My mom and her husband were visiting us in Bosnia and Herzegovina for our spring break. They had been hanging out and touring Sarajevo for a week prior to our holiday while we worked. Then to kick off spring break, we took off to Mostar, a town in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, famous for Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva River. It was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans. In 1993, the bridge was destroyed in the war, but has been completely rebuilt. They recovered many of the original stones from the river to reconstruct it. It is probably the most recognizable structure in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Reasons to Visit Mostar
Somehow, Mostar still manages to be off most people’s travel radar. If you have the chance, you should work your way over to it. It is so worth it.
Here are some highlights about the small town:
Apparently people have been bridge diving since 1664. In recent history, Red Bull now puts on a festival where people continue this tradition.
2. Pose on the bridge for some pretty sweet pictures.
3. They also have incredible street art and metal art work for sale. I sadly did not get any pictures of the street art. Guess I will have to go back!
We also did not see the famous Kravice Waterfalls, and I am sucker for waterfalls, so we really will be making a trip back soon.
After all that touring around the town, I got to see another, more rural perspective on foot the next day.
Half Marathon Day
I was a nervous wreck before the race. I knew I wanted a PR, but I wasn’t sure I was capable of it. I also didn’t voice this to anyone for fear I would somehow jinx it. Whenever I am going into new territory, I get nervous. It is okay though. I am not scared of being scared. It means you care, and when you care, the outcome is better.
I did all the things you are supposed to do. I trained. I ran far. I ran faster in my training. I did hill repeats. I ate better. I slept more. I even tapered, albeit a small amount because one doesn’t need to cut back too much for a half. Usually I don’t at all, but tried it out for this race. It really isn’t that complicated when it comes to knowing what one should do to improve their running. If you want to improve your speed, run faster during training. If you want to improve your endurance, run farther. Running is a simple and resourceful sport, direct in the fact that it is about putting one foot in front of the other, effective in its purpose, and a deeply innate part of being human.
The thing that I think helped me the most though, was that I just pretended to be someone that could make a sub 1:45 half marathon. I just told myself if I can’t be the person that gets that time, just pretend to. It worked. I ran a 1:43. Fake it ’til you make it.
I know on the grand scale of amazing runners out there, running a 1:43 isn’t anything special, but it was to me. I had been stuck at 1:47 as my personal best prior to this race, but most halfs had been 1:52-1:55. Granted, those were all in Thailand, so really hot and humid conditions, which hurt most people’s race times.
I had slept well the night before. I carb loaded correctly. The weather was perfect–mid-50s, clear skies. The course was mostly flat and lots of beautiful scenery. I had my mom, her husband, my kids, and my husband all there to support me. Really, it was a perfect combination of conditions to do a PR.
Between good conditions and self-delusion, I did it.
I truly have a runners’ mind though–now I want a 1:40. 😆
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3: Worn, Dirty, and Loved
I would just like to preface with I am not being paid by Hoka to write this. I just really, really like Hokas.
The Hoka ATR 3 is technically for the trail, but because it is light weight, it can easily be worn for both the road and trail. I have been running 70-90 km (44-56 miles) a week for over two months in mine now on both road and trail. My one complaint with the Challenger is that for extreme conditions, like lots of slippery mud or snow, there isn’t enough grip. However, for a standard trail in good weather conditions, there is plenty of traction.
As for the fit and comfort, it is pretty perfect for me. The toe box offers plenty of room, which from what I have read, is an improvement from previous models. It feels stable one rocky terrain. The arch support is really good, but I put in an insole for added support. I have tried a few different insoles but the one below seem to work best for me.
I have struggled with plantar fasciitis since my last pregnancy, but running in Hokas has completely fixed it for me. For a year, I had to tape my foot a special way before each run or I would be in excruciating pain. I had tried everything to fix it, down to acupuncture, but nothing worked. I read somewhere on the depths of the internet about Hokas being good for plantar fasciitis. I bought a pair, started running in them, and within a week, I was nearly pain free. I didn’t need to tape my foot any more. After a couple of weeks, it was 99% gone, and that is where I am now.
I just ran my first 50k Ultra in the Hoka Challenger ATR 3, and I only lost one toenail (not bad for an ultra!), had one blister, and my plantar fasciitis didn’t bother me at all. They are good for the long run.
Just like muscles, when your mind breaks down, when it is depleted, it repairs and builds itself back stronger. I like to think after taking on the Transylvania 50k, I have built myself up stronger. Time will tell how lasting that strength is.
Transylvania was a beast of a race. Let me start with the elevation. The overall gain was 3,328 meters or 10,919 feet.
