NOTE: This is the original edited version of the article published in Run SG magazine October & November 2019 issue and being renamed “A Little West of Russia – Estonia Ultra Trail”.
Narva: The Russian city of Estonia
During the long weekend of National Day and Eid Al-Adha holiday, I flew to a location I’ve never been before. Seeking a difference scenery and pleasant weather for trail racing adventure in Europe that turned out to be a memorable experience.
I travelled to Narva, a small easternmost city of Estonia located near the Russian border that is separated by Narva River. Narva was intriguing. Couldn’t help to notice how different it was to the capital of Tallinn. It has melancholy air to it, the majority of the local speaks Russian, and buildings from the past Soviet Union era remain. The city has a unique cultural background and historical landmarks that survived after WWII. The 13th century Herman Castle, as an example has been restored – is very popular among tourist.
Race Expo/Briefing, 9th August
Only a second year in operation, the Estonia Ultra Trail Race (EUTR) is aimed to develop and gain the interest of trail running in Estonia. The race is certificated by International Trail Running Association (ITRA).
A short stroll off the main road to Äkkekula Park, a welcome hug received from the race organiser, Alexander Tikhonov. His eyes showed warmth and friendliness despite speaking little English. I picked up the bib number for my 60km race (always big fan of small local event with no long queue!) and then checked out the route on the signboard.
I chatted to Anna Mesha who did the race briefing in English. A little worried that I didn’t get the vaccination as recommended, I asked Mesha about the tick activity mentioned in the email sent to the runners. According to her, the relatively mild summer temperature was not conducive for tick activity yet still precautions step required. “And those wild animals will run away when they see you!” she explained upon my question on the other concerned animals (e.g. wolf, wild boar, deer, or moose).
Party & Picnic
The race briefing vibe was relaxed and low key. Most runners were Estonian and a number from neighbouring countries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Russia. We had a nice pasta party in a picnic setting. Runners were served by a local army from the defence forces unit. We feasted over pasta, rice porridge, tomato soup, and bread.
Duct Tape Saviour
Returning to the hotel room with a full stomach, I started preparing for race bag. To my disappointment, I discovered a pair of old Saucony trail shoe being wrongly packed. Yes, the one with sole needing some repair! I fixed the left side with heavy-duty duct tape bought at the nearby store hoping it will survive the race.
Nature Run: Race Experience, 10th August
The race began at 5 am just 10 minutes before sunrise. Running along a single track of the tall wildflower bushes and sharp grasses may look easy, but not with an uneven surface. The rough trail continued into a short forest section. The enjoyable part was running along the undulating trail in the serene pine forest.
Sprained & Sand
At around 8km (after we passed by Narva River), I twisted my left ankle when accidentally landed in a small hole. Screamed loudly when it happened, I then sat on the side and let few runners passed by the single track. Quickly put on Salonpas (pain relief patch) and slowly get up – limping at first, followed by shuffling but surely moving.
Around 7 am I reached a cafe by the shore and then took the stairs down to the Narva-Jõesuu beach. “Oh yes, flat soft surface at last”, I was pleased as it’s comfortable for the painful ankle to land on. The left shoe with sole issue also loving the sand though it’s duct tape about to come off.
I witnessed a very foggy morning that slowly cleared off. The sun rose brightly over Narva Bay of Gulf Of Finland (Baltic Sea). There’s nothing like feeling of openness, humility, and inspired all at once. I put one step after another along the 16km of tranquil sandy beach and pebble bay.
I fuelled myself with a Nakd energy bar, carried my painful ankle over dead seaweeds and pebbles. What a long curvy stretched of shoreline, I muttered to myself. At some point, I thought I was off the course as there weren’t any markers or any runner to follow. Thankfully, I met few photographers on the course who really made the day.
At the 32km checkpoint (the turning point) I filled up the water bottles. Then had a banana provided, took caffeine fluid gel from PURE Sports Nutrition and turned on my iPod Shuffle. Legs were tired and part of me wanted to stop here. But I knew deeply I could plod along to the finish line.
