#171: Lucky Trail Trakošćan – Third Time is the Charm for the Runners’ Woodstock

I have the feeling that so many lines were written about the Lucky Trail Trakošćan race that it would be pretty hard to write something special, but not to write anything would be almost insulting. My dear American friends, Elise and Andy showed tremendous interest for this race last year, and since they are into the sports big time, it seemed that I have phenomenal team. Rightfully so since both of them are focused and determent when it comes to sports. Actually, I am the intruder. But as it often happens, they got me thinking about the fast race. Why not. Andy tells me that this reminds him to the Rangar Race in which they both participated, while I am responding that Zvonimir Mikašek was inspired by the same race when he initiated the idea, after participating in one himself.

Location: Trakošćan. Lake Trakošćan. The hills around the Castle and Hotel Trakošćan. Meadow with the view of the castle. Can it get any better? I can tell you with certainty that there are many beautiful locations in Croatia. No doubt about that. But if there is a special place that unites culture, history, nature, architecture and recreation, then Trakošćan definitely is on. Seems like no-brainer.

I always run alone. For myself. Yes, I’m part of the Freud’s Runners group and it feels me with joy to be a part of something so positive and motivating, and at the same time that affiliation is pretty relaxed that it doesn’t impose any “musts” at all. But so far couldn’t find a way to make running something team-alike. To give your best for your team-mates. When you think it’s hard you tell yourself: “Well, we won’t blow this because of me!“. I know that the essence of this race is not competition but community, but that competitive spirit awoke even in me and it was visible during the race. Unfortunately, our small team had a minor problem in the week before the race. Elise got injured and was grounded on the bench by doctor’s orders. All we needed to find was someone who wanted to run fast. From the beginning, I wanted this to be a mixed team. Enough of that chauvinism! Women rule! And so we asked Branka to join us. Branka made me run my fastest LoveRun race breathing down my neck until the finish line and I knew she would be the best pick. She runs faster than me. I mean, it’s not so hard to outrun me, but I’m not that bad. I have a team where everyone runs faster than me so not sure that anything can be more motivating than that? Pretty easy, righ? Branka was happy and cheerful because she had to give up the race last year and now she got the chance. Andy … he can make a competition out of anything and he likes it, but he’s super relaxed. A dream team.

The day before the race, I put everything in Thule roof box… a tent, blankets, we prepared a refrigerator with food (thanks to Jasmin and Rajna for the pulled pork), water, nuts, Filip’s granola, fruits … well, no screwing around. This $h1t’s for real! We drove to Trakošćan, where Andy was already waiting for us with the bibs packages picked up. We sit at a table next to a masked dude trying to be at peace in the midst of this racing madness. I ask if I can borrow a chair from his table, when suddenly it’s the kind Dr. Natko Beck replying: yes, sure thing. Interestingly, our later location next to the stage was also marked by his presence. The man liked us so much from the beginning that he just couldn’t move away from us. I’m kidding, of course. His wife worked as a event host, and we were stationed behind the main event tent next to the stage to stay behind the hi-in-volume speakers (kiddo’s request, what can I say). I was truly into putting up the tent, but everyone looked at me puzzled what am I mumbling about. Everyone except Andy who just said: Sure buddy, why not? I think you should do it! Of course, from there on I didn’t hesitate a bit. But if it weren’t for Tatjana Škrlec and her friend, your favorite blogger would still be figuring out how to put it together. I take a bow to you ladies. I thought there more in me. Hats down. Basically, by the time my team arrived, we’ve already set up a tent, blankets, I was bringing the fridge and all our stuff. I turn around and realize that I’m not exactly the only one with such a well thought out plan. After all, rain was threatening the whole time, if nothing else on a various online forecasts but with the weather changing every now and then that tent becomes both a base and a bunker and an umbrella.

Many known faces at the race. Many of them wanted to race badly, but the courtesy dictated for me to say hello to my friend, podcast partner, this event’s organizer, Zvonimir Mikašek. And also to my dear Nina and her girls that were race ready wearing all the living colors for this gathering. I was also hoping to see my dear buddy Simke, Sinisa Marekovic, the author of (also) these medals. These were special as they were team medals. Each medal is nice, but the true meaning they have when they are connected to each other. Team way.

