ABC of a Swiss ultra runner at Ultra Race Romania
by Noemi Haag
I started running two years ago, discovering the joy of running in nature on beautiful tracks during a world trip. From my first half marathon to my first ultra with 53 km, I’ve been amazed at what my mind and body can achieve. After participating at Racing the Planet in Atacama and Gobi, I randomly signed up for Ultra Race Romania, just six weeks after RTP Gobi. Running, especially in stage races, is like going on an adventure—providing for yourself, traversing untouched nature, and, most importantly, connecting with nice people to form a temporary family of runners. I’m tremendously grateful for the support of the Romanian crew, who have become good friends. At URR, I found great company, and together with my friend, we finished 1st and 2nd among females, or second and third overall. It’s not just a success but an everlasting experience that I want to share here.
Are you planning to participate in URR 2024?
I would love to. Participating for a second consecutive year never crossed my mind initially. However, the incredible camaraderie and organization of this event have made me feel like part of the URR family. Additionally, there are certain individuals whom I’m eager to meet again at the finish line.
Bears or blueberries - how many did you see?
I didn’t come across any bears. It’s advised to run without music in your ears since this beautiful country boasts the largest population of bears in Europe. So, stay vigilant and make some noise – bears might be around. On the bright side, you might be fortunate enough to stumble upon some fresh blueberries along the track.
Calories: you need a lot
I consumed 18,000 calories. The track is frequently characterized by elevation changes, making it exhausting at times. Given the long days, having food along the way is essential.
Day - what does a race day look like?
A day at the race unfolds with participants waking up around 6 am. Breakfast is a quiet affair, interrupted by occasional jokes. After preparing backpacks and receiving cheerful encouragement from volunteers, a briefing precedes the race. Whether navigating individually or alongside a fellow competitor, the day ends with a warm welcome at the camp, cheers, and a relaxed atmosphere. Messages from family and friends add a personal touch. As the sun sets, competitors chat, prepare dinner, and settle into small tents for the night, each accommodating four people (as in 2023).
Endurance, what can I say?
A multi-stage race demands a considerable amount of endurance. This pertains not only to the physical aspect of sports but also requires mental fortitude. I engage in mental games, envision the finish line, reward myself, and more. The URR holds a unique charm as the terrain continually evolves, making time seem to pass more swiftly compared to other, more monotonous races.
What an absolutely fantastic team of competitors, volunteers and organizers. From the first minute in Bucharest until drop-off at the airport after the race, it was pure friendliness and lots of laughter. I’ve never experienced so much encouragement at a race before. I’ve never felt more welcomed to a country that was new to me.
Make sure you study the track well and follow the blue markings. While chatting with my friend on the track, we missed some:-)
Three stages had a natural spring where we could wash ourselves. After a strenuous day, having the chance to take a cold bath in nature was fantastic.
Every day starts with a stage briefing by the organizers, accompanied by a brief description printed on paper. It’s well marked and every ten km on average is an aid station.
Joy - only tough or also joyful?
It is tough, yes. Any 250 km race is not any easy walk in the park. This race is one where you will experience also lots of joy and fun. Not only the familiar atmosphere and special mood but also the locations are top-notch. The location of each camp is chosen carefully. Whether it is next to a river, on a field, or near the forest, it is always in remote, quiet places that reminded me of school camps in my teenage years. The rest at night is perfect, as the environment is quiet, and you might hear only the odd bird singing.
Hot water is available in the camp starting at around 6 am. Additionally, upon arriving at each stage, hot water will be provided in the camp.
It’s a day with mixed feelings, because it’s around double the length of a normal race day. Usually covering around 70-80km. The day starts an hour early to ensure participants have enough time to finish before nightfall. At URR, even in the middle of the night, a big crowd applauds every competitor crossing the end of the stage, providing a warm welcome. The organization goes to great lengths to support competitors, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to finish the race.
THE guy. Mihai is the local competitor who has participated in all the Ultra Race Romania events so far. He is a warm and friendly person who shares all the good stories from past races. Probably the only person I know who also shares all his leftover food with fellow competitors, taking really good care of everyone.
A highlight. The landscape of Romania is simply stunning. Picture rolling hills, endless forests, plum trees (yes, you can eat them and enjoy some vitamins!), a gentle breeze in the air, lush greenery, and untouched fields of grass. I would always go back to this hidden gem of untouched nature.
Organisation - what to say?
The race was organized very well. I cannot point out what could be better. Most importantly: you can trust the organization that they will take very good care of you.
Do you enjoy being with a group of individuals who share the same passion, create a fun and supportive temporary family, and help one another? I also had the great pleasure of running with a fellow woman runner who became a good friend; we shared many hours on the track, providing ample time to get to know each other. We supported each other even during hard times and had great fun together.
Romania is an interesting country, and anyone who can add some days after the race should explore Bucharest and its surroundings. Not only the cuisine but also the history is captivating.
Rest Day - what do you do?
Hanging out with people you just met but really like? Yes, that’s the rest day at URR. Due to the small group size and easy connection with the volunteers (a local group of about 40 friends), there’s dancing, hanging out, washing your clothes, and maybe even going for a swim.
Yes, there is one. Wait for it…
Through lovely forests, on logging roads, across grassy fields, up and down hills, and sometimes through dense forests. It can be muddy and slippery, and your legs might get some scratches. I love the variety of the terrain because it’s hardly ever boring. I used my poles quite often, as they make climbs much easier. Downhill running needs focus as it can be rocky and filled with grass.
Ultra Race Romania (URR)
Founded by a group of ultra runners who have completed MDS and RTP several times, joined by two friends who often run with them. As a competitor, it quickly becomes clear that they understand the needs of competitors and are highly committed to making you feel comfortable. You will be spoiled with hammocks on the rest day, a heated tent to dry your clothes, well-maintained toilets, and, of course, a really good track that offers a lot of variety in terrain and landscape.
Video and Photo
What a fantastic team: Irina and Cornel. They ensure they encounter you at the steepest climbs, capturing the sweat on your face. But with their smiles, a little chat, and great photos, they make sure you smile in the end. Thanks, guys!
Weather - warm or cold?
During the day, it was perfect running weather: not too hot, not too cold, short sleeves work well. At night, it is recommended to bring something warm to wear. Opt for merino, as it can get chilly in the tent at night. I did not rain during the race 2023.
You will not forget it.
Yes - we did it!
What a nice end to the race. You traverse one of the impressive natural wonders (mud volcanoes), run down the last path, and get overwhelmed by a cheering crowd! Then beers, hugs and lots (!) of local food. What a joy! The URR family welcomes you at the finish line and two days of relaxation start with diverse trips to local cultural monuments, good chats and excellent local food.
Yes. Zero running in the days after the race. I started slowly getting back with short runs about one week after the race. My body recovered well and was back to long runs within one month.