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Conquering the Istra 100

One of the things that is vital to us at Camino is story-telling - the skill of getting out 'what is often left inside'.

As we delve into the mindset of a runner and the strength of their Whys we often find that writing and sharing inner feelings is something way more complex than the running.

So we love it when close members of our community are keen to share their running story.

Ray has been a Camino runner and friend since we began. If not inside our races, he's flying along our London routes - often taking amazing pictures and also consistently volunteering and supporting our community.

Ray recently took part in one of the epic Istra series of events and we are grateful to the beautiful story that he has gifted us.

Grazie Ray x

"A quick introduction then before I get into the race. I did not start running until I was 40 – having asthma all my life, this put me off strenuous exercise. However, a friend and I entered the London Marathon on a whim, and I was on the slippery slope from then on. After a few weeks training my chest improved and the asthma issue went away 😊 .

My first competitive Ultra- Marathon was the Marathon des Sables in Morocco – I had to latterly limp over the line. You would think that would put me off, but I continued my passion and in 2021 completed running all the London Underground Lines. Locally I’ve enjoyed running at both ultra’s which the Camino Team organise – meeting these guys has been very inspirational. I’ve volunteered for them to show my appreciation for what they do, and throughout my running career I’ve managed to raise nearly £20k for various charities which I am very proud of.

So what next? When a friend suggested I enter Istria 100 by UTMB I was a little nervous, after all, UTMB is considered (in my opinion) to be the highest of Ultra Running organisations. And with completion you may register for the world finals in Chamonix. Now let me get one thing straight here, I’m no speedster by far but I do enjoy trails. I entered, why not.

The Istra 100 is a collection of races to choose from, 168k, 110k, 69k, 42k and 21k. All with varying amounts of elevation. I have run 100k before but considering this would be my first mountain marathon, I plumped for the 69k race which has 2,200m of ascent. The race was to take place April 2023 in Croatia, so there were lots of things to organise.

I booked and flight and accommodation in nearby Strujan Slovenia – a short 20 minute drive from the finish in Umag, Croatia. I decided to have a week over there stopping a few locations to enjoy the country. With a hire car booked and everything set I was raring to go a month before, in March 2023. Lots of long runs over hills and trails made a perfect platform for the race. However, a few weeks before my flight I had problems with my feet, panic set in, and I stopped my training runs. The diagnosis was plantar fasciitis an uncomfortable feeling on the underside of your feet. This was a new injury for me and I was worried about the race and if was going to bail or not. I took every bit of advice available, and I thank my friends for that. When I boarded the plane to Slovenia, I had not run for 3 weeks but my feet were in a better place.

So, it was a careful training run I had in Strujan when I arrived at my race base. There was some discomfort, so I changed the insoles – the next days run went well and it gave me lots of encouragement. After the run I drove to Umag, went to register, pick up my race number and bag etc. Received was my race number, pins, bag drop bag, technical t-shirt, course map, bottle of beer and large hiking waterproof duffle bag – impressive. At registration everyone was very kind and helpful, there was also a few stands from the sponsors where you could purchase some of their products. I booked my place on a coach which was to take me to the start in Bezet, first thing in the morning.

Equipment – each race has its own equipment list but for mine, I was required to carry:

  • Running vest (or rucksack)

  • Mobile phone (with LiveRun app. If phone has the ability)

  • Soft Cup (bottles / flasks no accepted)

  • Min water supply 1 litre. In flasks or bottles etc

  • 1 working headlamp

  • Survival blanket 1.4m x 2m min.

  • Whistle

  • Self-adhesive bandage or strapping

  • Food reserve approximately 800kcal

  • Jacket with hood for bad weather in the mountains. The jacket must be made with a waterproof (minimum recommended 10 000 Schmerber) and breathable (RET recommended inferior to 13) membrane (eg. Outdry)

  • If severe weather is expected the organisers can ask for extra items such as sun hat or leggings etc.

Each year these rules may change so it is worth checking the organisers website for up-to-date information.

