(Me): Hey Dimitris, what’s on? Were you dreaming of me?
(Troupis – breathless): Quickly, grab a pen and a piece of paper and write down what I ‘m going to tell you. There’s not much time…
The sound of his voice left me no choice but to search for a pen and my notebook inside the desk’s drawer, as fast as possible.
(Me): Ok, I‘m listening…
(Troupis – breathless again): Hurry, write down exactly these words. “TRA-NSY-LVA-NIA ONE HUN-DRED!” got it?
(Me): “…-DRED” OK, I got that. Are you listening? I got it, you can stop running now.
(Troupis – out of breath now): Listen carefully, my time is running out and you are the last one who could find out what‘s really happening!
(Me): Dimitris, what are you talking about? Have you gone crazy? Perhaps you need some glycogen to feel better. And will you just STOP RUNNING for a second, please?!
(Troupis – almost suffocating): LISTEN! Go to the Carpathians, the Carpathian Mountains! I can’t say anything more, Takis is after me!
(Me): Takis who? Tsogkarakis…?
(Troupis): YES! DRΑΑ…………………………………………………………
(Me): Dimitris…? Dimitris…? Do you hear me?
(Troupis): Tout… Tout… Tout…
What was that all about? Couldn’t understand one thing! And why did he tell me to visit the Carpathians? I wonder what “Transylvania One Hundred” means? Perhaps if I “google” it tomorrow I might find out more.
The following morning…
“Transylvania One Hundred”, let’s see… Hmmmmmmm…………….. Ultra-trail race, hmmmmmmm………….. Romania, hmmmmmmm……………. 100 kilometers, hmmmmmmmm……………. Dracula’s castle!!!!!!!!!!!
Dracula’s castle?! That’s it! I’ll bet that this has certainly got something to do with what Troupis was talking about. I’m calling, now, the race director to see if he knows something.
(Me): ………. Hello? Hello?
(Recorded message): Andrew Heading is not available at the moment. Please call again after sunset….. Tout… Tout… Tout…
I have a very bad feeling about this. Surely, there is something wicked going on…
Same evening (after sunset)…
(Me): Hi! May I speak to Mr. Andrew Heading, race director of “Transylvania One Hundred” please?
(Creepy voice): This is he. How may I be of any help to you?
(Me): Well, my name is Theoharis and I’m calling on behalf of advendure.com. If it’s alright with you, there are some questions that need to be answered, for the Greek, trail-running community, regarding your race in May.
(Mr. Heading – same creepy voice): Of course, it’s alright! It would be an honor! Please, continue…
(Me): First of all, do I have to carry the whole time with me a wooden stick, holy water and garlic during the race? Just kidding. Tell us, please, how is this race connected to the notorious Vlad Tepes, mostly known as “Count Dracula”? Could you give us some historical evidence about this man’s life? I think there is more besides goosebumps rising when hearing his name.
(Mr. Heading): Well, it's a combination of history, myth, and, of course, Bram Stoker's legendary novel “Dracula”. Stoker named Dracula after the real Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), who was the son of Vlad Dracul. In the 15th Century, Vlad earned a fearsome reputation as a warrior in the region of Bran and Transylvania, and one of his most gruesome acts was to turn his victims into a horrific "forest of the impaled". We still have plenty of spooky forests and of course competitors are allowed to carry a wooden stick, holy water and garlic if they wish (but no time bonuses, sorry!).
(Me): People, not living in Romania, think that Transylvania is all of myths and legends about vampires, werewolves and other blood-thirsty creatures of the night. Is this true? What, exactly, are the runners going to witness during their stay in Transylvania? Is “Transylvania One Hundred” going to taste their blood?
