Uradni forum za domačo in mednarodno podporo Slovenskemu alpskemu maratonu, ki se dogaja vsako drugo soboto v septembru - official forum support for SAM which is year held on every second Saturday in September

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The Slovenian Alpine Marathon by Dick Vincent

Dober-dan! Hvala! Those are two words that I was to say many times on this day. And each time they would become more meaningful. Dober-dan means " Hello or Good day". Hvala means "Thank you!"

I got the idea to run the Slovenian Alpine Marathon when an email coming from "out of the blue" ended up in the my inbox. Immediately it struck my fancy. I told Liz (Levine) about it and we started thinking about a European trip. Heck, my brother Jack lives in Switzerland. We could arrive there, drive through Austria, into Slovenia, and then come back to Switzerland through Italy. And with a chance to run in the Julian Alps, heck, it just sounded so good.

What, you say? Where is Slovenia? My initial sentiments exactly. Formerly part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia is just to the east of northern Italy, and north and west of Croatia. It is a small country, about 3/4's the size of New Jersey. With a population of 2 million people, the Slovenian's realize that the world is not going to learn their complex language, so thankfully many speak English.

Driving the dark, windy road up from Ljubljana, the capital city 1 ½ hours away, we just missed the 6am bus to the start (from the finish). Liz and I were lucky to find a ride to Predvor, where I would start, with two volunteers that couldn't speak English. At Predvor, Liz would catch the bus to her starting point, Trizec, 15k away. After the wild drive to the buses at the crack- of-dawn, we could now just sit back and await the run. I was even looking forward to the task that laid ahead.

Liz has opted for the 35k race, having never run that far before. I figure that after traveling 6,000 miles to a race, I might as well get as much out of it as I can, so it is 50k for me. Both races start at same time; just that the 50k has 15k of rolling road miles (some dirt), before getting to the town of Trzic. Since she started at the same time of day, I had no false impressions of catching her.

Although this event is the pride of Slovenian distance running, there are only 350 starters from 14 countries, entered in the three races (10k/35k/50k). With just over 100 in the 50k ( only 75 would finish), I slid comfortably into last place. Accompanying me is Kevin Walls of Ireland, who has taken a year off and is biking around Europe. Having divvied up the money from his house after he and his wife divorced (a great "starter marriage" Kevin assured me), he flew to Germany, biked through the Czech Republic, then south through Austria, and arrived for a few easy days before the race. We coast through the first 15k at just over 10 minute pace, enjoying the scenery and awaiting the first challenging climb, the one everyone talks about. And it does not disappoint. Climbing 3,500 feet of elevation in 6 ½ miles is difficult enough, but this tops out over 6,000 feet so altitude plays a roll as well. "Systematic suffocation" I guess you could say.

Kevin and I are well entertained discussing topics from divorce, music, sex, religion and politics, however, the climb up this mountain has quieted us down somewhat. But off in the distance, as we approach the summit of the first climb, we hear a party going on! It is one of the many aid stations, well staffed, and this one has an accordion player cranking out tunes while the others sing along. The refreshments offered are somewhat different from the usual staples at North American Ultras. This one has raisins, some unidentifiable objects, fine Swiss Chocolate, wafers, and an assortment of drinks. A young woman, speaking broken English is insisting I drink something from the long stem glasses. "What is it", I ask. "Schnapps" she says with a sly grin "Drink, it is an aphrodisiac, you know" and then laughs out loud. At this point I have found the mountains to be daunting enough. Adding to that an alcoholic stupor, combined with a a rush of testosterone, is a challenge with more dimensions than I care to imagine, so I sagaciously decline the offer. As Kevin and I cross a fence, then chase a few more cows out of the trail, Kevin speaks again and I smell the fragrance of Schnapps on his breath. "Kevin, you had schnapps!"I said. "After all", he says laughing, " I am Irish"

We ran together through about 30 or 35k, and after my umpteenth emergency "pit stop", Kevin ran on to try to catch some of the runners ahead.. Although the course profile had indicted a hilly mid section to this race, those middle uphill climbs (as Liz would later agree ) were much more difficult and longer than we had concluded from the map. I was told at an aid station "One kilometer to the top". After 35 minutes of very steep climbing, I still hadn't reached the summit! I guess his English wasn't very good.

