At the end of a two-week flurry, I ran a race. It wasn’t a long race. I ran it just as a part of my training, and I didn’t really race it. But it was my first time running in an organized event on Euro trails, and right under the Triglav peaks at that. And let me just say; where American race directors always pause and ask if, perhaps, the trail is too technical, European RD’s seem to just say, “meh, they’ll be alright.” And you know? They’re not wrong.
For the whole week coming up to the race, the weather app kept changing its mind about whether it was going to be sunny or so rainy the river would wash us all out of the valley. I spent that week mostly in and around Ajdovščina with my sister, hiking, running, taking cold dips in Hubelj, and drinking. Vipava Valley has some great wine and neither of us was going to miss that part of the trip, although I as a driver and, generally, a person not too fond of alcohol, took it easy.
We moved north, the race day came, and Mojstrana, a town where the race was starting, bathed in sunshine. The gun went off and so did we; onto a single track that would snake along and through the river we would mostly follow. Rain was forecasted for later that night; it was going to be a gorgeous run under blue skies.
Well, that lasted for maybe the first mile. Then the clouds rolled in and started dumping rain on the valley and everyone in it. At first, it was quite enjoyable; the rain was light and offered a welcome cool-down. When, after the first 10 kilometers, the route climbed up above the tree line, the raindrops pelted my skin while Triglav decided to finally make an appearance on the background of the furious but retreating sky.
Getting to the top was brutal. My crawling pace reached a new low; it wasn’t that bad even in the midst of my hallucination-ridden delirium, during Cool Moon. Most of the time, I couldn’t even see the mountain pass towards which we were hidden and when I could, I didn’t want to look at it, anyway.
The stable, boulder-like rocks I went up turned into scree shortly after I met another Czech who was just on his way back from a week-long trip along the Julian Alp’s crest. A few times, the trail wasn’t obvious—wasn’t even there. Only the occasional red bulls-eye mark and the GPX route uploaded to my phone ensured me that I was on the right ‘path,’ and my phone stopped working in the rain soon, anyway.
I DFL’d getting to the top. Which means I got there “dead fucking last.” And I would stay DFL had it not been for the fact that a few people got lost—and that there was a very technical downhill awaiting us. I met up with the few lost runners just below the top of the climb and if it wasn’t for the downhill, everybody would leave me in the dust once again. Instead, I was the one who pulled ahead. Even though my legs were shot from the climb, they welcomed the roots and rocks as old friends.
I reached the aid station I had left about two hours earlier. The volunteers there welcomed me with good food and fresh coffee which, unfortunately, wasn’t for me but smelled absolutely fantastic nonetheless. We chatted for a bit and laughed.
“Are you Czech?” one of the volunteers asked in Slovene.
“Yeah, I am!”
“Ah, Kozel, Pilsner,…” the volunteer started to name Czech beer.
“Yeah, and Bernard,…”
“You Czechs come here to Slovenia and when you try Laško, you call it mineral water!”
I ate some more food, washed some mud from my face (“You can’t finish with mud on your face!” said one of the volunteers), and gave goodbye to everyone at the aid station, wishing we could become friends. Then it was only a bit more than 10 kilometers back to Mojstrana and the finish line. It was 10 kilometers on hammered legs tho; what felt easy on the way there was a total meat grinder for my muscles on the way back.
I caught up to another runner a exchanged a few encouraging words with him, then another runner who had already finished helped me find my way to the right bridge that I was supposed to cross. My muddy legs struggled up a few last stairs and then there it was: the finish line and my sister, waiting for me to run under yet another blow-up arch. And as always, it was beautiful.
Racing on European trails was sure something new. I fell and I fell in love—with Slovenia and its running community, with the people at the aid station and the finish, with my legs, my beautiful, scarred, taped-up, hurting legs. Because thanks to all these people and things I was allowed, once again, to be happy.