How I Ran My First 50-Miler [Part 3]

It was 12 o’clock. The temperature was rising. I still had to cover a lot of kilometers. The course looked almost the same everywhere. Rocks, trees, vegetation, steep valleys and trails. Just before going to Cyprus I had joked a lot with my friend Enio that if we got lost during the race we could end up running in Southern Cyprus. At one point, I imagined the headlines: “CONFUSED RUNNER GENERATES INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT!”. 

Read the last part of my first 50-miler below. First part. Second part.

CP5 to CP6: from a valley to the top of the mountain

Even though the journey from the 50k checkpoint had started on tarmac, I quickly arrived at the technical part - a really twisting trail with a steep descent. I had plenty of energy yet it was impossible to use it properly given the very rocky terrain. I had read the race course description tens of times, so I knew exactly what was waiting for me. The next 10k was a gruelling trail through the forest and then right over the top of the ridges with a final ascent to checkpoint 6.

On the last hundreds of meters of this challenging climb the photographers were waiting. One of them kindly asked me if I could smile a bit. Obviously, my reptilian brain wanted to kill them at that point. I quickly remembered that they were just volunteers who tried to help and I smiled, even though I was feeling exhausted. Still don’t know how that photo turned out.

I wanted to use CP6 to revitalize myself and I did. I drank a ridiculous amount of water, took some Magnezium, Calcium and glucose and figured out that people from the Braveheart race (the 30k) was catching up. 

Kantara castle in Cyprus.

CP6 to CP7: time to grit the teeth for this

The make or break part of the race was here. The famous 7k everyone was talking about. The organizers had told as at the race briefing that this section would take us two hours or more.

Checkpoint 6 was near a crossroads and it started the picturesque yet highly demanding trail to Buffavento Castle. I started cresting the ridge and saw the trail becoming a beautiful downwards forest path offering fantastic views of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding mountains. Red dots and green stripes were in complete harmony along the trail.

Quickly after this I found myself climbing and climbing a lot. The trail was so rocky that I couldn’t run anymore. I had to pay attention not to fall or break my legs. With the Bravehearts catching up the trail became really crowded so all I wanted was to reach CP7. Meanwhile, I almost stepped over a dead body of a big dog which had probably died due to dehydration. Took a few sips from my Camelbak and I was instantly happy that I was still standing this late into the race. All the other Bravehearts were congratulating us, the Lionhearts, when they were catching up.

After about 40 minutes into this section my friend Enio came from behind and we ran and hiked together to CP7. The heat was extreme and we still had to cover about 2 kilometers. It took me about 1h and 45 minutes to complete this section but I finally made it to the Buffavento castle. It was announced before the race that the organizers would crown the Queen and King of the castle – the first woman and man to the top. 

Cyprus trail during CastlesUltra 2015

CP7: The steep climb to the magnificent Buffavento castle

”Buffavento” means “defier of the winds” in Italian. This castle was built in the 10th century in an extremely strategic location.

Well, this sounds quite simple. Climb up the stairs and let the photographer waiting for runners at the top take a beautiful photo of you. Climb down the stairs to CP7 and run the last 10k.

I left my Camelbak at the aid station and grabbed a bottle of water. I could not feel any wind there and I actually felt like in a big furnace. As with everything in this gorgeous race, the climb to the magnificent Buffavento castle was a surprisingly difficult one as the never-ending stone stairs forced my muscles.

Based on my GPS info, there was an elevation of 260m in just 1.29 kilometers. Climbing the stairs I tried to encourage others as much as I could and put a motivational song on my iPhone as well. I started thinking about the soldiers who had built that magnificent castle 900 years ago. They were definitely not whining like I wanted to, so I just focused on taking one step at a time.

I reached the castle and the view was absolutely spectacular. I thanked the photographer for his eagerness to stay in the sun for the participants and started the long climb to the aid station.

Buffavento Castle in 2015

CP7 to the finish: “glide down to the end...”

The last section of the race was another tough one. I had expected it to be just ‘downhil on jeep track’, as featured on the official website of the event. Totally wrong! It seems that I missed that part that says “The finish line is just around the corner but there is a really difficult part to get through before you can glide down to the finish line. The first 3 kilometer section is on extremely rocky path before you hit easier jeep track.”

In a nutshell, the trail gets you past the 2nd highest point of the course and over a ridge down a forest path, and then down a very difficult steep downhill rocky path of about 200m. I was grinding up the last few seemingly never-ending uphills of the run before that bloody long steep down.

On my way to the finish I met two older Turkish guys who invited me to a race in Cappadocia. We finished the race together.

My finish time was 13 hours and 22 minutes.

Even though I’m writing this a couple of months after the race, I want to thank Chris and Bryan for organizing such a fantastic event. This race in Cyprus was one of the most beautiful ultras I have ever run.

Finally, the beauty of ultra-running resides in now knowing what hardships are waiting for you and how resilient you need to be in order to finish.

Mihai Voinea is sixth-year medical student who enjoys running just as much as he enjoys reading about science, swimming and cycling. Read more on his blog at www.mihaivoinea.com

Mihai Voinea - Medical student and ultrarunner
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