Mljet is a small island in Croatia. Actually, not that small as it took us 120km to loop once around. But why running on an island somewhere near Dobrovnik? Here is the story:
When I got asked to photograph a running project of the alpine-ski legend Ivica Kostelic I had sun, beach, Cevapcici and some great trails in mind. And discovering a new area. So: why not?!
I was just a bit worried when Ivica explained my Salomon Running teammate Markus Kröll and me that we definitely need gloves for the running. Gloves when it’s 35°C and burning sun? But after day one having scratches and bruises almost everywhere we got to know why: the plan was not to cross the island but to loop around it. On the coast. The rocky coast. Just climbing and jumping on the razor-sharp rocks. When you fall you will get badly hurt. Or die. You have to stay concentrated all time getting cooked by the burning sun! And if a too large lagoon appeared, we swam. Open water swimming.
The average moving speed was about 1.5-2km/h, depending the difficulty of the cliff. “Speed sections” meant 3km/h. Boooom….
A small boat with Mario (captain) and Mario (the cook) supported us all the 6 days long. Warned when the cliffs were too high, prepared lunch and dinner and were always up for a joke. Finding a sleeping sport for the night was also simple: Mario picked us up when the sun went down, marked the point on the map for the next day, steered his boat along coast until he found a place to anker, brought sleeping bags to the pier, brushed the teeth and the camp for the night was set. Easy. Simple. Million star hotel.
Ivica and his sister Janica were grown up on Mljet. About 50 years ago his father Ante bought a small hut closed to the coast and within years he grew it to a little self-supported village with an own harbor, solar-powered electricity and a water spring. Croatia only has one real ski hill which is in Zagreb and when the Kostelic siblings started alpine skiing and rapidly moved into the international skiing circuit they showed their nation that despite pretty bad circumstances it’s possible to beat the “big” players if you only work hard enough. No glaciers, a very little budget, no training facilities, summer training in the burning sun, etc. But they consistently kept winning medals all over the world for years, and Janica is still the most successful skier in Olympic history. They gave hope to their fellow citizens and so it’s understandable that she got welcomed 2002 in Zagreb by more than 200.000 fans.
You might understand now why Ivica wanted to run around “his” island where he spent so many hours training and suffering just driven by the hunt for gold and to follow his dreams…
So 6 days later having about 120km in our legs, wasted a lot of pairs of gloves and having done about 10h every day, we closed the circle and had looped once around the island. Opened some ice-cold beers to celebrate our success, forgot the bruises and scratches on our whole body and washed down all the salty crust that covered our bodies . And we already made plans for the next project. Maybe another crossing in a much cooler, more North place?