26 May 2013

Hit The Top 2013

Since I started to be more serious about trail running I participated in quite a few mountain races in my area around Brasov. "Hit The Top" is probably the most challenging one. As the organizers claim, it is the race with the highest elevation gain in Romania. There are races with more cumulative elevation gain, but not in one go. The route of this race climbs more than one vertical mile in just 9 kilometers  returning to the starting line on the same trail. An iron heart is needed for the climb and iron knees for the descent! Due to the high altitude and steep slopes of the route, this race fits more in the sky running category rather than just simple trail running.

The number of participants is limited to 70. A good proportion of the racers are elite athletes. So even though last year I was right in the middle of the results table, it was the result I was most proud of!

This year the route was prolonged from Scara peak (2.422m)  to Omu Peak (2505m). Omu is the highest peak in Bucegi Mountains and the 2km from Scara to Omu are above 2300m so the race became even more challenging! The longer route, with a more than a third of it at altitudes over 2000m, seemed a bit to much for me. Also the time of the race, in May, meant that one could really expect any kind of possible weather ranging from a hot summer day to deep fresh snow of even worse very thick fog or a snow blizzard! Of course, the race would have been canceled or maybe shortened if the weather was really bad.

So instead of participating I made the decision to go there, do some trail running and also take photos of the runners.  The complete album with the photos I took can be found HERE.
After a stormy Thursday and a rainy Friday I was not too optimistic about the weather. The weather forecast for the Saturday was not too good either, but to everyone's delight, the sky cleared during the night revealing a deep blue sky on Saturday morning! The cool and partly sunny weather was very good for running.
At the second hydration point on Ciubotea Valley. It starts getting windy and cold !
In the morning, Nusu, one of the top runners, took me and two other guys by car from Brasov to Bran Poarta village, to the starting line. The other two were Manu from CPNT and Vlad, a young talented runner. Only Nusu was participating, so the three of us quickly started the ascent to Omu peak. We started just an hour before the official start of the race. We knew how fast are the best runners so we hurried up the mountain. It was a cool morning, just right for a quick uphill. It was nice and calm in the valley, but higher it was quite windy and it got windier as we climbed higher towards Omu Peak. At least the wind was pushing us from behind. 
The trail crossed a few snow patches
Going up towards Scara Peak. A panorama of Piatra Craiului Mountains and the  mountain villages in the Bran area
A look to the north. In the distance Postavarul and Piatra Mare massifs
Volunteers on Scara peak. Omu peak with the meteorological and the mountain huts are visible in the background
We reached the very windy Omu peak just before the first racers arrived. My plan was to take photos of all the runners, but sadly I did not succeed. After reaching the top I had to change my wet t-shirt and put on me something dry and warm. Although I had quite a few items of clothing in my backpack, including a woolen t-shirt, a fleece, wind jacket, gloves and cap, it was not enough to stand in the cold wind. It wasn't very cold, around 5C, maybe a bit warmer, but the wind was constantly blowing.

This is the GPS track of the race route that I recorded. The downhill follows the same path.
I went in a sheltered spot near the Omu mountain hut and put on all the clothes I had. I then rushed back to take photos only to find out that in the couple of minutes I was missing the first 5 runners were already gone! I then resisted out in the wind for exactly 45 minutes. By then my hands were so cold that I could not feel the shutter button of my camera. Back home I have discovered that most of the photos I took were tilted to the right - I guess that my struggle to press the shutter release button was rotating the camera.
Volunteers waiting for the runners as they reach Omu peak
The photos I took are not too bad taking into account the fact that I only had with me an small old camera. As the plan was to do trail running I wanted to be as light as possible. I was also afraid that it might rain and the expensive DSLR camera I would have use is not waterproof.
Runner reaching Omu peak
Running poles are very useful during this race
On Omu Peak
Waiting the runners on Omu peak 
More runners approaching the top
The countdown begins from the top!
Collision course?
After 45 minutes of taking photos I started to feel the first signs of hypothermia. My extremities were cold I started to shiver and feel all of my muscles contracting. I ran inside Omu mountain hut where they were serving pottage soup! Manu and Vlad were already there. It was so nice to eat the warm delicious soup! After finishing the meal I still felt cold! So we started running back, down the mountain. This warmed me quickly. Until the base of the mountains I stopped several times to take clothes off, eventually ending up in shorts and a t-shirt...
The Checkpoint on Omu Peak
I can smell it! More runners are coming!
The joy of reaching the top
Almost there!
On Scara peak again, during the descent
Descending from Scara peak towards Bran
Descending on Ciubotea valley. Snow stairs left by the runners
I am admiring all the volunteers along the route for their endurance! Especially those on Scara and Omu Peak. They had to endure the constant cold wind for several hours! At least most of them were well prepared with warm clothes. Although I could see that they were not feeling very warm they all were a bunch of happy enthusiastic people assisting every runner in the best way they could. And that included me. As I was in running gear, they would think that I was in the race. When I told them that I wasn't they told me that it does not matter and asked me if I wanted a glass of water or something else. I had plenty of water with me, but eventually, down in the Ciubotea valley I could not resist the temptation to dink a glass of diluted pine-needles sirup! It was delicious!
Volunteers on Ciubotea valley. Thank you for the delicious pine needles sirup! 
A look back on Ciubotea valley
Volunteers on Ciubotea valley
So this was the 2013 edition of Hit The Top from my point of view. First time for me to attend a race as supporter. It was nice and relaxing. Now that I know the route better, I may participate again next year.
The steep descent through the forest
The Salvamont (mountain rescue) hut
I hope that the runners I did not manage to photograph are not too angry on me. This is the best I could do. I also hope that those who can find themselves in my photos will forgive me for using a crappy camera...

Congratulations to Outdoor Romania and Ion Trandafir for organizing such a great trail running race! Congratulations to all volunteers and of course to all runners!
The finishing line
On Scara peak. The author on of this post wearing all the clothes he had...

See you in 2014!

The complete album with the photos I took can be found HERE.

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