My previous experience running Skakavac Trail is in contrast to this year. Last year, there was a blizzard on the morning of race day in what was an unfamiliar country and terrain, along with my first experience with winter in seven years. I had just arrived from Thailand. To the mountains. In the snow. In Europe. No beaches or 100 degree weather, which is a different kind of combat. It was rough. The markings were either blown away or covered in snow, and again, I did not know these mountains well enough to navigate. My phone had 3% left when I called my husband to tell him I was lost. Search and rescue was getting ready to look for me when I found the next aid station myself. When the trail lost elevation, the snow had melted, leaving behind runoff that resulted in a muddy, slippery, steep mountain to get down.
It did make me feel a little better to hear that local Bosnians also got terribly lost–that it wasn’t just a confused foreigner in a strange land, but in fact the extreme, unexpected conditions.
I finished in 7.5 hours.
I don’t have any pictures of the actual snow storm portion, nor did I bother to take pictures while sliding down the muddy hillside, for obvious reasons. There were a few clear moments where I could stop to catch my breath and capture some of the beauty.
How it went better this year:
In the months since we first arrived, we have hiked many of the popular trails around Sarajevo. Geographically, I was able to figure out where I was nearly the entire race. They provided a GPX file this year, which made me feel better prepared. I carried a backup charger in case my phone battery died due to the cold. Luckily, the weather was not nearly as severe. They moved the race up two weeks to mitigate surprise snow storms. However, there had been snow in the mountains just a few days prior to the race, so really, the mountains are simply unpredictable here. The organizers made huge improvements with the markings by using wooden signs that were hammered into the ground, making the trail much easier to follow.
Logistically, it was a bit more difficult this year. My husband left on an overnight trip with the secondary students, so I organized our babysitter to take care of the kids. Then, a friend drove me up the mountain to the start. While I ran the race, my husband returned from his trip, so he was able to meet me at the finish. I texted him selfies (see below) as the run progressed.
All’s well that ends well.
Progression of selfies
People have asked me how I felt after I finished or what was the best part. My son bombarding me with a hug and “MOOOOooom!!!” You did it!!!” was without a doubt, the best part. This is me seeing his face and incoming hug.
I was shattered and rebuilt in the 5 hours, 17 minutes it took me to finish.
Which is the reason why I run.
The only races that disappoint me are ones where I didn’t cross the finish line a little better than when I started.
It is an unforgiving, brutal, and beautiful course. See you in 2019 Skakavac Trail.
Sunday: I absolutely love running out here at Vrelo Bosna. It is beautiful no matter the season. Today it was foggy and damp, making it look like the fall in August. There are always lots of runners making their way on the paths. It is a bit of a drive so we make a morning out of it. The kids run and bike while I get my run in, then we have coffee, pizza, and pasta post run for a family brunch.
Monday: I am back to making Monday my day off. I know most people say if you miss Monday, your running week is shot, but it works for me. With it being the first day of the school work week, I always like to sleep in a little after getting that luxury over the weekend.
Tuesday: Two runs today. My normal morning run and the first practice for the cross country team. They did awesome! 4.5km. We even did hills and they rocked it.
Wednesday: Early at it this morning. I am still getting used to this. It always wakes me up to get my morning run done though.
Thursday: I am sort of failing on the photo front, but it was a beautiful, foggy morning. Fall is starting. Effort wise–I think I need to start doing some speed work to get ready for a few races coming up.
Friday: I was getting a little bored of my usual running spots, so I went around some new streets today. Hopefully this weekend I can get work on my pace. I have five races coming up soon!
Saturday: Croatia consistently impressed me. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen. Old ruins, mountains that bump up against the Mediterranean Sea, and trails for days. That last 1.5 km up to our place offered plenty of challenge for my hill work I have been needing.
Maintaining my running schedule and returning to work, like:
But, I am doing it and that counts for something.
Sunday: And just like that, we are back in Sarajevo. It feels good to be back and running!
Monday: I slept exactly zero hours last night but got myself out running, busted out and broke in a new pair of Hokas, and watched the sunrise over the bridge Franz Ferdinand was on when he was assassinated.
Tuesday: Finally got some sleep so that helped me make through the run.
Wednesday: I woke up by dragging myself out of bed. I am still fighting jet lag with the added challenge of rising early for a run and then work. Got it done though! Heck yes.
Thursday: It was the first day of school with the kids today so I needed a little extra sleep. That means rest day in terms of running.
Friday: Early wake ups to catch the sunrise and get my run in before work.
Saturday: It’s the weekend! That means I got to sleep in, drink coffee and read for as long as I wanted, and read to my son. Then I was a powerhouse up the some serious hills. I earned lunch in Old Town and the chocolate chip cookies I just made for family and friends.
