My Return and Thessaloniki Marathon

Well as usual a few months have gone by and I have kinda let my Urban Trail Runner duties slip by. However now I am back, settled and have some great ideas where I can take this blog and the site. At the last update I was getting reading for Thessaloniki Marathon which took place back in mid April.


So first, a bit about Thessaloniki, for those of you who are not familiar with Greek geography, the city is located in the north of the country on the Aegean Sea and a short three hour drive from Sofia (its about 4 hours from where I am in Plovdiv). The city is one of our favorites in the region as it is a good stop over to or from your seaside vacations. As with many cities in the region, Thessaloniki is steeped in history having been found in 315 BC and being one of the most important regional cities throughout history. Along with history we have found the city has a wonderful food scene with wonderful restaurants, cafes and a laid back vibe.

Team BEGACH in front of the Alexander the Great Statue in Pella

Team BEGACH in front of the Alexander the Great Statue in Pella

The marathon itself is known as Alexander the Great Marathon because its starting point is in Pella the birthplace of Alexander the Great. The organizers bus participants out to the starting line. On the morning of the race this year it was overcast with a slight amount of drizzle. I was on one of the first buses to arrive to Pella and it was a bit surreal. The sun was just rising and small town was mostly still asleep. Most of the participants went straight to one of the two cafes in two to stay warm and have a coffee. The organizers handed out some plastic ponchos to in order to stay warm a little later. As the start approached things kicked into life and the small town filled up with runners. It was nice to see two other BEGACH guys at the start, especially when there was no plan in place.

Obligatory post race selfie with support crew
Credit: Larry Salibra

The race started on time and spread out quickly. The first kilometer was down hill as we passed a passed the ruins of ancient Pella and the local band playing their tunes. At the base of the hill you turn left (east) onto the main road that takes you all the way into Thessaloniki. The route follows this road for roughly the next 35 km, it is relatively flat with some small inclines fro time to time but nothing serious. I cannot say enough about the aid stations as they were located every 2.5 km (after the 5 km mark).  All the volunteers were great, handing out a selection of drinks and cheering on all the runners.  At the 35km point you cross into the city proper and face probably the steepest incline yet as you cross a fly over. Finally at the 37.5 km mark you make a series of turns off of the main road that brings you closer to the water. At the 40km point you near the Thessaloniki Ferry terminal and you get the opportunity to run the last 1.2km down the Thessaloniki waterfront. On your left there a people enjoying their frappes and on your right there is the expanse of the Thermaic Gulf. The finish line of the race is just past the iconic white tower on the sea front, where I was met by my wonderful girlfriend and ridiculous brother. 

Always capturing my best moments
Credit: @Coffee.moffee

Before I get into the nitty gritty of how the race went for me. I definitely have to thanks both my brother Larry, who was kind enough to join us from Hong Kong and my girlfriend for Madlen. As any athlete knows the ones closest to you often sacrifice just as much as you do, especially in the case of Madlen who puts up with my early mornings, long runs and sometimes worrying fatigue. So just a reminder to all my endurance friends don't forget to thank your support crew. Even when they make it a goal to capture your worst moments. 

Strava's Race Analysis, click for the full event

Strava's Race Analysis, click for the full event

As for the race, well that didn't go especially to plan. Now after adequate time to think about and digest the race, I definitely think I overshot.  I was more of less on pace until i hit the 30km point, but from about the 25km point i had begun to experience to mild cramping issues. In retrospect I should have pulled back on the effort then but I stubbornly stuck to it. The 35-40km section was a total nightmare with cramps reducing me to walking and stretching long sections. For the final bit I was able to man up and came across the line with a 3:24 a few minutes slower then my best but far off my goal.  If you're interested in checking out all the race details you can find the link by click the race analysis picture. I guess my most important take away is that I need to work more on my pacing and just race more in general. Thessaloniki was only my second road marathon and as anyone who has ever run a marathon knows, there are lots of questions marks in these races. Each one is individual and you need to learn to interpret what your body is trying to tell you.

Finally the end credit: Larry Salibra

Finally the end
credit: Larry Salibra

So what’s next, well in an upcoming post, I will fill you all in on what to expect from this site in the future along with what I have been up to since April.  Im looking forward to this focus that I have found here and hope that you will all join me on the road. For now feel free to share you thoughts or advice for the future.  As for me I am currently in the thick of trying to figure out my 2020 schedule I definitely want to work another marathon into the works but this time I want to to see if I can run things a bit smarter than I have been. 

A new year a new focus

Alosha at night in Plovdiv

Alosha at night in Plovdiv

Well it is a new year and just like everyone I am busy making myself promises that I am sure I will have a hard time keeping. In fact one of the last times I wrote here I made a number of promises like, specifically to update this blog more often. Before I get to my new years goals , here’s a quick update on the last 3 months:

Bought an apartment, renovated said apartment (partially me and two other guys), moved in, did more renovation, meanwhile continued running roughly 50km a week up until the 2nd week of December. Traveled traveled to the netherlands (multiple times), Italy and the UK for work, got sick, got better and…….

here we are in January.

2018 was a challenging year for me, I spent the first half of the year getting back into shape after an injury and then real life caught up with my running life so my running plans had to come second. Heading into 2019 I hope to get a bit more time to focus on some goals and spend more time in the mountains. At the moment though my plans for 2019 are still rather in flux.

