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  • Writer's picturedianapanczel

The trail runner girl and the mountain

I've never ever been running on such a high mountain. Neither on a trail running competition, nor abroad… And again a WOMAN. A woman mountain. Jahorina. Well, a tough MAN should come now. A man mountain. Maybe next time.

So, the Jahorina story began a few months ago. That time I did not even know that Jahorina even exists. Then on the Hungarian website for trail runners,, my eyes caught a public summons: Attention, attention Bloggers, you might be Invited for the Jahorina Ultra Trail in Bosnia and Herzegovina to create nice and exciting reports for their country's trail runners. I thought that I must try this: I composed my application that I sent to the organizers, and soon Sanja Kavaz, the race director contacted me to be welcomed at Jahorina Ultra Trail. Therefore, on the last Thursday of July me and my tiny little sherpa – my 190 cm high partner - started our journey to Sarajevo, to run the Maxi distance of JUT, 69 km with 2750m altitude.

Excitement, preparations, the usual stuff before a race. The road is long to Bosnia, I have time to analyze everything. (Luckily our accommodation is situated quite near to the race base by the way.) I know the altitude map by heart – looking at it upside down would be much more lovely but I don’t own the magic wand to change it and we love challenges anyways. 35 km upwards and the same downwards, it’s so simple.

We arrive late in the evening, therefore we see nothing from the beauty of the landscape: we notice this wonderland purely next morning, it’s a miracle, indeed. Huge mountains, surrounded by deep green forests. In the afternoon there is a technical meeting at the race center. We hear gossips about landmines and bears but we don’t really give a damn. We give five to the other Hungarian racers, the members of the famous “Punk’s Not Dead Trail Team”, Jani and Anita, a bit earlier. Later on also Misi joins us, as we’ve already discussed in Budapest before that we’d become friends at Jahorina.😊 Jani will start the race at midnight, he will accomplish the longest distance, 110kms, while the others, including myself, will take part on the 70km race (which will become even longer, but let’s return back to this later).

I’m doing this and that, cannot really fall asleep, meanwhile I explore a post on Facebook from one of my runner mates: “Strenghten yourself, treat the memories of your past and be very careful, because you will become strong at the point where you broke, you will become invincible where you lost.” This citate touches me so deeply that I chose it as my mantra for the next day that will lead me to the finish line.

Saturday morning, 5.45 a.m., taking photos, toddling at the start in the race base. I feel the tension in my vains, it’s so exciting doing something at the first time. I know that I can go through the distance but I’m unsure what adventures are waiting for me during my journey… I love this sensation, the waiting mixed with hope, that something new is happening, something unrepeatable, one-shot. I hear the words of my coach Fatima in my ear, pay attention to your heart rate. Fine, I won’t run fast, I can’t, to be honest, and I need the energy until the very end, not speaking about the uphills on the last part of the race. Anita passes me behind, I’m descending slowly on the muddy ground. I’m looking around, indulging in the miracle that surrounds me. Funny, how many times are we saying that someone conquers a mountain or wade through a vast forest…. No, no way, you should come here with humbleness, not conquering but approaching carefully, asking for entering, to be part of this beauty, right in the middle of our Mother Nature’s lap. The fight is happening inside anyways, that’s why we came here.

Before the checkpoint at the 16th kilometer we already get lost with a smaller group, but then we find our way back to the trail quite quickly. After this I run alone almost throughout the whole race, I meet my competitors only once in a while. No talking, I'm fully on my own, I'm strongly concentrating not to screw up the route as I can get lost anywhere while I'm deep inside my thoughts. The first test comes around 20K in the forest: I catch sight of a barking dog. I knew, I exactly knew that this would happen sometime, I'm scared of dogs on the loose, though this one is not ownerless and just wants to protect his territory. He seems quite aggressive to me as he starts to follow the man running in front of me. I stop immediately - no, no way, shame or not, I cannot do it. I wait a bit hoping that someone passes by, but if not, I have to continue my way no matter what happens. Luckily a couple comes by, the guy is quite experienced on this track and assures me that the beast won't hurt me. I know that with regards to the dog story I have a lot to settle: if not this time then later, during another run, yet I have to face this fear of mine.

