. I was just shaking all over not beeing able to open my bottles or any wrappers from my supplies anymore. Luckily my brother-in-law and my sister where waiting there, which I did not know before. I got into the car and my race was over. Another time maybe.
Things learned: Adding weight in form of a proper jacket and a change of clothes will pay off in the end!
Thanks to Alen and his crew for setting up 100 miles of Istria!