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Running through the night

100 Miles of Istria, a race report by Jay Aldous


Last updated: 15-Nov-18

By Jay Aldous

“Don’t chase them. Let them go!” admonished Greg at the Plomin AS (17 km). I was stressed and anxious as I could not fathom how quickly the lead runners were moving along a surprisingly technical trail. Within the first mile of the start, my race strategy of hanging on to the lead pack as long as possible had evaporated as I counted 10 runners ahead of me. Clearly I was out of my league trying to race in Europe.

I had signed up for the 100 Miles of Istria trail race several months ago needing some trails, a racing goal and an adventure.

The Course

The course crosses the Istrian peninsula in Croatia, from Labin to Umag. Elevation gain is 22,000 feet with an actual distance of 167km (103 miles).  The race starts at 5:00 pm so the first half of the race is run through the night. To assist in the effort and share in the adventure, Greg Norrander had graciously offered to crew.

I left Plomin and worked on following Greg’s advice. I tried to find my own pace and run my own race. I had underestimated the difficulty of the course – both in terms of the steepness of the ascents/descents, and the rocks. There was just no running fast for me as every step had to be carefully placed to avoid rolling an ankle, falling – or both. At Poklon AS (41K) I had worked myself up to 3rd place, yet I was 45 minutes behind the lead runner. The fact that this guy was running 2 minutes a mile faster than me across this terrain had me completely in awe.

The night went by quickly. The experience was familiar to US trail races in many ways such as the AS volunteers who had hiked into remote aid stations and were sitting around a fire manning an aid station in the wee hours of the morning, or volunteers standing on the top of peak administering a checkpoint and doing their best to encourage me on in English once they learned I was American. Yet the experience was foreign in that the aid station offerings of bread, pastries and bananas was leaving me unfilled (since I am celiac I could only eat the bananas) and I felt like I was imposing on the race not being able to communicate with the volunteers in Croatian or Italian.

At Buzet AS (82KM) it was reported that I was now 30 minutes behind the leader and 10 minutes behind second place. If this information was correct I was now moving faster than the two people in front of me. I tempered my expectations knowing the quality of this information is often suspect. Within a few miles of the aid station I suddenly saw a headlight floundering through a river crossing. Either this crossing was more difficult or treacherous than previous crossings, or this guy was running sloppy. As I caught up to him on the other side he looked worked. As we began the climb out of the valley I had renewed energy. I was able to pull away from him on the long gradual climb to Hum AS (95KM).

The smallest village in the world

I ran into Hum, considered to be the smallest village in the world (population 17) and quickly filled my handheld with Coke, grabbed a banana and was on my way. I was informed that the first runner had left 20 minutes earlier. I pushed hard on the descent and wondered how many more descents I had left. Living and training in Rome had me ill prepared for the climbing and descending and I could tell my quads would be what might fail me. As I ran into Draguc (103KM) the first light was breaking and I could see Greg standing on the road into the village waiting for me. As I got to the aid station I saw someone lying on the ground. Greg responded to my quizzed face and said, “… he came in about 10 minutes ago and just lied down and hasn’t got up.”

Greg ran me through the drill filling up my water pack and giving me a fresh inventory of gels and bars, as I was changing into dry socks the church bells above us began ringing to announce the 6:00 am hour. We laughed as we both said at the same time, “time to go!”

Now that it was light I figured out the rhythm. Aid stations were generally villages on the tops of hills. From each aid station I would look for the next church or castle on the top of a hill and I knew were I would be going next. I was surprised at how steep the ascents and descents were. I had to start holding back on the descents as I could feel my quads going. On the flats and climbs I felt strong.

The course is a diverse mix of mountain trails, old walled roads and pathways hundreds of years old, and footways through farms and vineyards. It is one of the most interesting and varied courses I have ever run. And, I would add the most technically challenging.

As the course works its way towards the sea in Umag the climbs became less extreme and there where long runnable sections were I felt good and was able to make good time. It felt good to be running fast at the end of a 100. I began to catch the 100K runners. Seeing a runner in the distance and chasing them down helped pass the miles and the time.

The finishing line

I came into Umag and crossed the finish line in 20:31. I was pleased with the effort and knew that it was probably as good of a race as I could have run living and training in Rome. It had been a most amazing adventure both visiting and racing in Croatia, and being able to share the experience with Greg.

Bravo to RD Alen Paliska and all the volunteers for one of the best-organized races I have ever participated in. Specifically, the course markings were the best I have ever seen, bar none! Kudos to Nancy Aburto, my colleague from work who placed 3rd place women in the 65K. And a big thanks to Greg for coming from very far away to drive the Fiat Panda from village to village crewing me. Unfortunately the many great photos that he took were lost on a damaged card.

Jay Aldous

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