Everyone gangsta until mama bear & 3 cubs right in the middle of your fucking path.

I was expecting this but not within the first 3km. Perhaps later in the course, perhaps a little lighter, perhaps I wouldn’t even know how close they were.


They were standing as they owned the place – which they did.

I felt as if life itself signed out my body and I was frozen – unable to move. I’ve had my share of life threatening stories in the past but you never get used to it.

Let’s get back on the day before.

Drive to Cheia.

Get the rooms for the crew.

One of them greets us with if only Ceausescu was still alive.

Settle in where I’ll sleep. I take the upper room in spite of the extra floor I know I will have to climb up and down after the race run. I just hope it’s not noisy.

We go out and grab something to eat. Veggie pizza. I realize this is my second one as I also had the same on Thursday. Pizza this, pizza that, ok. As we stay in silence, I meet with a friend, we exchange friendly talks and after she hears what I am about to pull, she goes: the bears are getting more and more confident and started roaming the village as well. This is really strange as it wasn’t the case a couple of years ago!

I decide immediately to ignore her and tone it down accordingly, as I had done ever since I decided to do this (of course there are bears in the mountains, let’s just hope I don’t bump into one).

Try and get some afternoon nap. I wake up after around one hourWe start prepping the food for all checkpoints but not before he checks the valid to date on what I had packed.

This is expired one month ago, this two weeks ago, this 2 years ago.

We laugh on it as we know what a faulty gel can do to me.

Robert and Maria arrive – I am amazed they got there in time. Food is ready, Robert runs a quick check on it and we go out for more, real, food.

Right after dark, Alex and Antonia also arrive. We eat and run a quick technical meeting, going through do’s and don’ts and head to sleep.

It is a rough night – I keep waking up every 45mins or so looking at my watch, thinking if I missed the alarm. Word to the wise: I never, ever missed one single alarm in my entire life.

0500 – 0km

It’s happening, motherfucker! Buckle up!

Coffee. Water. Recheck the course on my watch. Shower. Gear up. All systems go.

0550 – 0km

Go out. Nobody. Not even a single living soul. I truly believed that at least a couple of idiots would pull the same stunt: act as if the race was still there and still run it.


This gives me a little boost of confidence that I might be able to win it. You can’t come in second if you’re racing alone.

0600 – 0km


I have set an alarm for the past half year at 6am to constantly remind me that this will happen. And it is finally here, the last alarm of the season.

0612 – 3km

It’s still night but not as cold as expected.

Last year I remember shivering at the start, now it’s a bit warmer. Perhaps last year I waited for the start a little longer. I cross the national road as I exit Cheia and enter the woods.

Within the first 500m, my biggest fear comes to life.

Mama bear and 3 cubs right in the middle of the trail. I panic and on the spot decide she only sees a bright light from my headlamp and not a running breakfast.

I back away, hoping this will be my only encounter with wild animals. I take a route I never did before hoping eventually it will lead me back into the course.

It doesn’t.

It goes from bad to worse and then to plain nothing. I have to go 3km into the wild woods, searching for the way back into the course with the help of my GPS.

I have a GPSMAP 66i from Garmin, two clicks later and I have a new course set on its display. Probably I could do the same on my watch but this is easier and I have live tracking on it so people could watch over me.

Eventually, I swing back at it and head towards the first check point, 50minutes behind schedule with an extra 7km added already.

0740 – 13km

George awaits me wondering what the fuck happened.

Orange juice, water, food bag.

All systems are functional and I feel confident I can make up the difference. As I head towards the next CP I think about last year and mentally compare segments.

Was I running this part? What about this one? I remember for sure here I got overtaken. 

Last year there wasn’t much running going on in the canyon part due to sandy soil but I was now able to average some running on it. Nice.

1004 – 29km

I exit the woods and start searching for the checkpoint but no sign of it. Alex, Antonia and George were supposed to await me. There’s no sign of them.

-What if they misunderstood me?

-What if they missed the hour?

-What if something went wrong on their end?

I get to Cabana Ciucas, still nothing. My pulse skyrocketed as I already suffered from thirst. I dwell a little within the yard and I finally hear them from down the valley screaming my name. BINGO!

The dials already started turning orange and I hate being asked how do you feel? or is everything fine? or do you need anything?

Nothing is fine, I am racing alone in the woods, without competition, trying to keep myself motivated while being 50minutes already behind schedule. In the mist of things, Antonia asks the un-askable: do you need anything?

Blitzkrieg of answers, feel free to choose from: a ride back home, a new pair of legs, an antidote for this pandemic – whatever.

Dear Antonia,

I am not and was never mad at you for asking.

Thank you for the help and support!

Orange juice, water, some bread and off I go.

1130 – 46km

This is a famous route to go up to Ciucas peak so I encounter a lot of people on the climb and on the descend to next CP.

One of my main ways to keep myself entertained during training sessions and to make way without asking is to ask people if there’s another dude in front of me. They always go no, you’re in first place! and make way for me to pass. This time, as I just started the climb, I ask the first group the same question:

Did another guy pass you while running?

