I participated in competitions during which I gradually increased my distance, competitions such as Feleacu Running Hills, Scaunul Domnului Marathon, Via Transilvanica Marathon, and Primavera Trail Race National Ultra Running Championship, and Bucovina Ultra Rocks.
Throughout this training period, in addition to the guidance of my coach – Robert, and the help of fellow runners, I have had unconditional support from my family as well, which has helped and helps me a lot.
It’s not easy to wake up almost every Sunday without your husband by your side, because he’s training somewhere on the couloirs from 5-6 am or doing the family schedule after his training or not being able to rely on him for 3-4 days because he’s at a competition somewhere in the country and many other things.
This time, in Câmpulung Moldovenesc I arrived on Thursday evening, I had time to do the race plan and nutrition.
According to the ITRA score, I was fourth, I tried to focus only on what I had to do, I aimed to finish the race in 17 hours (if all goes well) or, at worst, 18 hours.
For the most part, I knew the route, I knew where I was going to shoot and where I was going to go consistently, nutrition was better prepared than any race before, basically everything was ready for a successful race.
On Friday afternoon, I met Gicu and his wife, Diana, who was going to help him at the nutrition checkpoints; she offered me her help at the Rarău 1, Rarău 2 and Rusca checkpoints.
Theoretically, at Valea Putnei I should have had a bigger lead over Gicu, and Diana couldn’t help me anymore.
It was great news, I didn’t have to carry all the food with me on the first part of the race! Plus it’s a big help when someone is waiting for you at a checkpoint and knows what they have to do, so they can quickly get you back on track.
THE START OF BUCOVINA ULTRA ROCKS
We started at 00:00, we were in the first wave as we were ordered according to the ITRA score.
Everything went super well, until the first checkpoint, from where I started to get very intense abdominal cramps, I slowed down, the first ascent of Rarău was coming anyway.
For almost an hour I didn’t eat anything, to see if the pain would let up, then I restarted the nutrition slowly, with an oat bar, to see if it would work. Of course, it didn’t work.
I arrived on Rarău, Diana was waiting for me with the pack for the next section, I took water and left; a bit drunk, admittedly, but I continued.
When I reached the Moara Dracului Gorge, after a little wandering, I met up with Gicu, who, to my surprise, had covered more than he had originally proposed. He asked me if I was okay (indeed, I looked a bit crappy), then we started running together.
He was feeling great, he was ahead of schedule, I was feeling bad and behind my plan, so we decided that we’d walk together so we’d do a 18h – 18h:30min time if we kept up the pace.
THE LOW POINT
By the time we hit the tarmac in Slătioara, I could hardly breathe due to cramps and pain, I was counting the steps to the checkpoint and honestly didn’t know what to do, I was at the start of the race and had serious digestion issues.
Gicu didn’t let me, he convinced me that he would get me on my feet if we made it to the CP.
That’s exactly what happened!
I sat for a few minutes, ate some chips, and remembered Robert telling me about ginger as a stomach remedy; I quickly drank the bottle of ginger juice and set off towards Rarău, through the Codrul Secular.
I made a point of eating rice on the ascent, alternating with Spring gel, to give my stomach as simple a meal as possible to settle. Indeed, there weren’t enough carbs for the effort, but it was more than nothing.
After jumping over dozens of downed trees in the Secular Forest, and making very difficult progress (human intervention is not allowed in the Secular Forest, it is a nature reserve. Trees die standing, decay, and provide food for future generations.
In Romania, there are no more such coniferous forests, this is the second in Europe, after Germany, we reached Rarau, the second time.
We caught an incredibly beautiful sunrise near the summit, I was filled with energy and couldn’t wait to get to the CP, where Diana was heroically waiting for us, almost frozen, but smiling.
We refueled and set off at a run towards Zugreni.
We had a great time, resumed eating almost as planned and ran at a good pace to Zugreni.
The next peak on the list was Pietrosu Bistriței. I decided, together with Gicu, to climb it at a pace of 25 min/km, to fit in with the descent, and arrive at 10:00 in Rușca.
We managed to fit it in, I was glad that my stomach was working at 70% capacity, but having run all night in wet grass and wet socks, I started to feel blisters appearing in my soles. Robert’s words echoed in my head “In an ultra do you feel good? You get over it. Do you feel sick? That goes away too!”