(Mr. Heading): For sure, there is plenty of myth and legend surrounding Transylvania, and dramatic landscapes, wild weather, and dark forests certainly play with the imagination of all visitors! It is said that the Dacians, early inhabitants of Romania, bonded their tribes under the principle of the “wolves’ brotherhood” and were fearless in battle. Their battle flag showed a wolf-headed serpent with a long, hollow body that collected the wind and made a mournful howl. But as well as the dark legends, the runners will also witness truly beautiful alpine landscapes, rural farming scenes and a great welcome from local people. The “Transylvania 100”, however, is a race not be underestimated, just take a look at the finish times to realize that it's a “beast” of a race!
(Me): We would like to know more about the people who visualized the race. Are they living in Transylvania? Did they want to highlight the gorgeous scenery of their hometown? What is the reason for this ultra-trail race and how do they relate to trail-running?
(Mr. Heading): The race was visualized by some Transylvanians (Marius and Vlad, father and son), and myself when visiting Romania over ten years ago. We hiked, ran and cycled, and visited the mountain huts and many remote tracks and trails, and the idea of a race was born! Of course we want to show visitors the beauty of the region, and maybe dispel some of the negative views outsiders have of this country. When you see the trails, you'll understand why it's a natural venue for an ultra-trail race.
(Me): The race is held on the southern part of the Carpathian Mountains, right in the middle of BUCEGI National Park. Were there trekking routes or other kind of paths in this section of the Carpathians? Did you have to create new ones just for the race?
(Mr. Heading): Ok, some history now. In the notorious Ceausescu era, Romanians were mostly banned from travelling outside the country. To help prevent criticism of this, and to provide an outlet for the energy of more adventurous citizens, the authorities financed a network of marked trails (like the GR routes in France, Spain etc.) and also mountain refuges. Our race routes use a combination of these trails, plus other secret paths we have spent many, many hours surveying, clearing and marking ourselves!
(Me): Which was the biggest difficulty you encountered when you decided to organize “Transylvania One Hundred” for the first time? Did the Romanian people embrace it? Was there any kind of support from sponsors, local authorities or other individuals that you would like to mention?
(Mr. Heading): The biggest difficulty was convincing the local people that it was possible for runners to go through the night during an ultra - even the mountain rescue didn't believe it. But after the first race, we started to persuade them that the world is full of crazy people whose idea of fun is to get covered in mud, suffer from sleep deprivation, and eat energy bars for breakfast! Now, we have the full backing of the local towns, the mayors, and of course the local businesses who welcome hundreds of competitors and their supporters every May. One person we must mention is the wonderful Alex Priscu, director of Bran Castle, our start and finish point, who has been supportive to us right from the first day.
(Me): “Transylvania One Hundred”, in its fourth edition, will also feature another trail race besides the 100, 50 and 30 kilometers races. Does the new 20 kilometer trail course have something else to offer or is it just an entry race?
(Mr. Heading): The new 20k race is an event with some big climbs and descents, but it doesn't reach the same altitude as the other three races, so we see it as an ideal “introduction” to Transylvanian mountain running.
(Me): We would like to know more about the technical specifications of the 4 races held in May. Why should runners from different countries be attracted to these?
(Mr. Heading): One of the reasons we love running in the Bucegi mountains is because it has a little of every type of terrain, from steep mountains to deep forests and from meadows to rivers. Conditions underfoot are rocky and difficult in places, but also easy and very runnable in others. They are races with a little of everything, but we think the main attraction for foreign visitors is the combination of tough, genuine mountain races with the bonus of a special location which is known by everyone around the world. Transylvania and Dracula are known worldwide, and there is still some mystique and fascination within this area which is difficult to find elsewhere.
(Me): After studying closely the elevation profile and total elevation gain of the 100 kilometer race, I realized that we’ll be running mostly above 1.500 meters altitude, crossing high plateaus, saddles and mountain tops. Besides that, I must admit that many spectacular photos, of previous races, show the athletes moving on alpine terrain. Could we say, then, that “Transylvania One Hundred” is a genuine Skyrace or this is not true?
