What is it that makes your heart beat fast, your mind wander and your feet dance nervously?
What is it that brings hundreds of runners each year at the start of Marathon 7500, for the last 10 years?
It’s probably a mix between the beauty of Bucegi mountains, the difficulty of the team races, and the people that write the story. And especially about that one person that you team up with.
For me, this year was the second time running in Marathon 7500, in the 45k race with 3200m positive elevation, and the only team trail marathon in Romania.
Two years ago, when I first ran it, this was called the Hobby race, while the other one, the 90K with 7500m positive elevation was the Elite race. Now it’s easier. It’s just Marathon 3200. And there are also two new races – Marathon 1600 (going to Omu once) and Marathon 8500 (going to Omu four times).
The profile is quite tough. The race starts at Salvamont Pestera and climbs to Omu Peak twice (Omu 1 and Omu 2), on two different routes – Valea Ialomitei and Bucsoiu. To the moment, with this distance and elevation, it’s probably the most difficult marathon in Romania.
Two years ago my team mate and I ran it just to see what it’s like, and last year I wanted to do it again. However, I was injured and even though I hoped I could run with Andrei until the very last minute, I couldn’t.
We decided to come back this year and thankfully, nothing stopped us this time. Although we didn’t have time to prepare the race very well, things went smooth and we won the mixed teams category with a time of 6h 57”, being also the 4th team overall to pass the finish line, with less than one minute away from the 3rd team.
I was almost scared and sick of Marathon 3200 even before starting it.
Just three weeks earlier, Lavaredo Cortina Trail had left me with a bitter taste and very little trust in my strength. The memories of the painful finish I had there made me hate the idea of potentially going through it again.
Deep inside I didn’t think we could win Marathon 3200, but it didn’t even matter that much. I had been waiting to team up with Andrei and run this race for a year, so I would have done it no matter what. A year that for me has been full of injuries and for him, full of difficult competitions.
I wasn’t feeling very competitive, yet our planning included using a harness (Andrei pulling me with it) and leaving pre filled flasks at Omu. That’s pretty competitive behaviour in anyone’s book. Or just trying to make our lives as easy as we could, so that we could enjoy the race more.
“You know what? I’m afraid there will be a moment in the race when I might like the view so much that I’ll ask you to stop there for a while and forget about competing”, I warned Andrei.
The plan was to give our best and do a good race, as good as we can do it, even if that meant being the 100th team at the finish line. I wouldn’t have minded being the last ones if I knew we gave everything we had.
I had taken a look at the other teams on the list but I didn’t know many of them, except for one team of friends that I knew were very strong. Having someone to make you push makes everything much more interesting and I was excited about that.
Push and pull
In the morning, I felt the least nervous I had ever been before a race. It was actually worrying me: shouldn’t I be in fight mode?
I hadn’t slept much, I didn’t know what to wear and there were rumours about the compulsory equipment being changed last minute.
The air was fresh, not too cold, just perfect for running. I ran the entire race in a t-shirt, without using my jacket for a second, not even at Omu Peak, where it was colder and quite foggy.
Our race strategy was to go relaxed on the first climb to Omu and first descent, until Gura Diham, and start pushing more from Prepeleac.
On the first climb to Omu, Andrei kept telling me: “It’s too fast”. But I was feeling fine, my heart rate was high but not nearly as high as I had it in the start of Lavaredo, for example.
Then, on the descent and again on the climb from Gura Diham, we ran a while with Mihaela and Adi, the other very strong team in the race. We were all taking it easy, making jokes, but when I saw how well Mihaela was going uphill from Diham, I realized the joke was on me.
However, at Poiana Izvoarelor we overpassed them and stayed ahead the rest of the race. That wasn’t really according to plan, because Andrei didn’t like leading until the second half of the race so we were kind of expecting a moment when we’d hit the wall.
We had the harness on and off, depending on the terrain. On very steep climbs, on downhills and on zig zags we couldn’t use it, and on some parts I didn’t want to use it because I felt I was better without it.
We didn’t know if the organizers would keep the initial route, meaning keeping the climb to Omu 2 via Bucsoiu, or rerouting it via Malaiesti as they do in some years in case of bad weather. But the weather was good and I had the “pleasure” of climbing Bucsoiu using my hands. Every girl’s dream. Not.
I did a very good climb on that segment, even without the harness. I was feeling fine and I was motivated to get it over with. But my sense of space wasn’t working that well. I couldn’t estimate distances anymore.
“Is that tough segment far from here?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s super far”.
Then, descending from Poiana Gutanu, I couldn’t believe how slow I was. I felt low battery, like I wasn’t in a race anymore, and I had a hiking pace. There we met some other runners from other races, and I found it a bit difficult to make my way around them.
We passed by some places where we’d been either running together or I remembered passing by there with my team mate from two years ago, and nostalgia kicked in. I was so happy to be right there and then, pain free. Well, relatively.
“Oh, I remember Alex and I had water from this spring two years ago. Actually I think we had a small picnic here, hehe”.
“Smile! Let me take you a photo here, a remake of the one you have from 2016”.
Yes, he was taking photos. Next level badass multitasking.
I was pretty slow on all downhills. Mostly because I was trying to keep the ankle safe, and because I was feeling tired, but I also stopped to greet people and to use the toilet in the bushes. The good part about doing a team race with your partner is that you’re not embarrassed to call a toilet break when you need it.