2019 Goals:

Sunrise in Rila during Adventure Sky Run 2018

Sunrise in Rila during Adventure Sky Run 2018

  1. New Marathon PR- Current time 3:20 - Goal time sub 3:05. Target race Thessaloniki Marathon April 14th

  2. New Half Marathon PR- Current time: 1:28.28 Goal time: 1:26.30 Target Race: Something in the autumn TBD

  3. New best time in Adventure Sky Run (55km 3609m D+): Current time: 11:57.08 Goal Time: Sub 10:45

That is all for now but I will be updating this soon with more about my training plan for 2019 and some special features I want to bring to the website in 2019.

Sofia Marathon - Another Race Report

Start/Finish Line

Start/Finish Line

This past Sunday I took part in the 35th Annual Wizz Air Sofia Marathon. Before I begin talking about the race I want to say I wanted to do my best to try to look at this race from a neutral perspective even though I know many of my friends have very strong opinions about the race and organisers. I have organise this post and three sections in an effort to separate things adequately.

The Course

2018 Sofia Marathon Course

Sofia Marathon’s course is in the heart of the city and it is a designed loop. The loop distance is 10.550 km allowing a full marathon is 4 laps. The course starts in front of Vasil Levski Stadium it makes nearly a complete loop around NDK then continues onto Bulgaria bulevard. After 4.5 km the route doubles back and heads toward south park for a short climb. From there there is a gradual downhill section as you pass Park City Center turn back towards Vasil Levski Stadium. Shortly before the stadium there is a short up hill and down hill added by the metro station obviously in order to reach the require distance. Over all the course has about 60m of vertical per lap which does put a strain on the legs. One other note of interest about the course, is that not the whole thing is closed to traffic about 2.2 km are separated from traffic by a few barriers and plastic tape.

The Race

The author(right) passing marathoners  Photo Credit:  Skisharki

The author(right) passing marathoners
Photo Credit: Skisharki

Sofia Marathon runs 3 races simultaneously on the same course. They have a single lap race, a two lap race (half marathon) and 4 lap race (classic marathon). The start time were staggered with the marathon starting first followed by the half 10 minutes later and finishing with the single lap race. This set up adds interesting challenges throughout the race. The most obvious is that you have runners of different speeds constantly interacting. It requires a much more focused approach compared to courses that are single loop or point to point. This issue shows itself particularly at aid stations as often it was hard to get water without significantly slowing down. I found that I had similar problems when I ran Plovdiv Marathon back in 2017. Although it is only single loop course they simultaneously run a half marathon on a similar course with start at the same time. I spent about 10km weaving through people in that race but more on that race and the new course in a future post.

Overall Thoughts

I came away from Sofia Marathon very happy with my performance. I was on zero rest and was using it as a testing ground for my fitness level. I finished with a time of 1:28:28 which is a PR by around 5 minutes. I was aiming to run a negative split but to be honest the third 5k was bit of a killer on my legs and I ended up running 43:55 the first lap and 44:33 the second lap. Outside of my performance I was bit disappointed with the race organizers. It seems they did the bare minimum effort to organise this race. In addition there were definitely aspects to the race that were not handled in a very professional manner. Will I be back? Probably its a local race and the most competitive of the road races in Bulgaria. However I definitely don’t recommend this race to foreigners, there are many other races to choose from in Bulgaria that would be worth the trip.

Long Over Due Race Report: Adventure Sky Run

Descending From Musala

Descending From Musala

Over a month ago I ran Adventure Sky Run a 55km run starting in the sky resort of Borovets and ending at the Central Mountain School in Malyovitsa. This year was the second edition of the race and my second time running it. However the first year I ran it only the first 35km were the same and then it ended near Rila Monastary. I was happy that I was familiar with the first 35 km of this race but knew the last 20 km would be difficult.

Adventure Sky Run profile

I failed to mention that along with 55km this race include 3500m+ of climbing. The route attains a maximum altitude of 2925m (9596 ft) and maintains an average altitude of 2224m (7296 ft). The majority of the trail through the first 35km is very manageable. The climbing is consistent but never steep for more then short stretches. We were lucky to have much better weather than last year and I only experience a brief shower in the afternoon.

Musala Pathway

Musala Pathway

The race kicked off at 6am and after a short 1.4km on road you take just on a trail that quickly takes to you Musala Pathway. This is hardly a single track it is more like a dirt road. This road also functions as a ski run in the winter for the Borovets resort The trail climbs continually with short steep sections and the occasional short flattish section. After 7.2 km you come to a gate in front of the Markudjik lift at this point the you’ve already reached over 2100m in altitude and you now are back on single track. For the next 2km you climb through low pine trees over wet and sometimes boggy ground. This section ends as you reach Hizha Musala. The trail continues around the lake and up the the steep red blazed trail. The same trail I climbed in Rila Run. The climb to the top took about 2.5 hours without overly stressing myself. After a small issue with my phone and a few refreshments I continued on the course (Thus why i only have pictures from the first section of the course).

