There were several reasons why in mid-November we organized a “mini expedition” to Stara Planina. Team building, Jovica’s introduction to Stara, equipment and physical testing at winter conditions, creating of photo and video promo material for web site and the new edition of the “Ultra Trail Stara planina”.
But the first and foremost was the good fun with friends, enjoyment of winter mountain magic and creating of healthy story. Whenever you think that a mountain did not allow you to see her in full glory, she finds a way to refute you. The photos we took, the stories of our skyrunners are the real proof of that. Stara is teaching us, and awarding us, and all of that Jovica described with a short message upon our return to Belgrade:
“Brothers, we got much more then photos. It looks to me that we become closer, that we know each other much better now, and that makes me quite happy. Thank you for a beautiful time at Stara.”
The old rule “it does not matter where are you climbing or running, it’s the most important with whom are you doing that”, proofed once again. And yes, we brought back home great photos, thanks to Milos and our runners, short but inspiring video, thanks to Nikola and Visnja, interviews with Jovica, Nevena and Zarko, and a great time we spend with our friends from “Sum” mountain hut, Plaza restaurant, and a “ton” of great ideas, plans and good memories. Enjoy in this short story, and book last weekend in May 2017, and you won’t regret it.
No way can one refuse invitation by your fellow skyRrnners to go to a mountain. Not any mountain. This one was the beauty of Eastern Serbia, Stara Mountain. This time the crew was intended to create promo material for the next edition of Stara Mountain Ultra Trail. Challenge was there with temperatures already way below zero and with 30 centimeters of new snow. These conditions are increasing anxiety, but at the same time reheat our adventure spirit. During the trip we chat on different topics, but our thoughts were already in the mountain. Upon arrival to our base, mountain lodge Shum, we packed our equipment and headed straight under the Babin Zub peak. Fresh mountain air was a real treat for our poisoned city lungs.
The dusk was approaching and we were in hurry to find good location for photo shooting. Heavy fog was limiting us, but we were committed to give our best in given circumstances. All of us were ready to take roles. Milos was looking for a prefect angle. Nikola and Visnja were testing their drone with camera. Ice was forming at the drone propellers. During that time, our young champion Nevena, our great champion Jovica and myself were slowly worming up, jogging around surreal snow and rime decorated scenery. From the background, all activities were carefully supervised by, as we named him “Brutal Communer”, our “spiritus movens” Marko. How come that everything was perfectly functioning? The answer is obvious. We all do what we love the most, and there cannot be mistake.
Milos was apologizing for repetitive shooting, not knowing that we prayed for more running. We were practically pushing each other to work more. Meanwhile the night came, and at that moment some of the best photos were made. We packed back to Shum, dinner, socializing, bed time.
Day two. With the dawn we reached peaks of Stara. Thick fog was preventing us to see beauty of snow packed Stara Mountain scenery, but we were not discouraged. The camera was set and the interviewing started. Nevana and I were quite uncomfortable. With the support of our team we managed to go through interviews. Jovica, old wolf, did interview as a piece of cake. Same as he did his 700 + kilometers of running. Mission accomplished.
I would like to say here something about what Stara is offering to a skyrunner. The name itself is telling enough. Recognizable red rocks of Stara were created long before the Earth was populated by dinosaurs. Such a long existence caused creation of some specific form of landscape, beautiful for viewers, challenging for skyrunners. The mountain is widespread, with variety of flora and fauna. At one moment you run through thick forest, inhabited by many game, the other moment you find yourself in endless pastures. There’s also a “sea’ of juniper bush, that would treat you with several scratches, but all over sudden you find yourself at breathtaking viewpoints. Clean streams and fresh water springs are all over the place. Stunning waterfalls over red rocks… All of this is the must experience, and this is what a real skyrunner is looking for.
