It’s been awhile since I returned from the United States, but the images, feelings, sounds, colors and practically all items that are part of this puzzle of a memorable experience are still so fresh in my mind that I can still feel the heat and the scorching sand under my feet, the extreme cold of starry nights by the side of the Grand Canyon, my heart pounding as I rushed to get a better position in the tables.
Grand to Grand Ultra is, above all, an incredible experience which I’d recommend without hesitation to all who are into running and adventure. 273 kilometers of pure emotion, surreal landscapes, a week spent in the company of the wonderful people who created this race.
But let us start with the beginning…
Three weeks before the race
As this was my first visit to the United States, I needed a visa and I was a little nervous. I went to the interview loaded with diplomas from other races, invitation letter from the organizers in hand and ready to give a long speech about CaliVita 7 Deserts project and its 7 extreme races I committed to. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised as it was all done in a jiffy. All I managed to say was I was enrolled in a 273 km race through Utah and Arizona and, after the surprised interviewer congratulated me, the answer came shifty: “Congratulations, your visa is approved “. I breathed with relief and started to make my way towards the Embassy exit, when a security officer stopped me in my tracks, saying: “Mr. Gligor, please remain where you are. Somebody will come to talk to you”. All kind of scenarios started to race through my head, straight from the American action movies; you know, those when you’re pinned to the ground and they check you on all sides… I couldn’t understand why I cannot exit the Embassy, since everything was in order. I waited for some 5-10 minutes, which felt like hours. After 10 minutes, the miss I interview with shows up, apologizes for me being stopped by security, and tells me they were impressed by my story so they wanted us to have a picture together and post it on the Embassy official Facebook page. I instantly regain color in my pale cheeks, my feet stopped shaking and I could even crack a smile. That was quite a scare! (actually you can see in the picture it wasn’t quite my usual smile ☺ We chatted some more minutes about the project and why I do what I do. I left the Embassy filled with positive energy and having successfully crossed the first step towards Grand to Grand.
Specialist IT de profesie, Andrei Alexandru Gligor, care a venit recent la interviul pentru viză, are și o altă pasiune:…
Luggage and preparations
Every time I prepare to leave for a race like this, preparation isn’t only training, as logistics holds an extremely important role and has the potential to make or break the race. As for a whole week it is only you and your backpack, and you’re forbidden by Regulations to get any external help as far as equipment, nutrition, medical and personal hygiene products are concerned, make this running race a true adventure. An adventure in which you’re a runner, but also a cook and a doctor and a group of supporters. In other words, you kick your own pass. You forgot something home? Tough luck! For the whole week of the race, you can’t get it from anywhere or anyone, as all competitors have their own food, gels, isotonic drinks and recovery stuff strictly measured for each day.
My objective, set from the very beginning of CaliVita 7 Deserts circuit, was to score among the first 10. An ambitious goal, which I closely fail to meet in the first two races of this year: Sahara Race (Namibia) and Gobi March (China). On this both occasions I came very close and finished the 250km on the 11th place. And this was mainly due to a parameniscal cyst in my left knee, which I discovered only two weeks before leaving for Namibia and which gave me serious headaches in both races. I returned from China in June and I knew I had enough time to sort it out until September when I was to leave for the States.
My kinesiotherapist friend Pavel Virgil worked wonders in this respect and he managed not only to reduce inflammation at knee level but also to discover the cause for my repeated injuries in that area, which was located in a totally different part than expected. A strong contracture in my right lumbar area pulled the right hip up, leading to an almost 3 cm difference between my right and left leg. The right being shorter, all pressure on the joints would transfer on the left leg while running and from here a whole set of issues. As soon as we identified the cause, recovery went smoothly and – a few weeks before departure – I even managed to run 30 km without any pain. I was hence ready to give it my best at Grand to Grand Ultra, even if I was still recovering from two other similar races, in a short time period.
Having my objective set and the physical part dealt with, I started to review the logistics, namely how to optimize the weight of my backpack so I could run hard, as light as possible. The Regulations of this type of races is very strict and one is not allowed to toe the start line unless s/he can prove access to minimum 2000 kcal / day. It doesn’t matter from which type of food (dehydrated food, gels, bars, nuts, isotonic and recovery powders), but the total must exceed 2000 kcal / day. Otherwise, you’re not allowed to start or, if after two or three stages you cannot prove you have enough in your backpack for the remaining stages, you’re disqualified.
