Monday, September 12, 2016

Jahorina Ultra Trail (Bosnia)

Sorry for the VERY belated post however I've been busy, seriously busy ;-)

 So now that you are caught up on what I've been doing, I'll get into Jahorina :-)

Last year after our trip to Bosnia and Croatia was already booked based on the Velebit Ultra, it was announced there would be a new ultra in Bosnia, Jahorina.  Emir and I were so disappointed not because we weren't excited about Velebit because we were but we have raced a couple times in Croatia and there's not much opportunity for running races in Bosnia.  The description and details just sounded like it was a perfect event for us.  But alas we would have to wait a year and hope that the first year went well enough for them to do it again in 2016.  Lucky for us in January the date for this year was announced.  I think we were probably the first people to register, haha.  There's actually 4 different distances all starting at different times over the course of the race weekend: 10k, 33k, 84k and 125k.  Anyone that knows anything about us has no doubt that 125k was our choice.  It was not until after the races were over that we realized how different the courses were from each other.  We had seen pictures and descriptions from last year of running the Sarajevo Olympic bobsled course, crossing these amazing cliffs and summiting the gorgeous Jahorina mountain.  We incorrectly assumed that these features would be in the longest course.  I mean there's gotto be some kind of reward for torturing yourself for 77miles! Right?!
our hotel, Lavina

We arrived at Jahorina late afternoon Thursday.  It was about 6-6.5 hour drive from Emirs parents house in Bihac.  There are no highways in Bosnia, well except for the tiny portion when you basically are already in Sarajevo.  Anyway the race was scheduled to start midnight Friday night or I guess really Saturday morning.  Friday felt like the longest day ever.  We walked around the mountain and admired it's beauty but didn't want to wear ourselves out.  I did take advantage of the extremely inexpensive massages at our hotel.  We tried resting but I only slept maybe an hour.  We ate a sizeable dinner around 5:30 as there was a pre-race meeting at 6.

After that we got ready and were loaded onto a bus to take us to the startline. It would be a 2+ hour ride.  It became clear in the first 10 minutes the driver was not familiar with this bus.  He kept pushing all kinds of buttons and it was old and hot but not unexpected in Bosnia.   Then it began pouring rain Just as we were on small windy roads descending Jahorina.  The windshield was fogging  up and the driver didn't know how to turn on the windshield wipers either.  He was on his phone trying to figure it out.  I was like I'm not even going to make it to the start!  Shortly after it stopped raining and the rest of the ride was fine other than the blasting heat which unfortunately caused the water in our packs to be quite warm.  We were dropped off in a parking lot across the street from the bridge.  It felt kind of shady and no one from the race was there yet.  Many people were just peeing everywhere.  I being one of the few ladies in the race went into a bar that was packed.  I received some interesting looks but I get that a lot in Bosnia in my running attire anyway ;-) haha.

After that the race directors arrived and we all walked to the bridge for the start.  They took some photos of the group, gave us tracking bracelets and sent us off with a shot of a gun.  Obviously I've run in the dark plenty of times and several ultras where I was running at midnight but it just felt so weird to start at midnight.  We just felt so low on energy after laying around all day waiting and a over two hour bus ride.  Just didn't feel like running.  After crossing the bridge we pretty quickly went up some steps and were in the dark woods.  We were definitely climbing.  Emir is much better at climbing than I am so he was a little ahead of me.  We felt like most people were almost sprinting up these climbs which surprised us with how long this race was and how grueling we anticipated it being.  With 33 hours to complete 125k we felt like we could be conservative and power hike these early climbs. 

Eventually we settled into our comfortable pace which was well ahead of what we would need to finish in time especially since we climbed a few thousand feet in the first few hours.  The first aid station was only water and fruit which was expected and no problem.  After going through this spot we had formed a group with about 5-6 other runners.  We conversed for a while which was fun and nice to make new running friends.  This turned out to be the best thing that happened to us during the race.  All the sudden we were engulfed in dense fog.  We could hardly see where we were stepping let alone the course markings.  We definitely lost a chunk of time during this section.  We made several wrong turns and fairly often we would have to fan out looking for the markers. Also adding to the difficulty, the race seemed to just go in any which direction not on obvious trails and roads.  We were constantly bushwacking our way through crazy rocks and trees and plants on mountains and through grass as tall as me through fields.  This was the case through much of the race so even after the fog left, it was not always easy to tell where to go.