Me rocking the necessary Trail running Facial hair

Me rocking the necessary Trail running Facial hair

The section from the summit of Musala to the next aid station at Djanka is only 7km but I think it is one of the most beautiful sections on the trail. There are a series of descents and climbs along the sometimes narrow ridge allowing beautiful views to the east and the west. The descent in Djanka is continually steep and weaves through pine bushes. Leaving from Djanka it was good to keep in mid that the next aid station (at Fish Lake Hut) was 15 km away. The trail climbs again through bushes but offers some great views. After crossing a short plain (and missing an awesome picture of some horses) the trail climbs again reaching the peak 2.5km after Djanka. From here most of the next 9km is runable. Starting with a slightly rocky downhill and continuing across a series of meadows. At around 27km there is an opportunity to refill your water at a spring and I did as it was warm. shortly after the trail climbs up a grassy slope with a series of false peaks. At 32km you reach the first technical section fo the course, a short rocky down hill over loose rock. Shortly after you arrive at the last descent into Fish Lake Hut, its steep trail full of switchbacks but after the first section offers an opportunity to open up the taps.

Saddle below Voden Chalet 41.5 km

Saddle below Voden Chalet 41.5 km

After a short stop I headed out onto the unknown section of the trail. The trail hugs the western coast of the lake and quickly returns to the forest. There were sections of muddy and boggy trail unlike the alpine sections earlier in the race. It was during this section that the first rain drops fell. After a short climb the trail descends to a river crossing and you leave the forest. You are back in the open as you climb a grassy slope dotted with trees. Here it started raining, consistently at points, ruining my visibility and putting me a bit of a negative mood. As you reach the top of the climb you have a brief respite along the ridge. The trail continues just below the ridge line over some stick rocks before a short and steep descent. I was able to run down the trail with a pair of other runners which helped me get out of my funk. The final descent into the last aid station was stunning, I wish i would have figured out my phone issue.

Popovokapski Preval 2525m

Popovokapski Preval 2525m

After a quick break and chat at the final aid station I decided I would head out hard and try to put some distance between me in the group behind me. The trail immediately climbs however it was in the open. I made good progress up the trail, as it continued to climb. I noticed that I was starting to bridge the gap to the group in front of me. As we crested the last climb I started to catch people and continued to chase after others. At the top of the descent you are met with a fixed rope situation for about 200 meters as to your right is a serious drop off. This whole section is very technical, the steep downhills are only interrupted by beautiful mountain lakes. The rain tried to return but managed to hold off. Eventual I reached Strashno Ezero (Scary Lake) and I was back on familiar terrain, as I passed here a few weeks before during Malyovitsa Sky run, although on a different trail. The trail continues to descend eventually very steeply along a stream. The race makers cut off near the ending avoiding the main trail and crossing a short boulder field, where i successfully did not die. From here it the descent follows the main trail down to the mountain school.

Crossing the Finish Line

Crossing the Finish Line

I successfully finished the race in 11 hours and 57 minutes breaking my 12 hour goal. Now that I am more familiar with the terrain I think next year I can do better. I was overall happy that for the last few kilometers I could run and didn’t have to force it too much. I cannot say enough about the organization of this event. The course was well marked and the aid stations with stocked with everything you could need and more. I look forward to participating in this race for years to come.

Next up, Sofia Marathon (Half) this weekend for sure there will be more to come on that. I promise to do better at updating you in the future and the site too.

Slowly Switching Gears

The Sweaty Author

The Sweaty Author

Its that time of year, the leaves are falling and winter is coming.....wait thats not right. Its mid August in Bulgaria, its hot and I am suffering greatly. But anyway for me its the time to slowly switch my focus from from mountain running back to road running. However due to my poor planning skills I have managed pack my schedule full until December.  Here is a quick overview of what my plans are for the rest of the year:

Vitosha Run Profile

Vitosha Run: Sunday 26 August  
18 km 1734m D+
This will be my 3rd purely climbing even of the season and to be honest is still a question mark in the back of my mind if I really want to do this to myself again. However I have been unable to participate the last few years due to injury and other plans. The big draw of this race is that it leaves from the center of Sofia, about a 10 minute walk from my apartment and finishes at Cherni Vrah (Black Peak; 2290m) Vitosha's highest peak. After all the site is named Urban Trail Runner, and its harder to get more urban trail then this.

ASR Profile

Adventure Sky Run: Saturday 1 September
55km 3599m D+
For better or worse 6 days after Vitosha Run I am participating in the 3rd edition of ASR, this will be my second appearance and my first on the extended 55km route. I have been looking forward to this run since I completed the first edition back in 2016. 

Wizz Air Sofia Marathon: Sunday 14 October
21.1 km 70m D+
This will be my first appearance at Sofia Marathon and I am using it as a pure training run. Although it is a 2 lap race of a 10.550 km course, which I have a number of thoughts on which I will save for another day, I figured after three years living in Sofia, its about time to run this race.

A visual representation of "the wall"

Maratón Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Sunday 2 December
42.2km maybe 30m D+ (rated as very flat)
So this is really my goal race for 2018 as I would really really really really really like to qualify for Boston 2020. Luckily ill be qualifying for a new time limit 3:10 but I would still like to assure myself of qualification by running as close to 3:00 as possible. So far my best time was in my only other street marathon in Plovdiv 2017, which was officially 3:20.08.

