Cyprus Ultra 50 Miler

Posted on: 25 Jul 2014

As this is my first blog post, let me start with a brief introduction - I just recently turned 33 years and spent most of my life behind the computer working as a programmer. As i was reaching my 30's, being a heavy smoker and couch potato, i started to feel an urge to change something in my life. Lot of my friends were doing triathlons/duathlons, and as much as i couldn't imagine myself doing even the shortest of the distances, i was really dreaming that maybe one day.. So i finaly made a move as a new years resolution and started training. From zero, first on the threadmil and stationary bike at the gym.. to cut story short, 10 months later i had 8 triathlon races (including 2 halfironmans) and 1 full marathon under my belt. And i was hooked :)

 Two years ago I moved to Cyprus where i continued my triathlon and running racing. Here i also met great people from Cyprus Trail Runners community, led by lovely couple Bryan and Chris. After few races , which they prepare with their wonderful runner's hearts i was completely in love with trail running! Somewhere there along the way i started dreaming about ultra running and after few long months of training i managed to finish my first ultramarathon - Two Castles & Abbey ultra. Here i got to know a wonderful and inspiring person , also a realbuzzer and great friend Gerry Dance (@berlin_bolt) , who amazingly described our story of this race in his blog HERE .  

And suddenly, i was hungry for more!  There was only one other ultra distance race in Cyprus, which was coming in just 6 weeks.. There were many factors against me doing it - it's very expensive, extremely hard and i wasn't sure if my knee can make it, as i was suffering a lot during 2Castles race due to my ITBS injury. But i wanted it SOOO BAAAD! Thanks to my amazing lady Andry and her neverending support, i made my way around all the obstacles. As there were only 4 finishers out of 15 in the last 2 years, i was very nervous about the race.. Andry was very supportive and patiently building up my confidence.. and finaly made me believe that i can make it! So at the 12th of July we made our way to Vasa Kellakiou, where was the start of the race, joined by my good friend Remy Brandefalk that i met year ago at the short version of Cyprus Ultra 21km. He was doing the 220km ultra version back then, had to abandon the race for a foot injury and came back this year for a revenge.

Remy, Andry & me - shoutout to NASS

So there i was , nervously standing at the basecamp, looking around. There we spotted the ultrarunning legend Mimi Anderson, setting up her race gear. Such a wonderful and cheerful person! There were some other faces i recognised from last year, we made few small talks and then i've put on my mp3 to do my final prerace meditation :)

Course of my race consisted of four 21k loops with steep climbs and descents, almost no flats.. I knew the course well from last year, and i played it hundreds of times in my head in the weeks prior to the race.. My last years time was 2:45 on the single loop i've made, my plan for this year was to complete the first lap under 3 hours and if possible keep that pace for as long as possible to hit the 14 hours cut off, knowing that i will possibly slow down a lot after 40-50km. There were only 5 people in my category, i knew only two of them - Craeg Henderson, who did the Two Castles Ultra and Karl Glendenning, who is a very good triathlete and runner, he finished second last year in my 21k race.  

Race briefing, standing next to Mimi Anderson was a dream come true!

 After a short briefing, we set off for a 1.5km jog to the start line - it's probably the only running race in the world where you have to run to the start line! :) But it was a good "warm up" in the building up heat (it was way over 30 degrees already). Last few photos, countdown, hug with my love and it started..  All four races went off (21k, 50k, 80k and 220k), some runners went off fast, but i slowed down, gave a support hug to Remy for a good luck and i started slowly running up the first hill. Suddenly i was very calm, listening to my music, keeping steady pace. All the nervosity was forgotten in a heartbeat, i was focused and ready. I remember passing quite a few people on the lower part of the course (a 7km loop through a "dead valley", which was hot like an oven), but i didn't really know where i stand in the race. And actualy i didn't care as my goal was to FINISH :)