Eventually it was dawn and the fog began dissipating.  Emir and I took advantage of this and that it was a runnable section and ran for a while.  At this point we were feeling good.  There was also to be an aid station coming up with real food which we were looking forward to, unfortunately due to some politics the aid station was not where it was supposed to be and it had only some fruit, water and coke with no cups for anything.  Brief note about Bosnia for those unfamiliar.  While it is indeed one country and peaceful, it is run by 3 presidents and sectioned off into Serb, Croatian and Bosnian parts.  Due to this often things as simple as having a running race can be very complicated.  The fact that they are able to pull this off at all despite all the political crap is amazing so once we found out what happened, we understood.  Emir and I know all too well the difficulties of living and working in Bosnia.

Anyway back to the race.  There's a lot of things that happened that day but I have no idea what order they happened in so I'll just list them for you.  We encountered bulls and cows multiple times on the trails including bulls fighting (we would find out later two other runners were stuck in a tree for hours trying to escape them).  There were many herds of sheep which not themselves dangerous however they usually had herding dogs who are extremely protective.  We had to climb many barbed wire fences.  Some of this race went straight through people's land and they were all supposed to leave their gates unlocked however that was not the case.  Thank god Emir and I were together because I would still be out there standing at a barbed wire gate trying to figure out how to get over!  At some point it started getting HOT and part of the problem was that we were on a section of the course that was just fields and fields and fields.  No trees, just open fields and sun beating down on us.  We stopped several times when we went next to water or saw a spicket to wet our buffs so we could cool down which definitely helped but then for several hours there was nothing.  It was so long to the one aid station, we really thought we missed it.  Emir ran out of water because he was so hot and thought we would hit it 2 miles before we actually did.  I forced him to ask a lady that was outside her house for water.  At first she was giving him a hard time.  As it turns out, this village has no running water and bottled water is expensive so she did not want to be giving away any water.  She did fill up one of his little flasks in the end but once I realized what had happened, I felt bad.  We are out there doing this crazy nonsense for no good reason, it's not like someone is forcing us and then we go begging for water from people that hardly have anything.  Ugh.

About 45 minutes later we finally hit that aid station that we thought we missed.  A volunteer guided us to a shack of a house on the side of a busy road.  The family that lived there were so nice, offering everything they could.  Emir had to sit down and work on his feet.  He knew he had a hot spot on one foot that he needed to put a bandage on.  I refilled all my stuff, my bladder, multiple flasks.  I wasn't taking any chances after how long we went without an aid station.  They were offering sandwiches but they were really croisants with some fruit filling.  Now looking back on things, for almost 30 hours, we really only ate gels, chomps, honey stinger waffles, some fruit and pastries.  Our bodies are definitely used to fueling during these super long races on more substantial options at the aid stations which in the end I think didn't help us either.  Anyway I ate a couple pastries declined soup as I was BOILING HOT and asked to use the bathroom.  The lady pointed out back to a little shack. OHHHHH ok, whatever I gotto go.  Well that was my first experience with a real live out house and it was not pleasant and of course I had to go #2 real bad.  So yup I shat in a hole in the ground.  I've done worse running ultras.  After that I just needed to pour water on myself.  They had handed me a bunch of bottles so I started pouring one on my head.  The man who's house it was pointed Emir and I to a large tub of water in the back yard since they had no running water.  To say it was disgusting is an understatement.  I didn't want to offend the man but I couldn't help screaming "don't touch it!"  I already had to push Emir into staying in the race, he was hurting so bad from the heat, he felt like he had nothing left.  But I knew it would be getting cooler soon and he would feel better so I convinced him.  The last thing we needed was to get sick from this water.  We said thank you but no thank you and gathered our things to head back out.  We heard most of the group we navigated the morning with had dropped included one man that was at the aid station with us.  Aside from one other couple that was shortly behind us, only the fast lead pack were left.  Geeze.  We probably spent 45 minutes at that house but Emir really needed it to patch his foot and get himself together a bit.