Key facts about Marathon 7500
What’s the deal with the harness? Well, the secret is to keep pulling lightly but constantly. It definitely helped, and not just physically, but mentally too: it took some effort off me (although it didn’t seem much in those moments but it adds up), and it also made me keep a steady pace. I was trying to keep a constant pace and avoid getting left behind.
From this point of view, we definitely had an advantage over the other teams and I’m not sure things would have been the same without the harness. Maybe we could have won, but with a smaller difference and definitely by pushing more.
But that’s also what a team race means. To quote a Dutch proverb, “shared pain is half pain”.
My favourite picture
The most difficult segment: It must have been the way to Saua Strunga, an otherwise beautiful part, where you can run and enjoy the amazing sights. Unless you’ve already been running for 30km and climbing to 2500m twice.
It seemed endless, and I felt that the more I ran towards it, the farther it looked. It was a mental test in a moment when I was already tired because I was close to my usual long running distance.
The most beautiful part: Was when we were getting closer to Omu 2 and, besides the beautiful sights, we saw wild goats in the middle of the path.
The worst part: Was towards the finish, on the last kilometer, when we were already on the asphalt, it was getting hot and we had to do slaloms through the tourists visiting the area. They were pretty shocked to see some crazy people running around. I wanted it to be over, I was thirsty, and that’s when I heard Andrei saying “6.45 and about one km left…do you think we can finish in less that 7h?”. My answer was “&^$#^, don’t make me sprint now, please”. But we did.
The funniest moment: at Prepeleac, we had been talking about how we didn’t hear the song that is practically the race soundtrack, because we hadn’t sleep in the camping, where they played it every year, first thing in the morning. One minute later, we hear the volunteers at Prepeleac blasting that very same song. And we even danced for a while.
My low moment: Going back down from Omu 2, my stomach was sending me some warning signals. I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted and I was worried I’d have problems, but thankfully I didn’t.
Andrei’s low moment: We were climbing Bucsoiu to get to Omu 2 in a very good pace. At one point, I was in front and I look at him behind me – he was pale, seemed like he didn’t have any energy left and he was trying to chew on a bar. It only lasted for 2-3 minutes, probably until the sugar kicked in.
What I did right: I forced myself to eat even when I didn’t feel like eating at all and even when it took me 5 minutes to chew half a bar.
What I did wrong: I left my water flask at Omu 1 and had a few moments in the race when I would have given anything for some water.
What we did right as a team: We negotiated almost everything and discussed about what we wanted, from how long we spent in the refreshment points (“just 2 min more, pleaseeee”) to taking or not taking shortcuts (longer and easier way vs shorter but more dangerous for the ankles).
What we did wrong as a team: I don’t think we did anything very wrong, but I should have trusted my guts instead of Andrei’s estimations and carried just a bit more water. We were quite adaptive with everything as the context asked for it, and understanding with each other.
What surprised me: the better than expected pace I had on Bucsoiu, the very small difference between us and the 3rd place in open, the jungle segment that seemed shorter than I expected, and of course, the fact that we didn’t piss each other off at all.
What surprised Andrei: nothing 🙂 I anticipated everything. (n.C. – it’s true, he even warned me about having a low moment on Bucsoiu, but I didn’t believe he would be tired)
What I ate: cereals for breakfast, then a pre workout drink from Gold Nutrition. During the race I had 4 gels (one of them with caffeine) and 3 bars (Salty Endurance bar and a Paleo Bar from Gold Nutrition, and Raw Bite with Protein). I also had a pill of magnesium to prevent cramps.
In the refreshment points I had cheese, tomatoes, lots of lemon, table salt, raisins and a sandwich with avocado and cheese that we had in the drop bag at Omu 2. We also had Isotonic drink from Gold Nutrition and shared a lemonade. Next time I want coconut water and fruit smoothie. With ice and a tiny rainbow umbrella, if possible.
Overall I had a sense of confidence during the race, because I knew Andrei has much more experience than I do and he knows Bucegi Mountains like the back of his hand.
We met a few friends on the route, cheering for us, and it mattered a lot. It really takes your mind off the effort.
We had the priceless help of a friend who offered us a place to sleep in her room while she was in the ultra race and of another friend who carried our food up to Omu Peak, and two other runners gave us a ride from Brasov. We hope to return the favours soon.
Another reason why I like this event is that there were many friends and running buddies there. We shared our stories at the finish line, eating watermelon with our dirty hands, shoeless, tired, and sweaty. Promising we’d be back.
Also, you can tell there’s a lot of work being put in by the CPNT volunteers, who struggle to help more and better every year, so that we can enjoy the race.
Will I come back?
Probably yes. I’m not yet sure to which race, but if there’s one thing I learned it’s how much it matters to have a good team, with someone you trust, who can motivate you. Not underestimating the importance of just having a good day overall, feeling well, and enjoying your time on the mountain.
And what I know for sure is that days like these make lifelong memories, the kind I wish we all created more often.
In the end, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed one way or another to this – Andrei for teaming up with me instead of choosing a stronger partner and a longer race, Datacor Running Team, Gold Nutrition, RawBite, CPNT team, and the friends who were there for us with last minute logistic help, moral support, and killer trainings in the weeks previous to the race. 🙂