Paula Dogaru is an ultra trail girl from Romania, who popped up in Greek trails to inspire with her incredible not only endurance but also speed feats. She set the women’s course record at Rodopi Challenge 50miles 2023 in 9:58:05 by finishing 3rd overall among men & women.
We feel grateful for hosting you on Trail Girl Paula!
“I grew up in a small village from the Sub-Carpathian region in Romania. As a kid, I used to go often into the forest with my dad as he was a forest ranger. I loved exploring different areas and always wanted to see what’s beyond the next hill, what’s beyond the next ridge and where every path goes.
He patiently helped me understand about the trees, plant and animals and everything the forest and the wilderness had to offer. By the time I was 14, I left home to continue my studies and for a good amount of time, I lost contact with the nature as I was just going into the forest rarely, when I was visiting my parents.
Time flew and it was 2009. By that time I was in college, in Bucharest and some colleagues asked me to join them as they were going on a hike. I went with them and for the first time in my life, I discovered the high mountains. I started going regularly on hikes and loved discovering every new path and every new mountain.
Then, in 2011, some friends were going to a race in an area in Romania I had not visited yet. I decided to join them and explore the area. But having arrived there, I was fascinated by the atmosphere from the camp and wanted to try doing one of their races.
Having no experience whatsoever related to what a mountain race means, I picked the longest version they had…a 46km race with around 2500 elevation. It was a rainy day, the paths were muddy, it was quite cold at times and I definitely did not have even the minimum equipment. I had some trail running shoes that were too tight on my feet, cotton socks, cotton clothes and no rain jacket. My struggle really begun after the first steep uphill and it was quite early in the race. I eventually managed to finish the race in almost 9h, with every muscle in my body hurting.
And by crossing that finish line, I felt something I did not experience before, a rush flooding my whole being, happiness pouring from within and time stood still. I felt so small and yet so strong and I could not believe I was able to finish what I literally thought impossible. There was a good friend waiting for me there, he came and hugged me. I started crying and told him “I want to do this again !”. And this is how my story with trail running really begun. I then went on discovering beautiful mountains and every new path has something amazing to show me and to teach me.
And even if now I have a bit more experience with running, there’s always something new to learn, always a new milestone to be crossed and new challenges to be accepted.
From that moment I went on discovering new mountains, new races and wonderful people along the way.
Then, later on, in the summer of 2013, I accepted a new challenge raised by a friend to participate in an ultra race. It was an 90km race with 7500 elevation, done in teams of 2 people. The start was at 6am, before the sunrise and we managed to finish in almost 22h.
I loved the long hours spent on the trails, from the sunrise until sunset and beyond. And I realized then I like the complexity that an ultra race brings, the fact that in an ultra race, the finish line is never guaranteed and to reach the finish line, there is always a fight, physically and mentally.
I got to experience the bittersweet feeling of not being able to cross the finish line of an ultra race I dreamed of in 2015 -> ROUT. Due to an unexpected flu that hit me a week before the race I was forced to stop at km 129. Leaving the fight was soul crushing but I accepted the reality and promised myself that I will back the following year. But life had other beautiful plans and next year my son was born. Then 2 years later my daughter. And ultra running became a distant dream for a while.
But time flew and in 2021 I started training again and increasing the distance while dreaming to be back on the dear paths of Rodopi mountains. And of course to finally be able to ring the bells at ROUT.
This journey was not and is not an easy one as now there are 2 wonderful little people that look up to me and are always eager to listen to the stories about the adventures I get to do without them. What’s extra now is that besides the joy and happiness I get from running and being on trails, there is also the continuous work of trying to always set a good example for them.
By the end of 2022, I set up my mind on 3 races for 2023 : a marathon on May 20, then Olympus Mythical Trail on 1st of July and ROUT in autumn.
January 2023 came and the registrations to Mythical opened and I realized I do not qualify for registering : qualification consisted in an 80K (50M) trail/mountain race at least that took place in the last three calendar years.
And searching for races, RoC was the obvious choice due to many reasons : the friends that I got to see again in Greece, exploring the path for ROUT and experiencing the magic of Rodopi mountains again.
At Roc, the hardest part was before the race as I was so nervous I barely slept the night before, then my heart was racing all morning before the start. Once I started running, things got clearer and I just focused on the path and on the next step. Talking about the path, it was difficult at times, with lots of mud and slippery roots and rocks. I enjoyed every bit of it and every checkpoint I reached was a celebration and a small victory.
The last 7km were a struggle, more mentally than physically because I was looking at the dirty road’s incline and knew I could usually have a better pace on a similar section. But then I tried to just be grateful to my feet and keep moving. The finish line was a true celebration for me : I was able to finish my first ultra race in a very long time and the feeling simply cannot be expressed in words.”