I took quite a lot of chances, out of my wish to be as light as possible so I could run faster, and I only prepared about 2100 kcal / day, whereas my Garmin watch previously indicated I burned around 4000-5000 kcal after each stage. I was hence burning double what I could replace. This was an assumed risk and I’ll tell you more about this at the right time.
My nutrition plan looked something like this:
In the morning, before the stage:
- my CaliVita vitamins and minerals, which I already use for three years now : MagneZiB6, Joint Protex Forte, Panax Ginseng, Polinesian Noni, Iron Plus
- One SiS Energy gel
- One CLIFF bar
- one CLIFF bar
During the stages (those of 40-50 km), excepting the long stage (85 km)
- 4 SiS electrolytes gels (one every 10 km)
- 2 servings of All Stars de la Xnutrition isotonic powder, dissolved in 2 x 750 ml water
After the stages:
- 1 All Stars Isotech protein recovery shake 0,40L – 20 minutes after each stage
- 1 Hyper Amino BCAA and Glutamin Drink recovery shake 0,40L – 20-30 minutes after each stage
- 1 serving of dehydrated Expedition Foods Extreme Energy (1000 kcal) – 2 hours after finishing the stage
- 1 serving of dehydrated Expedition Foods Regular Serving (450 kcal) – 2 hours before going to bed
For the long stage I doubled the quantity of gels and isotonic drinks and I added 2 caffeine gels towards the end of the stage, to keep me awake.
Regarding equipment, I chose the CEP, products for this race as well, as I feel very good in them and they are also extremely durable, not to mention the quality of compression and the light weight. All I want to say is: the compression shorts I used for Grand to Grand Ultra were also used in Gobi desert, in Namib and in Sahara (last year, at Marathon des Sables). So, 1023 kilometers run under extreme conditions, plus another 2000 kilometers in training and races back home. They aren’t broken, used, not even a thread “gone”. Most likely the quality of compression is not the same, due to the “treatment” they were subjected to over time and they’ll have to be replaced, but, rolling back the movie of the last two years, I’m pleasantly surprised to notice how well they lasted.
I don’t know about you, but for me, when it comes to running, the most important piece of equipment are the shoes. To set the record straight, there is no such thing as “the best pair of shoes”. There is “the best pair of shoes for you!” And for me, that means, Hoka One One. For what I do, as I run long distance, sometimes over a period of several days, on uneven or other types of terrain, and because I need good joints protection and good shock absorption, Hoka fits me like a glove, so to speak. Mafate Speed 2 is the model I used in Namibia and China, and I also intended to “walk” them through the United States as well. On fast forward, I can tell they were sensational for Grand to Grand as well. 773 km, three continents, three deserts and a bunch of beautiful memories on the same pair of shoes. I will retire them but I will keep them, as everytime I Iook at them I remember the tens of thousands of steps I run, walked or dragged to reach the finish line, again and again.
The road to the United States
Luggage ready and dreams in my chest pocket, I was leaving Romania heading to London first and then Las Vegas, the middle destination of my trip. And I call it middle, as from Las Vegas I had to board a bus to Kanab (Utah), the gathering place for competitors from all over the world and the organizers headquarters. I took advantage of the stopover in London to order the traditional English breakfast. When it arrived, it looked more like a lunch or a dinner and I was seriously wondering how can people eat eggs, sausage, beans and many more in the early hours of the morning? Aw, I almost forgot: the icing on the cake, that black pudding which I understood is coagulated, fried blood of I don’t know which animal – I didn’t manage to hear the explanation as I got sick instantly. Leaving the black pudding aside, the rest was very good 🙂
Then I met Ella, a good old friend of mine with whom I ran at Marathon des Sables and who came to Grand to Grand to shut my mouth, but also because she enjoys adventure and lives her life at the fullest. In order to get an idea, I’ll only say this: she is an orthopedist surgeon in Germany, who took part in a program designed to simulate the colonization of Mars, program which took place in Utah desert, where Mars Society built a habitat identical with the one which will be sent on Mars. She ran all sorts of possible and impossible races, traveled thousands of kilometers by rickshaw in India, thousands others by motorbike, climbed famous mountain tops and, in general, she does all sorts of crazy things that, according to her, “anyone can do”. She is a special person and a dear friend. She writes down her adventures here http://fiindcapot.blogspot.ro, but please pay attention when accessing this blog! Her stories and her adventures might cause addiction ☺
Even if I managed to steal a few naps, the flight into Vegas was long and boring. We landed after 10 hours and 40 minutes on McCarran airport and I breathe a sigh of relief seeing my luggage arrived together with myself. The reason I was worried was that here I had all the food for the race (gels, isotonic powders, dehydrated food), stuff I could not take in my hand luggage. If my luggage got lost or would have been delayed, I couldn’t have started in the race. It is a risk I take every time I go in an adventure like this.
