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Race Report: Istria 100 by UTMB

We ran our first ultra at Istria 100 by UTMB so that you need to know everything you need to collect your Running Stones for Chamonix next year.
Jim Wamsley Istria 100 UTMB
Jim Wamsley crossing the finish line of the 100M

Istria 100 by UTMB is one of the big races happening in Europe early in the trail running season and just a few kilometers from the board making it the perfect race for anyone based in Northern Italy, Austria, Slovenia, and all that area. It was perfect for us as an excuse for a long weekend trip in the area combined with the opportunity of catching some Running Stones we now need to go to Chamonix in 2024.

Distance: 21k, 42k, 69k, 110k, 100M

Where: Umag, Croatia

When: Second Weekend of April

Cost: €100 for the 69k course (including a bus ride to the start line)

How to Enter: Register on the UTMB website to receive updates on the 2024 race

The Event

Istria 100 by UTMB is one of the main moments in the European trail running season where some of the best elite athletes decided to test themselves ahead of the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck and try to get a ticket for the UTMB Finals in late August. This year, athletes like Jim Wamsley and Stian Angermund were at the starting line - spoiler: they won the 100M and 69k races respectively.

Istria 100 UTMB finisher
The joy of crossing the finish line

The event itself has more than 1,000 runners across all distances which comes with a professional organization put together by a joint venture of the local organizers with UTMB support. From the registration to the moment you cross the finish line, everything is curated, and perfectly timed, and you are placed in the best position to have an amazing race. Moreover, the event is a big thing for the Umag community which is all about sports, from tennis to cycling, and you can see billboards advertising sports events at every corner.

The Course

Istria 100 by UTMB 69k Course Green
Istria 100 by UTMB 69k Course - Green

The course develops point-to-point with the starting point based on the distance you run but eventually, you gonna run all the different distances as you go through your race (except for the 21k which starts on Sunday morning). All the courses start from cities in the Istrian Peninsula and go West till the finish line in Umag’s city center on the Adriatic Sea. The Istrian Peninsula is a beautiful area full of small villages surrounded by small mountains and green fields which resemble a lot like Tuscany’s countryside. As you run along you can enjoy the hinterland and the sea, during the last 21k as you struggle to the finish line.

Kimino Miyazaki Istria 100 UTMB
Kimino Miyazaki crossing the finish line of the 100M

The 69k course starts from Buzet, where you can be dropped off by the race bus, and has over 2,200 meters of elevation, mainly located in the first 45k with 6 climbs between 200 and 300 meters each. The hardest climbs are placed after the first and second aid stations (Butoniga and Livade) which are very steep with over 300 meters of elevation in just 2 kilometres. After the third aid station, the hard part is over and you only have a half marathon with negative elevation to run - easier to say than to run of course.

The whole course is runnable and you can definitely put some speed on the downhills and flat sections at the end. Even though the terrain is mostly on trails and dirt roads, there are portions of asphalt that feel quite long. The aid stations have everything you need, from food to smiling volunteers.

My Race

istria 100 69k strava course

This was the first time for me: my first Ultra. After running the marathon distance a few times I decided to go beyond to get out of my comfort zone. My main objective was to collect 2 Running Stones to get myself into OCC next year.

The race started at 9 am on Saturday from Buzet after a 45 minutes bus ride from Umag. The night before it rained and I was ready for a muddy course - and it was. Straight from the first climb, the trails were flooded with mud which called for a long day ahead. Around 500 runners were at the starting line and till the first aid station running was not easy on a single-track trail with poles and branches everywhere. When I arrived in Butoniga at kilometer 17 the pack was already well spread and I could pick up my pace without worrying about runners passing by or running too slow ahead. When I arrived in Livade, almost midway into the race, I started to feel fatigued on the quads of more than 3 hours of running and more than 1,000 meters of elevation, so I decided to stop for 5 minutes before tackling the next climb (around 300 meters of elevation) which took me around 35 minutes to complete.

At this point, I started to worry about my legs because my left calf was very close to cramping at the first false movement. I decided to switch off a bit of my mind and follow a small pack of two guys and one girl running roughly at my pace for the next 10 kilometers - I also went hard on the bananas to prevent the cramps. This section of the course felt endless to me but when I arrived in Graznjan at kilometer 47 I knew that the climbs were over and now it was just a matter of running down to the sea, which I could already see from a distance. From this aid station to the finish I had to complete a half marathon with negative elevation gain. This gave me positive energy, plus my calf was feeling normal now. I took off my rain jacket and ran the next 7 kilometers to Buje, the last aid station, at a comfortable pace that allowed me to pass a lot of struggling runners on the course - at this point, we were mostly running with people competing in the marathon distance.

When I left Buje I thought I would have picked up a bit my pace and arrived at the finish line with a pace of around 5’30”/km but I was wrong. My legs were defiantly over and I had to alternate walking and running which made this last section the worst, not helped by the long runs in open fields with nothing to look at. Somehow, I found some fresh energy in the last kilometer as I entered Umag and my legs came back to the game and I sprinted to the finish line at 4’30”/km.

Istria 100 UTMB medal

I joined the race without any big goal except finishing it and I went along the day based on I felt at the moment. In the end, I made it to the top 100 which is a great result based on how I prepared the race (running almost exclusively on flat and running the Milano Marathon just 10 days before). On to the next one then!

Nutrition: 3x SIS Gels & Aid Station food

Final Scorecard

Course ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The trails are enjoyable to run and you can admire some amazing views of the countryside.

Logistics ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Atmosphere ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Medal & Tee ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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