(Mr. Heading): Well, I've also seen photos of other “skyraces” which involve something close to rock-climbing or mountaineering, and maybe we don't have sections as technical on rock as these events. But, we do have high alpine terrain, sections of deep snow, and for sure, areas where runners must take special care. Maybe we can let the runners be the judge of this!
For sure, there will be almost every type of terrain underfoot that you can imagine. But as any trail runner will tell you, it's often the most innocent rock, or tree root, that can cause a fall, or an ankle twist. The important thing is to be concentrated all the time, but I guess we would probably say the high-level snow sections, and the steep descents on mud and snow, need special attention.
(Me): Do the 50, 30 and 20 kilometer races follow the route of the “Transylvania One Hundred” or are they totally different sharing only the same start / finish line?
(Mr. Heading): All three races follow the same start, climbing out of Bran towards the mountains, and the 30 and 50k races follow the same routes through the first CP and onto the high ridge leading to Omu Peak. At that point, the 30k takes a steep descent, while the 50 and 100 continue to Omu. The 50k has a wonderful, scenic run back to Bran after leaving the 100k route, while the full-distance runners have some big climbs still to do! You can check all our maps in the “Routes” section on our website.
(Me): Is there a race rule for mandatory equipment? In case there is, what should we always carry with us? In the opposite case, what is the most important thing that we must not avoid having in our backpacks?
(Mr. Heading): Yes, of course we have a list of mandatory equipment, including such items as head-torch, spare batteries, compass, emergency blanket, waterproofs etc., and we will have random kit checks along the route to ensure that competitors are carrying all items. A quick look at our past event photos will show that this is not a race to be entered lightly. We have serious winter weather in the Bucegi National Park and conditions on high plateaus can be extremely challenging. The most important thing? Well, probably some warm layers and waterproof, but we must stress, all the mandatory kit is important!
(Me): The other day I was searching the world, ultra-trail race calendar and I happened to find another, very similar race with yours. It belongs to a series of other races and its 106 kilometer route is almost identical with “Transylvania One Hundred”. Obviously, it crossed my mind that this is not just a coincidence and it has something to do with you. Is this true? Could you tell us more?
(Mr. Heading): Well, I can tell you that the race you mentioned hasn’t got anything to do with our event. We only organize this race, not part of a series, and ours is held in May, when the spring flowers start to appear and there is still snow on the mountains. We like to think that this is the best time!
(Me): Before taking the road back home, is there something else that all the athletes shouldn’t miss when visiting Transylvania, besides the four races of “Transylvania One Hundred”?
(Mr. Heading): For sure, visit Bran Castle, and also take a walk around Bran and enjoy its cafes, restaurants and craft shops. Also take a trip to Libearty, the bear sanctuary near Zarnesti (approx. 10kms from Bran), to the medieval hill village of Rasnov (15km), and of course the beautiful city of Brasov (30km).
(Me): I was going to ask you more information about the accommodation in Bran, where the race starts / ends, and how to get there but everything is written in detail in your website. Nevertheless, is there anything more you would like to suggest?
(Mr. Heading): The town of Bran is very well served for hotels and restaurants, but also consider looking at home-stay options and bed-and-breakfast choices to enjoy local hospitality. Moreover don’t forget that it’s Open Museum Night across Europe on Saturday 20th May, so your supporters can enjoy a free night-time visit to Dracula's Castle!
(Me): Before saying “Goodbye”, I would like to thank you for your time and admit that I’m very eager to be in Transylvania in the 20th of May.
(Mr. Heading): We're very happy to help and look forward to seeing you in Transylvania in May. Oh, and don't forget to bring the garlic...
The phone call went well… Now, I’m totally convinced that I will find out for sure what is going on in that mysterious land. My only concern is if I will be there on time before Troupis and Tsogkarakis grow sharp teeth, become pale and prefer red-colored electrolyte drinks.
On the other end of the phone…
(Dark, spooky voice): Who were you talking to Andy?
(Mr. Heading): With no one Master. I was talking to myself, I was just preparing the dinner for the 20th of May…