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+).  

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.

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....