First of all! I would like to thank the organizers (and especially Tudor Butu who came up with the idea for this run), for plenty of supplies at the checkpoints and an incredible race atmosphere!
I already gave away what happens at one spectacular point of the trail, but let’s get back to the beginning.
Romania started organizing a ton of runs all year round. Unfortunately, for road runners (like me, mostly) there are no(or few) city races past June 1st. The main point of attraction is mountain runs. Since our country has plenty downright mindblowing mountain landscapes and many of them are actually pretty decent to organize a competition on, I thought actually doing one of these races was a fantastic thing to do during the summer, so I conducted my search based mainly on dates, and I came across the Cozia Mountain Run 30 k, Cozia route. Just to make this clear, there’s another route, Stanisoara which is only 21km long (only, haha). Because I’m quite confident in my running 25k on pretty hilly roads, I said I can pull a 30k even if it’s on a mountain. You should’ve seen me calculate tangents to see how abrupt the slopes are. My dumb on paper calculations said somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees for the whole thing. So I found 10-15 deg. slopes in my town and ran them like there was no tomorrow. I was crushing it all day every day, I was confident my training was pretty good for someone who whimsically decided to run a mountain.
So July 5th came around pretty fast and with all the confidence of my training I was still so nervous I felt the need to run, just at the thought of the race. We drove up to the town of Calimanesti, Valcea. Pretty beautiful drive from where I live.
This is a view from about 40 km away from the town of the race. I picked up the little race bag, that only had one red t-shirt, since the money was all donated to a mom from the area to aid her recovery from a car accident (if I understood correctly-the organizers pick a new charity each year). Slept and HELLO RACE DAY.
Even though it rained torrentially the night before, the morning of the race was bright and beautiful. Got to the start about 30 minutes before the race and I swear, I met the fittest people I have ever seen in my life. Literally all the muscles in their legs look like the muscles of cyclists in Tour de France (damn). Here’s two pics from the start.
Look at that view!!!! I’m telling you, Romania is a pretty damn beautiful country especially if you’re just visiting it and not putting up with the daily troubles. Ok, there’s a story behind the seal on my shoulder. My best friend from Colgate University, who was actually my boss at the circulation desk job I had at the library gave me the little seal, and I took photos with it almost everywhere I went since I got it.
We lined up to start and after about 5 minutes of awkwardly cramming next to each other, we started. Right then I was thinking how much I wanted a partner to run with. I was never a big fan of the first 5km of a run. It’s really hard to get moving at a steady pace that fast, at least for me. I really admire runners who can find their pace soon after the start. This is where I really would’ve loved to have someone running with me. It’s like I’m more motivated to keep the pace when I have double the energy to exploit. (or, seriously, I wouldn’t want to slow down the other). After about the first 2.5km which were a little road running, and then a mild uphill, things got bad really fast. Remember when I said 10 degree slopes… well it turns out that it was mostly a little flat part and then really aggressive slopes. Running became really difficult before the 3rd km so I was just brisk walking up rocks, roots, a little mud and leaves. But I kept going. In the first 4 km of a 30km “race” (more accurately said, CLIMB) I was drenched in sweat. Luckily the first uphill wasn’t very long and the very few flat portions of the first hump gave me a lot of motivation to pump all my effort into running. I like saying one thing:”there is something that race-day adrenaline does, that training never will for me.” Had I been running that alone, I would’ve stopped so many times to catch my breath, but how could you stop when everyone around you keeps moving? Before I knew it,the super demanding climb turned flat so I started running hard, then before I knew it, the flat turned into an abrupt downhill. You know mountain downhill running is just kind of letting your legs roll, NOW THAT’S A VERY FAST RUN when the slope is a little agressive. Every muscle in my legs was telling me I was close to faceplanting any minute. What was really bewildering was that more than a few people passed me on the downhill. Come on, are you made of steel? How can you know you’re gonna land and stop not roll if you jump off something or if you go so fast you can literally fly off the trail when it makes a turn? I wish I had the skill of going downhill. When you think training for the hardest part (the uphill) and things will work out on the downhill, you might be in trouble. But I was crushing it, I got out of the first 9km in 70 min, which I thought was quite good for how difficult my brain was telling me the run was. It’s always the brain that gives up first. At km 9 was also where the first hydration point was. Tons of volunteers were there, each running ahead of us to fill our water bottles, to keep us going in a timely manner. The next 6km, I thought looked really easy. They were on a real road, not on a narrow abrupt trail so now was the time to run like the wind… or almost. Obviously the first 9km had drained a lot of running fuel. I walked’o’ran up to km 15 reasonably well. First impressions were deceiving because the calm road turned out to be pretty hard to run in the last 2km-ish. Right about now, I was getting annoyed that there were a lot of people walking around me, but they were all a little antisocial. We’re suffering through this together, might as well talk… Didn’t really happen. Up at km 12 we had another hydration point and that might have been the best water I have ever had. The volunteers were great:”come on you did the hardest part”, actually, the hardest part was just around the corner. From km 15 up to km 20 the route was still on a reasonable road, so I could walk pretty fast. Here are a couple of pictures from km 9-15.
Alright, this last photo is at km 15, this is where the climb ended for those who were doing the 21km race, and where the worst part was about to start for the rest of us. Let me point out something, see that little antenna in the background? If you don’t see it, see the almost pointy hill in the foreground, then look straight behind it. THAT IS WERE WE GOT AT KM20. I hope you can imagine what happened in the next 5 km….5km and about a 900 m change in height! Holy smokes!!!