Nestled on Trebević mountain, winds an abandoned bobsleigh track built for the 1984 Winter Olympics. It has since been left to let nature and war reclaim it. It now shows its age and disrepair through graffiti, moss growth on the siding, bullet holes, and the crumbling concrete.
Our hike down from the cable cars. They are happy camperswhen they get to run free.
It is not far from the city center of Sarajevo and to get to it you can either hike up the steep hills that surround the city, take a taxi, or enjoy going up the newly rebuilt cable cars and hiking back down. People often stop to check out the track when they are out exploring the paved paths through the mountain.
It was cool to walk the track. This is B’s version of kick the can–kick the pine cone.
After the Olympics, they continued to use the track during World Cup competitions. Unfortunately, its use came to an end during the Siege of Sarajevo. It is hard to imagine that during the 90’s the curving lanes were used for strategic artillery positions by Serb forces.
The loneliness of an abandoned bobsled track that has seen its glory days and has seen the ugly days of war, is a strange juxtaposition. The dark days that it has seen may be lifting. I have heard tales of reconstruction, but I did not see any evidence of that today. Time will tell.
“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”
Our first year is coming to a close in Sarajevo. We will be back for another, but I thought it warranted reflection after having some time to take in our new home.
The year was full of celebrations, festivals and activities at our school, exploring new restaurants and foods, seeing ancient castles, fun runs, long runs, learning about Balkan history through people, books, and museums, experiencing a new culture, making new and interesting friends, and encountering ample travel opportunity. To keep it real, the year also brought some of my most stressful times. I had my first panic attacks. It is hard to move to a new place, figure out a new job, figure out where things are, learn how the country ticks, always be emerged in an unfamiliar language–all of that with two little people that take priority and need their well-being taken of, along with some normalcy. There are certainly trade-offs living overseas, but they are well worth it to us. I think we came out the other side stronger and more capable, so I am going to focus on the positives and be grateful for all that we have and get to do. We live in a strong and vibrant international community, have excellent teaching jobs and consequently, an excellent school for B, and get to travel the world.
Seasons are really how I experienced Sarajevo. After the endless summer that is Thailand, the changing seasons helped mark the time. I am going to break our experience into fall, winter, and spring.
This is my absolute favorite time of the year. It was the first time we had experienced cooler temperatures in years, and we soaked it in. Sarajevo is a city packed with trees and foliage, which naturally is striking in the fall. The changing colors made me fall in love with this city.
We were introduced to much of Bosnia in this first season. I’ll start with the food–it is mostly meat, cheese, and bread. Ćevapi is the main dish, which is pita bread and a type of sausage. There is burek, a flaky pastry with meat, cheese, or spinach inside. There are large meat platters that are popular. They have klepe and dolma. But, some of my favorites things are the Bosnian coffee and the baklava, preferably served together. Also, the wine and beer have been a pleasant improvement from previous places we lived. I should also mention that it is all really affordable. It is far cheaper than surrounding countries in Eastern Europe. One can buy a meal of burek for 3 km, or about a $1.70 usd.
I have observed that Bosnians seem to have found a good balance between being extremely friendly and strong-minded. Sarajevo is a small city with a population of about 275,000 and I think that adds to the small-town vibe where you see people stopped in the middle of the road, talking with their windows rolled down. You see people constantly running into people they know. I have had strangers help me, whether it was giving me their gloves in an unexpected snowstorm, or seeing if I needed help after twisting my ankle on a run. People generally seem to look out for each other more here.
Bosnians are predominately Muslim. One can hear the call to prayer five times a day here. It is currently Ramadan now, where most people are fasting for a month (they are able to eat and drink water before sunrise and after sunset). I think most would describe them as more liberal Muslims. There are few countries in Europe that are Muslim, so they are in a unique place.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina went through the longest siege in modern warfare during 1992-1995. The horrendous Siege of Sarajevo killed nearly 14,000. They are certainly still recovering from this.
Arriving to lush green space, great European coffee (albeit small), and our creatively decorated school.
Finding new running spaces.
Landmines are a legit concern here. During the Siege of Sarajevo, landmines were placed all over the mountains and there is little chance of them all being cleared, ever.
I learned you have to stay on the path, pay attention to landmine warning signs, and know that they move with the seasons.
Fun run with the kids. NGO Marathon Sarajevo is a great running group that organizes lots of cool races in the city.
Birthday celebrations with new friends. Luckily, B made quick friendships with his classmates, as his birthday happened not long after arriving.
Sarajevo is famously known as a foggy city.
Castles, archery practice, and fall colors. This is at Vranduk Castle near the town of Zenica, about 45 minutes from Sarajevo.
Fall Festival costumes and Halloween cookies. Baking in the fall is the best.
If you know our family at all, you know we love Halloween. And by we, I mean me.
