Harpagan 54- race report

20th October 2017: that was a long-awaited date of the 54th edition of Harpagan. To be honest, I didn’t have any particularly grand expectations. A bit less than a month before that I completed the 102-mile-long Cotswold Way Century and since then didn’t do much training. After 2 recovery weeks, I did literally 2 short runs and that was it. I certainly didn’t feel very strong ahead of Harpagan. My aim was to finish, and finish with a decent result. That would mean for me a nice finish of a very intensive (and not too well planned) running season. By the way, I will post a summary of my running in 2017 in December 😊.

In the Autumn of 2017 Harpagan took place in a village called Szemud, just outside of Gdansk in the north of Poland. If you’d like to understand better what kind of a race Harpagan is, then please visit my report from the 53rd edition.

Start

As always, my friend Michał picked me up from Gdańsk and we set off together. After a 40-minute drive we were in Szemud. We promptly registered at the race HQ, picked up our race packs and the SI chips. With 1.5 hours to spare we found some space to lie down, get ready and have some rest. There I sat Mateusz, with whom we ran the previous Harpagan. It was good to see him and we agreed we’ll meet at the start and run together again.

Having packed my race vest I left my luggage and the half-way drop bag with the organisers. We were ready to roll. We went out to the school pitch where we had to wait 10 minutes until maps distribution. The weather was mild, around 12 degrees. The forecast had said that it might rain at night and in the morning, but the expected temperature meant that I could wear short running tights and my tried and tested technical shirt. Of course, I had my jacked stowed in my race vest, just in case.

At the start: planning how to get to CP1

5 minutes before the start I received my map and promptly walked to the start line. There I was joined by Michał, his friend Łukasz, Mateusz, as well as Tomek (companion from the few previous Harpagans). I devised a plan how to get to an easy first checkpoint (CP1) and at 21:00 we set off!

To describe my race I used the same formula I used in my blog post from Kierat. That is, at each consecutive map snippet there are two lines. The thick, red line denotes the shortest possible route, as presented by the organisers after the race. Of course, there was none of it on the map I received and it was up to me to find a way to get from one CP to another. The second line, thin and multicoloured, is my GPS track. Dark green means I was running, light green: jogging and walking swiftly, yellow: walking not to swiftly and red: not moving, or moving very slowly.

CP1

The route to CP1 was fairly quick and easy, except turning wrongly just after start and having to make up 100 metres or so. Among many others, after 25 minutes from the start, we reached CP1.

Surrounded by paparazzi we plan how to continue our journey

CP2

The plan was easy and its execution flawless, until we reached lake Borowo. There is a path on the map that runs along its shore and we were supposed to follow it northbound. Instead, the path turned into an impassable bog at one point and we were forced to slowly drag ourselves through bushes and thick undergrowth. Walking east we eventually managed to reach a main track where we could run again. Without any further complications we found CP2. I was pissed off because we easily lost 20 minutes by the lake. CP2 was an unmanned point, so we were unable to see how many people were ahead of us. I was sure that many!

CP3

I chose to go east towards Gniewowo, rather than go through the tough-looking (suggested by the organisers) terrain with valleys and ravines north. For most of this stretch we nicely ran, especially ran down to river Cedron. Past Gniewowo the terrain got complicated, but we managed to take the right compass bearing trough a couple of hills and almost perfectly found CP3. There a surprise awaited: it turned out that there had been just two runners before us; including one from the mixed category. That meant, that all five of us (Michał, Tomek, Łukasz, Mateusz and I) were tied on the 2nd place! That was completely unexpected!

CP4

With morale boosted by the fantastic news, we confidently continued. Firstly, following back the same path towards Gniewowo, and then an obvious route straight onto CP4. In the meantime, someone managed to catch up with us. We were conscious, that we need to keep a good pace, because we will be viciously pursued!

CP5

I planned a route that was not necessarily short, but was easy to navigate and looked quite runnable. Indeed, we quickly ran down to the Szmelta valley and then, with a mix of walking and jogging, easily located CP5. We refilled our water bottles there and helped ourselves to bananas and chocolate. The guy that was following us disappeared somewhere along the way, so again there was 5 of us.

CP6

I chose an easy to navigate variant via Łężyce. After a bit of an uphill we reached the village and then enjoyed a fair bit of running. We easily reached the area around CP6. Unfortunately, we left the forest track a bit too early and ended up roaming aimlessly looking for the CP. At one point Michał suggested another direction and after a few minutes of fighting our way through dense vegetation we found it. With no time to spare we set continued, because we could see some lights in the distance behind us: the hounds caught our trail and were closing the gap!

CP7

At first it was tough to find the right way due to a hilly terrain and tracks and paths not consistent with the map. Nevertheless, relatively quickly we found a very runnable downhill track towards the Cisowa nature reserve. From there navigation was easy. We crossed the Marszewski brook and easily checked in at CP7. While I refilled my water bottles, Mateusz asked the CP crew in which position we were. He received a response, that there was just one person ahead of us (the dude from the TM150 mixed course), which meant we were the leaders. Absolute shock!

I didn’t verify this information myself as we swiftly set off towards CP8, but I had doubts if this could be true. Indeed, having looked at the checkpoints times after the race, I saw that we were actually in the 2nd place. Anyway, it was super exciting that we were in the lead!

CP8

An easy stretch with a decent amount of running. I must admit though, that tiredness started to get to me. Drizzling rain didn’t help.

CP9

Just past CP8 we were supposed to get onto a forestry track, which was in turn supposed to lead us nicely towards the track marked white. Instead, we ended up fighting through vegetation and moving in a roughly good direction. This cost us some time, but eventually we found the red road, from where we easily navigated to within 200 metres from CP9. There for a short while we were moving in the opposite direction, but as soon as I realised the mistake, we turned back and promptly got CP9 out of the way.

CP10

It pains me to recall this stretch. The plan was easy: when we reach the tiny lake south of CP10 we beeline the last 200 metres through the forest and land exactly at CP10. We reached the lake swiftly and according to plan indeed. There, we somehow missed the right point for the beeline and instead started it 300 metres too far. When we didn’t find the checkpoint where we expected it, we started looking around, desperately hoping to find some feature that would help us locate where we were. Because of that we ended up making this ugly loop around the CP. We eventually found it, but this mistake must have cost us 20-25 minutes. The crew at CP10 informed us that 3-4 people overtook us.

Race HQ- the halfway point

For the last few hours the rain was quite strong and relentless, but I put my jacket on just after CP10. Time wasted at CP10 and the resulting frustration made me feel cold and miserable. We started running to alleviate that and indeed this made me feel better. Without any issues we reached the road in Grabowiec from where we easily checked in at event’s HQ.

The first loop was supposed to be 52 km long. My Garmin watch showed that in fact we covered 62 km and it took us 9 hours and 43minutes.

We all went inside the building to access our respective drop bags. I refilled my bottles, stuffed my vest with gels and bars, grabbed a cheese bap and within 10 minutes from reaching the HQ I was en route to CP11. Michał, Mateusz and Tomek sorted themselves out in about the same time, while Łukasz decided to linger a bit longer and continue at his own pace. So, just before 7 AM the four of us started the 2nd loop.