So that ended up being a lot longer than I originally intended it to be. However the take away should be I will have 12 weeks to recover from Adventure Sky Run and train for Valencia Marathon, which should be interesting. I have a pretty decent base built at this point, never exactly where I would like it to be, but alas it will have to do. Right now my plan is to take a few days off post ASR then switch right in my marathon training mode. Has anyone else had experience with this kind of switch over? I am open to bright ideas!  

Another Tough Day: Malyovitsa Sky Run

The view before the race

The view before the race

Year after year I continue to return to Malyovitsa Sky Run. Although it is one of the most technical races I've done, and technical down hill running is not my strength, I still love returning. This year I opted to run the shorter of the two routes, 14,3 km (8.9mi) with 1152m (3780ft). In my experience the shorter route is more manageable and recoverable for someone like myself who is not a technical runner.  The long route is 19km and an additional 500m of climbing over very steep terrain. One thing to keep in mind is that both of these course are loops so the vert is compressed.

Malyovitsa Sky Run Profile 14km

The weather the morning of was clear and I prepared myself to spend 11 of the 14 km exposed above the tree line. However after the race began some clouds moved in and socked in the two summits we visited adding yet more challenges. The other worry I had in the back of my mind was the if how the summer full of rain would impact the course. This year I found the course to be very wet, which of course after a while you just give into the wet feet. 

Headed to Scary Lake

This year I completed most of the race with another expat, Jared, that I met at Rila Run a few weeks back. Unfortunately he rolled his ankle and decide to continue on so I decided to keep him company. Although I was more than happy with the pace we maintained. The goal for me this year was never to go out and kill myself, it was just don't get hurt. In the end although I did tweak my ankle a few times and I had one bad fall on my elbow. I was able to escape in pretty good shape with just the standard sky run damage. 

Headed up to the first peak, from about 2600m

This year the wet conditions led to some pretty tricky running. Preceding runners tracking moisture made many of the rope hoping sections very slick. However the biggest challenge was probably the mixture of water and hikers on the trail leading from the 2nd Terrace (Втора Тераса) back to the start. However it was great to see so many people out enjoying such a beautiful area. I am sure that next year I will be back but surely for the 14km again.  So now that Malyovitsa is checked off the list I have two more planned races this summer, Vitosha Run (18km 1734m D+) followed quickly by Adventure Sky Run (55km 3609m D+).  

The American Guide to Vitosha (Витоша)

Cherni Vrah (2290m/7513ft)

Cherni Vrah (2290m/7513ft)

Although I am an American my intent behind this post isn't necessarily to provide my perspective (I have the whole rest of the site for this) but to provide my eccentric compatriots a guide that suits them. What do I mean by that...well here comes the stereotyping...Americans visiting in Europe are usually passing through and are most interested in checking tings off the list. In this case answering the question, "So, how do I get to the top?" For those of you who don't know the top is Black Peak or in Bulgarian Черни Врах or in latin Cherni Vrah (one of 10 peaks over 2000m on Vitosha). For those intrepid travellers I have put together the bare bones options (I will work to expand on these on the site soon).

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 16.11.11.png
Trail up slopes above Hizha Aleko

Trail up slopes above Hizha Aleko

Option 1: Hard As Nails - In the case you want the most traditional route, start from NDK (НДК), yes thats right NDK and head due south over the pedestrian bridge, across to the main part of South Park where you will head to the south end and take the ul. Nikola Krush towards Dragalevtsi (Драгалевци). This route mirrors that of Vitosha Run and the track and map are available at (BG). This route is 18.5 km (11.5 miles) long with 1800m (5900ft) of climbing, and thats just to the top.

Option 2: E-4 - Get yourself to the main square of Dragalevtsi, either by taxi, car or public transport .  Follow the red blazed trail up the steep street at the southwest corner of the square and continue all the way to Cherni Vrah. This trail goes via Hizha Aleko. This trail is just under 10km (6 miles) long and requires around 1500m (4900 ft) of climbing. Variant - From Goli Vrah lift station you can continue of the main gravel road to Cherni Vrah, this will by pass the steep section by Hizha Aleko but the distance and climb are the same.

Option 3: Easiest way - So maybe you're not a sadist like other trail runners, if thats the case this if for you. Part 1: choose your method: 

Aforemention gravel road from Goli Vrah to Cherni Vrah

Aforemention gravel road from Goli Vrah to Cherni Vrah

  • Simeonovo Lift (weekends),Taxi, or car to to Hizha Aleko
  • Dragalevtsi Lift to Goli Vrah (Bus 93 from the Zoo or Vitosha Metro stop)
  • Bus 66 (weekends) to Hotel Moreni

Part 2: Choose your way, but I recommended ascending via Goli Vrah to Cherni Vrah then if you like descending to Hizha Alkeo

So there ya go, for my traveling peak bagging friends there is your quick overview. Below is an overview of the trails on on Vitosha so you can navigate a bit better. As you may or may not know I am a fan of REI's Trail Run project  you can access all the data there or you can download their app. If you have any other questions feel free to leave a comment below or to reach out to me on social media at the links below.

A Niche within a Niche (Rila Run Race Report)

I originally meant this post to be up before I participated in Rila Run this past Sunday, but you know how things go sometimes. Rila Run, is a 21km mountain running race from Samokov (970m) to Musala (2925m). This will be the second time, in as many races, that I have run a race purely focused on climbing. The first was Pirin Vertical Kilometer a few weeks ago.