It is a race that goes through the Bucegi Mountains in Romania, which is part of the Carpathian Mountain Range. It started in Bran, a small town that houses the infamous Bran Castle, Dracula’s home. After the start, it went straight up into the mountains.
One of the harder moments in the race was when I saw the steep, snowy, narrow gorge that we had to climb. I actually gasped when I saw that. I am not a gasper.
But, what does one do? One powers onward and upward. I took a quick bite to eat to restore energy. I drank some water from my hydration pack, threw back a salt tablet, and started, step-by-step up the gorge, following a line of runners. I was about halfway up the 900 meter climb when I heard a lot of yelling. Confused, I looked up and saw a man falling from the top. He was sliding, rolling, knocking people over as he fell, even catching air. A few men tried to stop him, but could not break his fall. By the time he was a few feet in front of me, two men had had time to plan catch him together. They thankfully were able to stop him from falling all the way to the bottom. After checking on him, offering food, and trying to figure out how badly he was hurt, we had to move on. It was not safe to stay there for long. I truly do not know if he broke anything, but there was no way any rescue team could have gotten him off that mountainside. He had to have continued to retrace his steps. After that, I made each foothold a careful decision. I went one step at a time, thinking I simply had to be okay and get up that gorge, without quite literally killing myself.
With all that elevation considered, we also climbed up narrow gorges, endured hail for a few hours, ran with lightning that was too close for comfort, and a pushed on through steady rain the rest of the day. The sun did not grace us with her presence. With all that rain comes mud. The mud did me in. I was actually feeling quite well both physically and mentally, considering, until that mud showed up for most of the last 10k. I slipped, slid, and tripped my way down, which consequently led to swearing at the heavens and earth–swearing at the earth for what it unapologetically does; reminds us that it will forever be stronger than us. To be reminded of my own weakness, of all of our weakness, is an important and humbling reminder of nature’s power. There aren’t any mistakes in nature.
Somehow, through all of its harsh environment, or maybe because of it, Romania managed to amaze me with its absolutely stunning scenery. The views were breathtaking and vast. At the top, it was still, quiet, and unpopulated except for the odd trail runner. We ran in the clouds, haunting and sweeping though and onward as quickly as they appeared. The air was pure, crisp, clear, even if it was a bit thin. The infamous Bucegi Mountain roamer was not spotted–bear, wolf, nor Dracula.
I don’t think anyone can exactly answer the big whys of our psychology. Why do we run? Why do we participate in voluntary pain and suffering? Why seek this kind of adventure? Maybe it is human evolution and our primal drive to win that makes us partake in ultra endurance. I’m not entirely sold on that theory. I do think and accept there is a fair bit we don’t understand about the human spirit, or the runners’ spirit in this case, but I can say I got a little closer to understanding my own humanity and capabilities. One thing I can say for certain, my mind and body is restless.
I was prepared to repeat mantras to myself. I even had a few in my mental bank, but I ended up not really needing anything like that. I felt very much present and in the moment. I felt and thought about each step, each pain, each beautiful view. As I was getting closer to finishing, the kilometers felt longer and longer. I can assure you that a kilometer on the trail after running for hours, feels much longer and much more painful than most kilometers. Even through the pain I felt grateful, because as my husband reminded me right before I took off to the start line, if I am in pain, it means I am still alive. I finished with that thought in mind.
50k completed in 11 hours, 52 minutes, 45 seconds.
Connectivity. Perspective. Humility. Gratitude. This is what I gained along one of the
hardest races I have experienced. Connected to nature and all of its give and take. Perspective of what really matters in life. Humility in knowing how simple and vulnerable humans are, and also how there will always be someone stronger than you.
Crossing severe terrain, massive elevation, and seeing unmatched mountainous beauty like this was a once in a lifetime experience and I am grateful that I was able to be part of it.
Check out this cool video by Chrash700 on YouTube (I even make an appearance or two):
And this one by Arie Fishler:
I was not only able to see Bucegi Mountains up close and personal, but I also got to tour around Bran, where the infamous Bran Castle is; Dracula’s home. The night before before the race, we wandered around the small town, buying souvenirs and I tried a fresh pretzel from a local bakery (carb loading!). I sadly did not get the chance to try too many local Romanian dishes, but I would like to go back and complete the experience.
Usually, traveling takes the forefront of a lot of my races, but I just did not have the time to see enough of Romania due to only having the weekend for the race. Considering my race took all of Saturday, that did not leave much time to see much else. However, I did pick up some knowledge on Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula with this castle being assumed as inspiration. Interestingly, Stoker never actually went to Romania. He wrote it from Britain using pictures of the castle to develop the setting. People have drawn comparisons between Vlad the Impaler and Dracula, whom was viewed as blood-thirsty and ruthless. Also, ghost and spirit folklore surround Bran; people that are normal during the day, but go around haunting and torturing others in the town at night. Perfect setting for a vampire tale, right?
