The organization that puts this on, Skakavac Trail, is what makes these races among my all-time favorites. Before the race, while I was messaging for some details in English like how to pay, where to get my packet, and where it starts, they were genuinely happy to hear that I was doing the race. Over last three years, I have done all their races and will be one of the biggest things I will miss doing in Sarajevo. They make every race feel like a party.
This was the first time they had put on the Valter Trail 16km. It fell on the day before Women’s Day, which is a big celebration in most countries. They dedicated this race to Kathrine Switzer, the American woman that ran Boston in 1967 as a numbered participant. By 1972 women could run Boston, in large part due to her. You may have seen the famous photo of a male race official trying to rip her official bib off of her while she ran.
The day before was sunny and beautiful. Around midnight it started raining, and kept raining well through the next day. On the morning of, driving up to the red cross in middle of nowhere Balkans, the thought crept into my head that I could have stayed snuggled in my bed with a cuppa and good book. But then, I was like nah. Let’s do this. I wandered to the start where others runners were huddled under an overhang, putting off getting soaked until they started running. While this was the first time they had done this exact race, I knew the trails and the elevation is no joke. When that kind of elevation gets soggy, it gets muddy and slippery. I knew I needed a hiking stick, so instead of buying $300 high-end titanium ones, I have resoundingly decided I will only and always use whatever I can find in the woods. Call it the minimalist in me. I found the perfect stick right before the race started. I held onto it until the last few kilometers at the end, and then chucked it, which is part of the reason I have decided to choose this kind over manufactured ones. It’s disposable and compostable.
With my pockets full of gels and a few electrolyte tablets, I felt prepared enough. The race was only 16 kilometers, but it was 700 meters gain, which is a fair bit. It was basically straight up, and straight down. As we were running, the first kilometer was a nice incline, nothing extreme but it was definitely uphill and was rather instantly covered in mud. The next two kilometers is where it got even more fun. I ended up hiking and running uphill through a river of melted snow runoff, sometimes up to my mid-calf. As we passed through this, the next five kilometers had me climbing to the highest point in the area, Motka. I just ran when I could, power-hiked when it got too steep to run, but mostly I focused on enjoying the view. Most of it was just stunning, crisp, peaceful. At Motka, there was an aid station that informed me I was second female. The funny thing is, most races I have no idea what place I’m in until an aid station tells me. It’s always very motivating to kick it up when you know that you have a chance at placing. Until then, I had been taking pictures and just kind of kicking around. After hearing how I was doing, I was like, oh…I’m going to definitely maintain this place and pushed harder than I would have otherwise.
After the mid-way aid station, I ran into a snowstorm. It was snowy and foggy enough that it was a bit hard to see at times. Otherwise, as long as I was running I was warm, despite passing through multiple streams of cold water.
After the snow, it cleared back into a muddy mess of a trail, but it had also stopped raining. The day’s temperatures rose slightly and I was still sort of in my euphoric state of mind. The downhill was rocky, with roots and many trippable (surely that is not a word) opportunities. For whatever reason, my mind was keyed on to every step and I bombed down at a fast clip. I was running a 4:00 kilometer pace for most of the downhill bits. I ended up running with a few different men. We were all encouraging each other and helping each other out from the occasional branch in the face or loose rock. At one point there was someone sawing a tree and throwing them down from way up on a steep hill. The person clearly did not know there was a race going on as their sawed logs were landing on the trail we were running. As one came flying down, I caught myself just in time before being hit by it. I kept going, and nearly got hit by another flying log when a man pulled me back (kind of looked like the 2020 version of Kathrine Switzer, but instead of trying to hinder, he was helping–social progress).
I had one kilometer left and knew I had second place in the bag. Then I heard a man that was behind me but I had been running with for a while inform me there was another woman coming up behind me. She passed me pretty quickly, and I thought, well, there goes second. Then I was like, I’ll give it everything I have left and see what happens. Turns out it was just enough. I passed her, while she remained on my heels for most of that kilometer. I literally slipped my way through to the finish line and she came in around 40 seconds behind me. We both sincerely congratulated each other. It made for an exciting finish!
Back to the race organizers; after so many years racing here, they all knew who I was and my name. They cheered me on through the finish line, and I don’t think I have the words for how that felt. While my husband and kids are always amazingly at all my races, I don’t have other family or friends that show up to these events. To know that I have become part of a community, one that I’m leaving, is beyond bittersweet.
Now the good part–the after party. These race organizers always have great music, free flowing beer and hot wine, and a perfect post meal of ćevapi. Feeling accomplished and deserving, I hung around with my family and enjoyed the unique experience of being at a Bosnian party in the mountains. There is no better way that I could imagine spending a day.
Thanks for reading. Stay rad, my friends.