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“Roads? Where we are going we don’t need roads!” Sarah Porter

CAMINO: We were contacted last year by the team behind the Slovenian premier ultramarathon UTVV about some coaching for their runners.


At the time we never knew just how lucky we were going to be by being paired with Sarah.


Sarah is the runner we all have inside of us.


The one to say yes to some incredible challenges - but the one to have high levels of anxiety and doubt the night before.


Sarah is a highly accomplished individual - in life, in business and in sport (having completed some impressive swim endurance feats). Everything should naturally fit that Sarah should feel comfortable with ultrarunning challenges BUT.......


We've loved every single second of this coaching experience. When Sarah set her sights on the 60KM Gladiator race we built a plan to get there. However it was Sarah who consistently booked epic UK races and self-motivated runs to help substantiate the building blocks. With successful finishes at Pendle in a Day and Beast of the Blacks and trips to Snowdon Sarah worked on all the Camino toolbox skills to dovetail with her superpowers.


Sarah has kindly shared some of her UTVV Slovenia experiences - an event we encourage more of our Camino Community to take a look into. There will be more opportunities to gain coaching through their channels as well as possible Camino x UTVV recces in the autumn - if you fancy these then DM us to add you to the list.


Over to Superstar Sarah x


SARAH:





A long stretch in the wilds of Vipava Valley in Slovenia: From vineyards and sunshine to mud-drenched slopes, snow and a bristly wind.






Legend says that the battle of Frigidus that took place in the Vipava Valley in 394, finally draw to a bloody end after high winds blew clouds of dust, and even (their own) arrows into the faces of the Western troops. Fast forward to today, it is just after dawn and a few hundred runners (including myself) are gathered at the start line of the UTVV “Gladiator” race, there are men dressed as warriors riding horses, music is blasting to rouse the crowd, the runners are making last adjustments to their packs, stretching limbs and waiting anxiously for the klaxon to begin. It is a male dominated starting line up - there are a few female runners including some regulars who return years after year, but, very much a male crowd.


The gladiator race is a 63km trail up 2400 metres of elevation in the very picturesque and ruggedly wild Vipava Valley. It is a valley in the Slovenian Littoral, roughly between the village of Podnanos to the east and the border with Italy to the west. The weather is mild, despite previous warnings from the race organisers of “extremely cold weather” and over half a metre of snowfall on the highest peak on the trail. Many runners are optimistically donning their sunglasses…the klaxon goes and the race begins…

The Frigidus battle in Vipava Valley





There are four hills with a cumulative elevation gain of 2400 metres, that is “just over two times Snowdon” I reassure myself in my chat with my legs. Vineyards with fire roads of gravel, riverside paths and shady forest trails make for a very pleasant first 10km of the race before the first ascent begins. As a naive first time “60k-er” it is fair to say that I vastly underestimated the steepness and size of the hills when looking at the race profile pre race: molehills in my mind were in reality mighty tough climbs for my legs - turning them to blancmange pretty fast. I named the first climb the “steep n slidey”, a series of narrow but gradual climbs with a mix of mud and rocky paths with a final section that suddenly had me questioning my choice to enter the race - if this was the molehill then what on earth was the “mother of all climbs (as described by coach Dave B)Mount Nanos” going to be like - I was sure to perish, there was no hope, could I feign an injury to escape? Then, just in time, the summit appeared with jaw dropping views of the valleys below.


After a welcome stop at the aid station (water, coke, electrolyte and the usual plates of snacks on offer) the climb to Nanos began. At 1200 metres elevation it is a mighty climb indeed - I named it “Nanos the merciless”. The terrain is really easy, rocky paths, grass, some muddy trails, short road sections and a few well trodden paths before you reach an exposed final approach to the summit. Here the winds are rather bitter, snow underfoot in places and a little bit muddy but overall very steady ascent. The views are to die for, sweeping valley to the right and you take a path very close to the cliff which is exhilarating as you climb and certainly takes your mind off your tired, dirty and jelly-like legs!


The Nanos aid station is in a building that is positioned like it has been dropped from the heavens by accident at the summit: a welcome refuge then on to a long descent towards the fourth and final quarter. The initial descent is a quad hammering long stretch of tarmac road down. Perfect for me to try and catch up after my mighty stomp slow ascents previously, but the roads soon end and you take a sharp right back onto an upwards section over mountain muddy trails. At this point I remembered how much fun sliding around in mud was as a kid, trail running really is like being a big kid, I skidded on the muddy, boggy downhill again grabbing at tree branches and singing “Don’t stop me now” by Queen out loud. 


After a quick stop at the final aid station, the final stretch to the finish beckoned- I was getting uncomfortably close to the cut off time but my legs had decided that cut off times were no longer of any importance (!) as I got slower and slower and slower……only caffeine could help me now! Once again the route was a mix of tarmac through a pretty village, then up again into woodland with a mix of rocky steps and muddy narrow trails weaving through the trees. The finish line seemed so close it was a few metres away - deceptively so as it is in an adjacent valley that appears oh so much closer than you think. After a final (and unexpected) climb through trees and up onto a small summit overlooking the finish line, a quick descent down into the town, and finally a welcome and triumphant finish line awaits. I was extremely relieved to cross the line, amazed at my legs for carrying me so far, and extremely happy to have avoided death by arrows and high winds…





My conclusion at the end of UTVV is one of surprise, surprise at how capable the human body is at battling through when your minds tries to trick you to believe you are “done”; awe at the incredible race organisers at UTVV, and the community of trail runners ahead of me who were kind and astonishingly strong; and finally bone aching pride at just how amazing we humans are. Slovenia is a stunning beautiful country and UTVV a tough but pretty race that delights your senses with leafy canopies, snowy capped mountains and “child-like memory inducing” muddy, slidey trails. I am so happy that trail racing found me and as Doc says in Back to the future “Roads? Where we are going we don’t need roads!”.

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