I run along with the couple for a few hundred meters, as they highlight that I better not leave the track around Sarajevo as there might be some forgotten landmines. Not even in case of peeing or pooping, you should do it right on the path. Hearing this news I quickly swallow two more Imodiums knowing how my body is working and, well, also just to make sure.

The couple is taking some pictures so I leave them vanishing among the trees. I'm focusing on the route, in the meantime hydrating, regularly, precisely, liquids and gels, no starving. Ambient light shines through the top of the trees, the ground is so soft under my feet, I'm gliding almost noiseless - pretty unusual from me. I'm passing by an old man who is sitting on a bank reading a book. I'm saying "dobar dan" to him, he's waving and telling me something which I don't understand and not even hear because I continue running on my way. I reach a small village where the next refreshment point is set up. Flasks refilled with water, I drink some coke and eat some banana. The young girls in the crew are smiling kindly, one of them asks me if she can take a photo of me, reasoning with "blue eyes" and "beautiful". Certainly, I reply, though I feel myself everything rather than nice. You are beautiful indeed, I think to myself, you, young girl in bloom, with your black hair and dark eyes. Feri, my boyfriend surprises me, he found me somehow, I'm so happy for him. No, please don’t come to the forthcoming checkpoints, I'm getting too weak if you are there because then I don't have to be strong, no, don’t come, only to Trebević at 40.

As I'm moving on to the canyon, my way is crossed by tunnels. Tunnels. I'm f**ing scared. There is no one around me. A thought runs through my mind: I should put on my head torch because there is pitch dark inside, but I'm much more afraid of what I may see there… It is such a weird feeling to crawl into a tunnel, it's wet and humid and I'm not sure what I will see in the next moment. I rather stumble around, not giving a shit of what I may catch sight in front of, behind, next to, around me. I start singing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, I don’t know why exactly this, perhaps the hidden warrior emerged from deep inside: “Arise children of the fatherland, The day of glory has arrived.” As I see the light shining through the misty air I can’t help thinking of the eternal Light, with capital letter: will I feel the same?

While going through the third tunnel I’m singing the anthem a bit less falsely now, and at the fourth tunnel I’m even running silently, concentrating on what’s ahead. Well, well well, we’re improving, aren’t we?

Sarajevo. During the war landmines was set around the city so that the local population cannot escape from there. Children, adults, families. There are no limits in human cruelty.

There is a sign indicating not to leave the path as you can step on a landmine. A bit later I even see a car, taking part in mine clearance, so it turned out not to be a joke and you really should be careful on the road.

I’m approaching the mountain. At the next checkpoint I’m scoffing a huge piece of watermelon. Refreshing. So good.

A bit more uphill and I can meet my little sherpa. He brings some clothes to change, what a luxury, usually I do not change but well, it’s a special occasion, let’s show off what we have.

Suddenly I start to feel myself a bit slower, but I keep running, I’m reaching the bobsleigh run. In 1984 the Winter Olympic Games was organized in Sarajevo. That time everything seemed to be more than fine, as after the 2nd world war the region started to bloom. Today you can only see the ruins of the bobsleigh run, decorated by graffitis, yet there is something magical that surrounds the whole establishment and it’s such a flash running upwards on it.

And finally. Whole grain bread spread with Nutella, bandage changing, dry top instead of the sweat-through one, tons of kisses. Let’s go, I spent more time here than I wanted, I knew, weakness, it’s not okay. See you soon at the finish line, just please get cold beer for me, ok?

I run down to Anita in the meantime, but I get lost again. I’m lucky as usual in such situations, meeting other runners, this time a local guy, he also got lost, there are some missing signs at the path, most probably they were removed by some humorous hikers.