Anyhow, everything is ready and I take the lead. I know the first stage the best as I ran it several times and I’m quite a talent when it comes to elbowing… in case anyone even notice my tiny body. Although I often start from the rear, especially when I’m with the dog, I decide to start this race from the starting line, among the excellent ones. Some real runners like Radanac start next to me. The feeling that goes through my head is that I am out my league, but honestly it was the smartest decision because after the first 100 meters there is this little bridge and a funnel after which the first 200 runners could really slowly crawl through. Anyway, I run out of it among the top 5 I guess. Still having that feeling that it’s not for me to be here, but nowhere does it say that I cannot. I was running like that in the company of the best and I was thinking to myself: don’t go crazy, keep up the pace, you ain’t podium material. Just keep within those first 10-15 because this is a trail after all, there won’t be miraculous speeds and records. And so it was. Branka runs just like me, and Andy a bit faster. The first round is over and all three of us agreed that apart from the beautiful ambience of running along the lake next to the most beautiful castle in Croatia, this is actually a very fast track but there are enough bends that prevent the fastest to actually reach their maximum speed because it’s not straight nor it is a fluid single flat that you hop up and down thinking you’re some kind of Kilian Jornet. Here you choose the tempo and keep it as long as possible. If you go too hard, you’ll burn out and just shut down while whishing to rock the stage.

Round two. Second stage brought a trail with more elavation, around 130+meters on six kilometers. Something you wouldnt be impressed much, right? I mean, our local Leustek trail is that long. But don’t be fooled by this. This is not smart pacing up and then butt-kicking swift downhill. Nothing like that. Especially when you enter the woods, and it’s a freakin’ mud puddles! Those 20-30 meters of a light moonwalk in which you have the feeling that the trees are passing you, so you hold on to the branches just so you don’t slide down. And then … more uphill. Well downhill, then uphill … mostly this roller-coaster goes almost the whole time of the ascent to the turn, with the a real spa gutter for wild boars following the ascent to the turn. There is no escape. Only elves can do that. Everyone else is sliding and fighting for their lives. But after that there is a run in which you should still be careful because even in those parts where the leaves are dry, there is slippery terrain below. Whoever was accustomed to running down, leaning forward, with the center of gravity on the whole foot, could get away with it. Whoever brakes, runs on heels, is close to slipping and sliding on his butt. I just come to two logs before leaving the forest, when my phone rings and my son asks me: Do you have a lot more dad? Are you close? Son, I have no idea, but I’m still running! Absolutely unaware that I was actually a minute to the end of round two. I am crossing the finish line and relay exchange. Branka rocks again and says that the mud was f…d up, but that shoes held well. No wonder since she weighs like 20 grams. She was flying with the breeze. Andy goes like a tank. He’s just going. As if it doesn’t matter what the terrain is. Miraculously. We finish the second track with almost the same times, but in conversation with some other runners who have finished it after us, it seems that the track got a bit crowded. Luckily I couldn’t feel it, but I believe there were times when it was denser. Track two is doubled on one segment. To be precise, the central piece is two way ran. In principle, this is not a problem when people have somewhere to move, but our Branka says that she was just shouting passaaaageee and that people were moving aside to faster than themselves.