This course offered many interesting challenges beside the 2000 meter total climb. Much of the first half of course is was very runnable with the course alternating between single track and forest road. At about the 8,5km mark the course followed a paved road until the 10,5 km turnoff where things got really serious. From there the course climbed directly up the ski run Yasterbetz 3 which forms part of the Borovets Resort. Over the next 4,0 km we would climb about 850 meters straight until we reached the high Yasterbetz Gondola station. The climb was almost full exposed to the sun, which would turn out to cause some issues for me later on in the race. As you come to the top of this middle climb your objective finally comes into sight as Musala peak appeared in the distance. The next 3 km was slightly down hill on the path to Hizha Musla and required a fair amount of dodging tourists. From there the final 3 km caves the remains 600 vertical meters to the summit.

When I ever I participate in these climbing centric races I am impressed by how quickly some people are able to cover steep terrain. Unfortunately I am not one of those quick people. My experience yesterday was compounded with nutritional and hydration issues. Those of you who know me know, I am not a fan of the heat and yesterday the race conditions were very hot. None the less I struggled through and with the support of some my fellow participants I made it to the finish line. I was happy to finish because now I can check this race of my list.

The more I run mountain races the more I understand where my sweet spot is. I really believe I excel at races that are 30-50km in length with average of about 500m of climbing per 10km. In addition for Rila Run I did enjoy the race and was lucky to meet a lot of nice people who I look forward to seeing out on the trails. My one thought on the race would be, why not start it earlier than 10 am. I felt that a 10 am start for a race of such difficulty was strange given it puts participants in the middle of some of the most difficult conditions. But those are just my thoughts. Hope to see you all out on the trail!

Pirin Skyrun Vertical (almost) Kilometer Race Report

Its been too long since I wrote one of these. Ive been meaning too but life has gotten in the way. A quick update, I've been running a medium amount, focusing more on getting in more vert, June worked out to be 158km (98.2) with 4996m (16391 ft) of climbing. In July my plan is to push both those numbers a bit further with the only for sure race on the horizon being Rila Run (21km 2000m D+).

On to more important things....

Pirin Skyrun Vertical Kilometer is part of a weekend of activities including a 10 & 34km skyvruns. The location as the name implies is in Pirin National Park which is located near Bansko, Bulgaria. The races are organized by the same team that puts on Trail Series events. 

The start line at Banderitsa Chalet

The start line at Banderitsa Chalet


This was my first Vertical Kilometer, the race was set to start at 9:00am so that required a very early 5:30 departure from Sofia to make sure I was on time. The weather in the proceeding days has hardly been encouraging with a solid week of seasonably cold temperatures and rain in the lead up. On the drive down I also encountered a fair amount of rain as well. The check in process was quick as some people stayed in the area before had and there were only about 20 of us participating. During the race briefing there was a quick shower and we were informed that we would need to bring jackets as it was 5℃ at the top and windy.  

Vihren in the clouds

Vihren in the clouds

The start line was located at Banderitsa Chalet (Хижа Бъндерица). The trail lead quickly into the forest and after the first 200m the relatively flat running was over.  The first kilometer was the easiest of them all with only 182m of climb through the towering pine trees. As you pass the one kilometer mark you climb steeply above the tree line. The trail goes straight up a steep, washed out trail with lost of tennis ball sized rocks. As you top out this section you're 1.8 km from the start with total of 382 m and the next challenges appear across the meadow. At this point for me a quick rain shower passed, as you start the next climb you've just passed the 2km point aka the halfway point. The trail climbs steeply to the left over a series of long switch backs which brought us to a quick snow crossing then back to the climbing.  After negotiating a few tricky rock jumps and at 2.7km you've arrived at Biouvac shelter Kasana (заслон Казана) at 2445m altitude . To your left Vihren's marble peak towers above you (in our case it was partially in the clouds.

The Finish line

You now deviate from the principle trail and climb steeply to your right up the flanks of Kuleto. Quickly the trail steepens, yes thats possible now averaging 45%+ over tufted grass and rocks. Just below the end of the this steep portion we were inundated in clouds somewhere around 2600m (8530ft). As you return to normal 20% grades the grass begins to disppear. It was here at 3.6km where the race ended this year. We were just 400m and 140 vertical meters short of the Peak Kutelo, but the weather condition made continuing too dangerous. 

While this was my first vertical kilometer it was not my first race at these altitudes. However I have to say this was the first time I really noticed the altitude. The combination of the altitude and the steep grades really made the difference in my case. I entered the race only with the intention of enjoying myself and as another excuse to go to the mountains. From that point of view it was a total success!

I hope to update this blog more often so if you've made it this far, keep on my case to write more. Plus I also hope to make a short video (perhaps in Vlog format) showing you my vertical kilometer experience. 

Trail Series: Pancharevo Night Run Race Report

Another pre race photo CREDIT:  Kriosk Photography

Another pre race photo CREDIT: Kriosk Photography

Last Wednesday was Trail Series annual Pancharevo night race at Lake Pancharevo. For me it was the second race in a row that was centred on Lake Pancharevo after last month's half marathon. I approached this race purely as fun run and was still tired from the previous days tempo runs. This year there was only a one lap (6.3 km 135m D+) individual option or a 3 lap/person relay. 