In the castle, there were torture chairs, game rooms, stone walls, windows that looked out onto hills, and small winding staircases that seemed to go on forever. One could easily imagine a vampire wanting to reside there for eternity.
The castle was completed in 1388 with the purpose of stopping the Ottoman Empire expansion. Vlad the Impaler passed through Bran in 1459, burning surrounding villages and murdering hundreds of Saxons along the way. This is where he gets the ruthless reputation we all know him for. There were many kings, princes, and wars that passed through history here, where somewhere around the late 1800s, the castle started to fall apart. When Transylvania became part of the Greater Romania, Queen Maria restored it and used it as a residence. It eventually became a museum, and now legally belongs to Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Maria Magdalena and Archduchess Elisabeth.
After all the touring and race prep, we needed to work on our carb loading lunch. We ordered a few pints and just as they arrived, the storm rolled in.
Scott Jurek is one of the best trail runners in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from his down-to-earth recount of his experience on the Appalachian Trail. It is incredibly difficult to write anything in the first person and not come of as an egotistical asshat, especially a really good athlete. There is very little boasting or self-accolades. He manages to be raw, reflective, open, introspective, and honest about his record breaking thru-run.
As soon as I started listening to this book, I knew I was going to relate. He references Chris McCandless’ idealism of leaving society and living off the land, Thoreau’s analysis of society, himself living as far from it as possible, and the “doing without doing” Taoist Wu wei philosophy–being natural, effortlessly being. These are ideas that I look up to, strive to make part of my life, and are major reasons I run.
Jurek writes about the give and take of life and how this can be found in nature. Trails can be brutal and how running trails can make one explore their reasons and strength to keep going. Balance. Life starts to get predictable for him, but also painfully real, so he seeks out a new trail, away from his stomping grounds and the familiarity of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Cascade Mountains, to the Appalachian Trail, to regain his gratitude for life.
Jurek wrote “North” with his wife, Jenny Jurek, which is an interesting approach. The spouse of any runner should definitely get a voice and applause for how much they have to support their racing significant other. When it comes to these huge distances the runner needs a lot of support, both emotionally and logistically. It is interesting to hear her much tougher approach toward Scott, or Jurker, as she calls him. She openly admits she is not as nice as husband. She is the one that tells him to get his ass in gear because she is giving up a lot for him. I respect that she tells him not to approach the Appalachian Trail half-heartily, in stronger language than I used. He must respect her too, because he spent a lot of time throughout the book writing about how much he adores her as a person, friend, and partner. As the reader peering into their lives, I couldn’t help but find their recount of their personal fears and struggles incredibly brave. One criticism I do have is I think she was asked to do too much, staying out in the middle of the woods solo and worrying about weirdos while recovering from a miscarriage.
Throughout the book he focuses on finding and restoring balance in his life. He talks about the give and take of nature and draws comparisons to the struggle of completing this thru-run of 2,189 miles. By the way, he completed it in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. <- Check out the Runner’s World link to see the map and more details. It isn’t a book you are going to find practical running tips and strategies, it assumes the reader already has those, but rather, it focuses on the why of running–the emotional journey and the perspective one can gain from struggle, albeit an elective struggle.
Sometimes I don’t listen to anything, sometimes music or podcasts, but mostly, I listen to audiobooks while I run. I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Running can take up a lot of time, and consequently, my reading time. I decided I couldn’t sacrifice either and combined them.
I find myself listening to a lot of books specifically about running. They are tales of incredible feats of the human body and spirit, and through this, they offer a fair bit of motivation and inspiration.
I hear a lot of runners ask what books other runners are reading, so I compiled a list of 20 running books that I have listened to. I rated them. See if you agree or disagree. You may find your next read or listen.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington
North by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek
My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Poverty Creek Journal by Thomas Gardner
The Long Run by Matt Long
Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes
Trailhead by Lisa Jhung
Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong
Running Man by Charlie Engle
Going Long by various authors
The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly
Eat and Run by Scott Jurek
Meb for Mortals by Meb Keflezighi
Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald
Out There by David Clark
Run! by Dean Karnazes
Natural Born Runners by Christopher McDougall
Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.
Opinions of books are usually quite personal. If you have read any of the books listed, let me know what you think of my ratings in the comments. I am open to discussing any of the books!