CP11

We easily made it to the vicinity of CP11, but we ran down too far north-west. As a consequence, we had to backtrack to the checkpoint. There we saw a runner, who swiftly moved on, evidently wanting to run away from us.

CP12

This was supposed to be the longest stretch: 9 km. We easily made it to Donimierz with a fair amount of running. After the village I wanted to follow the track which the organisers selected as their optimal route. The guys convinced me to take a different route though. Having crossed a field and a bit of wilderness, we reached a forest, where we hoped to find a path that would lead us to the ‘optimal’ track. Instead, we came across sprawling bogs. Initially it was a bit wet underfoot and we walked along the edge of the bog, hoping to circle it and find the main track. However, in order not to go too much south, I decided to cross the bog.

Going was fine, until I realised that stepping on a grass clump results in other clumps and MECH around me lifting slightly! It wasn’t until a few steps later, when I fell through the grass into water waist-deep, that I realised, that below the grass is God knows how much water! My heart started to beat faster. I realised, that perhaps this is not the best route. I managed to pull myself out of the water and after a few shaky steps I reached a safe haven of a few solidly grounded trees. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I lost sight of the guys, who were moving south-east trying to walk around the bog.

Hoping this would end soon I continued on and over a distance of 20 metres fell into the water 2 more times. I was seriously anxious at that point. The only thing that kept me going was the sight of rising ground not far ahead of me. Indeed, I shortly reached hard ground and after a while shakily stumbled onto the track. I shouted to the guys that I found it and continued towards CP12.

After 10 minutes of walking/jogging Michał appeared in the distance behind me and soon caught up with me. It turned out they circled the bog and found the track too, but Tomek and Mateusz didn’t chase after Michał. Just the two of us now, we passed Częstkowo and without any further issues, after 1.5 hours from CP11, reached CP12.

CP13

A few minutes after the checkpoint we saw Piotr Kopacz chasing us. I recognised him from various previous Harpagans. Looking strong and fresh, he quickly overtook us. I found it annoying, that because of the time lost in the bogs, not only the leaders are widening the gap, but we are also being overtaken!

Michał and I ran as much as we could, keeping Piotr in sight ahead of us. We reached CP13 a short while after him. There we were informed by the crew, that Michał and I are tied on the 4th position.

CP14

Piotr set off very quickly… no surprise. He knew, that he’s got to lose us if he wants to keep the 3rd position. A few hundred meters after the checkpoint we didn’t find the north-west path we wanted to take so I thought we’d continue towards Rzepecka and attack the CP from there. However, Michał came up with an idea (that later turned out to be brilliant) to veer up north. Indeed, the path was nice and very runnable atop a forested hill. Then having followed on a decent quality forest track we laboriously ascended a prominent hill where CP14 awaited. We saw neither Piotr nor any other runners.

CP15

We backtracked for 2km and there we met Mateusz and Tomek who were on their way to CP14, maybe 20 minutes behind us. Easily navigating towards CP15 we kept wondering whether Piotr is ahead of us, or behind us. I suspected there was no chance he could be ahead of us. We confidently reached CP15 having seen no one else though.

CP16

Over the last kilometres one of my gaiters started rubbing on my ankle, causing me gradually more and more pain. Just past CP15 I decided to remove it and a miracle happened! The pain disappeared, I felt relieved and shot ahead running, what can be seen by a considerable amount of green colour of my GPS track. We confidently found CP16, where the crew informed us, that we’re probably in the lead; however, there was a dazed-looking guy who just punched the SI card, but didn’t record his presence with them. I read it, that we’re back in the 2nd place. Michał’s route choice to CP14 turned out to be a win. We left Piotr and one other competitor behind us!

CP17

Even though we were in the 2nd position I dictated a strong pace. I assumed, that when the guys behind us reach CP 16 and realise they were overtaken, they would chase us relentlessly! The stretch to CP17 was very easy to navigate and we swiftly found CP17.

CP18

Another easy stretch, if not for the fact that I lacked stamina to run as much as I should have run. While at CP18 we learned that the leader had a 1.5-hour lead over us, which meant that he was out of reach. But we didn’t know what lead we have over the next runner, so we quickly refilled our bottles, grabbed a banana each and ran.

CP19

I chose to go via Ustarbowo. This was a slightly longer route, but looked safe and runnable. Indeed, we ran strongly and in no time reached CP19.

CP20

It was a similarly quick and easy stretch, covered in a mix of jogging and marching. Nothing special to report. The path network just before CP20 was a bit messy and didn’t fully correspond to what the map was showing. However, navigating carefully, I led us straight to the checkpoint.

Finish

We ran most of the final stretch. With 1 km left until the finish we were confident no one was going to steal the 2nd place from us. We had agreed earlier on that we would finish together to share the 2nd place. Boosted by an adrenaline rush, we ran the last few hundred meters very hard and at 14:50, after 17 hours and 50 minutes and 116 km from the start, we jointly finished at the fabulous 2nd position.

Happy bunnies a moment after crossing the finish line!

Epilogue

In the end 18 people finished and earned the right to the coveted title ‘Harpagan’. Out of 162 starters, Łukasz finished 7th and Mateusz 8th. Tomek pulled out when he was unable to find CP14. The winner finished 1 hour and 17 minutes ahead of us, so we managed to claw back 13 minutes from CP18.

On one hand, I was a bit frustrated. Having counted our mistakes and summarised how much time they cost (20 minutes en route to CP2, 10 minutes at CP6, 20 minutes at CP10, 5 minutes at CP11, 15 minutes at the bogs), I realised we could have been very close to the leader. So he was within reach, but that’s the nature of navigational races such as Harpagan, where one mistake can change the end result significantly.

Left to right: 2nd place (tied) Michał Głód, 1st place Marcin Hippner, 2nd place (tied) Marcin Krzysztofik

Nevertheless, this is my best ever result in Harpagan and in any ultra race I’ve done. It’s great, especially since I had not anticipated a great performance before. What’s also nice, is that after 11 years of running together I did it together with Michał. Kudos to him for the excellent progress he’s made since the last Harpagan 6 month earlier. He was in top shape; he easily maintained my pace. What’s more, at times it was me who had to maintain his pace!

Some stats

With this race, I concluded my ultrarunning season, so I’m glad I managed to close year 2017 with such a result. I’ve recently revised my 2018 running calendar and for the next 6 months will not run any ultra race. I want to use this time for rest and recovery and then for well-structured training to be in top shape for the 55th Harpagan in April 2018.

Last but not least, here are the full maps.

Loop 1: red: the optimal variant, green-yellow: my variant
Loop 2: red: the optimal variant, green-yellow: my variant

All the best,

Marcin

Interesting places- Athens

A business trip to attend a conference in Athens… fantastic! The organisers of this conference chose the location wisely:

  1. I’m guessing it must have been quite cheap to organise it, considering sorry state of the Greek economy
  2. Athens is sort of halfway between Western Europe and Saudi Arabia, from where most attendees were coming
  3. Athens being a cradle of European culture!
Kalimarmaro- the Olympic Stadium

Sightseeing

One afternoon, after a day full of slides and discussions, there was an organised sightseeing trip. We were bussed around the city for 2 hours and had a terrific opportunity to see many famous landmarks. I had heard of many of them in the past and was excited to see with my own eyes. For instance, the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, or the magnificent marble Olympic stadium Kalimarmaro where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. We also took a walk around the Acropolis and enjoyed a panorama of Athens from the Areopagus Hill. From there, allegedly, St Paul the Apostle preached his sermon to the Athenians.

