23 November 2013

A Roller-Coaster Run around Brasov

Several people have asked me what is the Roller-Coaster, that I mention in my Running Log page. It is my city running route for the winter evenings when it gets dark early so I cannot run in the forest and on the mountains as I do in summer after a working day.

I think that this route resembles a roller-coaster as it goes up and down on the steep hills around the historical city center of Brasov. It is a beautiful route, passing by many of the Brasov landmarks and offering great views towards the old city center. The route tries to avoid the busy roads staying higher on the hills. All the route is lit by street lights, making it suitable for night running, but it is a good idea to have a head-lamp as some sections are not so well lit.

I always start the route from Prund, the center of the old and picturesque Schei district of Brasov, very close to my home. The place is officially known as Piata Unirii (Union Square). The route measures just 10km in length and accumulates a respectable 310m of elevation gain. I can complete it in just under an hour of relatively relaxed pace running.

You can see much of the route overlaid on the photo below. I took this photo two weeks ago from the top of Tampa Mountain.

Here is the GPS track as I recorded two years ago. It does not include the loop around the Fortress as at that time the loop was not illuminated: The Rollercoaster Route.
The GPS track is recorded two years ago, when I was still a slower beginner runner...

Here is a short description of the route illustrated with photos taken along the route over the last years.
The Route starts in Piata Unirii (Unirii Square), a good place to start a run on the hills around Brasov:

The east side of the square is dominated by the old Romanian Orthodox Cathedral, Sf Nicolae:

The route follows then Bailor street; a quiet street that also has a bicycle lane, something not very common in Brasov, especially in the crowded old city:

At the end of Bailor street the route passes by Andrei Saguna National College, one of the oldest Romanian colleges in Transylvania:

From here, the route passes through a small but beautiful park, guarded by very old trees:

At the other end of the park, across the street the Faculty of Forestry building:

From here the route stars the first steep ascent of the route along  the steep Cibinului Street. This is the longest ascent of the route, gaining about 100m in altitude:

The route follows Cibinului Street until almost the top of Warthe Hill. It then turns back to the city, crossing the main road to Poiana Brasov ski resort and descending on Stejarisului Street. Soon the Route reaches a beautiful panorama point. To the South-west the view opens towards the beautiful Schei District:

 To the south, the old walled city, at the bottom of the mighty Tampa Mountain:

 A winter view towards the old city, dominated by the famous Black Church:

The route then follows some nice paths through the forest, just above the old city:

We can see below Sfatului Square, the main square of the old city, dominated by the tower of the old city hall:

The route continues along the beautiful path:

It then passes by the old White Tower:

The trail gets out of the forest at Livada Postei park:

From here the route descends until Livada Postei, the starting point of the 12km road to Poiana Brasov ski resort. From here the route goes uphill again, along St.O Iosif Street, which is probably the steepest street in the whole Brasov! The slope is around 20%: 40 meters of altitude are gained in just 200meters. Then downhill again, on Fagetului Street, reaching the lowest point of the route, where we cross the busy Lunga and De Mijloc streets. Then again uphill on the Cetatuia (Fortress) Hill till the Fortress on the top. Here the route makes a loop around the old medieval Fortress:

The Fortress Hill offers us a beautiful 360 degrees panorama of the city and the surroundings. Here is the view to the north-west, with the round wooded shape of Magura Codlei Mouintain in the background. In the valley, the busy Lunga Street, that the route crossed earlier.

To the south we can admire the old city, nestled between the wooded hills, and in the distance the peak of Postavaru Peak, which is the highest point of Brasov (1799m):

A view of the old city from the Fortress Hill:

From the Fortress the route descends on a winding road back to the city center. We pass by the main Post Office, City Hall and the Prefecture Building:

The route crosses two busy streets:

Then it starts yet another ascent, this time towards the long alley that follows the old walls of the city on the bottom of Tampa Mountain:

From here we have again beautiful views towards the old city center:

In the distance, the city is guarded by the  Fortress Hill:

Bastionul Tesatorilor (The Weavers Bastion) and Olimpia tennis courts mark the south-west corner of the old city walls at the end of the long alley:

The route then passes by a cemetery for soldiers who died during the First World War:

 From here the route has one more ascent, then follows some smaller streets:

A few minutes later the route returns back to the starting point in Unirii Square, ending the beautiful 10km circuit.