HALF OF THE BUCOVINA ULTRA ROCKS
In Rușca we stayed a little longer, changed shoes, ate a few mouthfuls of soup, melon, chips and rice, then set off for the third peak, Giumalău.
Already the heat had started, my stomach was a bit full and it felt like I was again not doing well with the food.
With every step I felt my energy drop, I had a deja vu when last year on this very climb I had the same problem.
Instead of 1h:45min, we did 2h:10min to the top; it was only before we reached the top that I recovered.
We ate watermelon and ran all the way to Putna Valley.
From here it was hell, we set off towards Giumalău, it was already about 32 degrees, the sun was burning pretty hard, we had learned from Gicu that there was no water until CP, nor much forest, and we took all the flasks full of water with us.
We already knew there was no way we could fit in 2h:30min on this segment because of the heat; we estimated we would make it up in a 2h:45min – 3h.
The water we had was evaporating with every step, the heat was already unbearable, the forest… no way.
When we reached the bottom of the ridge, we could see how much further we had to go before we reached Giumalău. We looked at how little water we had left and got totally demoralized.
From Putna Valley, Marius came with us. We found some shade and sat down for a few minutes to recover. All three of us were mentally and physically knocked out, we had already been overtaken by six competitors on this segment, time was ticking away and we seemed to be crawling up the climb where we needed to run or at least powerhike.
We were out of water, we couldn’t eat without water, my soles were better, I don’t even remember. The only chance was to get to the Giumalău.
That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to stop, no matter what.
I paused my thoughts, drank the last drops of water and set off as hard as I could. Gicu and Marius stayed behind, later I found out they had dropped out when they reached Giumalău.
We arrived in CP! It took me almost 3h.
Volunteers helped me get my strength back, I put water in flasks, ate watermelon and salt, then set off to Transrarău, together with the first girl from the 88 km race. I was trying to keep pace with her, but I got pretty worn out on the last climb and let her go on.
My digestion started working again after the break we had, but on the descent I felt the already unbearable pain in my soles, I couldn’t go forward as I wanted, but I didn’t want to push it either, risking an injury.
In the forest, I took out my phone to put it on silent, because it kept ringing and I wanted to let my wife know. I sent her a picture of me and told her I was pretty beat up, the heat had destroyed me and I was outpaced by a lot and not even in the top 10.
She encouraged me, saying that I don’t have much left, that I’m good at the end of races and I’m sure I’ll make it, that’s not why I’ve trained so long and come so far, to give up just now, towards the end.
I remembered our youngest son, who waits for me after every race and asks me about the medal, I couldn’t let them down. Those minutes gave me as much energy as any gel in the world can give me!
Teary-eyed, I packed up my phone and started running. I ran at a brisk pace and I felt good!
I started eating, every 30 minutes, rice alternating with gels that I knew felt good.
I was starting to overtake competitors, one after the other, I couldn’t believe I still had the strength to run at a steady pace up and down hill.
I couldn’t wait for the Runch :). In less than 1h:30min we reached the base of Runc.
I drank coke and started to face the last obstacle to the finish! 1.5km with almost 400m positive level difference.
In 45 minutes, Paul and Iulia, Florin’s future wife (training colleague from Trail Running Academy) were waiting for me at the finish line.
In 19h:55min I managed to run the course and finish in 6th place.
19 hours and 55 minutes in which again I learned a lot about myself, my body, my mind and especially about how much the support of the people around us matters.
In an ultra, as in life, many situations arise that prevent us from moving forward at the desired pace; all these situations must be resolved, otherwise they bring us down and we choose the shortcut represented by abandonment.
Since the beginning of the race, I have made it my goal that whatever happens, I want to keep going, find solutions to the situations that arise and prove to myself that I am capable of putting my mind on pause when it tells me that I can’t, it’s not worth it, it hurts or who knows what else it makes up.
It was easier to do this with the help of those around me, with the support of my family, my coach – Robert, my fellow runners, especially Gicu – who encouraged me in Slătioara, Diana – who waited for us at the checkpoints, Julia – who helped me wash my feet and recover after the race and the volunteers, who were wonderful.
Without their unconditional support it would have been much, much more difficult and I would like to thank them! They too are part of the story and the success of the race.