The Acropolis seen from the Areopagus Hill

On the second day’s afternoon, I managed to find 2 hours to visit Athens’ first and foremost attraction: The Acropolis with its magnificent temple dedicated to goddess Athena, the Parthenon. I was awestruck and impressed having realised that the Parthenon had stood there pretty much intact for over 2100 years, i.e. since 438 BC until 1687. During that time, it resisted earthquakes and other elements. In 1687 it was severely damaged by Venetian bombardment of the Ottoman ammunition dump held inside the temple. Despite the damage and passage of time, the monument is still impressive and beautiful!

The Parthenon

Mingling with celebrities

Just after the visit to Acropolis A fantastic thing happened: I met Dean Karnazes, a famous ultrarunner, a sort of a celebrity in the ultrarunning world and the author of a bestseller ‘Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner’. This was one of the first running books I read a few years ago. I loved it, I loved his story and I must say this book has been an important inspiration that got me running ultra-long distances. The ultrarunning community perceives Dean as more of a showman rather than top athlete, but this doesn’t change the fact that he has done a fantastic job popularising ultrarunning. I had a brief chat with him and I think that privately he is a super nice guy. When I told him that I also run ultras, he immediately asked me, why I am not running at the moment😊. He made a good point!

Dean Karnazes with the famous Slow Runner!

Running, finally!

On the third and last day, bearing Dean’s words in mind, I woke up early and went for a short run to the nearby Lycabettus Hill, the highest point in Athens. The run was supposed to be short, due to the just recently completed 102-mile journey at the Cotswold Way Century. With a mix of jogging and walking uphill, after 20 minutes I reached the top of the hill, from where I could relish the beautiful panorama of Athens and the Saronic Gulf, where in 480 BC, the momentous Battle of Salamis took place.

Short run to Mount Lycabettus

There are a few more places in and around Athens where I’d love to go for a run, such as the Filopappou Hill, or Mount Hymettus. These will have to wait for another time; however, I don’t expect to visit Athens for business in the foreseeable future again 😊.

All the best,

Marcin

Cotswold Way Century 2017 race report

Welcome to my blog after quite a while! Almost 2 months have passed since my last entry (http://wolnybiegacz.pl/en/kacr-2017-race-report/). In a nutshell, in August I was recovering from Kennet & Avon Canal Race. The 145 miles left their mark on my body and mind and, aside from an occasional trot I properly resumed my running in September. My aim was to do a reasonable mileage and condition myself for the upcoming race Cotswold Way Century. In September I even recced a couple of stretches of the race route in order to familiarise myself with some tricky bits. One week before the race I felt fit, strong enough and ready for the race.

The Cotswold Way Century race route

Cotswold Way Century is a 102-mile race in the lovely Cotswolds. It follows a designated National Trail Cotswold Way. The race starts in Chipping Campden, from where, with many steep ascents and descents, it winds along the Cotswold escarpment, finishing in Bath.

Chipping Campden, just by the race start
The route profile! The y axis denotes altitude in metres, while the x axis is the distance. Obviously they’re not to the same scale!

There’s a 30-hour limit to finish the race, with some internal cut-offs. It’s quite realistic to finish it under 24 hours. I had targeted 27 hours, which I assumed is a reasonable time for me, considering my state of preparation.

Race briefing by Kurt, the Race Director

On Saturday, September 23rd I left home in the morning and before 10:30 arrived at the race HQ. I had my kit checked, prepared my drop bags (to be accessed at miles 27, 47 and 80) and my finish line bag.

With bags left with the organisers I am ready to proceed to the start

Just before 12 o’clock I walked to the centre of Chipping Campden, from where the race starts. A few minutes after 12, 106 competitors set off for a long run!

Start!

Part 1: Saturday

I started relatively slowly, conscious that this was a 13-mile stretch to the first checkpoint. Moreover, it was quite warm, so I was extra careful not to get dehydrated.

With a few miles out of the way such groups were gradually falling apart

After the first ascent there was a long, flat bit, where the runners were able to spread apart while falling to each one’s respective pace. Once I reached the view point by Broadway Tower, I could then enjoy a long, pleasant downhill to the picturesque town Broadway.

Reaching Broadway Tower
Broadway Tower, a nice descent about to start

Having run through Broadway, the trail climbed up again. And that’s how it went on throughout the whole race pretty much: up and down, up and down. A lot of beautiful vistas, plenty of greenery so overall beautiful scenery. I reached the first CP in decent shape, drinking a lot along the way and regularly gorging myself on gels and bars.

Approaching the first CP…
… where such treats awaited!

The second stretch was the longest: 14 miles. However, the reward at the end of it was access to my first drop bag of goodies.

Somewhere past CP1…

My best memory of this stretch is the crossing of Cleeve Common where I was offered fantastic views of the area. Just before the hill, a fellow runner Thane Hall chatted up to me and for quite some time we continued together. It turned out that Thane runs his own running podcast called Runners on Trail (available on iTunes). He actually recorder some of our ramblings with the intention of publishing them in the 2nd episode of the podcast. It was an enjoyable conversation we had, due to common interests such as orienteering, or, of course, ultramarathons.

Thane at Cleeve Common
View from Cleeve Common

Chatting the distance away we eventually reached the 2nd CP. It took me 5 hours and 52 minutes to cover the 27 miles from the start. I sat for a while at the CP, changed my T-shirt to a long sleeved one, refilled my supplies and ate some bits and bobs. I also prepared my head torch, as it was obvious that I’ll reach the next CP after sunset.

I left the CP ahead of Thane, but at the end of a long, gradual descent he caught up with me and we continued together. After a series of ascents and descents we reached Leckhampton Hill where Thane fell back. It got dark enough there, so I installed the head torch on my forehead and started the night part of the race.

Part 2: Night

While at Leckhampton Hill I felt fairly positive, because there started the 25 or so miles that I had recced before. So, on the navigational front I felt confident. Past Leckhampton Hill Thane and a bunch of other runners overtook me as I was struggling on an uphill. I caught up with them though soon thereafter before Crickley Hill Country Park and we continued together until the checkpoint at Birdlip at mile 38.5.

After a bit of rest, food and drink, I swiftly moved on. It was very nice to meet Keith Godden there, considering that 2 months before I received from him the medal for finishing the Kennet & Avon Canal Race. Keith was manning the CP rather than running the race. He asked me if I’m up for some 145-mile racing along canals in 2018… No decision on that point yet 😊.

I was familiar with the stretch to Painswick, so I confidently followed the Cotswold Way. Confidently, but not very fast, as my legs felt tired. Some 2 miles from Birdlip, Thane and the guys swiftly overtook me and left me behind.