At the last security check before going out of the gate marked, just like in the movies: “Welcome to Las Vegas!” we were asked about our reason for visiting the United States. We could immediately notice the wonder on the security officer face when we told him we came in order to run 273 km through the desert. Probably he was used to different kinds of reasons for visiting Las Vegas 🙂
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
Las Vegas is an extremely colored town, with tourists from all over the world, a city that wakes to life in the evening and which takes your eyes away with its luxurious hotels, neon signs and people who party day in and day out. And even if I was tired from my flights, I left my luggage in my room at the 19th floor in Bellagio hotel and I went out to see the famous Las Vegas Boulevard or The Strip as it is called by the locals. I walked it way and back, on certain occasions with my jaw dropped, staring at things I only saw in the movies.
The laid back attitude of people, the rock music coming from the speakers positioned every 50 meters on the road, the lights and the whole agitation of a town which breathes entertainment and parties gives you an amazing energy. You cannot be upset or sad in Vegas.Maybe only if you’d lost all your money in the casinos, which was not my case as I was on a austerity budget. Despite this, I have to admit I pulled three times the arm of the “one arm bandits”, the slots machines… it feels like you didn’t came to Vegas if you wouldn’t do that. Of course I didn’t win anything, and looking around me as people bet thousands of dollars, I quickly went out of the casino.
The hotels aren’t big… are super-mega big (that big that a map is needed for the… reception, as it looks like a small town): shops, alleys with benches, restaurants area, casino, thematic gardens, artificial lakes with gondolas, everything on a huge scale.
Time passed by and I didn’t even realised it was midnight already. Even if the party was in full bloom all over town, I headed to my hotel room and I fell asleep the second I got into my bed. After 35-36 hours since leaving Bucharest fatigue caught up with me and, as much as I would have liked to spend a few more moments admiring the busy town, I had to throw in the towel. I went to sleep with a big smile on my face, as I knew the following morning I was to check out a place I decided to visit since the moment I got the confirmation that I would race in Grand to Grand: namely, Gold&Silver Pawn Shop, the famous pawn shop from Pawn Stars TV show, which I follow for a few years now.
The following morning I checked out and left my luggage at the hotel, as I got time until 16:00 when I had to be back to the airport, where I was to be driven by car to the small town of Kanab, 3-4 hours away from Vegas. That was the meeting point for all runners, organizers and volunteers. But until 16:00 I had something more important to do: visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop and hope that I’ll meet at least one of the TV show stars. I did my homework before leaving home and I knew it was down to sheer luck to meet them, as they were busy filming the new episodes. So I grabbed a burrito from a terrace on The Strip and I walked to the place, which was some 8-9 km away from the hotel.
On the way, I passed next to the White Chapel, the place where Elvis Presley got married and where marriages are really being officiated, even if at the first sight you’d think it is only a tourist place meant to be visited. A pink and white Cadillac (I don’t know if this was the one Elvis got) was parked in the yard of the chapel.
Less than a kilometer away, I spotted the destination I was so found to reach; as I got closer and closer, it started to look more and more like what I saw on TV and I found it hard to believe I was actually there.