The last 13 kilometers are mostly a downhill run to the finish. My age old foot problems from over-pronating were flaring up, but otherwise I felt surprisingly well. I guess last place has it's privileges. At every aid station I would enter saying "Dober dan". Any attempt to speak this difficult Slavic language wins the favor of the Slovenian's. Since I was last, the aid station people were keeping track of "The American" with cell phones and walkie talkies. After having a political discussion at one aid station (the locals must have shared my view), I was now being cheerfully and festivally welcomed into every aid station. It didn't matter if some of them couldn't speak English. I could say Dober dan and Hvala, and they could smile and offer tones of encouragement.

With a brilliant sun, a perfect running day, and the incredible peaks of the Julian Alps surrounding me as I descended to Jezersko, it occurred to me that coming in last was the perfect placement for me throughout the day.... The final kilometers were along the flat road into the finishing park, with towering mountains all around. As I would pass a kilometer mark, a smiling young fellow on a motor scooter would pick it up. Prior to the race, I had given Escarpment Trail Hats to the race officials who had been so helpful in answering my emails and putting this event together. As I crossed the finish line, they were there to greet me all wearing their Escarpment Trail Hats. Liz, who had finished the 35 k over an hour faster than she had hoped for, was awaiting me, glowing with pride from having run a fabulous race at her longest distance ever. But this day was not over by a long shot, at least not for the friendly Slovenian volunteers and officials. The accordions were playing and the masses were singing Slovenian folk songs. The beer tent (and I suspect the schnapps wagon) was doing a brisk business. But one thing was for sure. On this fabulous late summers day, in this fabulous country, a fabulous and proud people were celebrating the running and the organizing of a race that was soon to be added to the great tales to be told..

As Liz and I finally drove away in our rental car, we stopped to take a photo of the mountains that we had run up, down, and around, all day long. There was a bit of sadness as the car doors closed and we pulled away from what now seemed like very good friends. Promises to return to this race were exchanged with other promises to come to the Escarpment Trail. Life is an enigma, and whether we will meet again is yet an unanswered question, but one thing was for sure. On this day it was great to be alive, to be part of Slovenia. Hvala Slovenia, many times over...
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The race report of Elisabeth from London. UK


My Husband, friends and I have recently returned from the amazing Slovenian Mountain Region, where we took part in a 35km Mountain Alpine race and I would like to tell you all about, as it was fantastic. So where do I start? There are so many things to tell you about this race they call the “Slovenia Alpine Marathon”. There are three events organised by this local club (that has 2000 members) on the same day a 10, 35 and 50km, all very tough events in their own right. When I went to register the night before Milan who was the rep tasked with looking after international runners informed me that Ron Hill himself had come over a few years before but had only done the 10km, I know he is still an amazing runner, so I was really scared about what I had let myself and fellow club runners/husband into!! Milan reassured me thought that I would be OK and directed me to have a chat with a local runner from Hungry who was a Fell Champion, I thought I was going to die before I even started!!

Anyway we all retreated back to the hotel with our new goodies which mainly consisted on a pair of very funky cotton shorts, which was a new one for us but much appreciated as I wasn’t expected much for my 10 euros entry fee. Oh how I didn’t know how far this could stretch!