Ascent up Coopers Hill was a huge struggle and I lost my will to live there. I felt so exhausted at the top, that I was unable to take advantage of the subsequent downhill, where a few weeks ago I had so vigorously sprinted down. Focusing only on the next CP I shuffled like a zombie. I lost a few minutes at Painswick golf course where I took a wrong turn and a few runners overtook me. This was very frustrating. Eventually I reached Painswick and having jogged through the town I luckily reached the 47.5-mile CP after 11 hours and 18 minutes from the start. That was almost half of the distance in less than 12 hours’ time, so I was actually pleased with it and felt confident that my 27-hour target is doable.

I spent about 15 minutes there to gain some Energy, eat, and rest. I accessed my 2nd drop bag and stuffed my running vest with goodies. Some hot food and a cup of coffee re-energised me a bit, but still, I wasn’t looking forward to the next, 11-mile-long stretch.

Soon after the checkpoint I caught up some guys and with Thane who got a bit lost and for the next few miles we continued together in a group of 5 guys. After a series of viewpoints, a nice downhill followed. I took a caffeine gel which gave me a nice boost and I set quite a hard pace. Having recced some tricky bits before really helped me and I could barrel down confidently. The guys were in sight for some time but soon they fell back and it was the last time I saw them.

Continuing at a good pace I crossed the Stroudwater Navigation canal and soon thereafter climbed up the hills again. 2 miles later I checked in at the Coaley Peak CP. On the plus side, I was in a power mode and I was glad to have put 58.5 miles behind me. The downside was that this was the extent of my recce, so I head terra incognita ahead of me. In spite of, what I considered a strong pace, the 11 miles took me as much as 3 hours and 12 minutes!

Fuelled by hot noodles I continued. A bit of a flat land, followed by a steep downhill, followed by a painfully steep ascent up Cam Long Down and then descent to Dursley. After Dursley a slog back up and a funny, frustrating bit around the Stinchcombe golf course. Frustrating, because 2.5 miles could have easily been shortened to 300 or so metres. But rules are rules, if one has to follow the trail, one follows the trail.

Another landmark along the way was the William Tyndale Monument, standing atop yet another hill. When I passed it, it was still dark, but I was aware that sunrise was almost upon me. Indeed, soon thereafter, when I ran down to Wootton-under-Edge, where the next CP was, it was light enough that I no longer needed my torch. It took me 18 hours and 31 minutes to cover 70.5 miles. This meant ‘only’ 31.5 miles left. I had 8.5 hours for that if I wanted to stick to my self-imposed limit of 27 hours.

Part 3: Sunday

After a short break at Wootton I left towards the next CP, but going was very slow. My legs felt heavy and I had no will for running. On the upside, I was glad that my feet were in prime shape with no evident blisters or chafing. That made me force myself to run at least short bits at a time. My memories from this 9.5-mile-long stretch are blurred; I just remember that each mile was dragging on and I seemed to cover the ground painfully slow. I jogged n flats and easy downhills, otherwise pretty much marched. The whole stretch to Horton took me 2 hours and 33 minutes, resulting in roughly 10 mins/km pace. That was faster than on the 2 previous stretches, so not too bad!

During my short stopover in Horton I took advantage of my 3rd drop bag and took onboard supplies for the last 22 miles. There were only 7 miles until the next CP in Tormarton. Moreover, mentally it was an important milestone due to crossing of the M4 motorway which in my mind signified the proximity of Bath. I covered these 7 miles at roughly the same pace as the previous stretch. Cannot report anything from this stretch, apart from putting one feet in front of the other and regularly analysing the map to monitor how close the CP I was.

There were just 5 miles from Tormarton to Cold Ashton, but this stretch dragged on and my pace decreased to 12 mins/km. From Cold Ashton just 10 miles remained until the finish line, out of which 7.5 until the next CP in Weston. The stretch to Weston was tough and it felt like to cover each mile took an eternity. My legs were heavy: I would slowly lumber uphill and had hardly any energy to run or jog downhill or on flat ground. Nevertheless, I did reach Weston after 27 hours and 24 minutes from the start. My 27-hour target was obviously overshot, but I decided I will push hard on the last 2.5 miles to finish under 28 hours.

Uplifted by a rush of adrenaline, or endorphins (whatever), I ran hard through Weston, swiftly conquered the final climb and then ran hard down to Bath. I passed the Royal Crescent, the Circus and continued to push hard towards the Bath Abbey. At one point however, I panicked at one intersection. Have I just overshot the Abbey? Nooooo!!! After a moment of reflection, I fortunately realised that there were two intersections more. Indeed, the end was around the corner and I crossed the finish line in 27 hours and 57 minutes. I needed 33 minutes for the last 2.5 miles, so not too bad.

I reach the finish line, a happy and joyful man. It wasn’t easy to suppress my happiness 😉
OK, now with a hint of a smile

Summary

I was the 41st runner at the finish line. Out of 106 starters, 62 people eventually crossed the finish line; out of them 15 people under the 24-hour mark. The winner set a new course record of 17 hours and 34 minutes. What an amazing feat!

My Garmin Forerunner recorded a total distance of 166.5 km (104 miles), 11,910 calories and a moving time of 26 hours and 33 minutes. This meant as much as 84 minutes spent at checkpoints. Plenty of time wasted one could say, but I’d argue, that for the level of my fitness and preparation, completely necessary and justified.

The stats

While writing these words a week after the race I feel quite well. I had serious muscle soreness for 3 days after the race. My feet survived really well: I didn’t get any blisters at the balls of my feet (which is often my major hindrance). I had 3 insignificant blisters on my toes only.

I finished and ticked off the race, so job done. I am however not very pleased with my performance, because I know I was slow and that I could have finished the race much sooner, if I had had proper training and preparation. Because of a very intensive year, packed with too many races, I missed out to be in top shape. Lesson learned: in the future go for fewer races, but prepare better for them.

I’d like to finish with a positive note. Cotswold Way Century follows a spectacularly beautiful trail and offers a multitude of pretty sights. Not many roads, not much mud, lots of forested areas and well-equipped checkpoints make it a wonderful experience. As it’s also tough because of many hills to climb and descent along the way, it’s a viable candidate for one’s main race of the season.

All the best,
Marcin

KACR 2017 race report

How long does it take to get from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington? Clearly the train is the best option as it will take around 1h 40m to 1h 44m. Pretty quick. Driving is naturally a bit more challenging due to getting from city centre to city centre but with reasonable traffic one can make it in 3 hours or so. Cycling? An experienced (not professional) cyclist should easily make it under 12 hours. So how about running? Well, it took me over 40 hours of running, jogging, walking and stumbling and here’s the story.

The Kennet & Avon Canal 145 Mile Race

KACR stands for ‘Kennet & Avon Canal 145 Mile Race’. 2017 saw its inaugural edition happening on Friday, 28th July. Starting from Bristol Temple Meads at 6 AM the runner had 45 hours to cover the 145 miles and get to London Paddington at 3 AM on Sunday at the latest.

The Kennet and Avon Canal is in fact 87 miles long so we’re short of a few miles. I guess if the name of the race was to reflect the whole route it would have to be:

 ‘The River Avon, Kennet & Avon Canal, River Kennet, River Thames, Eton, Slough, Slough Arm and Grand Union Canal 145 Mile Race’

I imagine that wouldn’t look too well on a medal, so let’s stick to the shorter name :).