When I was a few meters away from the entrance, the door opens and Chumlee comes out of the shop, together with another employee, wearing his usual t-shirt, sweatpants and flip-flops, talking and gesticulating with a totally relaxed attitude. He crosses the street and enters a small shop called Chumlee Candy Shop. In front, lots of people waiting in line. I joined them and learned that once a day, the guy would come there to sign autographs; you could also have your picture taken with him, provided you’d buy something from his shop. What a great occasion, I told myself as I waited patiently for my turn. 10 minutes or so later, Chumlee opens the door and asks me to come inside. I told him, as we shook hands: “I traveled 10.000 km, all the way from Romania for this!” He smiled, we took some pictures and in the end we did a short video, as I asked him to say a few words for the Romanian fans.
Kanab – the Utah Hollywood
The same afternoon I left Las Vegas, heading for Kanab, in a bus filled with runners from all over the world. The trip to Kanab, despite being about four hours long, wasn’t boring at all; on the contrary, the fast switching landscapes made it difficult to put my camera away. The desert and the rocks, the mountains and the hills, all lit by the pale light of sunset. It was dark already when we reached our destination, but despite that there was this feel in the air, on a typical American little town, with one story buildings on each sides of the main road, saloons with cowboy boots and hats by the entrance, motels featuring an architectural style typical for these little towns. This would be our home for two nights, after which all of us 120 competitors would leave in a blaze of glory towards the first base camp, by the side of the Grand Canyon.
My roommate , Adam Seeba, a former soldier in the british army, warmly greeted my upon my arrival and it immediately felt as if we knew eachother for a long time. A very calm and warm person, a family guy, a runner who, despite being on the first race on this kind, looked like he knew what to do. We discussed the race and our equipment, the nutritional plan and how best to approach this adventure. The next day at noon our compulsory equipment was inspected and we cleared the usual organizational check-ups, from handing in the medical papers proving we were physically fit to take part in a race like this up to the detailed inspection of every single piece of equipment and nutrition. We had our backpacks weighted as well; mine weighed in 8.5 kg. Pretty heavy, considering I tried so hard to save every single extra gram, to make it as light as possible but within the limits imposed by the Regulation.
After clearing all the checks, I visited the 5.000 inhabitants little town, which proved to have an impressive history. More than one hundred famous westerns were shot here, including the ones starring Clint Eastwood. Scattered around main street, there were signs showing his name, the movie name and the year. The motels and saloons reminded me of another famous American TV series, called Supernatural. The longer I walked the main street and looked around, the more it felt like I was in that movie. It was the type of town where the characters – Sam and Dean – would stop in order to investigate a paranormal story :)
I couldn’t leave without tasting an authentic American burger, served in a small family restaurant, together with a local beer (which got me dizzy in an instant, only after I noticed it contained almost 10% alcohol).
Kanab – Grand Canyon
Crammed in some small busses, and carrying only our race backpacks, we left the little town which would also host us upon our return, and we headed towards the Northern Ring of the Grand Canyon, where the first base camp was set. Two hours and a flat tyre later I got out the bus and headed for the tent that would serve as my temporary home for the following week, to meet my “roomies” for the first time: Paul (a local from Kanab, who took part last year as well), Kelsey (from Canada, the youngest participant at 22 years old), a group of 4 runners from the UK at their first race of this type and Ela.
As I went out of the tent and walked for 100 meters, I was astonished. Here I was, standing by the side of the Grand Canyon; I couldn’t believe I was there, that it was real and all this was happening to me. The landscape was simply overwhelming and I don’t think it is possible to put on a picture or on film the feeling you get when you see it for the first time. I spent minutes on end admiring what is rightfully considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world. I felt small and unimportant compared to the greatness of nature and also lucky to be there and to be able to race for one week in such a marvelous place.
With this in mind I switched off my headlamp and got into my sleeping bag, trying to ignore the bitter cold which started to get to my bones. We were warned by the organizers about the chilly nights on the side of the Grand Canyon but also during the race as well, as we were to climb from 1.700 m altitude to 2.600 m, on the Grand Staircase. The story of each stage is told afresh by the end of the respective day, as I lived it and felt it right then and as I e-mailed it back home.