Once we started back out, we were stuck in the blazing sun again for a while and I really had to push Emir along.  Eventually we started nearing the next mountain so there were trees to shade us and suddenly he was a different person.  He was ready to take on the world again, it was crazy.   So much so that suddenly I felt like I was being left behind!  It was ok though, we were doing well.  There was more mud (I forgot to mention how much mud there was on some of the mountains, we had to literally jump all around, climbing on all kinds of obstacles to avoid falling in deep ditches of stagnant mud water, also very time consuming), more animals and eventually we hit the next village where the mountain house aid station was supposed to be.  A man told us we would be there in 1Km but that turned out not to be true.  We were checking out every house along that road and none appeared to be it.  We ended up going on for a long time before we finally found it.  This was probably my favorite aid station.  They were soooo nice and they had a paramedic man there.  I had been so focused on Emir not quitting and how he was doing that I was only just now realizing my feet were hurting.  The paramedic asked me how I was doing and I said pretty good.  He said "are you sure?  nothing hurts?"  And I said "well actually my feet do but that's just normal for this many miles"  He said "Let me take care of your feet, it won't take long I promise.  Go inside get food and stuff then come back out and I'll do it"  AND that my friends is the ONLY regret I have about this race is that I did not go back out to him to get my feet taken care of.   At twenty something hours, who knows how many miles into the race, neither one of us were thinking clearly.  I was afraid to waste more time.  For so long during the day, I was convinced we would have no chance of finishing this race then Emir miraculously recovered and we started really moving again but we would have to really keep moving to finish so I didn't want to waste time if we didn't have to.  In my mind we didn't have to.  While my feet were bothering me a bit, I never imagined how bad they actually turned out.  I always wear Altra Lone Peaks for tough, rugged trails and have never had a single issue.  We both just got the Lone Peak 3's right before vacation and we did test them out on a 19 mile, 7 hour Mount Tammany training run and all was good.  So we never gave it a second thought about wearing them.  As it turns out, they were soaking wet for the first 6-7 hours of the race due to the dew which is what caused the problems.  In any case, I did not think I needed to take time for this so we left.

And then I lost my mind.  The next section was all on a mountain.  It did not really follow any trails, it just went where ever it felt like it and we had to follow.  There were HUGE obstacles at every turn.  At some points we were vertical on our hands and knees climbing up.  This of course was all in the pitch dark which made for an even SLOWER go.  All the twisting and turning, jumping, climbing made my feet really start screaming.  I also freaked out when several times we were inching right along a cliff in the dark.  In daylight, I can imagine the views were AMAZING like the ones on the website that attracted us but in the dark, AHHHHHHH!!!   The pain and the never ending maze of boulders, rocks, huge trees, plants, dodging vats of mud and having to constantly search for our way just took it's toll.  I was a mess.  I fell probably 100 times in this section.  Emir was moving so well and I just could not keep up.  Then he's telling me how we lost so much time here so we really had to move to make it.  I couldn't handle it.  Then IT happened.  I fell and also stepped in one of those huge mud puddle cesspool vats and got my foot stuck.  I managed to get it out but the pain in that foot was excruciating.  I would realize later that the trauma from getting it stuck and then pulling it out tore one of my huge blisters which caused the pain.  I started crying.  I told Emir I was so done.  I couldn't do it anymore.  He said ok, we just need to make it a little bit more off this mountain and we will hit an aid station to drop.  "ok I can do that"
These were the cliffs we were on in the dark!

definitely would have been AWESOME in daylight ;-)

So Emir led the way and I hobbled.  In the end I hobbled for like 4 more hours.  After we got off the mountain, we followed the course markings and never found the aid station.  We were going so slow that the other couple caught up to us and said that it was actually a bit off course, they missed it too and then went back.  Also the people there were asleep so they had to wake them up.  AWESOME.  The next aid station was like 9 miles from there.  UGH I was so defeated!  And we were in the middle of the woods so even if we called they wouldn't be able to get us.  So we had to just keep going.  It was miserable.  We both started getting cold so we put on our long sleeves but it still wasn't great.  Finally we reached a town around daybreak and I was like "Just call please!"  So Emir did.  Unfortunately they didn't understand where we were so we sat outside freezing our asses off for an hour and a half before they found us.  Oh and I had to walk another mile after that to get to the man who came to find us.