Km 15 is where the volunteers were getting funny:”come on, the first person passed this point about an hour and a half ago, don’t make this like university, a competition for the last place!” HA!
Picture time. All of the pictures are between km 15-20, but I’m not sure I’m going to upload them in order.
I’m missing a picture of that part of the race where the trail was gone and you had to use a cable and a cliff to kind of jump over (that is right before this cable climb). These two pictures are from people running with cameras at the end of their climbing sticks. (actually I have no idea what those things are called so I’m going to call them sticks, and add that they were absolutely indispensable for this climb, and not having them killed my back by the end, and my knees in the climbing part. The cable climbing was at km 18.
This pretty bad trail was right after km 15 (I told you there’s no order here)
Now it’s time for some scenic views.
This great place was like 1 minute off the track. I’m very glad I was around a marathoner who knew about it. Eternally thankful!
This is great right?? You get to the end of that cable climbing portion and you see this? You’re fueled to keep going. This is actually pretty close to the top (less than 2km), so off you go, to save some of that time. Past this beautiful point the climb got slightly easier, there were no cables or anything crazy, so I was relieved. I walked that portion with the marathoner who knew about the beautiful view and it was great to not feel like you were going to die alone on the mountain. Hydration and food point at km 20… sat down a little, shook my legs. I was pretty happy to have gotten there in about 4 hours and a half, and my muscles were far from feeling like they were going to go into total failure. I texted my parents I started the downhill (LAST 10 KM!) and that I was hoping to have come across an easy part of the race.
Here are some views on the way to the top, and from the top.
The peak of the mountain actually got struck by lightning which is why the trees were grilled like this…
Pretty awesome right? Justified all the effort of getting there.
What would you think 10km of downhill? I should’ve made it in about one hour and a half from the peak? maybe? But you saw the way we went up so you probably have an idea the downhill wasn’t easy. Also, If you climb from 300m to 1668m over 20k and descend the same altitude over 10k, odds are you’re going to have a bad time!!!… I really really never regreted not training somehow for the downhill more than I did then, right after the peak there was an easy portion, relatively wide trail, but past a little house probably at km 21 (wow for the people living there) the situation declined really fast. That was the worst downhill, I have ever seen (or been on). There was nothing but dirt for a huge part of it. Not a lot of roots to use as support or anything at all. For the first part, it went straight down, very abrupt… so I guess that was ok, I started falling on my butt but at least I wasn’t falling off the trail! Eventually I gave up on resisting falling and when I felt a fall coming I would just drop on my butt. I really really wish someone would teach me the skill of running downhill on a slope like that without dying. I eventually jumped over some logs (more like sat on them and slid over since my legs were protesting against anything that required lifting the knee too much), walked a little on a trail that was exactly about as wide as one of my feet, and got to the km24 hydration point. I couldn’t even remember the height profile of the race, had no idea if there was more terrible downhill coming…had another round of amazing mountain water and kept going. The trail didn’t seem too terrible so I gained a little speed and I still can’t understand to the day what happened, but I got to a part that was a little abrupt, with nothing to stop, and the risk of flying off the trail because of that stupid turn right at the end of the slope, so I kind of kneeled down and tried to put the leg that was lower on some point of support, but obviously, since there was none, I just kept sliding until my legs were in the splits and I was holding on a small remain of a tree. I eventually let go and slid a little, then I got up and kept going. There might have been a few more difficult parts where I had to jump off rocks to get down (which is really something you don’t want to do when your knees have been at maximum tension for the past 1 hour and a half (maybe?).
This is a pretty great picture of the downhill, but the worst part is right behind where this picture was taken (this is where I jumped over the logs).
I got a little more confident when I saw there was no insane trail I was running into. I was following some red ribbons for the entire time, then eventually, I stepped out to find myself on a cliff, with another fantastic view, but unfortunately I have no picture of that one since I was getting annoyed with the never ending downhill. I may have stood there for about 2 minutes, because my brain wasn’t functioning anymore. In front and right of me there was nothing (unless I was to jump off the cliff), and I had seen a ribbon right before this cliff so I couldn’t have gotten lost… I eventually think of looking left (still can’t understand how that seemed like such a not obvious thing to do in the first place) and found I had to climb over that part of the cliff to get to the next trail. After I figured that out I was golden, the trail lead to an almost road that was so easy to run on that I think I felt the greatest relief of my life. Yes, greater than GREs, SATs, orgo exams and so on. I was so close to being done. I WAS ACTUALLY RUNNING, I never knew I had that beast in me. As soon as I got out of the forest the sun was blinding me, I was out of anything to drink, felt like hell. Running was more than 100% inertia at this point, my muscles were DEAD, but they were working!! After all, how do zombies walk?
I made it to the finish line in 7.5 hours out of the 8 hour time limit (when I guess they should’ve sent rescue teams after us?) and a few other people arrived after me. See my muscles may have been absolutely dead, but I was probably the happiest person on the face of the planet…. one of the organizers asked how I looked so alive. Well, I GOT HERE, RIGHT? DO YOU KNOW HOW HAPPY THAT MAKES ME? Even though my downhill was at half the speed of my uphill! I was ok with that!!
The medal was given to me by one of the volunteers who spoke English wish a French accent, the same volunteers who greeted me at the first hydration point to fill up my fuel.
3 carbohydrate bars, 5 gel packs, 3 liters of water and 30 km later, I was convinced of how insane I was to participate in this race, but overwhelmed by the success of getting to the finish line. Beyond words. Insanity. Although, I would do it again next year after I buy a pair of climbing sticks and take a little more food with me.
The 2014 Cozia Mountain run is on July 5th. I hope at least one person who reads this will go!