Working as a full-time classroom teacher, which is far from an eight-hour day, and being a mother of two young children, also a full-time job, the only time I can fit running into my schedule is in the morning. This takes a fair bit of planning, but once you get used to it, it becomes routine. Once it becomes routine, you won’t try to talk yourself out of it as much. Here are some tips that have helped me get out each morning.
1. Go to bed early
This might seem obvious, but I made this mistake a lot when I first started running in the morning. I would try to stay up as late as I had when my runs were taking place in the afternoon, and it just didn’t work. I would be too tired to get myself out of bed, or if I did manage to get myself out and going, I was terribly exhausted the rest of the day. For me, I have to go to bed by 8:30 or 9:00 pm on work nights, so I can wake up by 5:00 am.
2. Check the weather report
If you don’t already, get a weather app on your phone. Check it before going to bed so you know what to expect for your early morning run. There is nothing like waking up to a downpour you weren’t prepared for to you to make you want to turn around and go back to bed.
3. Set out your clothes
After checking the weather, set out the appropriate clothes the night before. Have them sitting next to your bed and be ready to get dressed. I have heard of some people even sleeping in them, but I cannot imagine sleeping in all that spandex. Not for me.
4. Have everything charged
Make sure your GPS watch and phone are charged for the morning, so you are ready to go without excuses.
5. Set the alarm
This one might seem obvious too, but I would struggle with this. Sometimes I would forget to set it. Now, I have my alarm set so that it automatically goes off Tuesday-Friday for 5 am (Monday is my day off) and I don’t have to set it every night. It is a handy feature and one less thing to think about.
6. Get dressed ASAP
Get dressed as soon as the alarm goes off. Don’t think about it, just get dressed. Once you have gone to all the work of getting dressed, you will feel obligated to run. If you wait, it will definitely lessen the chance of getting out the door.
You should have prepared this the night before so all you need to do is hit a button. The coffee should be in the French press ready to have hot water poured over it. No messing around with the coffee. This is serious. I absolutely must have coffee before I run and won’t jeopardize this by not having it ready to go.
Sitting down, sipping my coffee, catching up on some morning news or reading my book for a minute before I head out helps me wake up a little. I take about 20-30 minutes before running, enjoying my time and knowing I will be energized for my run.
8. Think about how you will feel if you DON’T run
On days when I struggle with running in the morning, I remind myself of what I feel like when I don’t run. I don’t want to feel like that all day and it is usually all the motivation I need. Even if it is raining, snowing, dark, or cold, it is better to run in that and feel good about my day, then to not and feel miserable for the rest of it.
9. Enjoy the quiet
You are getting that time to yourself. Enjoy it. Most of us are surrounded by others all the time and we need that time in our own heads, doing something for ourselves. Take it. Enjoy the peace. There is a lot to be learned in the early hours.
10. Feel like a badass
You will feel like a badass for the rest of the day. Before most people have woken up, you have run (taken on the world), considered important life moments and decisions, taken care of your body, and have enough energy to get your day done right. That makes you a badass.
As you likely know, I am preparing for my first Ultra. I have been gathering my needed gear for months now. What do you think–am I prepared or am I forgetting anything?
1. I am pretty proud of myself that I managed to figure out how to upload the GPX file for my race. Fingers crossed I won’t need to use it, but it will be invaluable if there are any visibility issues related to weather.
2. I picked up a battery charger as backup for my phone and Garmin. Considering how long the race will take, I will need it.
3. They are asking runners to bring their own cup because the race directors are awesome and don’t want to use a bunch of plastic cups. However, I don’t own a collapsible cup and bringing a regular cup would provide awkward in my hydration pack, so I will be doing this little trail running hack I picked up somewhere along the way. Turn a juice pack into a portable, collapsible cup. See below for photo instructions.
Apropos because the Bucegi Mountains have a lot of bears.
4. Compass. Getting lost is a possibility.
5. A whistle built into my hydration pack, also in case of getting lost.
6. Airhorn. For bears.
7. Trekking poles for the steep mountains.
8. Hat, two waterproof jackets (because I can’t decide which one), long-sleeved shirt, short-sleeved shirt, two pairs of gloves, windproof pants, legggings, headlamp, light neck gaiter, and Hoka ATR trail running shoes.
9. Paper map of the course provided by the race directors before the race.
10. Emergency foil blanket.
11. First-aid kit that includes a bandage wrap, alcohol wipes, bandaids, aspirin, safety pins, and a plastic garbage bag (just in case).
12. Food. Lots. Along with electrolytes and magnesium supplements.
15. And my Nathan hydration pack to stuff it all into.
This visual checklist makes it seem much more real. I am getting excited!