On a recent early morning run, I hung on every word as my new MRTT running friend Kristina described one of her runs from earlier this year. It was only our second run together and with headlamps glaring in each others faces I didn’t realize who was running next to me and sharing such a fun running saga until I asked. Kristina’s story was so compelling I asked if she would be willing to be a guest writer and share her adventure. Luckily for you, she said, “Yes.”
Kristina lives with her husband and son here in Northern Virginia, and has been running with local clubs (including MRTT and AARC) for the past six years. Her earliest memory of running was at the age of eight, growing up in Croatia, where she used to free range with cousins on forest paths and Adriatic beaches. Kristina frequently travels for work and with family, which inevitably results in early morning (mostly 4 am) runs, the occasional marathon, and at times getting lost!
Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Kristina as she recounts her adventure-filled run across the island of Lošinj in Croatia…
In March 2016 my family and I flew to Croatia to attend our nephew’s wedding. The timing was practical, right after Easter, which allowed us to take the week off during Spring Break without our son missing school. The weather – especially running weather – was anything but ideal, as the days were filled with rain, fog, and more rain.
During our stay, we kept thinking of better days to come, since we would be back in just 3 short months for yet another wedding. A week after our return to Northern Virginia, we booked a one-bedroom apartment on the island of Lošinj and I started dreaming of the miles I would put in preparing for my September marathon while taking in the incredible views.
Veli Lošinj, the small town where we set up our base, did not disappoint. It is known for its indented coast with scents of aromatic herbs, paved trails along picturesque architecture, and ideal running trails through centurial pinewood and hidden bays. This was as close to paradise as I could come. Every morning I was greeted by the gentle sound of Adriatic waves crushing against the cliffs, and sunrises that are beyond any beauty a photo can relay.
Five days into running the well-defined coastal path, our landlady suggested that I should explore the southern part of the island, one that is less traveled and thus more beautiful. My instructions were to run south on the footpath trail until I got to the dirt and rock trail, and then continue for 30 minutes to the most amazing cove. My first clue to this being a bad idea should have been the fact that the landlady is not a runner and from her 2-pack a day smoking habit I would venture to say she is unlikely to undertake much physical activity at all. But nonetheless, I trusted one of the 927 locals over my own gut and set off at 5am on a Thursday morning. Knowing that it might get hot once the sun comes out, I took my CamelBak water pack, a few packs of honey, and my phone, and hit the trail. The initial view of the water made me realize why this was a good idea.
The initial 30 minutes of the run were fine. The air was cool, the pine smell relaxing, and with every step that I took I felt a freedom that I rarely do with road running. Suddenly, I understood why runners take to trails and the serenity that it can provide. Eager to make that feeling last, I kept following the path as it transitioned from pavement, to dirt, to rock. I ran through trees, as the path swerved away and then towards the sea. A few steep declines later, I neared an amazing cove and was certain that I would encounter people – perhaps other runners, backpackers, or just teenagers looking to get a good spot next to an amazing diving spot. But there were no people to be seen. Instead, a bunch of sheep greeted me, looking just as surprised to see me as I was to see them.
Having run this far, I had little desire to run up any of those steep inclines, so assuming I was on the right path, I forged ahead. A quick glance at my phone map showed me heading south on the island with no immediate roads or paths visible. I was convinced I was heading in the right direction. After all, there was no place I could have turned, so forward was the only reasonable option.
At this point, I was an hour and 45 minutes into my run, and while it was going to be a longer one than anticipated, I wasn’t upset. My family was happily sleeping back at the apartment, and I had three long runs to get done on this trip. This would be a fun one to tell about when I returned home. So I kept going. And going. And going. Until I wasn’t going any longer, because I tripped and landed as hard as I could on a mix of dirt, pine needless, and some gravel. The burning sensation on my legs and hands was only dulled by the shock of having fallen, and the desire to remain calm as I watched the blood ooze out of my knees.
Thankfully I always have a few Band-Aids and tissues in the pack, so after pulling myself together, I set off on the trail yet again. Within a few moments though, I noticed that I was no longer on a trail. There was no trail.
I had been so consumed in my thoughts, and so startled by my fall, that I did not notice that the trail ended and I was in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Nowhere. The rocky sheet with bits of grass in front of me was anything but a trail, and a quick glance to my right revealed a bunch of goats.
I was no longer in civilization.
A sense of panic set over me and I whipped out my phone. There was nothing on the map anywhere around me. I could tell that I was still heading south on the island, but had no sense of how far it was to the tip. A single main road ran through the middle of the southern part of the island, but I was nowhere near that road and couldn’t see an obvious way to get to it. The bush was thick and I had little desire to trudge through it for fear of what I might see, or rather not see and step on, along the way. With so much terrain behind me, I decided to continue going forward, hoping it would only be a matter of 20 or 30 minutes before I reached something – a road, a house, a person.
Thick spider webs covered the path, and as I focused on not tripping again, my face would get caught up in them. I switched back and forth between praying and cursing the island. Over the next two hours – almost four hours into my run, I noticed small dots of red paint with white little lines around them on rocks. I jumped over bushes, swerved around anthills, and used a stick to wave and move cobwebs in front of me. I vowed to never do something this stupid again and gave thanks to my type-A personality for making me carry extra water and nutrition on this never ending crazy trip.
Just then, I looked up and noticed that what was nothing but rock, wild grass, and bushes cleared the way to a wall of rock, with a sign on it.
A glorious divided path appeared in front of me. While I was uncertain what the symbols meant, I knew I wanted to go away from the water and towards the road in the middle of the island. My excitement made the next 35 minutes of running/hiking/uphill climbing a breeze and I could barely contain my excitement as I reached the “road”. It was a small path, wide enough for a car to pass. About 30 goats greeted me with strange looks on their faces, but I had no time to think about any of that as I started running north on the road, towards the main town center and civilization that awaited me. Country signs reassured me that I was on the right path.
A few more downhill treks and I returned to where I started.
My happiness was beyond measure – happy that I survived the ordeal without having to call the police, that my injuries were superficial and did not involve snake bites, that my core got a workout during the 4-hour unplanned run and road scavenger hunt, that I had water and nutrition to survive just fine, and that I would never again listen to a non-runner for advice about the best places to run.
- Have you gotten lost while out on a run?
- What’s the scariest animal you’ve encountered while running?
- Do you run with a small first aid kit?