Persenk Ultra is a mountain foot race with a high degree of difficulty, with a great elevation gain (roughly 5300 m), variety of weather conditions (night and day) and long distance (132 km), which challenges participants’ endurance and requires excellent physical and mental preparation, proper equipment and strong-willed spirit.
Persenk Ultra is the most anticipated and difficult ultramarathon in Bulgaria, it is held every year in august in the region of Rhodope mountains. The main distance is 132 km but there are two shorter distances – 81 km (Orehovo Ultra) and 22 km (Cross Assenovgrad). The 80k race shares a large part of the 130k route and it is suitable for people who prefer faster trail races or people who are not well prepared for the longer distance (like me). The shortest distance is primarily for amateurs, tourists and local residents but in the end it is not so easy with elevation gain of 1350 m. Persenk Ultra 130K is qualifying race for Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc – 4 points, Orehovo Ultra 80K is qualifying race for Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc – 2 points.
The start/finish of all races is located in the town of Asenovgrad, 15 km south of Plovdiv (second-largest city in Bulgaria). The town has many relatively inexpensive hotels and shops and you can find a Decathlon store in Plovdiv, if you forgot something from your equipment. Without a research and booking I took a room for two people just for 35 leva (18 euro) near the start of the race/center of the city. Also organizers reserved a large gymnasium, where you could relax or take a nap for free, but it was not so close to the start/finish.
Entry fee, starter package
The fee was different depending on the date: early, standard and late.
Persenk Ultra: 30, 40, 60 euro.
Orehovo Ultra: 25, 35, 50 euro.
Cross Asenovgrad: 7.5 euro before race or 12.5 on race day.
The race numbers (bibs) included graphics with elevation change, kilometers, aid stations and phone numbers for emergencies.
With the starter package every runner received an official t-shirt from the race, with painted wolf for Orehovo Ultra and a bear for Persenk Ultra race. Anyone could buy another shirt for 15 euro.
Every finisher is a hero to himself and deserves a medal. The medals from Persenk and Orehovo Ultra are solid with good design and great (sentimental) value. You can see the wolf and bear again.
The mandatory equipment requested by organizers was: two lights with at least one set of replacement batteries, a mobile phone, minimum 1L water, food (1000 kcal), waterproof rain jacket with hood, hat, survival blanket, whistle, bear bell, first aid kit.
The start for Persenk Ultra (132km) and Orehovo Ultra (81km) was at the same time and was planned for 24:00 on 21th august, friday, but due to bad weather (rain) 2 hours before the start it was delayed with 6 hours.
My initial plan was to put my fresh clothes in the car, drive to Asenovgrad, take my starting package, take a rest and eat in the car, run, finish in saturday and drive back to my hometown. Due to the change time I decided to take a hotel room for the 6 hours before the start and for next night. Many of the participants prepared their nutrition (food, coffee, energy drinks) and sleep for start of the race at 24:00 and the time shift was not well welcomed.
At 06:00 in the morning the race started, it was still dark but the rain stopped, after few kilometers we were out of town and first ascent was waiting for us (4km, 450m D+). The mood was cheerful on the narrow path and on the 6km first obstacle was encountered. We had to cross a wild river, it was already dawn so we could see better. Most of the participants decided to pull off their shoes and go barefoot but I didn’t want to waste time, some water, anyway we were expecting rain later. It is important to note that if there was a rope across the river, the passage would be more secure. Video.
The following dozens of kilometers were fulfilled with ascending and descending, wide paths, narrow paths, technical sections, rocks, mud. During the race I saw how helpful running poles are, the climbs are much lighter (note to self: Leki Running Poles!). At many places it was foggy and more difficult to follow markings, at several of them I lost my way. The marking of the courses was very good but not 100% perfect, the organizers used 3M reflective elements for the dark and foggy hours.
After the first half of the race it started to rain, the runners were prepared for it (or I hope so). Most (like me) did not give up, but some of them decided to wait at the aid stations. Speaking of stations they were well prepared and organized with large selection of food and drinks (even wine at one of them for the wine connoisseurs). The rain was not as big a problem as the cold, some participants experienced light hypothermia and some ended the race prematurely. The rain/cold was a bigger problem for the runners in the longest distance, but some of them prepared dry clothes and shoes at the aid stations. Short sleep was also welcomed.
Ultimately, 101 participants started Persenk Ultra and 42 of them did not finish (41.5%). Orehovo Ultra – 85 started, 13 did not finish (15.8%).
Despite bad weather condition the race record for Persenk Ultra was broken. The champion Andrey Gridin finished for 16 hours, 21 minutes and 42 second, 3 hours faster than last year’s winner. In 2015 Gridin won every ultramarathon in Bulgaria, he even was ahead Radu Milea from Romania in Tryavna Ultra (Radu was 22th in CCC 2015).
Nadezhda Angelova was first woman to cross the finish with time of 25:16:17. She was not considered a favorite before the race but with great efforts and withdrawal from her biggest rivals, she desserved the first place.
Persenk Ultra Top 3:
- Andrey Gridin 16:21:42
- Vladimir Milushev 21:04:18
- Jovica Jovanchev 21:48:27
- Nadezhda Angelova 25:16:17
- Nina Encheva 25:54:25
- Evelina Zlatanova-Kazakova 29:27:36
Orehovo Ultra Top 3:
- Dushko Momich 10:09:44
- Geno Uvardov 10:39:35
- Slavi Asenov 10:48:51
- Hristina Kozareva 12:34:40
- Irena Taushanova 13:49:38
- Maya Taneva 14:08:59
I was 27th from 74 men which is good result for a runner who is running from almost a year, I am satisfied. Next year I will battle the longest distance.
Video and Photos
But enough with the cheap talk, these photos and videos will visualize my words: