Updated: Jan 26, 2020
It’s taken more than a week to muster the energy to write this blog post. You see earlier this month I ran a 53km mountain marathon while Ali and her niece Rachel tackled the equally challenging 32km trail race, and this was off the back of 36hrs of international travel having just returned from a visit to Australia two days earlier. What on earth were we thinking?
When we signed up for the Ultra Trail Vipava Valley (UTVV) earlier this year it seemed like a great idea, combining one of our favorite pastimes, mountain running with beautiful scenery and the opportunity to explore a new part of Slovenia we hadn’t previously visited. Renowned for its wineries and stone fruit including cherries, apricots and peaches, Vipava Valley nestles near the Italian border in the south-west of the country. The valley’s mild climate combined with its proximity to the sea make it perfect for winemaking and in 2018 Lonely Planet named the Vipava Valley one of its top 10 places to visit in Europe.
So all that sounds pretty enticing right….. except that after we entered, I realized much to my dismay that the race fell just two weeks after my Fathers 80th Birthday, another event we were firmly committed to attending... and so we decided to just accept our lot and embrace the suck.
Still suffering from jet lag we decided to head down to Vipava on Friday afternoon to pick up our race pack and familiarize ourselves with the area as it was an early start the following morning and we would be driving down from Ljubljana. After picking up our numbers and taking some time to wander around the race expo, it was back to Ljubljana for an early dinner and then to bed.
Saturday dawned early with a 4.30am start and we were quickly loaded up and on the road. Shortly after arriving I was boarding a bus to Vipavski Kriz, which was the starting point for the 50km. The girls meanwhile had several hours to burn as the 30km race didn’t start until 10am so they headed back to the truck to grab some breakfast and relax.
Arriving in Vipavski Kriz, a small village perched on a hill that apparently dates back to pre-Roman times I made a mental note that this was definitely a place I would like to come back to and explore. However, on this day my primary objective was to simply stay warm until my race so I huddled inside a small café just a few meters from the starting line and awaited my fate.
At 8am the starter fired his gun and several hundred runners, myself included set off through the narrow cobbled streets of the village before entering a small trail which descended the hillside to the farmland below. We were briefly reduced to a walk as several hundred people were funneled into this narrow section, however once we emerged at the bottom of the hill the route opened up and runners found there natural speeds and settled in for the long day ahead.
I won’t attempt to give a long blow by blow account of the day as it unfolded but instead I will share some of the highlights (and lowlights) that followed. Firstly, the scenery did not disappoint… the Vipava Valley is in a word spectacular and the area is a must see for anyone visiting Slovenia. Over the next 20 odd kilometers I ran through quaint villages and rolling hills covered with fruit trees and grape vines taking in some spectacular vistas. Unfortunately, vistas tend to involve climbing and this course had plenty of that, in fact we had accumulated more than 1000m of ascent before starting the long (10km) climb up Mount Nanos by which time the reality of what I had signed up for was starting to sink in.
At this point I’m afraid my pitch for tourism Vipava comes to an end as the natural beauty of the area was being overshadowed by the overwhelming reality of what I’d gotten myself into. The climb up Nanos felt like a death march as it followed a series of steep trails in and out of the forest before finally emerging on to a long exposed ridge line which led up to the summit. There is no denying the views at this point were breathtaking, however I was too tired to enjoy the scenery and found myself focused on putting one foot in front of the other as I willed my way to the top.
As I left the top of Nanos and commenced my descent with approximately 14km to go, I felt elated to be running on a logging road and making good time for the first time in hours. This feeling however was short lived and it wasn’t long before I was back on rocky technical terrain and my forward progress returned to a crawl. Ticking over the 50km mark, I think it’s fair to say the final 3km of this course were some of the most soul-destroying kilometers of the day. The terrain continued to be incredibly technical making it very difficult to find a rhythm and the constant pounding from the descent had left my legs in tatters.
Leaving the trail and making the final steep descent into Vipava on the road I crossed the finish line thoroughly exhausted in a time of 7hrs 55mins. I found the girls perched on the steps in the town square, Ali had finished her 32km race just a few minutes before me (in 5hrs 54min) while Rachel had arrived about 15mins earlier (in 5hrs 41min). Both had experienced a tough day out but had come through with flying colors, however we were all reserving our opinions on the race for the time being as the experience was still a little raw at this early stage.
Rachel, who was moving much better than any of us at this point, kindly offered to go and buy a round of beers which went down a treat. Then we hobbled off to the truck opting to head back to Ljubljana in order to grab a shower before going out for a celebratory dinner.
All in all, despite less than perfect preparation I think our UTVV adventure was a success and after a good dinner and a few drinks later that evening there was even some discussion about returning for the 2020 edition. Regardless I am certain Ali and I will be heading back to Vipava this Summer but this time I suspect our visit will be more focused on wine tasting and sampling some of the areas culinary treats.