Greetings from the edge (literally) of the Grand Canyon. This is where our first base camp was located last night. Incredible view. It felt surreal to be there and to take part in this amazing race. And not to keep you guessing, I finished the first stage on the 8th position in the general tables, after struggling with myself as it didn’t happen in a long time. My energy level in the morning of the race was well below zero. And that was because I didn’t close an eye during the night before. It was so cold … like never before. I put everything I had in my backpack on, got into my sleeping bag and all I did was to shiver all night long. I’d come out of the tent every hour and try to move so my body could warm up a little bit and so forth for 6 or 7 times. So, no sleep. Despite that, I somehow managed to pull myself together and finish the first stage on a honorable position. The start was very fast, for a race like this (13-14 km/h) but after two kilometers I realized it wasn’t a wise idea to continue like this. So I reduced my pace to 10-11 km/h and I kept it like this for the following 30 out of the 50 kilometers. Then it hit me. I didn’t have energy at all, not even to raise my hand to the hydration bottle. So I adopted a new strategy: run – fast walk – run. There were fields of cactus where I needed to pay attention not to get stung anyway… Even so, with only 3 kilometers left to go, I slipped on a rock and almost embraced a cactus. The result? Four thorns in my leg. I quickly got rid of them and continued my way to the finish line. And the landscapes I encountered on the way made me forget anything else. This is the true reward you get as a runner in races like this. The landscapes and the people you meet. No matter the final result, I know for sure I have in front of me a hell of a week. I can hardly wait for the following stages.
There it was the second stage. 43 kilometers of cliffs, steep ascents, rock fields, cactus meadows, uneven terrain with small vegetation where it was hard to run without twisting your ankle, which did happen. Only four kilometers in the race, I lost my balance of a tuft of grass surrounded by rocks and I landed on my belly, just like some famous soccer player who would rejoice after scoring a nice goal. To be honest with myself, I wasn’t celebrating though, as both my knees were scratched and my right forearm was all bloody. But I got up and continued to hunt the first 5 runners. I refused to have my wounds cleaned at the hydration points so I won’t lose more time and I reached the finish line on the 9th position, looking like Rambo after getting his ass kicked in some battle 🙂
To resume the present stage: it was extremely hot, as most of the trail was out in the open, except from a small section of forest. Right at the beginning, at kilometer 6, we faced a pretty steep and technical ascent, with rocks moving from under your feet. This took its toll on my energy level and I was caught by other runners, as many as at some point I lost count. I was convinced I was the 14th or the 15th so I was quite surprised to learn I came in 9th. Tomorrow we’ll face the long stage, 85 kilometers of extremely varied terrain. We’ll have a little bit of everything: technical climbs on ropes, narrow canyons, sand dunes, cactus fields and so on. The good news is that my knee works like a charm (may you live a thousand years, Virgil!). I felt no pain, which gives me hope I could finish this race. Even if last night was better and I could rest a bit as I also put the survival blanket on top of me, besides all my clothes, I’m still well behind with my sleep. Since I arrived into the United States I could only get one night of decent rest, and I can feel that in my energy level during the day. I embrace you and may the 85 km tomorrow go well.
Folks, this was by far the hardest long stage ever, of all my races so far. And this is due to the terrain, which was 75% fine sand (you know, the type that swallows your foot up to the ankle level). Who would have believed that a stage described in the course book as one with varied terrain would have turn into one as difficult to cover as this one. Now, don’t get me wrong, we got it all (mountains, hills, canyons, cactus fields) but they all had something to do with sand, sooner or later. You know those pictures with the mountains and reddish hills around the Grand Canyon? Who would have believed that, once on top, the plateau is full of sand, and so is on the descending trails as well. The landscapes, instead, were breathtaking. This was a stage where I pushed myself so I only stopped for a split second to take some photos and to record some video, as I couldn’t return home without bringing a tiny slice of what I saw yesterday with me.
By kilometer 65 it was already dark and we all switched on our headlamps to enter the Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park. As if until then we ran on plaid. Oh brothers, I counted them. There were 31 dunes, big or small, to please all tastes. Oh, the chorus of explicites around me! These English man have no imagination. They only used two words. When I got started, I didn’t repeat myself one quarter of an hour later J)
I finished the stage in 14h:46m, in top 10, I don’t know exactly on which position. As I write this for you, they didn’t post the results yet.
