25-26 of July
How we made a safe supporting point during a global pandemic
Text: Marina Mihaylova
Photos: Zlatina Tochkova
Everyone here at harmonica loves Vitosha mountain! We enjoy being amongst nature and feel akin to those active on the mountain, so much so that many members of our team take part in the annual Vitosha mountain ultra-marathon – one of the oldest and most significant races in Bulgaria. Every year harmonica provides a support station to power up the 2,000 participants on their way to the finish line, however, this year is special and very different from previous years… Initially, the race was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, a month later, it was deemed safe enough to relaunch!
In such a delicate time, just hosting an event for over 2,000 people is beyond challenging. At harmonica we have the added challenge of managing a support point serving food whilst communicating with masses of people in a safe manner adhering to all social distancing and sanitization guidelines.
Whilst cutting watermelon with gloves on is no problem, the question of how to hand said watermelon to a fast-paced athlete without any physical contact has been a challenge! However, our solution has been found – tongs! Through the use of tongs we have found a way to satisfy all participants with a long awaited and well deserved piece of watermelon in a safe and sanitary way. We have also discovered that waffles can be cut inside of their foil packaging; this keeps each piece protected, packaged and sustainable as no excess waste has been created.
We already know many of the participants as we have been running our aid station Simeonovski Lakes for many years now. We know that the participants are looking forward to coming back to us again! Some say we are the best point!
Knowing that many people look forward to coming back to us makes us so happy! All we want is to make the final 9 km a little bit easier and so we have made sure that there is delicious and nutritious food that works for the body and also provided food for the soul in the form of music, joy, courage and a bear giving our hugs!
Lubo Nokov, one of the founders of harmonica, participates regularly in the competition. This year he took part on a bike and we couldn’t wait to see him and wish him luck to reach the final.
The most frequently asked question is,
“how far until the finish?”
This is sometimes asked with pained tone, others with hope and sometimes just pure curiosity!
We had no expectations for what would happen on the second day on which the runners were scheduled to go around Vitosha. Thunderstorms creating muddy, slippery tracks and huge puddles were expected on Sunday! The competition starts at midnight and even the fastest participants need at least eight hours to reach the finish. However, most of the competitors take part in the race to challenge themselves to a long 100 km race and do not focus on the winning and so don’t pay much mind to how long it will take; taking part is hard enough! For these racers, the harmonica support station is of great help and motivated them to continue pushing further. In the mud, racers must slow down and not rush as the track can be very slippery, however, this gives them more time to stop by our aid station and enjoy our food and company!
In rainy, wet conditions, the challenge inside the forest is much greater.
Regardless of the time of year, the danger of hypothermia occurring is very real, even at the end of July, when the race takes place. Our free hug giving bear turned out as a savior for this very reason.
Krasimir Dimitrov came to us freezing cold and left in great shape!
The two day long race is very tiring for everyone involved – from the participants on the track, to the organizers, volunteers at support stations, mountain rescuers and even loved ones of the participants. However, they were all filled with energy, emotion and admiration. Once the exhaustion and fatigue from this year’s race depletes, we know that everyone will begin waiting impatiently again for next year so that they can experience it all again!