To me this was the first time to run in winter conditions. That’s a separate story. Fresh and clean air. Remarkable for training. Stara Mountain provides a lot, gives a little bit more, and ask for nothing but respect. This is what she deserves. I would like to emphasize one detail which gave special remark to our Stara Mountain trip. That was the Spirit of Togetherness and Closeness. It’s unbelievable how close we became during these two days. How Marko would describe is: a real Commune. No hard felling for other members of the team, but I have to emphasize one name. That is Jovica Spajić. Runners know him very well. For others, he is that modest boy who ran some of the harshest endurance races in the world. In many of these he achieved unbelievable results, in some he won. I know he is not going to like it this, but that man deserves it. With his charisma, faith, sincerity, modesty, and above all generosity, he contributed that these two days we spend in the spirit of community. By his sports results, he is world class. By his human values, he is from the other planet. The man is preparing for an unbelievable adventure. He is not bragging, not begging, doesn’t ask for excuses. He is totally focused to his goal. And I’m certain that he will succeed. He is like Stara. Provides a lot, gives a little bit more, but unlike Stara, he ask nothing in return. This is why we have to stand before him, now, before a competition. After that is easy. About his moral qualities I could write a book, but I don’t want to upset him.
So, this is it… You just go to the mountain and learn a lot. Both from the mountain and from the people had come to visit it.
Stara Mountain in the Winter
Each mountain has four faces, its four sessions. I get to know them slowly. This was one to the most beautiful experiences of my life. I would say, like a fairytale. Winter is special on the mountain since you can see her bone structure of the landscape, the peaks and the foothills are covered with the glittering snow dust. One could say that we enjoyed on one of the peaks of the mountain massif, Babin Zub at 1785 meters altitude. We knew that something sleeps under the white blanket, but sadly enough the
entire landscape styed hidden behind the fog. We listened together the silence which put to asleep the wild and unruly mountain. The snow already set the carpet between the beech trees forest. Although it seemed for a moment that we are completely alone, the winter brought her friends, fog and frost.
The winter hugged us with her cold hands, and greeted with its icy breath. It was -10, and the sharp frost pinched our cheeks and froze our eyelashes. Most importantly for us was to be a part of it, part of nature. Time has stopped, we were drunk by its silence, and have forgotten everything.
The Winter Training
The winter training conditions are truly the cruelest training conditions, but they are actually force you to get to know your character. With approach of cold days, you realize that there are no ideal conditions, and that you have to adjust to the nature, because that is the only way to understand its essence and to fully enjoy it. That is the period when most of us lose motivations, and if we do not find it back, that will reflect badly to our physical condition.
The winter training program is the most important for me, because if I train well during the winter, the success during running season is guaranteed. The winter is also my preferred session for training, the cold weather has pleasant impact to my body, but it wasn’t that nice at the begging. Over the time I learned that there is no bad weather for training, and if you manage to adjust well you’ll enjoy. This trip was an ideal opportunity to leave the fall for a few days, and get into serious winter. It was weird and strange feeling, as if someone had teleport you in a fairy tale or “The Frozen” cartoon. We jog in the group, listened the science and talked quietly, trying not to awaken the nature. Only sound was cracking steps under our sneakers. We had the opportunity to enjoy snow running, but also to try to recreate the mountain idyll to the people. Sometimes we miss words to describe the beauty of the nature. But an artist’s eye could do that with good photos and videos.
Team Spirit Creation
The team is actually one big family. Mike George said once: “When I say team, I mean different types of people with different expertise, coming together to work together.” Definitely “teamwork divides the tasks and doubles success.”
With our own talent and hard work we can win the national competitions, but international success requires a good team. Just take a look at top athletes and successful skyrunners, they definitely would not be as successful without a good team that supports them in different segments of the sport. With a team you are complete personality. When you become part of a team, this is as if you find a missing please of your personality.
About Jovica Spajić
The limits exist so we can push them, because if we don’t than it’s not the limits. Disciplined, hard-working and persistent are the words by which I would describe Jovica. As all ultra-marathon runners,
he has extraordinary mental strength. Fearlessly he is pushing limits and sets records. During this short trip I learned a lot from him, and I expect to use most of these experiences. The discipline is natural to some people, while others need some time to learn it. In today’s world is the most difficult to find motivation in life and sport, and he found motivation in other people. He devoted part of his life to these people, without fear to do so. I believe that he is a good role model and that he promotes the true values.