We are walking back, there are other competitors already, together we find out the right way. I passes by the guys, I feel refreshed again, and here the next uphill comes, towards Trebević. A light summer rain showers my face, I just simply enjoy it, one foot after the other, you become more with each step, as my friend said. The view is simple gorgeous, I’m climbing rock by rock, and as I reach the top of the mountain, the whole world is under my feet. I’m standing on the top of the universe, and it literally feels like heaven. I stop moving, just indulging in this moment, admiring nature. Tears start to stream down on my cheek, washed away by rain. I’m so grateful, as always, that I can be here, that there is someone who accompanied me, that I have two healthy legs that brought me up here, to this wonderland. And one day, maybe here or somewhere else, in the same flow, together with the kids… This dream may come true. I wish my children find this miracle, too. Which is in your heart, you just have to open it and listen to it. I’m taking some pics, as I promised it to myself: I won’t go home without photos. I’m eating some gels, my stomach is okay, I still feel the strength in my muscles, let’s move on.

The next checkpoint at 52K seems to be a bit far away. There are some mates sitting around in the tent, there is a tablecloth laid down on the ground, coke, chips and biscuits all around, the crew is slicing some oranges, I feel as it was a class excursion in the secondary grammar school. We’re chatting a bit with Anita, laughing even, we’re tired and we still have to climb a few mountains. My head is aching, I’m taking a pain killer, I might not have drunk enough, it is still very hot outside. Running on, we see some wrecked buildings on the clearings in the middle of the forest, they look like hotels or houses, who knows: no one renovated them after the war, they stand there alone, sorrowfully, yet a bit menacingly.

I start to become very distracted, my thoughts start to flatter, I don’t even recognize a sign that leads off the straight path, though there was a huge writing saying “TRAIL” with big, red letters. As soon as I note that I ran too far – about 3 more kms – I’m heading back, swearing like hell. I’m running into the forest again, dry twigs are cracking under my feet, my steps are clomping on the stones, my shoes are splashing in the mud, there are places where I’m sinking into it up to my ankles. But who cares, it is part of the game, I deserve becoming a little pig sometimes. I hear some noises in front of me, I’ve never met animals in the forest before, but as far as I can hear they must be forest animals (wow, iron-logic… it must be a weird coincidence that I got my name Diana from the ancient Roman goddess of forests and hunting). My heart is beating in my throat, there is not a human being around me, I wish they weren’t wild pigs, for the first time. I blow my whistle, god knows it is a good idea or not, but anyways… Two beautiful deers are springing out of the bushes, they are so graceful, almost ethereal, like a tender summer breeze. They are very close to me, it feels as if I become a part of the forest, I think. This emotion is getting more intense as I’m running by some grazing cows, oh wait, sorry, I’m not running but rather passing by slowly, because one of them is jumping up suddenly which makes me feel like, well, shitting myself.

I’m running uphill again, I’m dying to eat that pljeskavica with fresh crunchy bread, lots of onion, not mentioning a glass of beer. There is not a lot left, just hold on for a bit more, I’m motivating myself. I start to eat some coconut bar. My head is okay, no more pain, the pill helped apparently. After 58K I’m texting to Feri, the last stage is coming soon but that will be a long one.

One more climbing, it’s getting enough, but then another one is coming, there is a ski slope, no, no way, do we really have to climb it, yes we have to, I’m fed up, I need to save some water for the end. I meet Anita just before the end, she’s walking in front of me, we are chatting through the last few kilometers. We are laughing at us, we are like real competitors, talking along the last meters. We start to feel the blisters on our soles, we are guessing if our toe nails will remain or go to heaven – well, these are not really Glamour-day topics. Still we start jogging, start to accelerate a bit and our downhill running at the very end looks really like running (at least watching it as an outsider). Hugs, kisses, high fives from friends, each feeling is multiplied in these moments, although we did not run the Spartathlon or the Western States 100 (it’s on my bucket list). Yet such a euphoria and deep pleasure fulfils our mind that will make a smile upon our faces for a few weeks and that sends us to the mountains and forests, to run through day and night, uphill and downhill, no matter if in hot or cold weather…

And what next? Maybe conquering a MAN mountain finally? Till I find it out, I just shout out loud: trail running, mon amour!

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