A brisk hike with the family to the beautiful Skakavac Waterfalls before winter arrives. I was so proud of B that he made the whole 12 km hike.
Warming up with tea time after playing outside.
Cheers to beer sampling and friends.
Winter started off strong. We had a busy and productive first semester at our school, Lady H saw her first snowfall, and B reveled in snow forts and snowball fights. The house was cozy–there was baking, hot tea, wine, spices, and lots of good food. We snuggled under blankets and stayed inside more than we usually do. That meant movies, popcorn, museums, and having friends over to share in the holiday season. We did manage to defy the icy roads and dark days by getting out into the mountains for some snowy hikes and to escape the pollution that hangs over the city in winter. We traveled over our three week break. Everything is so close so we drove to Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia in that time. Around February I decided I had had enough of winter and it really started to get to get into my head. It seemed longer than I remembered from my Kazakhstan and Idaho winters, but maybe it wasn’t. Running in snow, ice, and pollution eventually got to me, too. At first it seemed novel and exciting, then it felt tedious and frustrating. Let’s just say, I was beyond thankful when temperatures slowly started to increase and the days started to get longer. My body soaked in every extra drop of Vitamin D until I felt normal again.
Lady H turned two this year! She loves Elmo, her brother, her new friends and nanny, and cake. She was happy little girl to have all of this in one place.
The night of the Christmas performance.
The staff Christmas party and the Goldfish Bar with new friends.
The Gaines’ crew still gets outside, even in winter. Some are happier about it than others. I won’t name names.
We got to celebrate Christmas at home before heading out on our European vacation. Santa brought presents and sparklers.
I don’t think I have ever felt more grateful for any other spring in the histories of springs. Hyperbole? No. Winter was rough, spring has been gorgeous. Everything is so green and the sun is blazing. Bosnians are emerging from their homes, the city seems alive and active, shops have reopened that were closed through winter, and the pollution has lifted. We have gotten outside every single opportunity possible.
Enjoying the sun on a hike above Hotel Cavljak. There is a cool little tea shop at the top that we always stop at to enjoy the view.
Beautiful, warm spring morning runs. The first picture is known as the Latin Bridge. This is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg were assassinated, starting World War One.
Vrelo Bosne in the spring–she’s a knockout.
B doing his 5k. We had a nice post run meal at Vucko, our favorite restaurant in Sarajevo.
I’m a lucky lady to have these people as my tribe. The spoiled me for Mother’s Day by taking me to Four Rooms.
And again, they spoiled me for my birthday. Mr. G made me a strawberry birthday cake and we went to another favorite restaurant, Blind Tiger.
A solo run and then hike with the family around Trebević mountain.
I would highly recommend traveling to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think most would consider it is a little known place, but there is so much see and do here. We are looking forward to seeing new places next year, like Lukomir, Kravica Waterfalls, Štrbački Buk, seeing more of Jahorina, going to the National Theatre, maybe find a vineyard to visit, check out Tito’s bunker, do some Visočica hiking, possibly see Srebrenica if we can handle the heartbreaking recent history there, and Počitelj (an old Medieval castle and town outside of Mostar), and possibly check out Jajce (the old capital in the 14th century when it was the Kingdom of Bosnia. Cool factor–it has catacombs). There is so much to see and do, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. It takes time to become familiar with a new country and I would say we are still sussing out how it all works here. We are really happy we made the leap and decided to explore a new land, even if it did mean we lost sight of the familiarity from our previous homes.
I signed up for this one because although I have done a few marathons, only my first two were flat. The last race I did without big elevation gains were a few years ago in the Thailand heat. Between more years of experience running and not being in such a hot and humid environment, I would like to shoot for a PR. We’ll see…
It is a ‘Christmas in July’ theme, so that should be fun. I will need to brush off my red and green compression socks and maybe find some candy canes instead of gels. I don’t know. I don’t Christmas well.
This is a tough race. I also did this one last year and it was nuts. I got lost (I will actually blog about this in the future) during a full-on blizzard. They moved it up a couple of weeks into September instead of October this year for weather reasons, I assume. It is in an absolutely gorgeous area–the mountains of Sarajevo and Vogosca. The after party looked really fun, but I was too out of it last year to fully enjoy it. Here’s to hoping this year I can enjoy the band, food, and drinks after the race a bit more.
Croatia is one of my favorite countries and this race follows the Dalmatian Coastline, so what wouldn’t be to love? It also lands over our school holiday, so I could enjoy it more without feeling too rushed to get back.
We will be making this one into a mini-holiday as it is over a regular weekend. Luckily, it isn’t too far of a drive—four hours or so. It is in a little town we have yet to explore, so this will be our chance to see a new area. It looks like a fairly low-key race, which I love. I am not a huge fan of overpopulated races. I am looking forward to this one!
What are you signed up for? Share in the comments!
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. 😆