Lake Pancharevo During warm up CREDIT: me

Lake Pancharevo During warm up CREDIT: me

First, a bit about the change in the course from the Cactus Run Loop. The Pancharevo Night Run course mirror the Cactus Run Loop for the first 4.9 km of the lap, however instead of turning left down the the steep exposed and technical trail you continue straight, past the chalet. The Trail widens here and is paved in patches. It continues ever so slightly uphill until you reach the main Panorama Trail intersection, here you take the trail left that heads down hill.

The this section of trail is similar to the lower section, not overly steep, narrow or technical. However because it is possible to run fast it is tricky at night. The shadows make picking up the obstacles difficult, I managed to make my way down with only one near fall. Immediately before you join up with the the Cactus run loop trail you cross a small bridge at 5.7 km and then you continue down to the start finish.

Out of the Darness Credit:  Kriosk Photography

Out of the Darness Credit: Kriosk Photography

The descent was made even more challenging by our friends at Kriosk Photograpy who were waiting to snap some cool photos. Being momentarily blinded is just part of the challenge after all. All the while I was expecting one photographer on the downhill but I was surprised when there were two. 

Over all I was super happy with my race. I was able to run the entire race, which is a great thing about this course. I did back off a little bit on the down hill purely for self preservation but I ended the race in 7th place with a time of 30:42 just two minutes off the podium. Its been a long road back but im slowly recovering my form and looking forward to a summer full of races. 

Results: A weekend at the Seaside

This past weekend I spent in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Golden Sands for a wedding. While I was there of course I had to take the opportunity to get a run or two in.

Descending to sea level in Varna

Descending to sea level in Varna

The first of two runs I planned was in Varna itself. I knew that my main focus area was going to be Sea Garden as it is the site for the weekly. This was the perfect opportunity to work on some pace work as I continue to build my base back after my knee injury. I decided to make a loop out of the course and continue the run further until i reached the road down to the sea. I then followed the road all the way back to the Port of Varna and continued on to my hotel. The sea garden was filled with other runners and offered the perfect terrain to pick up the pace a bit. Running along the sea was very pleasant and empty although as I saw later in the day it would not be the ideal place for running as there is alot of pedestrian traffic especially on the southern half.

The next two nights we would be staying in Golden Sands, and as you saw last week i planned on doing some exploration the Golden Sands Nature Park. The park runs the length of the resort and covers some very rugged terrain reaching inland around 3 kilometers. Leaving our hotel at the northend of the resort I immediately hit a snag having to find my way past roads blocked with construction materials. With that solved the and the correct road I climbed quickly to reach the main road some 50+ meters above sea level. Crossing the road and following the indications on my GPS route I find myself in a sand pit that was being excavated, after a quick back track I followed the broken road that passed the northern edge of the Panorama section of Golden Sands. My plan was to take the M4 trail as marked on the map to the left, the section near the town was the hardest there were few markings and trail was faint at best.

As the road ended I continued into the forest following the faint trail for a few hundred meters. As the trail appeared to end cut through the few streets that remained and found the trail off a dirt road heading in the correct direction. I continued following this trail as it rapidly began to climb. I soon reached the intersection with the M1 trail where I was met with good trail markings and some foreboding animal skulls.  Here I turned south and continued along the wide trail, after a few hundred meters the trail joined a road for a few minutes before returning to dirt. This next section of trail had been heavily traveled by 4 wheel vehicles and made running difficult.  

M4 trail

M4 trail

Five kilometers into the run I reached the outskirts of a residential area that lies on a plateau about 200m above the sea. Here the M1 and M4 trails split and I decided to take the M4 that continued to the south. This ended up being a great choice as the terrain in this section was gorgeous. The trail was just over single track width with rolling hills and dense Lord of the Rings type forest surrounding either side. Shortly before reaching the next intersection I came across a small view point from and outcropping unfortunately the trees have overgrown and no view was available.

At the next intersection I turned left and descended via the M2 trail. The trail quickly descended about vertical meters in about half of a kilometer. This section of the trail is paved with limestone and has many stairs so I imagine in wet conditions its like ice. After the trail flattened out a bit I got back to running. The trail wound through the forest and was mostly flat until I reached the first road crossing. There I headed across the parking lot and found the trail that descended quickly again. I then crossed the main road and entered back into the resort area.  

Modeling my new hair style

Modeling my new hair style

Overall I was very happy with the quality of the trails and the weather. While I was lucky to be running in a mild 15-20C, I still felt the seaside humidity. In the summer I would imagine that this trail would be much more difficult. In fact I would be surprised if many tourists explored these areas as the summer sun would turn the forest into a sauna. However if you are in the area you should definitely check out some of the trails they are worth the time. Plus after running there is nothing better than taking a dip in the sea to cool off.

Routing in a foreign land

One of the main reasons I originally got into running was because it is an easy activity for me to do even when I am on the road. For those of you that know me, I am lucky enough to have a job that provides me with the opportunity to travel regularly. However I rarely find myself staying in a hotel in a major city, this makes finding running routes more of challenge and more of an adventure.

