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).

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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.

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.

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....