The remaining half was on the same route but opposite way. For about 5km, I ran in the pine forest that lined the beach. But I much prefer the open bay with its dunes, so I swapped back.
Beach Day & Wildflower Field
The beautiful shore was busy this time with sun-seekers and sunbathers. Plenty of activities – from family picnic to beach volleyball. Mind you this was such a lovely sunny Saturday morning on the longest beach in Estonia! While I wasn’t sure how warm the water was, Junko Nakahara (Japanese/UK based runner) told me after the race that she saw someone naked along the nude beach area.
Closer to 48km checkpoint, I ate a Clif Bar in caramel toffee with sea salt flavour. I wasn’t sure where the turning at the beach. There wasn’t any marker plus I couldn’t remember that cafe we passed by in the morning. Thankfully, the volunteers made me spoke with Mesha over the phone. Next few miles till the right turning, I simply fast-walked along the beach, and smelled the ocean one last time!
Music was played loudly at Narva-Jõesuu town. Though not dedicated for runners passing by but enough to soothe the tired soul. Along the home run, I met photographer Alesja Jully twice. It boosted me up, especially when the pace was relatively slow. I also bumped into the 120km runners (as they were on their second loop) who inspired me to not only finish my loop but to return for 120km one day.
Reaching the white and purple wildflower field – the scene that’s not uncommon in Estonia, I could smell the finishing line. I’ve forgotten the pain on my ankle (at least temporarily) when smiles and claps filled the air. The last stretch ended near Walnut Hill at the park.
Rye & Bye
Grateful for a bouquet of flower and some sand souvenir in the shoes. I only wished to have run more smoothly! After having some delicious rye bread, boiled egg, nice tea, and good final chats, we then said goodbye to the friendly organisers.
Thank you to everyone involved (from the chatty men at the halfway checkpoint to the lovely photographers) for making this event an unforgettable one. Special mention to runner Aigars Bergs and partner, Helen for much needed post-race refreshment before heading off to Tallinn.
Highly recommend this race of medium difficulty level. The lack of elevation gain was made up with variety of trail (some uneven) from forest to sandy beach. In the end, I was spoilt with running in beautiful nature – that highlighted what Estonia is best known for. Good organisation from Tikhonov and his team. I leave you to ponder on the wordings of Race Hero Award engraved on the back of the belt buckle I received:
Wear gaiters to prevent sands from getting into the shoes. Don outfit that cover the body to protect from prickly wild bush. The race is autonomous (full self-sufficiency) and runners are prohibited from getting assistance. The only checkpoint with water is at 30km turning (though natural spring at 6.5km/57.5km may be useful to fill up). We were fortunate for a pleasant sunny weather of around 20 degrees Celsius. Had it rain it was recommended for thermal underwear to eliminate hypothermia due to coastal wind.
Visit the EUTR website for more details and information on race category: 30km, 60km, and 120km.
I stayed at Narva Hotel which is nearby historical landmarks and the border – good for sightseeing. You may also check out Inger Hotel (the race accommodation partner) – a bit closer to the start line and race expo.
In case you’ve checked out from the hotel room, you may use the shower facility at the Sports Center. If interested in spa activities for some rejuvenating post-race, I recommend booking it early at one of the spa resort in Narva-Jõesuu.
Getting There & Around
Fly to Tallinn with Finnair from Singapore via Helsinki. Self-drive (under 2.5 hours), train or bus to get to Narva.
In Narva, the fare for a taxi to any point in the city is a fixed fare – not exceeding EU 2.50 for one trip. (Taxi number +372 50 44 44 4 or +372 55 90 90 90)
More details on Estonia here.
Have you raced in Estonia? Or been to Narva? Have I tempted you to travel in the Baltic State – one day when we’re able to?
Keep well, stay healthy & connected.