Two more marathons and a short stage and we’ll be done. I’ll try to stick with my plan and finish in top 10 🙂
The rest day
Yesterday was a rest day after the long stage so I took advantage of it to rest and eat (well, provided that dehydrated food could be considered as something one can swallow after so many days of effort).
After the last competitor reached the finish line of the long stage, the organizers spoiled us with an ice-cold Coca Cola, as a reward for all finishers.
The image of the last runner to cross the finish line got stuck with me and I get goosebumps even now when I write this. A respectable 76 years old gentleman reaches the finish line after more than 30 hours, more crawling than walking, and is welcomed by all competitors, cheering and applauding him. This is something you can only see in this kind of races and what you feel witnessing this changes you for life! Being a free day, we enjoyed ourselves in a contest of horseshoe throwing, then we were taught by real cowboys how to throw the lasso, just like in the movies. We ended the day with a live country music concert. As you know me, I couldn’t stay away and I kindly asked the gentleman playing the guitar if, after he finishes his repertoire, I could also play a song. So I decided for “Save Tonight”, as I felt everybody somehow wanted to cherish that moment and paused everything for a second. “Tomorrow comes to take me away, I wish that I, That I could stay. Grand to Grand I gotta go, Lord I wish it wasn’t so. Save tonight …”. I played so many times and I shouldn’t been nervous, but my legs were shaking as the song engulfed the whole camp, looking at the Zion National Park in the distance.
This was a good stage for me. As it rained last night, the sand hardened a little bit. I decided to give it my best in an all or nothing approach. There were 43 km of running like a madman, at the end of which I came in 7th. The landscapes I encountered amazed me once again: arow canyons, a stretch of rock climbing, an area which made me swear I was in the Amazon jungle and I would need a maceta to make way, technical descents on gravel, neverending ascents on sand. A stage with a little bit of everything, hence 😛 And for the picture to be complete, I got lost on the last 3 km and I ran an extra kilometer; as I reached the finish line, I was surprised to see that my South African friend Dirk, whom I left behind since we started the stage and who did not caught up with me during the race, had arrived for a few minutes already. Then I realized he must have came in front due to my wandering around. One more marathon tomorrow, then the 12 km stage and we’ll be done! I cannot believe it is so little left.
The fifth stage was about friendship and not about racing. You remember me and my south African friend Dirk teasing each other ever since we started the race. After the first stage I got 10 minutes ahead, then he reduced the gap, after the long stage he got a 4 minutes advantage then in the fourth stage I got lost and ran an extra kilometer. The result? Despite running in front of him for the whole stage, due to my mistake he arrived at the finish line two minutes ahead of me. So, after four stages he got a six minutes advantage. He was on 7th, I was on 8th. The evening before the long stage, chatting in front of the tent, I told him: “Look Dirk, I’m not interested which place I’ll finish, as I’ll come for sure in the first ten. Let’s run the next stage together, from start to finish, like two good friends”.
He replied that even if I would have had a few minutes advantage, he would have acted the same. So we ran the 5th leg together from start to finish, helping each other when one of us needed it. And our team functioned so well, that we finished on the 5th place, to our amazement. We climbed one position each in the general table: he on 6, I on 7.
I learned a very important lesson, namely that – as verified many times in this type of races – friendship is more important than racing. Maybe I could have pushed myself and recover those minutes, but the way I see it, I didn’t loose one place in the general table, instead I won a friend for life! And you’ll hear of Dirk again, as he’ll also run in my next race, Fire&Ice Ultra in Iceland, where I hope we’ll team up again.
There it is! Grand to Grand Ultra is over!
After a full week of getting used to shaking over night, I was pondering that it cannot get any worse. Oh well, last night was the coldest since I got here, and that was because our camp was set 2077 m above the sea level. There is no point to get into sleep-related details, as there was not much sleep, but one thought kept me warm all night long: there were only 12 km left and then this race will be over. As our positions in Top 10 were already clear and it was little chance for any surprises, I decided that this last leg would be about joy, admiration and gratefulness for being in such a magic place, a place where I would like to bring my family too, someday. Ahead of us, awaited 12 km of ascent on the Grand Staircase, up to almost 2700 m, from where we could see the route we covered during the whole week. So today I felt no pressure to race, but only relaxation and pure happiness for what I was witnessing with every step. I reached the finish line holding the Romanian flag and the pictures of my little girl and my wife, I leaned and kissed the Grand Staircase, silently thanking in my head to this wonderful part of America for being kind to me and for “letting me” finish this race in one piece. I was congratulated by the race organizers for being the first Romanian to ever finish this race and I was offered not the finishers medal but the famous belt buckle. This is the custom for many classic races in the States. And I’ll be able to wear it with any belt. “Congratulations, Andrei! May you wear your buckle with pride!”.