10 November 2013

A Beautiful Late Autum Day around Brasov

So far this year, the month of November surprised us with many warm and sunny days, perfect for running and waling. Today I walked with my family through the woods, on the hills around Brasov, following some of my favorite running trails. The slow paced walk allowed me to take many photos along the route. The light was just magical, perfect for photography! Here are some of the best shots of the day:
Beautiful young beech tree forest on Valea cu Apa (Watter's Valley)
Moss detail
Miniature waterfall on Valea cu Apa
Official trail markings (blue stripe) and unofficial race route markings (the green ones)
My favorite running trail in the area!
Same trail, different angle of view...
A view towards Ciucas Mountains
The ruins of the Old Brasovia Fortress on Tampa Mountain
The classical Brasov Snapshot from Tampa Mountain top (960m) 
View of the historical city center of Brasov

If you enjoyed the photos, you can find the complete album of the day here.

05 November 2013

MPC 2013 - Piatra Craiului Marathon

I first heard about the famous Piatra Craiului Marathon (MPC) a little over two years ago, about the same time I became more interested in trail running. At that time I realized that such a race is out of scope for my level of training. For the next year I have trained and participated in several trail running cross and half-marathon races in the area around my beautiful town Brasov. I gradually became a better runner and by the autumn I felt ready for my first full mountain trail running marathon. In October 2012, Piatra Craiului Marathon was my first full marathon I have ever ran and my result was not a bad one: I was in the top 20%.

During 2013 I continued to train and participate in mountain trail running races including 3 full marathons. I slowly became a stronger and a faster runner. Again, the final year exam had to be MPC! During the summer I over-trained, reaching twice 100km of mountain trail runs in a week. I felt it in my knees! In the autumn I reduced my training distances and my knees recovered well. The week before MPC I only ran 20km to be as fresh as possible on the racing day.

So here I am, early in the morning on the 2nd of November, in the center of Zarnesti, waiting for the start of the 8th edition of this marathon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the event was delayed for 4 weeks, as at the beginning of October when it should have taken place the mountains got covered in a thick blanket of snow that made such an event impossible.

Just before the start - Photo by Radu Dumitru
2nd of November sounded quite late and many, myself included were a bit worried... Would it not be too cold, maybe snowy again? Isn't the day too short? Maybe the trails would be wet muddy... Eventually, the 2nd of November 2013 turned out to be an absolutely perfect day for running in the mountains! It was a warm and sunny autumn day, with glorious blue skies and no wind on the mountain peaks! The trails were dry and just perfect for running! With these perfect conditions and feeling in a quite good shape, I knew that I should get a better time compared to last year.

The MPC route is a demanding one: 41km in length with more than 2200m of accumulated elevation gain. It has two long ascents, the second one being feared by most competitors. The route goes around the main ridge of Piatra Craiului Mountain and 90% of it is inside Piatra Craiului National Parc. The nature, the landscape and the views along the route are simply stunning!

Along the route there are all kinds of roads and trails one can imagine: from asphalted roads in Zarnesti, to dirt roads, single trails, culminating with very steep and rocky terrain. The descent from the main ridge of Piatra Craiului starts with a steep rocky descent. Here, the organizers mount every year several ropes to make the route safer.

15 minutes into the race. Photo by Flavy Teo
As on my previous races this year, I did not carry any electronic gadget with me... No GPS, no heart monitor, not even a watch. So I would not get any distraction and could concentrate on the running. I only had my dumb-phone with me so I could use it in case of an emergency. I did not carry running poles. I know that they would have been very useful on the steep uphill slopes, but I would have to carry them on the rest of the route. In the past I also had two bad experiences while running as I managed to trip over my own poles and fall flat on the ground... So I figured out that I am safer without poles. Actually, during the race, on the last uphill, the famous Diana climb, an endless climb through the forest, I used two wood sticks that I found by the trail... There were plenty of sticks and fallen branches on the forest ground just waiting to be picked. So I just used what Mother Nature offered me...

