In the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, on the upper part of the Balkans, there is Croatia. Croatia is a wonderful, Mediterranean country with beautiful beaches, magnificent landscapes, great historical legacy and medieval cities taken right out of the Middle Ages! Across the country’s coastline there exist about a thousand of smaller and bigger islands that prove to be the ideal travelling destination for everyone! But not for us! We are not going to visit them, at least for the time being… Why? But, of course, because we are trail runners, mountain people, and there are a lot of mountains and high summits in Croatia!
At the country’s northwestern end, next to the Dinaric Alps that extend all across Croatia, from South to North, there is the peninsula of Istria. That is our destination if we want to participate in one of the most interesting 100-mile trail-races, which is also chosen for 2016 as a future member of the Ultra Trail World Tour! The primary goal of the race’s organizing committee, for the “100 Miles of Istria”, is to be a regular race in the Ultra Trail World Tour calendar for all the years that follow. But we can learn even more of their plans from the exclusive interview to Advendure of Mr. Alen Paliska, race director of the 100 Miles of Istria.
[Advendure]: I‘ll start by saying that the last few years mountain running’s growth rate is phenomenal here in our country! The Greek mountain running community gets bigger day by day and mountain races pop out of nowhere every weekend! Is the same thing happening to Croatia? Is this the reason that led you to the creation of the “100 Miles of Istria”? Was it your personal dream or are there others behind this project?
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: I believe that a sort of a trail revolution is happening all over the world today and Croatia is not an exception. However, as opposed to other countries, trekking races have been largely popular in Croatia for more than ten years now. These races are a combination of trail and orientation running and are, besides Croatia, common only in Slovenia. Thus trail races in Croatia evolved from trekking and adventure races. The 100 Miles of Istria race was conceived as a mere experiment, as a way of encompassing the entire Istrian mountain trail, from its beginning to its end, in one trekking race. At the time, we imagined that there would be about twenty participants who would take part in the race. However, several months before the race we had over 200 applied candidates, so for security reasons we decided to mark the trail and a trail race was born. In the beginning the race was a joint project of two different organizations (SRK Alba and SD Trickeri), but owing to its rapid growth it was necessary to pass on the organization of the race to a company, Sport box d.o.o., which is currently the main organizer the race.
[Advendure]: Tell us, please, a few words about the technical details of the race itself. What will someone encounter when participating for the first time in the “100 Miles of Istria”?
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: I am pleased to say that the 100 Miles of Istria is a combination of all the possible aspects of trail running. The participants will have the opportunity to run along the seaside, to climb a mountain, to run through mediaeval towns and enjoy spectacular views, all in a single race. The trail itself is technically quite demanding, consisting mostly of hard surfaces that turn softer only in the last half of the race as the trail descends to the fruitful valleys in the interior of the peninsula. Although the cumulative elevation gain amounts to a “mere” 6500 m, the trail is also psychologically very demanding, since it contains numerous smaller ascents and descents.
[Advendure]: What is the secret ingredient of this recipe that makes “100 Miles of Istria” so special to be chosen, among many other ultra-trail races, as a future race of the Ultra Trail World Tour 2016 calendar?
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: In the first place, it is the generous hospitality of organizers and volunteers, but also a continuous dedication to details. Istria is a well-known tourist region, with a very mild climate, and a rich tourist offer, ranging from a high-quality accommodation to an exquisite offer of food and wine. The course is very attractive and, with regard to security, very safe. By combining a very strong marketing campaign and by participating in the main trail promotion events, it seems that we succeeded in gaining the attention of UTWT. We are very proud to be a part of UTWT and next year we plan our race to become a regular race in the cup.
[Advendure]: Since the Dinaric Alps extend all along Croatia’s mainland, how did you come up with the decision to choose the peninsula of Istria as the place to hold such an event, like the 100-mile ultra-trail races?
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: The main reason is that we live in Istria and have established a very close cooperation with the local authorities. Another reason is that Istria combines all the aspects that trail runners expect to find in a race, and all that on a relatively small area. We should also not forget the safety aspect. The trail is a real wilderness in itself, but all its parts are easily reachable, which is a huge advantage, as opposed to the mountain of Velebit where some parts cannot be reached at all, except by a helicopter. Last but not least, although perceived as a tourist destination owing to its seaside, Istria is a real heaven for people who love the outdoors – the peninsula has more than 3.000 km of marked cycling trails, approximately 1.000 km of marked walking trails, and you can also climb on 19 locations and chose from more than 1300 different routes. Did you know that in the course of a year you could participate in more than 60 different outdoor events held in Istria? (www.istria-bike.com & www.istria-trails.com)
[Advendure]: Along with the “100 Miles of Istria” there are also another three trail races of 110, 69 and 42 kilometers, a 5 kilometer road race and a children’s mile race taking place at the same date, from 15th to 17th of April. Please tell us of the difficulties you face in order for everything to be perfect just before countdown of all the races begins.
