15 June 2014

Piatra Mare: South to North

Yesterday the weather was just perfect for trail running. It was a cool but dry summer day. My fellow trail runner Cristi had the idea of a very nice trail running route in Piatra Mare. We started from the edge of the mountain town Predeal and finished in Dambul Morii, on the edge of Brasov, our home town. The route traverses Piatra Mare massiv from South to North, reaching the beautiful Piatra Mare Peak (1844m)

In is a rather short route of around 18 Kilometers. It has only about 1000m of elevation gain to climb. The start of the Route in Predeal is already at 1100m altitude... so one can say that we cheated a bit...

Here are some photos I took along the way:

Forest Road from Predeal
View of Cheii Ridge of Postavarul Mountain
View towards South from Tamina mountain side

Tamina mountain side
Rhododendron flowers, just by the peak
Rhododendron meadow below Piatra Mare peak

The rockiest section of the route, on the descent from Piatra Mare Peak
Descending through the forest towards Dambul Morii

01 June 2014

Hit The Top. 2014 Edition

The Logo from the event home page

2014 Edition in a few words:
  • Tough, wet, wet, wet, bloody wet and cold... 
  • But what a great day!

This was the fourth Hit The Top edition, my third time here and my second time as a racer. It is a special race. It is short but tough, with more than 1600m of accumulated altitude gain in just a few kilometers. The number of the participants is kept at under 100 and the level of the runners is very high, including a few professional athletes.

I participated in the race in 2012, when it was one of my first trail running races. At that time the race was shorter; the return point was on Scara Peak at 2308m altitude. Last year the race route was extended by two more kilometers until Omu Peak (2505m), the highest peak of Bucegi Mountains and I decided not to race, but instead to run along the route and take photos; Here is my last year's race report with photos and GPS track. This year I had to compete again; I had to do the complete race to Omu Peak!

I tried to prepare well for this race. I accumulated many meters of altitude gain during my training runs the weeks before, followed by a few days of resting before the race. However, nothing prepared me for the wet weather on the race day. I often run in the rain, but on bad weather I keep away from the mountain heights. Yesterday, during the race, I went up all the way to 2500 meters altitude on Omu Peak, in a weather I would never plan myself such a trip!

Actually the weather during the race was better than the forecast a few days before. It rained all the time and it was foggy, but otherwise the weather was stable. The wind on to mountain tops was rather weak but not at all pleasant on the wet clothes. There was no thick fog so I had no orientation problems. A volunteer, on the rather flat Scara Peak, where fog could cause orientation issues, made sure that the runners took the right path. Also the abundant snow that fell in April was mostly gone. Just below Omu Peak there were larger patches of snow.

The start of the race was at 9:15 AM. I started the climb at a comfortable pace and all the way up to Omu Peak I tried not to run too fast and to conserve energy. I did not want to exhaust myself in that cold wet weather, especially high on the mountain. 30 minutes after the start my clothes were already quite wet. I felt like in the middle of a soaked sponge and I knew that it will only get wetter... . My biggest worry was the wind. I was prepared to abandon the race if  the wind would get too strong high on the ridges. Hypothermia can be a serious issue high on the mountains. Luckily the weather was OK high there. The wind, mixed with raindrops and even a few snow flakes was constantly blowing from the north Luckily, most of the trail from below Scara Peak until Omu is on the southern side of the ridge so it was rather sheltered from the wind.

My choice of clothing was not too bad. I wore a thin woolen merino shirt and a thin runner wind-stopper jacket on top of it. The wool got soaked in water and sweat. Well, anything would have got soaked in that weather, but the wool retains the heat better than other fabrics when wet. I had gloves that got so wet that I would squeeze the water out of them every two minutes just by clenching my fists. However, even so wet, they protected my hands from the cold wind so my hands stayed warm. I had long running trousers - I chose thicker warmer ones. Maybe not the best choice as they also got soaked in water, but at least they kept me warm. I heard from other runners that thin trousers were not enough. As head gear I had a thin running cap and a headband. I also had a thicker winter hat with me. I did not use it but it was good to feel it in my pocket!

After the race, when I have weighted my wet equipment I realized that I was carrying more than a liter of water in my clothes and shoes... maybe close to two liters... Speaking of excess weight, half way up the mountain I realized that I could have run without my bottle belt. The water offered by volunteers at the three hydration points along the route would have been enough in this cold and wet weather. What a difference from 2012, when the race was on a hot day and the one liter I have carried plus the water from the hydration points were hardly enough to extinguish my thirst!

I have been the 29th runner to reach Omu Peak. I did not stop there so I left behind a few runners, but not for too long as I am a too cautious downhill runner. I felt well and warm enough to skip the hot tea offered by the race organizers at Omu Peak. I know that other racers, that were not so well equipped for the cold weather, dreamt about that warm tea during all the way up!

First part of the descent went quickly for me. I tried to run as much as I could on the snow patches by the trail. The snow was quite wet and soft, but hard enough so I would not sink too much and could safely run fast with long steps. It was better than on the trail which consisted of a mixture of melting snow, water, mud and rocks... Soon, below Scara Peak the trail becomes steeper. From here until the end of the race I was overtaken by many other runners on each steep section of the route. I was joking that if the descent was longer all racers would have overtook me. But I preferred to be on the safe side. Lower in the forest the steep trail was extremely muddy and slippery and again, I did it at a very slow pace. Some other runners asked me if I was OK while they overtook me... I must have look quite hopeless. But I did not care. I then quickly ran the last 3 kilometers of the race on the forest road and finished the race on the 35th place, happily and in one piece! I can proudly say that I had no falls during the race.

[Added a day later] Now that the official results are ready I can see that I had the 45th descent time... Somewhere in the middle... Not so catastrophic after all, but it is the worse descent time of the top 40 runners.

After the race, the organizer offered us a nice warm soup and a tasty desert at a local restaurant in Bran. How nice to have a hot soup after spending so many hours in the cold wet rain. Time to socialize with the other runners before the awards ceremony.

All in all it was a great experience! The difficult weather and trail conditions made it an unforgettable race. The volunteers and mountain rescue members had a much tougher time than the runners. While we were running, keeping ourselves warm, they had to endure the rain and wind, up on the mountain heights for almost 10 hours! A big thank you to all of them and to all organizers of this event!

Let's hit the top again in 2015!