Race route with highlighted checkpoints

The organisers set up 9 checkpoints along the way to cater for the racers: offer drinks and basic food to all runners and access to drop bags to unsupported runners, i.e. those who run without any support crew.

Why bother?

In April this year I attempted to run Mark Cockbain’s Viking Way Ultra, which I failed and then described in detail on my blog here. This was my first attempt at running more than 100 miles and since then I have been looking for a chance of redemption. It might have been around May or June that I found out there were still places available for KACR. Despite earlier plans, I signed up.

My training this year has been rather patchy so instead of regular weekend long runs and the usual ultra training I focused on experiences. In May I raced in a 100k navigation race Kierat in Poland. Then in June and July I tasted skyrunning: Vegan 3,000 Ultra and Lakes Sky Ultra, respectively. These events ensured that I had some decent mileage done. On the other hand, Lakes Sky Ultra was just two weeks before KACR, so I didn’t have as much time for recovery as I wanted. Nevertheless, I was super excited about running in KACR and confident I would make it a success.

Before the race I had expected to finish it in around 35 hours. That seemed reasonable. In 2016 I ran 100 miles (Centurion South Downs Way 100) in 22.5 hours. Since SDW100 was quite hilly, I assumed the first 100 miles of KACR should take me 20-21 hours. Leaving 14-15 hours to cover the last 45 miles would allow for a comfortable 3 mph walking pace. As you will see shortly I was a bit too optimistic.

The Race

In the preceding week I bought my race supplies so a variety of bars, gels, nuts and nibbles to eat on the way. That was necessary as I was to run as an unsupported runner. On Thursday I packed my whole stuff (race kit, spare clothes, food, sleeping bag etc.) and set off by train from Oxford to Bristol where I stayed for the night.

I got out of bed at 5 AM on Friday, ate something, packed my 3 bags (race pack, drop bag and finish line bag) and arrived at the start of the race a couple of minutes before 6 AM, pretty much missing the race briefing! I just managed to leave my drop bag and the finish line bag with the organisers, took a couple of pictures and there we go, the race started!

Race briefing in front of the Bristol Temple Meads station

Start – CP1 Bath (13.7 miles)

I quickly settled into a nice pace somewhere in the middle of the group of 76 runners who decided  to tackle this event. I met my friend Rod with whom I started chatting and for the first couple of miles we ran together. The first 1.5 miles took us along the Feeder Canal after which we joined River Avon. This was a very picturesque part of the journey with lush vegetation along the river. The morning was lovey and warm so very enjoyable.

Easy running at the Bristol-Bath Cycleway

After 9 miles from the start we left the river and entered Bristol & Bath Railway Path: a nice and very runnable cycle route. Running felt easy and at 8:05 I arrived at the first checkpoint. That meant I averaged over 6.5 mph which was surprisingly fast… too fast. On the other hand I knew I’d slow down soon, so I didn’t worry too much. I grabbed a few bits of food to eat, refilled my water bottles and after 5 minutes departed the checkpoint.

At CP1: the mood is still bullish!

CP1 Bath – CP2 Hilperton (27.4 miles)

Passing through beautiful Bath on a lovely morning

A couple of miles along River Avon through beautiful Bath and we joined the Kennet and Avon Canal. I gradually settled into a more relaxed pace, enjoying the views. At around the 20-mile point I realised that I was already quite tired and started to introduce more frequent walking breaks. Still I enjoyed the nice views of River Avon winding its way through the valley. The canal even crossed the river a couple of times over aqueducts which offered good views.

Water flowing over water: Dundas Aqueduct

I arrived at CP2 at 11:00, so the 13.7 miles from Bath took me just under 3 hours. 27.4 miles in 5 hours was still a very good time. I was properly tired and needed to rest, eat and drink (especially drink because I was sweating excessively). I also let my feet dry since they got wet from running on grass, taped the balls of my feet and put on a dry pair of socks. No longer fresh and happy to run I left to conquer a long, 17.4-mile long stretch.

At CP2: starting to look rather tired

CP2 Hilperton – CP3 Honeystreet (44.8 miles)

I have a very vague memory of most of this stretch, very likely due to tiredness. This was essentially miles of canal, locks, bridges, all in a blur now. I would jog for a few minutes, then walk a bit and then again and again. I didn’t even feel very hungry, so had to force feed myself at regular intervals. I felt very thirsty though, so it was great I could refill my water bottles a couple of times along the way.

A canal mountain: Caen Hill with its flight of 16 locks

The only notable exception and a memorable fragment of this stretch was the famous ‘canal mountain’: the Caen Hill Locks. Earlier in the race I was looking forward to seeing this marvel of engineering. Sadly, by the time I got there I was so exhausted that it took me ages to climb the hill and quite a few runners easily overtook me.

Me going up Caen Hill. The picture may not show it but I was suffering

Eventually, at 15:20 (over 4 hours to cover 17.4 miles) I arrived at the checkpoint. There I stayed for over 10 minutes to gain some energy. I ate a hot dog, drank some coffee, re-hydrated myself, refilled my bottles and grudgingly left to continue this journey.

CP3: energy was at a low point

CP3 Honeystreet – CP4 Oakhill Down Bridge (60 miles)

Similarly to the previous stretch, this one was 15.2 miles of unremarkableness (gosh, I had to check if this word really exists!). The only exception was Bruce Tunnel, which lies on the summit pound of the canal, i.e. forms the highest point of the race.

Bruce Tunnel

I eventually reached CP4 at 19:20. This meant I covered 60 miles in 13 hours and 20 minutes. This was slower than I had expected: 12 hours would have been desirable. The last two stretches were more walked rather than jogged, I was tired and didn’t feel like eating, hence the slowdown. At the CP I re-hydrated and refilled my bottles. I also took a take-away Pot Noodle soup and I must say this was absolutely delicious, totally gourmet stuff! That proves how tired I was, right? I also took my head torch as the next CP would be reached in the dark.

CP4: I didn’t relish the following stretch

CP4 Oakhill Down Bridge – CP5 Newbury (72.4 miles)

While I rested at the CP it started to rain and the first few miles I was jogging/marching in conditions far from pleasant. Somewhere past Kintbury it got dark enough to turn on my head torch. I kept passing the bridges, the locks, but the path to Newbury seemed never-ending.

A bit of a high point was when I saw and passed under A34 just passed the 70-mile mark. That meant I was approaching Newbury and the CP. It wasn’t until 22:50 or so until I made it to the half-way point. 72.4 miles covered in under 17 hours. That meant I am on track to make it to Paddington in time, but surely not in an overall time of 35 hours or so.

CP5: halfway point reached

I rested, ate, and drank there. I also let me feet dry a bit and put on a new pair of socks. Feet were rather fine at that point and there was no need to do any serious maintenance.

CP5 Newbury – CP6 Reading (86.4 miles)

I left the checkpoint and continued through Newbury and Thatcham. I can’t really remember now if I was running at all… perhaps a bit at times. The memories are blurry. It was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other and so on, counting down the big red dots on the map (indicating each passing mile) and counting down the numbers of bridges till the next bridge where I was supposed to cross the canal.