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: The organizational part is highly complex, which means that we work on the race throughout the whole year. We devote a great deal of effort in the negotiations with our partners, sponsors and technical sponsors. We need to check the entire trail and, if needed, adjust it to the new conditions on the terrain. We put a lot of effort in motivating and recruiting approximately 300 volunteers who are positioned on various spots along the trail. Furthermore, we are constantly promoting our race via social networks; we participate in various promotion events and races in Croatia, as well as abroad. However, this is the fourth year that we have been doing it, and we managed to establish a system in which twenty persons are in charge of different sectors – so far, they have been doing a great job. The greatest challenge just before and during the race is marking the trail – a team of 20 volunteers has two days to place and remove around 7.000 flags, a hundred waymarks and several kilometers of ribbon!
[Advendure]: It is a fact that volunteers have a huge and very important role in such events like ultra-trail races. They are necessary for both the runners and the organization and therefore sometimes exceed the number of participants by far. Therefore, we would like to know more from you about these people, doing everything on the background, because they reflect the way the rest of the people of Croatia, who are not runners, think of trail running.
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: Volunteers are our strongest asset and we are extremely proud of them. After each race, we send the participants a questionnaire on the quality of the race, to find out what were the strong and the weak points of the race. So far, our volunteers have obtained the highest grades and we can only sing their praises. Mostly they are young people that participate in trail running activities, in one way or another, or people that just adore the outdoors. Apart from them, at our disposal we have a large amount of mountaineering society members with whom we have established an excellent cooperation. It is interesting to note that volunteers come from various parts of Croatia, but also from neighboring countries, especially Slovenia. I always like to stress that a high-quality event would not be possible without the help of responsible volunteers and I am very grateful to each volunteer who is in any way included in the organization of the race.
[Advendure]: There is one question that often starts a conflict when asked to race-organizers here in Greece. Is there any help, physical, economical or some other kind from a government agency when organizing a trail race? If yes, what kind of help is it? Does it affect positive or negative the “100 Miles of Istria” trail race? If not, would you like some kind of help? What kind would that be and for what reason would you ask for it?
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: The first three races have been held without any help from the government, the ministries or even the local authorities. We mainly leaned on the cooperation with local self-government and local tourist offices with which we have established a fruitful cooperation. However, the 100 Miles of Istria project has grown so much that we need the help from the local authorities, as well as from the competent ministries. It is with great pleasure that I can claim that this year the local authorities recognized the importance of the project and helped us by donating a considerable amount of money. We have also contacted the Ministry of Tourism, and we expect it to provide us with a financial aid via their tenders and projects. We also look forward to a better cooperation with the Croatian National Tourist Board. In general, what we need is financial aid, while on the local level we expect that all the necessary services be engaged, such as the medical service, the mountain rescue service, the police, the civil protection service, the Red Cross, as well as other services. We are very optimistic because in these four years, the project has been positively perceived and it is getting easier to find high-quality partners. A great help is provided to us by the Istrian Tourism Development Agency whose Outdoor Tourism Department has been promoting our projects.
[Advendure]: Another big issue that concerns all of us foreign runners, visiting Croatia to participate in the race for the first time, is our staying and transportation back to the start, because the race starts at Labin and finishes in Umag, which is on the other side of the peninsula of Istria! Are there any hotels that will offer a discount to all athletes? If yes, where can someone find out more information about that? Transportation from Umag back to Labin will be free of charge by the race’s organization. If not, what is the extra cost for each athlete? I am asking this because most of the times the answer to that question determines whether someone applies for an ultra-trail race abroad or not.
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: This is a very frequent question, and this is why our official website contains all the information on the accommodation and transport. For the participants we have ensured an affordable accommodation in hotels in Umag, and they can choose from two four stars hotels, with the room price ranging from EUR 29, which is a very affordable price. With regard to transport to the starting point of a particular race, the participants will be transferred there via buses. The transfer is included in the participation fee so there is really nothing to worry about :). The buses will be departing from Umag several hours before the race starts, and the participants will arrive on the starting point of the race approximately one hour in advance. On the starting points, we will also prepare and offer some snacks to the participants.
[Advendure]: Lastly, before saying “Goodbye” for now, we would like to ask you for the most useful piece of advice in order to finish the “100 Miles of Istria” smiling!
[Mr. Alen Paliska]: As for the equipment, I strongly recommend that you choose adequate footwear, bearing in mind that the first half of the trail runs through a mountain area and is quite rocky, while the other half runs though valleys and is softer. Trekking poles will surely come in handy! Although I advise you to be prepared for a highly demanding race, you will surely not regret your visit to Istria and I am convinced that you will return to us again and again. Also, do not miss the opportunity to visit the local taverns and try our specialties, olive oil and wine :).
Mr. Alen Paliska, thank you so much for your time. See you in a few months!
Press here to see more photos of the race.