Round three starts and Branka explains me the route. The first part is the asphalt among the beautiful houses south of our starting meadow. I am considering to stop for a second and absorb that beauty. Beautiful. But I have to keep grinding. This goes uphill like Bikčevićeva trail towards the end and I am thinking how it is even possible on a such a small elevation (again some 140m), and only 3 kilometers of trail. Well that can’t last long! Well honestly it isn’t, but I only realized that at the finish line when I saw the surprised and unprepared faces of my team members smiling and talking casually at the finish line. Until the moment when they realized that I was waving and shouting for Branka to start. Funny, but I think Simke has a better story than me (if you ever read this, put a comment, please). Basically, the third stage is a steep up to the bend where Dragana (thank you!) shouts that you should go to the right. And she even repeated it. I thought she did at least – look how great she is, cheering for me twice! But she was actually cheering and pointing another runner who passed me by. I may have lost those 25 seconds to third place in the category right there, but in fact I have no idea for sure nor does it matter. So, I turn right, and when it’s vertical to the plateau followed by a run downhill to the road. Probably more down than it was up. That part of the “plateau” is also two-way street, but short where one of the faster contestant tells us to save energy. And I quickly found out why. Because after the road we exited on after running that downhill, few moment later we had to back up the hill to the top, to the plateau. Mother f… I’m trying to run as much as I can, but the lateral slope combined with the soft ground doesn’t allow miracles. If Salomon SLAB Ultra 3 slips, then any other slips as well. Unless you have nails! Basically, I push as much as it goes by alternating walk and run, just thinking not to give up on my team. Display of the true grit I guess. Don’t stop. You will rest when you die. But that is not today. Plateau and downhill where I find Dragana again to whom I almost ran myself not being sure where am I going, although she did everything well and moved aside to give me some space. The batteries are slightly running low because this is more crossfit training than running. Sprint. I’m racing downhill, but I realize I’m merging with the second track in its starting portion, where I again come across that moonwalk segment that I was sure would be wickedly fucked up for many who run into it. I scream and yell at people who come towards me, and like Tarzan, I grab the branches of the same young trees to save myself from the fiercer mud diving. It seems that not everyone was that lucky, so our Andy came a little muddy, but there was no shortage of muddy asses. Branka therefore realizes that I am rushing into the finish like a wounded beast, I guess she was born ready to take her last stage and fly away as if carried by the wind. Not long after she flew away like that, we looked forward to her arrival and saw Andy leaving for the last time. His turn and we did our part.

3:24: 21 was the time on the race clock when Andy, mudded ass, sweaty and with the ice-melting smile runs with his crazy jump over the finish line. We were planing Sub4. Ok. Maybe it would be closer to that if it was the full 42km, but let’s be honest, wer were thrilled because we enjoyed ourselves. We headed for the finisher’s medals and for a photo session with Maja that did tremendous job taking photos of us and taking care of Matej and Dana. She made doing her walk by the lake for the virtual race To nisu samo ženske stvari (Theses are not just women’s things; cancer themed, humanitarian race). For a while I thought about running with Dana (the dog) but Maja was right saying it’s a race day, focus on the final result. And she was right on the money. Next to the stage, event host Tajana Beck tells us that it may be that we’re fourth and that we were just a few seconds shy from podium in Male-felame category (2M+1F). The team that took it away came like 25 second ahead of us. To be honest, I was thinking to myself F..k, if I only pushed myself a bit more… but we all agreed that this result was great. But the result is not what people came here for. Neither did we. We were surprised by our good result and our medals do not have some special glare, they do not shine harder then other participants. We all came here to have fun and honestly, got much more than we expected. In one of the live feeds over facebook seeing everything around me only one thing comes to my mind – Runners’ Woodstock. I believe I was not the only one having that thought and comparison as the music was playing as if it was a concert, and people were all over the meadows. Tents, chairs, drinks, food, pets,… unreal! I believe it was some sort of exiting to those that didn’t run.

Dr. Beck

One of the cool thing in the race is that you participate as support when it’s not your turn to run. You have time to make a video, hang out with buddies, family, probably you could read a couple of lines of your favorite book like dr. Becka from the beginning our story (guy had a very looooong day as it seems). I bump into Zvone (race director Mikašeka) a few more times and every time i tell him the same thing: Outsdanding man! This is phenomenal! I know his brain is in red, in overdrive, way above the optimal but this is how it is on game day. I know he knows it too, but the day is not over yet for him and his crew.

We had to head home despite the wish to just stay laying on the grass, but life goes on. But I would like to shout out the huge thanks to the 3sporta.com team and their partners, to Zvonimir Mikašek who envisioned and organized this beautiful sports event full of joy and humanity. Thanks to Simke on his medals that will keep us connected through this fantastic memory of this lovely event even when we find ourselves on the other sides of the globe. Thanks to all those to participate, especially to volunteers that took great care about us on the trails and cheered for us. Without you ti would be impossible and I always try to thank you while running. If I didn’t do it this time maybe, it’s because there was no air in my lungs to make a sound. This was not a solo player’s race, but if you ever thought about discovering the whole new dimension within yourselves, please register for the next edition of the race that I truly hope will happen. You may find that a person is not an islan. At the end, huge thanks to Branka and Andy, as well as to Elise, my Freud’s Runners – Open World Racing team, a symbiosis of diversity as well as to my loved ones – Matej and Maja that I truly hope to run this race with one day soon.

You can find this article in Croatian as well.

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