I  know form my experience that I should eat well the day before the race and in the morning before the race. By now I also know hat I should avoid overeating. In the morning I had my standard runner's meal: yogurt with oat flakes, sweetened with plum marmalade and a bit of honey.  The yogurt was freshly prepared by my wife, using whole fat milk and selected yogurt germs. The plum marmalade was the Romanian specialty one (called magiun); the only ingredient is sweet plums - no sugars added! So quite a healthy breakfast I would say. The fat yogurt and the whole grain oat flakes make me feel full for half a day. They are slowly digested releasing energy for more than half of a day.

I took with me two energy bars, as this was requested by the race rules. I finished the race without touching them. During the race I only had some grapes and banana pieces at the three official refreshment supply points.

On the ridge! Photo by Mihai Benea
I did not want to carry a backpack as I do not like to get sweaty on my back. I had a running belt with a 750ml bottle. I have chosen a bottle with a large lid, so at the supply points I can quickly empty glasses of liquid into the bottle. I made sure that I left each of the three refreshment supply points with my bottle full and I also drank a few glasses of liquid each time. During the race I consumed 50% water and 50% isotonic drinks.

The refreshment points were very well stocked with liquids, fruits, cheese and other snacks. The mid-course one also had yogurt and even hot soup. However I did not pay too much attention to what was available. I just looked for fruits, isotonic drinks and water.

The rules of the competition demand long trousers and long sleeves. Well, one can wear anything, but the compulsory equipment must then be carried in a backpack. I have chosen to wear long tights and a sports T-shirt with long sleeves. It wasn't going to be too warm so it was OK. On the long ascent to Funduri Saddle, which at 1950m is the highest pint of the route, I took my shirt off... I knew from the previous year that if sunny it gets very warm on this sunny mountain slope. I avoided to clip my number on the T-shirt so I could get it off if I felt too warm. I also carried the compulsory wind jacket tied on the running belt. I haven't used it during the race, but it is an important piece of equipment that I always have with me on the mountains.

Of course, the most important piece of the equipment are the shoes. I ran with my old by now Salomon Speedcross trail running shoes. I am very pleased by these shoes. They are very light but strong. The soles have a very god grip as they are made from a quite soft rubber. The downside is that they wear off quite quickly. I kept these shoes only for racing and after two seasons it is time to replace them with a new pair, although they are not completely worn-off so I can continue to use them for training.

Flying to the finish line. Photo by Andreea Dumitrescu
The race went on without any bad surprises for me. I was careful not to be too behind the start line. This was a good decision as I could go faster at the beginning so when the trail narrowed I was already with the faster runners without the need to overtake.

As usually I was constantly overtaking on uphills. On the steep downhills the situation reversed. I am a very cautions runner so many runners overtook me on the steep descents. Overall, my place improved during the race. I tried o keep a comfortable and constant pace and I managed to do it throughout the race. I knew well the route from last year so I could optimize my pace, knowing what to expect next. On the last long ascent, the feared climb to Diana refuge I forced my rhythm up a bit and again managed to slowly overtake several runners. This increased my confidence. From Diana to the finish line, the route is is mostly downhill and I was surprised how much energy still I had left so I accelerated  with ease and overtook a few more runners... runners that just overtook me on the steeper and technical part at the beginning of this descent.

The most difficult part for me was the last kilometer through the town... The descent ends on the town limits and the last km is flat on asphalted roads. But I kept running as lots of people were watching and encouraging the runners.

50 more meters! Photo by Anda Ignat
A last sharp corner, followed by a straight line to the finish. I cannot believe! I did it in 5h15! more than 30 minutes better than last year. I am in top 10% now! A result I am quite proud of! On the other hand I realize that it will be very difficult to get a better time next year. It would have to be a perfect day like this year and I would have to be in even better shape. In the meanwhile I know that I have to train more on steep and technical descents. That is hard for me because I prefer long gentle descents... after working hard to get to the top I do not want to get back in the valley immediately...

This year, MPC was again a great experience! The organizers, volunteers, sponsors, supporters, photographers and of course all the runners made it happen again. A big thank you to all involved in this wonderful event!

See you again in 2014!