At this point I thought all the adventure was over.  Nope.  This man, super nice, obviously did not know how to drive this car and it was a bit of an adventure, it also took about 10 minutes to open the trunk.  He said we needed to stop at the last aid station to pick stuff up.  Next thing I know he stops and picks up a hitchhiker, ok cool.  Luckily seemed nice and dropped him off after about 5 minutes.  We got to the last aid station and there was the couple that passed us.  They didn't make the time cutoff and the last aid station was closed when they got there.  There we got to see first hand the ski slope you had to climb up to get up to the finish and I knew that I would have never made it, not with my feet in that much pain.  damn.   A crazy car ride up the mountain and we finally were back to our hotel.

cheers to doing our best in a crazy adventure!
28 hours and 68 miles is what we ended up with.  And you know what, I'm damn proud of it.  This race was nothing like we've ever done before.  If it was only about running/hiking/fueling then I would be upset about not finishing but it wasn't.  There were so many obstacles that we are not used to that I don't feel bad.  Now knowing the course, we understand why so many people went out so fast.  Our strategy was to just go slow and steady the whole time however the latter part of the course really takes a lot of extra time so now it makes sense why those people did that.  
a few pics from the top of Jahorina, such a beautiful place!

The morning after we went to Jahorina peak, even though we didn't finish, this wasn't even part of our race anyway.  We couldn't leave without going to the top

Anyway, it didn't feel like a DNF.   It felt like a journey and we completed our part.  I did a lot of things out on that course that I never imagined I could or would do (some things are better left unsaid).  I have no regrets about doing this race at all.  While there are some improvements the race could make, I know they also are faced with lots of limitations as Bosnia while peaceful is still a country much divided and also not a country full of resources like the US.  It was a great learning experience especially as this is the country my husband was born in and grew up in.  It has always been important to me to learn as much about it as I can.  That said, while Emir and I tend to love to push limits and always do the longest option possible, we have decided that maybe sometimes especially on vacation it's ok to do the shorter race so that we can better enjoy our time.  There were so many awesome extras that came along with this race that we were unable to partake in because we were out on the course for 30 some hours (by the time we got picked up) and missed two full nights sleep so Sunday after we showered and ate we passed out for the rest of the day.  All runners received vouchers for zip lining, a ride on the ski lifts, a lunch and beer.  None of which we were able to do since these were only open during the weekend since it was off season on the mountain.  There was also a big post race party that we missed Saturday night as yup we were still on the course.  If we had done one of the shorter options we would have gotten a taste of the area on course (and maybe even a more enjoyable course with more landmarks) and then also enjoyed all these other things the rest of the weekend.  But you live, you learn and it's not like we had a terrible time.  We enjoyed our 4 days at Jahorina.  It was a really nice getaway and such a beautiful place and we got to run an ultra.  Perfect little trip in our books!  AND we are already planning on coming back next year because we want to do one of the other courses and enjoy more of Jahorina mountain and share it with the kids this time. 

I saved the bit about my feet for the end so that if you don't want to hear or see about it, you could still read my race report.  SO if you don't want to see, DON'T READ ANYMORE!

Ok so here it is for those who want to hear and see about my feet troubles.  As I said, this was only my second time in Lone Peak 3's.  As it turns out they look and feel much different than the previous version 2.5's.  This actually saddens me because the 2.5's are amazing.  They fit and feel wonderful.  I also ran 50 miles in them, soaking wet from first to last step and my feet came out more beautiful than they went in.  They ALWAYS just feel so good.  Anyway as I said the 3's were fine for a 7 hour mountain training run however clearly wet is not their friend.  Our shoes were wet for the first 6-7 hours of this race and look below to see what happened.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves even though I think in person was even worse but I'd like to just say how it took me an hour just to get my socks and calf sleeves off due to the pain.  AND my feet are still not back to normal to this day 7 weeks post race, still peeling and healing.  :-(  So needless to say I'll be going back to my 2.5's for my 100K this coming weekend.

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