Yes, yes, like 15minutes ago. And he looked much better than you!

I ignore them and think to myself that it was just a bad joke gone terribly wrong. Couple of minutes later, another group, same question, same answer:

-Yes, he passed like 10-15 minutes ago.

A tornado of thoughts start roaming my mind thinking that I might actually have some competition going on.

False alarm.

One hour later however I find out he took a left turn while my business was straight ahead. Farewell, my non-existing enemy. No more running guys in front of me, I was the first one to the next CP.

This is where Robert joined and we continued together.

1650- 73km

Running with the second best in the world while already having 50k on board might not have been my brightest idea, yet. Even my fastest was too slow for him. I felt he was uncomfortable with the pace but he understood what he signed up for when I asked him to join me.

I also suspect he just came to hold his course record set in 2016. Newsflash: I was far away from it.

We keep going for the first 10k but then fatigue kicked in. I am unable to run, more like power hiking the uphills and light jog on the downhills.

I keep saying to myself that it’s just a low and it will pass but it seems it won’t. No matter how hard I try, there is like a handbrake that keeps me from going harder. Or it is just a major difference between what milage I have going on compared to his freshness.

There are a lot of sections I know I didn’t run last year but now I am able to and a some that I was running last year and can’t now.

Then again, this is not a sprint but ultra. We finally get to Maneciu where Maria, Antonia, Alex and George are awaiting with the checkpoint. Everything goes fine and I leave a little better knowing that the next section is far more runnable than the last one.

2200 – 99km

I have no issue with the warm weather but I have a major problem with thirst. No matter how much water I drink, just after I finish drinking it seems as I had nothing to drink at all. I eat some salts tablets every hour or so to help assimilate the hydration but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

We get to Valea Stanii again in pitch darkness. George sets up a fire and its warmth is mesmerizing. I could sell my soul to not leave the CP but I know the worst is yet to come.

After 99km, there is still a massive climb to do, from Valea Stanii to Gropsoarele peak. It is a 900m+ climb within almost 3km. It is hard to do during training, it is even harder now with the kilometres I had already on board.

This is also Robert’s stop. We did 50kms+ together.

I finally leave the CP after 17minutes with fresh clothes and a fresh vest, George joins for a hike towards the start of the climb.

I am shivering due to fatigue. I am so tired I could sleep right there in the middle of the path. We exchange some friendly talks, we pass by our favourite camping site and head towards the climb.

George finally goes back with his portable flood light, I take a last peek at him as he goes back and push forward.

I go by some dudes that were camping, they scream at me:

-Everything OK? Where are you going?

-I’m going to Cheia through the summit!

-Are you from that marathon where they run like 20km in the mountains?

-Yes, yes…

-Come stay with us! We have beer!

I gave up alcohol but it sounds so tempting to just stop.

I am sure I can stop and have a nice night with some strangers in the woods and nobody would bat an eye. However, I also know people have their own race going on, trying to catch me at the next and final CP.

I wish the campers well and ask them to drink one for me.

The climb is even harder than I imagined.

I fucking hate this climb. I hate doing it during training. I hate fucked up mental connection I have with it from 2018 when I did it for the first time with Radu and I nearly died as I went up the wrong cliff. I hate that it is so aggressive, so late into the race run.

But doing the climb in the nighttime as the forrest stays in complete silence and then run the ridge with a clear autumn sky full of starts is a unique feeling.

This is what I love the most about ultra running and entering the night: I get to run in the night knowing someone is watching over me. The safety net. Might be the race directors or my crewing team but I would never be able to go alone and just hope for the best.

I finally get to the last CP where I meet with the crew and my last pacers: Toto and Grigo. I wanted to do the last stretch with Toto because he was always next to me when shit hit the fan.

0130 – 112km

As opposed to running with Robert, I manage to keep the pace and push the pedal to the metal. I actually do it 10minutes faster than last year so pacing through this is a dream come true. We joke a little about the bears, we joke a little about my dying headlamp but we finally get to the finish line.

0208- 119km

Target A: 15h30min – FAIL

Target B: 16h30min – FAIL

Target C: 17h30min – FAIL

Actually run the whole course – FAIL

Blister management – FAIL

Keep pace with Robert – FAIL

Stay on track not make your crew waste extra hours – FAIL

I was the only participant in Ciucas X3 2020 and came first with a total time a little over 20hrs.

I know it is a moral victory but still I saw nobody else doing it.

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps. – Confucius

I wanted to quit at the very first CP as I knew I will never be able to recover 50minutes.

I wanted to quit at Cabana Ciucas as the target was off.

I wanted to quit at Bratocea because of the extra kilometres.

I wanted to quit at Maneciu as I was unable to keep pace.

I wanted to quit at Valea Stanii as the hardest climb was coming.

I didn’t want to quit at Cabana Silva. The end was near.

I would have had no chance of doing this without the help of George, Robert, Maria, Antonia, Alex, Toto and Grigo.

Thank you Cris for waiting for me at the finish.

Thank you George for help and photos.

Thank you Cristina for putting up with my stupid ass.

I’m not crazy. I’m just different.