After I passed Aldermaston, so around the 81-mile point it must have been around 2 AM and on top of being tired I started to be very sleepy. In my case it shows as stumbling, veering from one side to another and pretty much feeling like drunk! To keep myself going I start talking to myself and singing, which is what I did until I eventually made it to CP6 which sits just before Reading. The time was around 3:30 AM. 86.4 miles done in 21.5 hours.

Resting at CP6

I ate some baked beans (or a hot-dog, can’t remember) and announced to the CP crew that I need to lie down for a few minutes. One of the kind and super helpful volunteers grabbed a tarpaulin sheet on which I could lie down and covered me with a blanket. I don’t think I slept, but clearly my mind rested. It’s like I was almost having dreams, but not properly asleep. After the 10 minutes I felt somewhat invigorated and left the CP having spent there in total around 25 minutes.

CP6 Reading – CP7 Aston (102.8 miles)

The first few miles felt fine due to the nap. I even did a fair bit of running. Around the 90-mile point I passed the centre of Reading and it started to dawn. By the time I reached River Thames I could stash my head-torch and enjoy a lovely morning.

Just pass Wokingham Waterside Centre sleep deprivation hit me with its full force again! I had to make frequent stops and close my eyes for 20 seconds or so. During this time some dream would start and when I opened my eyes my mind was a bit rested and I could walk or jog again. This dragged on for 20 minutes or so. I eventually took a caffeine gel and this helped to keep me going.

I passed Sonning and a dreaded bit of Thames Path began. I remembered the muddy and slippery path all too well back from Thames Trot 50 that I ran in 2015. Going was slow and I was despairing how I hate this stretch and how exhausting it is. Well, at least it’s ‘just’ 2.5 miles so I was relieved to reach Shiplake. But there going was again slow as my brain was forcing my eyes to close. At this point I was resolved that I will lie down for 20 minutes at the next CP! I marched through Lower Shiplake in a daze and just managed to do a bit of running through Marsh Lock and then through Henley-on-Thames.

In Henley I could enjoy a fantastic, sunny and warm morning, but as soon as I crossed the Bridge and crossed the 100-mile point (at around 7:30, so in 25.5 hours- well behind my target) I again had to fight the urge to sleep. The last 2.5 miles to the CP were endless and I was despairing how long they were taking! I was literally on the verge of a mental breakdown. I needed sleep badly and the prospect of it was the only thing that kept me going.

I finally reached the CP past 8:30 AM. I asked the crew to wake me up in 20-minutes time and I laid on a tarpaulin, surrounded by other runners’ drop bags and drifted off. Like before, I don’t think I properly slept, but my brain certainly rested. I actually woke up on my own. Got myself together, ate a bit, drank a bit, refilled my bottles and set off. Altogether I spend about 30-35 minutes there.

CP7 Aston – CP8 Bray Lock (116.5 miles)

The weather was lovely: sunny and warm. I enjoyed a bit of running while making my way through picturesque and affluent areas on the banks of Thames: Hurley, Marlow, Bourne End, Cookham. I mean a bit; the vast majority of my time I spent marching vigorously and enjoying pretty views. The good thing was that I was focused on going forward and wasn’t sleepy.

Straight out of CP7 with renewed energies

Past Cookham I started seeing loads of people wearing Macmillan Cancer Support t-shirts doing some sort of walk. Turned out this was their Thames Path Mighty Hike event from Windsor to Cookham. Over 1000 walkers took part and I kept gradually passing them over 4 miles or so! A lot of traffic on the sometimes narrow Thames Path.

Just before Maidenhead it started to rain and cooled down so I managed to do a fair bit of running. Past Maidenhead it stopped raining and I was left with a mile to CP8, which I eventually made at 13:40. 116.3 miles done in 31 hours and 40 minutes. More importantly: 28.7 miles left to cover in 13 hours! That meant for me a lot and I felt confident I was going to make it. Moreover this was already the farthest I’ve ever gone!

CP8: the site of a delicious fried egg sandwich

I spent a good 20 minutes at the CP to eat (thank you crew for a delicious fried egg sandwich!), drink and fix my feet. I had a number of blisters to pop, clean and tape, which wasn’t at all a pleasant exercise. Once I did the dirty work I put on a clean pair of socks and the shoes and continued on.

CP8 Bray Lock – CP9 Yiewsley (128.4 miles)

The first mile was agonisingly slow because the freshly mended feet were super sensitive. It got better after a while and I managed to do a couple of miles of strong jogging along Eton Rowing Lake until Boveney Lock. I refilled my water bottles there as there was to follow a long stretch with no water points. This actually turned out not to be true: there were open shops in Slough, so I could buy food and drink there if I wanted to.

Past the lock tiredness caught up with me and I was done with jogging. I left Thames Path and went on through Eton and then into Slough. Just before Slough it started to rain heavily and in such ugly weather I slowly proceeded through Slough until I reached the start point of the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal.

The 5-mile canal was dragging on endlessly! The weather was glum, the rain was relentless, I was cold and tired. I was so tired I didn’t feel like eating anything since the last CP. I just wanted to make it to CP9 and warm up there. I did a mix of jogging and walking along the canal, gradually covering mile after mile.

CP9: getting ready for the final push

When I reached the Grand Union Canal it fortunately stopped raining. After less than a mile, at 17:50 or so I arrived at CP9. This left me 9 hours to cover the final 16.6 miles. I expected I would do it in 6 hours. I took my time to eat a hot soup, and drink hot tea. I changed to a dry base layer, put on my proper waterproof jacket, got my head torch from my drop bag and set off for the final stretch.

CP9 Yiewsley – CP10 London Paddington (145 miles)

The first 2.5 or so miles to the Bulls Bridge went fine and I even did a fair bit of jogging. From there I had 14 miles to go. Similarly to earlier canal stretches I was counting down the bridges and checking against the map how many miles there were left. At one point I was under the impression that I covered a lot of ground but it turned out I had still 12 miles to go!

I tried to stick to a routine of running for a while, then briskly walking for a while etc, but found it hard to maintain as I was constantly slipping to very slow plod. Tired legs and painful feet didn’t help and would constantly remind me of themselves when I sped up. Still, after I slowed down I would gather myself, tell my companion that we’re now running and we’ll run… Oh, wait a minute, what companion? Did I not say that since CP7 I haven’t seen pretty much any runner? Yes… the hallucinations were just starting to begin. 😀

Now, I don’t want to exaggerate and I’m not trying to be super entertaining here. This is my true account of the most vivid hallucinations I’ve ever had. I hallucinated a few times in my life, always during ultras, always at night. Usually these would be mild, more like starting to dream while walking, imagining seeing a comfortable bed. This time, they were proper hallucinations. In a nutshell, I though someone was running with me. Once I said to him ‘let’s run’ I immediately saw there was no one, so I realised I am hallucinating and a moment of clarity came. I would shake my head, slap myself and continue on. However, after a short while my mind would slip into hallucinating again and I would start goading my imaginary buddy runner.

Another funny thing I experienced is that I felt that certain parts of my body disassociated themselves from my body. Namely legs: I had to keep talking to them and convince them that they need to go as I tell them. Or my urinary tract: I had to ask it to stop making me pee frequently. I was peeing clearly more than I was drinking which was worrying me.

This went on for endless miles. With 6 miles left it got dark and it only exacerbated the hallucinations. Now every tree, every bush, every bench looked like a person hiding and getting ready to jump onto me. Moored longboats seemed to be full with people. It wasn’t until I got very close to them that I realised there was no one.

With about 4 miles to the finish I got some weird energy kick and ran for 10 minutes or so, then I fell back to a painful plod again as this exhausted me. 2 miles to go… 1 mile to go… and the feeling I’m almost there, but the last bit along the canal was dragging on and I started to worry if I’m heading along the right canal! I eventually made it to Little Venice, my worries disappeared and I made the final push. Just behind the corner I saw the finish line which I crossed at 23:13. Keith Godden congratulated me and awarded me a beautiful and well-deserved medal.

Finish! 🙂

Job done

It took me 40 hours and 13 minutes to cover 145 miles from Bristol to London. Out of 76 starters, 36 people finished, while I ended up being the 25th finisher. I didn’t make it before my self-imposed target of 35 hours, but that’s ok. It was by far the farthest I’ve ever run and the longest time on my feet in one race. Considering how hard it was for me it a great success and I am very happy I managed to redeem myself after the unsuccessful attempt at Viking Way Ultra earlier this year.

Summary

I love running point to point ultras because they are an adventure. A long distance to cover, constantly changing surroundings and often splendid views and of course a reward in the end. Running along a canal for hours is something I find strangely appealing and magical. It is also hard, because at times the miles seem to be endless and one has to have a lot of willpower to continue. But it’s worth it in the end. Despite all the tiredness and suffering I went through I totally recommend this race. Not only the route passes through beautiful places, but the organisers and the checkpoint volunteers do a splendid job supporting the runners. Plus, the race has a fantastic, low-key ambience and it is a great test of one’s abilities and endurance, which I am glad I passed.

The finishers list. I’m proud to be on it.

For the post-race record, my feet were a mess: badly blistered and macerated. On Sunday, just after the race, I could hardly move. My legs were sore, but feet were in such sorry state that I wasn’t bothered by muscle pain too much. Next couple of days feet healed a bit and I started to be mobile again. I felt generally tired, sleepy and moody throughout the whole post-race week. At the time of writing of this paragraph (Saturday, August 5th) my body still hasn’t fully recovered, but I know I am getting there. To sum up: for a runner who hasn’t thoroughly prepared him- or her-self for such race, this is a gruelling and exhausting experience so I very much recommend to train wisely!

One final thought. There were countless moments during the race when I hated the idea of running such extremely long events. Nevertheless, at this moment I know I have to run the Grand Union Canal Race next year. This proves that running ultras is addictive and pain is temporary. 🙂

All the best,

Marcin

Lakes Sky Ultra race report

Unlike some of my earlier posts this one has to be relatively shorter. I must admit I like writing long and detailed accounts of my ultra journeys, such as those from Viking Way Ultra, Harpagan, or from Kierat. The problem is, that it’s very time-consuming and between the family, running, work, blogging, sleeping and other bits and bobs there is not much time left!

On 15th July I ran in my second Skyrace: Lakes Sky Ultra (LSU). Since my previous race (Vegan 3,000 Ultra) only 3 weeks passed, but the muscle soreness was gone and I even managed to run a few times in the meantime. Anyway, my aim for Lakes Sky Ultra was just to finish it, with no aspirations for a high place.

I had expected the race will be tough and that I’ll have to maintain a good pace to finish within the tight limit of 14 hours (at V3K there was 17 hours, so I was not worried there). LSU’s distance is 56 kilometres, while the total elevation gain is 4500 metres, so quite formidable.

The altitude profile

The race HQ was in picturesque Ambleside in the heart of Lake District. A 7:00 just under 100 runners, with me among them, set off for a long and tough journey.

Compulsory kit check

The promotional clip shows beautiful views of Lake District’s iconic ridges, fells and tarns and I had anticipated such scenery. Unfortunately I was not to see any of it as the day turned out to be cloudy and rainy. Summits were clouded with 10-metre visibility, at some points wind with lashing rain battered the runners, while the valleys were wet and grey.

Ready, steady…
… go!

Part 1 (start – Kepple Cove)

It started nicely: a bit of running and then long but swift ascent to Dove Crag and Fairfield. From Fairfield a steep descent of 300 metres or so to a pass. My legs felt strong and I quite enjoyed the swift downhill.

Somewhere around Dove Crag

The thing about passes is, that once you descend to a pass, you need to ascend on the other side. So a steep climb up to Dollywaggon Pike started and then gradual incline topped at Helvellyn. There the visibility was low and I got a bit lost (as a few others did) looking for Swirral Edge. I had little grip on the wet rocks, so had to move annoyingly slowly.

With Swirral Edge out of the way a steep descent to Kepple Cove followed where the checkpoint and the first water station was located. Took me 2 hours and 56 minutes to get there, so not too bad so far. Unfortunately my legs no longer felt fresh and strong thanks to the steep descents from Fairfield and Swirral Edge.

Part 2 (Kepple Cove – Patterdale)

I ran the first kilometre over a relatively flat ground, but soon another ascent started. Not a very steep one, but tiring. Back in the distance I saw my buddy Maciek who was gradually catching up with me, which I expected him to do sooner or later.

The ascent soon turned into the famous Striding Edge, which normally offers magnificent views. I could see clouds and rain. My legs felt heavy and I was unable to move quickly along the ridge. Maciek caught up with me and we proceeded together for about 15 minutes or so, where he shot off just before Eagle Crag.

The descent was slow and painful; my legs felt weak. When I eventually reached the bottom of the valley the view of the next ascent petrified me. Over a distance of 1 km or so there was 550 metres of altitude gain! The arduous climb towards Pinnacle Ridge seemed never-ending. Most of the ascent was over a grassy slope, which I and other competitors were tackling on all fours: grabbing clumps of grass for additional lift and going up step by step by step by step… I eventually reached the rocks where the most exciting bit of scrambling awaited. Had I not been mentally and physically exhausted I would totally love this bit!

Race route. See the concentration of contour lines just before CP8 (Pinnacle Ridge)

When I eventually made it to the top I realised this ascent cost me lots of time and I actually need to rush to make sure I made it to Patterdale ahead of the cut-off time of 14:15. Thankfully the descent was gradual and very runnable and I reached the Patterdale feed station at 13:55. I refilled my water bottles, ate some soup and a few nibbles, drank two cups of coffee and set off, a bit worried that I’m so close to the cut-off.

Part 3 (Patterdale – Hawes Water)

Relatively little to say about this part of the race. I walked swiftly all the time and ran when I could. There weren’t any technical bits, just an ascent, then a flat-ish bit and then smoother ascent to High Street. From there a descent to a checkpoint and drinks station. This stretch went fairly smoothly and I even managed to overtake 4-5 runners.