Socializing with SkyRunners
I always say socializing with skyrunners is somewhat special to me. It’s always filled with jokes, exchange of experience, smiles and the positive energy. Our gathering at Stara Mountain was just like I expected. With them you tend to fell in love with things that uses to annoy you. I like to say “they made a person of me.” With them I learned to love and respect the nature.
One of the most beautiful images I took from Stara Mt. was the exchange of experiences and making of plans for the next season, with warm hot chocolate and coffee sitting next to the overheated fireplace of Plaza restaurant. It’s always cheerful with skyrunners, so you even fall in love with photo and video shooting. We had quite harsh weather conditions, with -10 degree Centigrade temperature, when brain stops functioning properly at the moment you suppose to say something smart. I was not able to pronounce the title of the race, not to mention composing of a normal sentence. Yes, definitely, the nicest thing is running. I mean, I had to find an excuse for the worst statement I ever gave on camera.
Jogging in the group was certainly interesting. Meals in ethno restaurant, relaxing chat at pleasant atmosphere, eight people “sardine” style riding in an SUV, naming names and personal storytelling were just a few impressions from this trip. I’m so happy I spent time with these people in a beautiful setting. In the end I realized that all the runners are somewhat similar, we love the animal loneliness, but we are incredibly brave and work perfectly in a group. We are motivating each other.
Upon completion of another very active and challenging SkyRunning season, we immediately started to make plans for the next year. Great responsibility and extensive work constantly push the limits, which was expectable when it comes to the probably best regional and European mountain races. Ultra Trail Stara Mt., along to Falcon’s Trail, is definitely the crown of the Serbia’s SkyRunning League. Having in mind a pear of the Balkans unspoiled nature, organizers incredible energy and persistence is focused on constant improvement of importance and the quality of this competition.
One of these improvements was introduction of the UTSP 2017 competition ambassador, a superior athlete and Ultra Marathon runner Jovica Spajić.
This information intrigued me and gave me an opportunity to meet him through sport, quite spontaneously.
We had the first official “working gathering” at Stara Mt. on November 14 and 15. We had a task to create a promotional video and photo material for the competition, but also for Jovica, who is preparing
for an amazing challenge, participation in the “Yucon Arctic Ultra Race’ , 430 miles distance, at unimaginable -40 degrees Centigrade.
The conditions are being created, Stara Mt. has received the first snow, and constant minus temperature, gave us the necessary scenery for shooting.
Jovica was accompanied with Nevena Rajković, the winner of the 2016 Serbia SkyRunning League, and Žarko Ćulibrk, a skyrunner with enviable results and potential. This was a great team of athletes that made this task really special.
The idea was to do a simulation of training and to take photos at the Babin Zub location, recognizable by colorful rocks and surrounded by a “forest” of juniper bush. Although the weather forecast was favorable, the mountain whim prevailed. The waves of dense fog kept coming and give the impression that will stay there without any indication of the change. On one hand, the initial idea how to shoot this editorial was swallowed but the fog, but the new ideas just reappeared. This was the situation on which we used on over the years. After all, the nature always has the last word.
We did the main shooting season at night. This gave me possibility to control photos outcome with the artificial lighting. The only uncontrollable element was the -10 degrees temperature, but that gave additional feeling to the event. If we had waited for the daylight, the result would be just faded photos without color and contrast, because the fog was so thick. The shooting did not last longer than 45 minutes, but the preparation took much longer, and we really felt the cold. At the end, we were all pleased with the final result and gladly return to a cozy mountain lodge of our hosts. Working with outstanding athletes, Nevana, Žarko and Jovica, I had to count on their patience, but I recognized incredible attention and persistence in seemingly impossible and very cold weather conditions. Although, we jointly created interesting photographs that become a part of appealing story, what really characterized moments like these are beautiful interaction among people, and unselfish teamwork, the characteristic of real athletes. Thank you for freezing with me, it’s been a real pleasure and I can’t wait going to the mountains with you.