So this was it, my dears. Grand 2 Grand Ultra 2017 (273 km, 5500 m+): 7th place in the general table and 2nd place in my age group, 40-49. Despite being the most difficult of the multi-stage races I did so far, I am glad I managed to keep my promise and finish in Top10. And the messages and beautiful thoughts I got from you every night helped me take yet another step.
The finish line area is truly impressive. Situated at almost 2700 m above the sea level, it gives you an overview to the “torment” you took during the week and even without knowing, makes you realise how much the human body can endure, if it is led by a determined mind.
The feeling when crossing the finish line in a race like this is like no other. You forget on the spot all the pain, all the less-pleasant moments and all is left in one’s soul is joy, fulfilment and the thought that you can truly obtain anything, if you really want it. For me, Grand to Grand was more than a race against myself. It was a real life experience, an admirably organized adventure, in a magic landscape, one that will make you want to return, someday. And who knows where my steps will lead me, over many years? One thing is certain. I can definitely say that this is an event I would truly recommend from all my heart.
After the last finisher reached the finish line being applauded by us all, we returned to Kanab where a festive dinner was organized for us, including an award ceremony, music and traditional dances American style, and where we were could watch a presentation of the most beautiful photos took by the official photographers Troy and Matt, during the whole week.
It is said for a reason that one picture is worth a thousand words; following the pictures on the screen, I relived each tiny part of the trail. The pictures show the emotions, the despair, the joy and the pain and make you look at the race from a different angle. They also make you realise that the photographers battled for hours the sun, the wind and sometimes the rain, so that we, competitors, be able to relive our emotions. I thank you from all my heart for this, Troy and Matt!
The return home, uncertain
I will not insist too much on this final part on my travel in the United States, and not because it would lack importance but because I would prefer to remember the beautiful moments. In short, I returned to Las Vegas where I was to spend the night and fly out towards Bucharest the following day. I got out of my hotel to take one more walk on the Strip and, in the evening, tired from all the walking, I decided to head back to the hotel, despite it was not so late and was my last night in Vegas. The fatigue accumulated over the previous week made me lose no more time walking the streets. Once in my hotel room, I saw on Facebook that some of the participants in Grand to Grand were marking themselves as safe in what would become the bloodiest shooting rampage in the history of the United States. For a second, I didn’t even understood what was going on. I turned on the TV and could see live on all stations fires being shot from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay hotel, not even 2 kilometers away from mine. In that moment I realized I could have been there, maybe listening from the street to the concert that in the meantime became the scene of the bloody terror attack. I immediately called back home to let my family know I was ok, as I presumed that all news agencies will cover the story.
The following day, our flight was cancelled due to “technical reasons”. At least that was the official version, but three other flights, run by different companies, were cancelled too, so that was too much of a coincidence. Therefore, we spent one more day in Las Vegas – all expenses paid by the flight company, which wasn’t bad – but Vegas after the night of the shooting was a sad town, covered by a weird silence, with fear being present in the air. I left the United States with London as my intermediary destination and, 16 hours later, I would land safely on Otopeni airport, but without my luggage, which was brought one day later.
This was the story of Grand to Grand Ultra, the third of CaliVita 7 Deserts circuit. Next, I will take a recovery period when I don’t want to see any training program, and starting January 1st I’ll get back to work again, in a serious fashion, as 2018 will be an equally challenging year; three more races in extreme locations and under extreme conditions, races which I’ll try to successfully complete:
- August – Fire&Ice Ultra (Iceland) – 250 km
- October – Atacama Crossing (Chile) – 250 km
- November – The Last Desert (Antarctica) – 250 km