Strava's Route Builder

Strava's Route Builder

The primary tool that I use to plan my routes is Strava's Route Builder. It has a number of features that help me manage my time and effort levels. Firstly, it allows you to load the routes that you make on your phone. I no longer track activities using the Strava iPhone app, but will leave the track open to check if i am close. The other option is that I could potentially export the GPX then transfer it to my Garmin Fenix 3, however in the past Garmin Connect has not allowed me to do this. In addition I often travel without my connecting cable making transferring to my watch not an option.

Heat Maps Activated

Heat Maps Activated

The second feature that I love on Strava's Route Builder is overlay of the heat map. Although somewhat controversial due to data privacy, I find heat maps an import tool when I am on the road. They allow you to see the most commonly used routes (running/biking). The third feature (which is built off of heat maps)is the ability to plan a route by popularity. As you click the system will build the route between points using the most popular paths. This of course isn't fool proof and I have found that in heavily tracked cities or areas it can be a bit of a pain. However you can turn it off and add in a few manual points when necessary. This helps me get the most accurate track and idea of how long it will take me to run.

In addition to Strava's Route builder I do use a few other tools when I am researching different routes. If I am in an area where trail/mountain running is an option I will check REI's Trail Run Project, however it is most useful in North America. I will also try doing research for local races which can often give me an idea of trails or routes that maybe of interest. In addition I try to reference a variety of map resources to determine what is the path of least resistance.

Generally when I am traveling I have one of two goals that I try to get from my runs. The obvious one is the opportunity to see some of a city that I would have otherwise missed. The second is get some time out in nature and find an adventure. I rarely do work outs when I am travel however on occasion I find that I need to and for this I stick to the heaviest traveled routes. I recommend being extra observant if you do this because unfamiliar areas may present unfamiliar challenges. Not only unexpected changes in surfaces, but differing traffic patterns and all other forms of unexpected circumstances.

Tentative Route

Tentative Route

This weekend I am headed to the Bulgarian seaside for a wedding and as is ever the case, I plan on doing some running based exploration. The first run will be in Varna mostly based around the "Sea Garden." However the morning before the wedding I plan to explore some of the trails near Golden Sands and to the right you will see what I have tentatively planned. Let me know what you guys think, either leave a comment or send me a message on Instagram if you have thoughts on how I can get the most out of my run.

Pancharevo Lessons/Race Report

This past Sunday was the annual Pancharevo Trail Marathon that is organized by Begach. I signed up before I knew that the preceding night I would be attending a bachelor party. However I decided why not force myself to run the race anyway. I will say this was not the best idea that I've ever had, but I was able to take a few positive things away from the experience.

First a bit about the course and the race. There are 3 distances on offer a 10k (road), 21k 700m D+(trail) and 42k 1580m D+ (trail). All three races start at Pancharevo Lake with the 10k  starting 15 minutes after the trail races. The first twelve kilometers of both trail are over the same track. The first 3.5 kilometers follows the relatively flat paved road on the western edge of the lake. From 3.5 to 10 km the course climbs 450m via a network of dirt roads. Many of the sections are heavily rutted so often its similar to running single track. The trail undulates throughout this climbing offering brief respites. At the 10k point you reach the first aid station and short section of paved road.

Downhill following Bachun Peak Photo Credit: Krisok Photography

As you then exit the tree cover and continue climbing Sofia become visible to your left, with Vitosha to behind you. After a short steep climb you reach Bachun Peak where you meet a steep 30m D- (100ft) downhill. You continue you a short way on the road but turn sharp right before the road goes down hill staying on the south face of the ridge.  The trail continues down, steeply at points, with some loose sections. When you reach a gully there is a steep pitch up as the trail narrows before intersecting with the road again. The road descends down to the saddle which leads to Lozen where the next aid station is located at 12.4km. The marathon then continues East up the steep climb to Mala Lalina Moglia but that is a story for another time. 

Trying not to fall Photo Credit:  Krisok Photography

Trying not to fall Photo Credit: Krisok Photography

After the aid station the half marathon turns back up the road you just descended, you shortly pass the single track from which you arrived but you continue straight keeping to the north of the ridge. The road is heavily rutted and returns to the main trail just in time to allow you to climb the the steep slope back to Bachun Peak. From there it is literally all down hill as you continue back to the first aid station. Here you continue straight passing the trail you arrived on your left. The dirt road is wide and slightly downhill but at 16.5 km you turn to your left and the real descent begins. The trail is sometimes single track sometimes a bit wider and you can pick up speed as you descend. It takes you right to within 10 meters of the starting line.

Of course the most obvious lesson is not to party the night before a race, but sometimes that cannot be avoided. My approach to this race can be summed up in one word: SURVIVAL. I was very careful throughout the race to pay attention to what my body was saying and not to push more than I felt I could handle. I am happy to say that I preformed much better than I anticipated but I did suffer especially on the steep sections uphill. On the downhill my main problem was being tired and because of this I was afraid I would fall (which I did once). My other questionable choice of the day was to wear my road shoes (Saucony Kinvara) instead of trail shoes. I opted for this choice because my the dry conditions and that my trail shoes are new and unbroken in. There were definitely a few sections (see above) that would have benefited from trail shoes but overall I think that choice worked out pretty well.

All in all it was a great race, good organisation, great (sometimes over zealous) marking and absolutely perfect weather. In the end I was glad I made the choice to go its just helps to reinforce what I am capable of and reminds me not to underestimate myself.