Race day – I was very excited and had a special breakfast organised by the hotel at 5:30am. Checked my kit twice (don’t forget the bucket hat)and after the standard loo trip, drove over to Umag and found a parking spot. The excitement built as I met some fellow runners, and we swapped the usual running stories and I started to feel a lot more relaxed. The coaches left at 07:15, there were about 10 coaches all full of runners – very well organised. We arrived in Buzet in plenty of time and a nearby café was on hand with toilets and drinks etc.

I purposely hung back at the start as I thought there would be a mad rush and I didn’t want to get caught up in it. What I did not prepare for was the mud and slime caused by the rain we had a few days before. Too late for a shoe change – just live with it! The plan was to power-hike up all the hills and run the rest. The mud made it difficult with a lot of sliding even on the downhill which I took cautiously. After 17km or so I arrived at the first aid station. Fill up the bottles – one with water, the other with isotonic drink. Lots of food on offer of all designs – sweet and savoury. For me, this was a quick stop before carrying on. The feet felt fine – no sign of the injury so my confidence was high and texts from my friends kept up my morale.

At about 30km I climbed the cobbled trail up to Motovun – a lovely town perched on a hill, and what a hill! But the power-hiking was working, giving me the rest I needed to control my heartrate. By checkpoint 2 at 32km my clock was at about 4 hours and I’d ascended about 1,300m. I had also discovered some other runners who were around me at any given time. It was about here that one of my friends told me I was in third place for my age group (55-58). This was a shock but also a confidence boost as I was unprepared for any accomplishment other than finishing!

At around 5 hours and 50 minutes I completed 42km and that’s marathon distance. The mud dried up and I was able to find my running feet. The nutrition was working well – sticking to what works and avoiding what doesn’t. The last big hill was beckoning before checkpoint 3 and from then on was fairly all downhill into Umag. 47km and checkpoint 3, I rested for about five minutes taking on lots of sugar – refilled my soft flasks and received another text. You are now 2nd in your age group! Wow, and what the flip? Ok, what’s the plan now? So everything changes when you are in a race – I’d never been in this position before but decided to give it a go – what’s to lose, right?

Out of CP3 it was flat and long as we crested the hills outside Groznjan. This was tiring and hard work but I had the motivation now. Having a slow first part of the race helped with the second, I suddenly found my energy as the downhill started – checkpoint 4 was a quick refill and go – I’m racing now and overtaking runners from the other races, which raised my confidence again. At CP4 the distance is 55km and now we are looking at downhill all the way in – just 14km to go – a training run?

My legs were working well now by pace had increased by minutes and I was overtaking dozens of people. Before long after a flat farmland, I was entering the town of Umag and some onlookers were cheering, the sun was out and the end was in sight. Nothing else was on my mind apart from the joy and gratefulness of completing another race. I’ve actually completed a UTMB race – I’m thinking, hmm, I’m hungry and wondering what beer I’ll have at the finish. The crowds get busier as I close in on the line nothing can stop me now! I’m done, and the medal is placed around my neck after crossing the line – elation is there for all to see with congratulations from fellow runners.

After a few minutes I had another text from my friend in the UK – you actually won your age group! Ok, this needs checking, someone must have got something wrong. And with that, a couple of friends appeared from the crowd issuing me with the same information – you did amazing, you won your age group. What just happened? I’m caught between joy and embarrassment. The 58 year old finally wins a race and its because he’s old – kind of comical hey?

The next day I was invited to the award ceremony at the finish line in Umag – in the 100 mile race, Jim Walmsley won, so it was inspiring to see him on stage before the likes of me. On a personal level achieving a first for my age group was something I’ll never forget. The course was something else, some parts were outstandingly pretty, some were fairly unattractive. The organisation was first class, from beginning to end I could not have asked for a better service. And I’ll be entering myself for the finals in 2024 so this is not the end of the story. On running races, my advice would be pick one abroad and turn it into a holiday – you’ll not regret it."

Ray Wise.

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Congratulations Ray!! What a joy!!!

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