The following day we went to our designated collection point and got on the bus to the start point with the rest of the 35km runner, the 50/10km started from this collection point so they didn’t need to come with us. It was a little early for us having to be collected at 6.30am, but we were all excited by this point and very nervous. We didn’t really know what was going on but we followed the crowd and things were good. When we got to the start line, we could clearly see the hills and the humour kicked along with plenty of toilet visits. The five of us, Simon, Steve, Mark, Dave and of course me (Lizzy) all assessed our fellow runners and off course the trainer situation with the local runners. I had been planning what to wear for months prior to this event sourcing our trainers and what would be best, when I find out that some of the runners are just running in ROAD SHOES!!!! I couldn’t believe it ROAD SHOES and the exact same pair I have, I know the race is off road, so I was confident in what I had as I know that it would be like ski-ing for me in road shoes, but all I could think is that they must be so fast.

In amongst the brief conversations about running and where we are from once we have our club vests on, we got a little bit of attention and of course we have the group photo for the club site when we get home. A music system is set up and all of a sudden it sounds like we are in an open air disco in the middle of this mountain village!

We are then told to line up and the count down gone we go and there is a mass of us running through this town (up hill, off course) until we get to the side of the mountain and then we turn off.

This is when we really go up hill, hills like I have never ran before. After about 2ish ( I don’t wear a watch running) hours it breaks off until we go up hill again, but I will come back to this point.

It is crazy there are people running with sticks, yes sticks, when we get to really steep points the stick runners, as I call them start to walk. Well it is called walking but I call it flying on foot as they go past me with such speed and climb the hills like they are running down hill onto flat surface. There is definitely a technique to this kind of running and one I haven’t got. So I continue to run at my pace, Simon, Mark and Dave are all with me at this point. Steve is ahead flying along somewhere in the woods of the Mountain. We are all in amazement at the type/style of running, but are still plodding on and working extremely hard. I was wearing sunglasses, but for the first hour of the race I couldn’t wear them due to the amount I was sweating (delightful!), but it was that hard.

Anyway we got to the first water station and there was loads of food/drinks even snapps with a lovely local playing music and singing, the support was great and it continued throughout, as I ran round this wonderful course, it amazed me how in the middle of nowhere there would be a couple of people with chocolates, bananas and water for all us mad runners. Eventually I lost Dave, Mark and Simon to speed as we spilt up in the race finding our own paces. I later learnt that they all finished at different times and found each other at the end, so at least I wasn’t the only one doing her own thing during the race.

After a while about 15km into the race I got chatting to a cyclist (who was running) called George who was from a local village and thankfully could speak English, we had a little chat for a while but unfortunately I couldn’t maintain his speed.

After I lost George I got into my pace and found that even though I was in the middle of a Mountain and running my little heart out, I was really enjoying it the weather was great, the views where out of this world and meeting a friendly face about every 4km was so encouraging and then on top of that I would bump into a walker who say something great in Slovenia or even sing to me to keep me going. I even had a crazy group of hikers take a photo of me at one point!! Or am I the crazy one? Not quite sure!

I was enjoying the run so much, it was fantastic and I didn’t want the race to end, if only all my off road events could be this good whether training or racing. Every turning point , hill or route gave a different challenge. I desperately tried to take the scenery in around me, taking photos where I could, as a lot of the time I did have to look at the ground, god knows how they ran this route in road shoes, I was glad to have worn off road shoes with excellent grip. I did spend a lot of time looking at the ground making sure I assessed what was coming in front of me so I didn’t fall, I didn’t have to worry at all about finding my way as the markings were hanging off branches/trees/fences all over the place. I did notice though that Slovenian Ants are the largest ants I have ever seen and there are so many of them, fortunately I was going at a good speed and none of them paid any real interest in me.

The peace of running through the mountain with an view of several mountains with just the local cow bells in the distance was just the best! After it levelled out for a bit and at the 20kmish mark, I got talking to an American runner who was living in Eastern Europe, when I got over taken by the lead 50km male runner, I didn’t see him for long after he over took me as just seemed to bounce past me without being out of breath as if he was just out for a little Sunday training jaunt. The speed he was going took my breath away, never mind his!

