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.

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!  

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. 

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.

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.