Returning to Trail Racing

The first major climb of Trail Series' 7 Hills Run photo credit: Kriosk Photography

The first major climb of Trail Series' 7 Hills Run
photo credit: Kriosk Photography

After nine month absence from participating in trail racing due to injury, I recently made my return during Trail Series: 7 Hills Run. This was my third time running this race and my second time running the middle distance race which this year turned out being 13.3 km with 705m D+ (see the Strava activity I've embedded below). This race proved to be brutal as i expected, as the the climbs can touch 40%+ grades. So perhaps this was not the best of choices for easing back into things but overall I was very happy my result (1:31.49) as I felt in control through out the race. Also this difficulty of race helped me to underline to issues that I need to address.

The easier of these two issues to address is to purchase some new trail running shoes.  I ran this race in my Salomon Speedcross 3's and found that especially on the down hills I suffered a lot. Part of the problem is that when I bought these shoes over two years ago I didn't realize that my feet would swell as much as they do when I run and this combined with the inflexibility of their form makes for a painful combination. Unfortunately, I had just retired my Inov 8 Ultra 290s after nearly 1000km of abuse and have had some durability issues as well with my Hoka Challenger 3 ATRs so  I opted for the Salomons.  This is a problem I can easily address in the coming days before my next race at the Pancharevo Half Marathon ( 21.4 km 700 m D+).

The more difficult issue I have to work towards solving is my poor performance on downhill sections in general. This of course is an issue I know that I have struggled with through out my time trail racing. It was very apparent too me as my quads were tight for the days after this past race. Over the coming months I plan on working towards addressing this issue while I continue to build my base after returning from my injury. It is also a process that I will try to follow relatively closely on this blog. If any one has any tips or experience in becoming a stronger downhill runner I would appreciate any help I can get.  

Me on the final major climb of the 7 Hill's Run which goes up 100 vertical meters in half a kilometer Photo Credit:  Krisok Photography .

Me on the final major climb of the 7 Hill's Run which goes up 100 vertical meters in half a kilometer
Photo Credit: Krisok Photography.

Running with friends

In honor of Bulgarian Liberation day (March 3rd)  and the group i ran with to MT. Polovrak 

In honor of Bulgarian Liberation day (March 3rd)  and the group i ran with to MT. Polovrak 

I consider myself to be a lone runner. Of near 2.000km I ran in 2017 the vast majority of it was on my own. It can be difficult to organize a running partner who has similar skill and goals so for this reason I generally run alone. Although I find myself running alone most of the time, the social aspect of the sport is one thing that continually draws me toward the sport, especially for someone who grew up in a pool. 

It was a chance encounter in March 2015 at the "zsalona" on Cherni Vrah that sparked further interest in the sport. I found myself sitting across the table from a pair of runners. Onewas wearing a Boston Marathon shirt and it turns out we used to live across the street from each other back in Boston. He and his friend suggested that I try to run some of the Trail Series (Bulgarian) races that are held around Sofia every month. My first Trail Series was less than spectacular as it was at the Simeonovo Run 12k, which has arguably one of the steepest climbs I've come across. 

The Trail Series introduced me to the Sofia's running community and the people that inspire me everyday. In the fall of 2015 I moved to Sofia and soon started attending events held by BEGACH, 5km Run (Bulgarian) and Wednesday Night Runs. Recently as I've been getting back into running post injury, I have been running with groups and friends more regularly. I want to work to keep that up in the future and to share more adventures with friends and I urge all other runners out there to do the same!

Rough few days


The last week has been difficult. I haven’t been able to get out running due to the triple threat of sickness, work and some personal emergencies. On top of this I have been working through some lingering issues with my knee injury which has put me a bit on the back foot. It is always hard for me to stay positive at times like these, especially when I depend on running as an opportunity to clear my mind. These challenges have been compounded by the news that a member of my Bulgarian family has being re-diagnosed with cancer. Over the past eighteen months it has been an up and down ride which we first believed he had conquered almost a year ago. However after a recent seizure we received surprising news that the original diagnosis was flawed. His and his family's battle is a constant reminder to me what is the most important in life and that we should try to live everyday to the fullest, even the hard days. I am not a particularly spiritual person,  but I do believe life's meaning is in the simple pleasures. In my case that is being surrounded by family, friends, food and the occasional run in the mountains.  So when things get tough, remember live simply....

You'll never understand...

The start of Vitosha 100 2017 Photo Credit:  Krisok Photography

The start of Vitosha 100 2017
Photo Credit: Krisok Photography

Athletic endeavours have always played an important role in my life whether it was swimming to Ohio States or shaking pumped arms from climbing Ligurian limestone. Running is a sport that I came to relatively late in life but it has grown into a passion. It has provided me with great friends, a calming outlet on stressful days, a window into myself and unending adventures (which I hope to share here). This project is something that I have been thinking about doing for almost a year now and I think it is the best way for me to give back to the community. I hope that this will become a resource and inspiration for runner throughout the world to get out there and explore their own 

Although I am relatively new to the sport, I often get asked the same question that people used to ask me about rock climbing. No matter the difference in the two sports, two differing versions of extreme, the answer remains the same.  If you have to ask, you'll never understand. However, I hope this can be an insight into what drives me.