After a bit more climbing I got to another water station where I was told that I was at the highest point (1700m above sea level) and only 13km to go. I was pleased that I was near to the end, but disappointed that it was going to finish, so off I continued but this time down hill, which was a shock to my system after all that up all. At first it was a battle with myself, then it became a battle with the surroundings. As steep as I’d started up hill, the down hill was the same and I ran like, constantly fearing an injury. The gravel, rocks and branches on the ground below me caused me to be very careful. As I ran down, the second male for the 50km didn’t share my cautiousness as he over took me and bounced down the mountain in his ROAD SHOES!! Yes another one in road shoes but obviously he knew what he was doing. Thankfully this terrain only lasted a few km and it petered out to something more comfortable and still down hill, I managed to catch up with George and the American who had over taken me earlier only to over take them and once I knew I only had 5km to go, off I flew. I really busted my gut to get to that finish line. By now I was pretty much at the bottom of the mountain and the ground beneath me was a lot more comfortable under my foot, so I pletted home to that finish line with the mountains around me. In amongst this beautiful valley was my finish line and I was going to get to it over taking as many people as I could along the way. I managed about 6 people and I think at least two of them had sticks so I was feeling pretty strong and good that I managed to beat two of the “stick runners!”.

As I got to the last 1km, I caught up with a German runner who had over taken me up a hill, I tried to get him to stay with me but he told me in broken English he couldn’t, so off I went passing two marshals sending me in the direction of the finish line. As I approached it, people stopped talking to see “me” the next runner coming in an cheered as I made a feeble attempt to sprint through the finish line. I crossed the line and they called my name “ ELIZABETH BONELL FOR GREAT BRITAIN” and I felt on top of the world as I greeted my husband and friends knackered but happy that I had finished my first Mountain Marathon in 4 hours 44 min. I was stunned, as I thought that originally it would have taken me 6-7 hours to finish this event. Milan came over and congratulated me and things were good. I grabbed a hand full of raisins and got myself a drink, WOW what a race. There was a buzz between us all and everyone was happy with their times, Dave, Steve, Simon Mark, and me all came in this order, each with our own tales of adventures of our race. There weren’t many British runners, but a couple of Hertfordshire came in about this time and smiling ear to ear as they crossed the line. We then went to get our pasta and beer that came with our entry fee and the good feelings continued for the remainder of the afternoon. Another British runner came in Margaret, who finished in about 5ish hours, said hello to her and wished her well. She was pleased with her self (rightly so) and said she loved it. After Mark rubbed every ones legs down we chilled out with more beer at a local bar by the finish line, when Milan came running over to me, Lizzy they are calling your name, your name. Off I ran and found I had won a prize in my age group, third place. I ran onto the 3rd box, falling off, causing the crowd to gasp together and off course out loud, nearly taking the presentation display boards behind me to the ground with me. Fortunately neither they or me fell to the floor and I managed to compose myself in order to received my medal only to be greeted by a comment from my husband “ You came in last out of all of us and got a medal I don’t believe it!” I laughed at him and told him “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” and also reminded him that there were only 5 women in my age category and the 2nd lady was a local who had ran with sticks.. We then discovered some photos of the race that had been taken of us along the way for a mere euro each, so we quickly found ourselves and bought the ones we like. The main topic of conversation was from then on the value of the race, as we just couldn’t believe how much we got for out 10 euros and far the sponsorship money went. I may have mentioned it once or twice before, but the organisation was amazing and the assistance for foreign runners was outstanding. Milan you are amazing and I thank you for this. After picking up our certificates, which were printed out at the finish line, we then all got ourselves a lift back to the village where we had been collected all those hours ago in the early morning by mini-bus which was included in the entry. We met a fellow runner in the min-bus and had a good chat to him on the way home, which was about half an hour, he told us all about the running club and the race. He couldn’t believe our amazement at the value for money, expecting that we should get more for our money, but he was a very happy soul but then so would I if I had these mountains to run on every weekend for my training to take my work/life stresses away.

This was one of the best races I have ever done for all sorts of reasons but mainly scenery, organisation and value for money. If you can do it then do and perhaps I’ll see you next year with some more Larkfield AC runners.