I did a good mix of fast walking uphills and running downhills and the kilometers were running very fast. It was around 10km mark already in the upper loop of the course where i realised that my pace is quite ahead of my plans, but i wasn't really pushing it or redlining, so i kept calm and kept going. I finished the biggest climb to the church at 16km , amazing place with a great views and i set off the final 5km , which consists mostly of very steep descents. I recently became really confident with my downhill running in my Hoka's (Stinson Evo trail) , so i happily started my "freefall" to the base camp. I made the last corner before the base camp and suddenly i spotted Karl in front of me and we completed the first lap together! This was a shocker, as i was aware of his running abilities..another shock was the time on my garmins - 2:25 for the first lap.. This is where i really started to worry if i didn't kill my chances by starting out too fast.. But i still didn't feel any signs of fatique, no blisters nor any uncomfortable feelings.. Andry did my basecamp service faster than F1 guys (refilling the bottles, kiss, quick snack, kiss, hug, gells, kiss, hug.. off you go my champ!) , i signed my time on the board and off to 2nd lap..

I let Karl go ahead on purpose as i made a decision not to race him, knowing that might be suicidal.. I set back to my pace again. I had a pretty good discipline with hydration and calories (i used high5 electrolytes with magnesium and ZipVit caffeinated gels with 220kCal each, 2 gels per loop). Around the 30k mark i started to have stomach problems, but thans to SaltStick caps from Remy they went away pretty fast. I slowed down the pace a little bit, as the heat was hitting 40+ degrees (reportedly 50+ in the lower loop).

To my surprise i finished the second loop almost the same time with Karl again! It turned out he was having the opposite strategy like me - he was fast in the climbs, taking it easy in the descends.. Pretty much the same scenario repeated in the lap 3, where i passed him few hundred meters before the base camp and enjoyed the race lead for a while! What a feeling! It was here where it hit me - it took me 9hrs to complete three laps, i have now 5hrs to finish the last one - i can really do this! I was ecstatic, Andry was flying around me  like always, making sure i get everything i need. I had few hot spots on my feet so i cleaned them and put fresh socks. I went out just 2 minutes after Karl and started my descent to lower loop. 

It was a close race! Times after 3rd loop.

 Here i realised two things - with all that euphoria at the base camp, i forgot to take my Petzl headlamp, and by changing socks i wiped of the SportShield lube of my feet and now the blisters started to pop out like crazy! I kept calm, it was just final 20km and fullmoon coming out! I had a external powersource to charge my garmins which has a pretty decent built in light, which i could use in the worst case. But it wasn't needed, the moon was like a street light, i've seen Karl few hundred meters in front of me and i kept going in a "stealth mode" :) at the aid station 7km from finish i was told i am just 3 minutes behind. Following was a short steep descent where for the first time i realised the blisters went really bad and i had a lot of pain running down. I started the last climb a, looked up to check on Karl  and.. his head lamp was going up and down which meant only one thing - he was running! This 15%+ steep ascent, after almost 80km, this brave man pulled away in the most difficult section of the race - very ballsy move that earned him the victory! I've tried my best but i managed to finish 8 minutes behind him in a final time of 12:36!  To my surprise, Bryan and Chris from Cyprus trail runners were awaiting me at the finish line together with Andry! Writing my final time at the wall, hugs, handshakes, joy.. Incredible mix of feelings..

Strangely enough, i don't remember much of the following hours after the race. Andry drove us 80km back home, i took a shower, i didn't sleep at all because of the pain and adrenaline rush and we went back to the basecamp in the morning to support Remy. He did an amazing race again, but unfortunately he suffered a heat stroke and had to abandon the race after 140kms.. He was the last man standing, only marvellous Mimi Anderson managed to finish the 220km race in a new course record 41:34! 

Wow.. i didn't expect this to be so long, the words just kept flowing as i was recalling the race.. At this point i would like to say a big THANK YOU to my amazing Andry, to all people that supported me before and during the race (the live coverage by Andry and Gerry on facebook was legendary!!!) i really felt the vibe out there!

And what's next? Some small races during summer, K1 half ironman in october and.. Arctic Ultra 100miles in january! Andry will be doing the 50miler and we aspire to become the ultimate ultra couple! :) And maybe, if Remy will try his luck for the third time at Cyprus Ultra 135mile next year, i will join him to challenge my limits again..

Thanks to everyone who didn't fall asleep while reading this wall of text, i wish you all happy running!

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