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+).  

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....