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

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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.