16:30 at the checkpoint was a reasonable time. I did feel a bit cheated by the race director though, as, according to the race profile it was supposed to be at an altitude of 500 metres or so above sea level, but it was at less than 300! This meant, that the next ascent was to be much longer than I anticipated, so the pressure was still on.

Part 4 (Hawes Water – Kirkstone Pass)

Having refilled my water supplies I continued, determined to make it to the top of the ridge and then descent to the checkpoint in time. After quite a long, but not very steep ascent I passed Mardale Ill Crag and Thornthwaite Crag from which I ran down to a pass.

From this pass there was a bit of a technical ascent, so I had to lift my heavy body with the help of my hands on the rocks until I reached Stoney Cove Pike. I ran on a slight downhill, with short breaks to get myself out of the omnipresent mud. After the last steep descent I made it to Kirkstone Pass and checked out of the feed station at 18:55, leaving me with just 20 minutes to the cut-off.

Part 5 (Kirkstone Pass – Finish)

There was only one climb left, but at this stage I was no longer worried. With this cut-off made I knew I’ll make it to the finish line. The climb on Red Scress was tough and steep, a bit similar to the one at Pinnacle Ridge, but much shorter. It took me ‘just’ 35 minutes to make it to the top. From there, a few kilometres of gentle downhill to Ambleside was left.

Running was fine, despite intensive rain and muddy ground. When I left the cloud cover I felt very motivated to see lake Windermere and the buildings of Ambleside. I knew I was almost there.

Final push!

I crossed the finish line at 20:18. I was welcomed by my family and by Maciek who finished almost an hour before me. Even Riccardo, who manned one of the checkpoints earlier on, turned up, so it was good to see him.

Summary

Out of almost 100 runners 73 people finished the race. I finished 64th while Maciek 51st. The winner, Andy Berry, needed ‘just’ 8 hours and 34 minutes, so my 13 hours and 18 minutes pales in comparison.

While in the fells, particularly when ascending Pinnacle Ridge, I was telling myself that I hate this race, that I will never do it again, that I hate such steep climbs and what on earth I am doing there.

Let me verify these strong words. I totally recommend this great race, because it’s a fantastic and tough challenge for people who seek challenges as such. What comes with it, in order to enjoy such race, especially its most exciting bits like Swirral Edge, Striding Edge, Eagle Crag, Pinnacle Ridge and Red Screes, a thorough strength training is a prerequisite. Unfortunately this is what I lacked: with no proper hills training (both ascents and descents) your legs get tired quickly and the whole race becomes a bit of a torture. I don’t feel compelled to run this race again because I did it (ticked it off my list), but it doesn’t stop me thinking of other events, no easier than Lakes Sky Ultra. 🙂

Last but not least, here’s this year’s race promotional video. Unfortunately I’m nowhere in it, but you can easily see what conditions I had to endure on the day. 🙂

Pozdrawiam,

Marcin

V3K Ultra Race Report

V3K (Vegan 3000 Ultra) is a mountain ultramarathon that I heard of for the first time about 2 years ago. Of course I got really keen to run it one day. Before I dive into the report, I can disclose that I finished the race. My result isn’t overly impressive, but I’m satisfied with my performance, considering this was my first such a highly technical race and the first ‘skyrace’ I took part in. My aim had been to finish the race, hopefully in a reasonable time somewhere around the middle of the pack. On top of that I had counted on beautiful views and had been excited to see parts of Snowdonia I’d never seen before.

Skyrunning

Skyrunning is a term for a specific kind of running events. These are generally mountain races with a lot of vertical gain proportionally to the race distance. Skyrunning encompasses a few categories: Sky (races up to 50k long), Ultra (races longer than 50k), Vertical (1000 metres of altitude gain) and Extreme (just hardcore 😊). Skyrunning originates from the Dolomites in Italy and over the years has become extremely popular, among others in countries such as USA, UK or Poland.

V3K Ultra

V3K Ultra is the first race of Skyrunner UK National Series. V3K stands for Vegan 3,000s. Vegan, because the organiser is vegan and all participants of the race have to adhere to a vegan diet throughout the race. 3,000s, because the race route winds through Snowdonia and takes in all 15 Welsh summits over 3,000 feet tall. More on what these summits are can be found on Wikipedia. All of them are located in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park. The race is 54k long, while the sum of all ascents is over 4,000 metres, so considerable altitude gain. To make matters more interesting, there is a little bit of exposure and scrambling involved, so those with fear of heights might give this race a pass.

The day before

Together with my family we left Oxford on Friday morning (23rd June) and in the afternoon arrived at the event base in Tal-y-bont, just outside of Bangor. At 7 PM the race registration started. Before I started queuing to register I had met some friends: Maciek, Andrzej and Mariusz, whom I know from some previous races. Andrzej and Mariusz had ambitious plans to score high and finish under 10 hours. Maciek, similarly to me, pretty much just wanted to finish the race.

Maciek and I waiting to register

Once we collected our race packs we enjoyed some nice vegan carbo-loading to make sure we have enough calories to burn the next day. Then, just past 8 PM the race director welcomed everyone and delivered her race briefing, pointing out where to be especially careful, where not to cut short etc. After the briefing we went to our nearby Bed & Breakfast. I packed my race vest, prepared my clothes and went to sleep to get at least 4-5 hours of rest.

Start

The alarm rang at 3:30 AM (!). I ate some porridge and a banana, drank some tea, got dressed and just before 4 AM sat in a coach that was about to take all the runners to the race start in Nant Gwynant on the other side of the mountains. It took us about 40 minutes to get there. Then we experienced an onslaught of midges. I haven’t been exposed to them for quite a few years so I forgot how annoying they are. They quickly reminded me! I carried the bite signs with me even over a week after the race!

On the way to Nant Gwynant

Inspired by Andrzej’s and Mariusz’s plan I thought I’d give it a try too and stay not far behind them. To achieve that I made it to the start line and settled just a couple of metres behind them. At 5 AM 150 or so people set off!

Part 1: Snowdon

The race starts on a gently rising path which turns later into a tiresome climb up to the top of Snowdon. Over 900 metres of altitude gain, so no minor feat.

For the first few minutes I kept up with the front runners, but it didn’t take much time for me to realise that if I continued to maintain this pace I would be gone. Out of my league…

Snowdon conquered!

I continued at my own, slower pace, mainly walking uphill and letting others overtake me. After 1.5 hour from start I summitted Snowdon. From there a short and pleasant downhill run followed. Then a short uphill and summit no. 2, Garnedd Ugain was ticked off. Afterwards I enjoyed the most exciting part of the course: the knife-edged arete of Crib Goch, summit no. 3. Unfortunately, the rocks there made me realise that my Salomon XA Pro 3D shoes were inadequate for the terrain as they had no grip on the rocks. As a result of that I had to be extra careful and frustratingly slow; many runners overtook me on this stretch.

Crib Goch

Shortly the descent from Crib Goch started. On a scree slope Maciek appeared and quickly passed me and got out of sight: clearly, he was handling descents better than I was. With the scree out of the way I continued descending along a picturesque valley until I finally reached the A4086 road. After 2 km or so along the road I reached the first feed station where I replenished my water supplies, ate something and promptly continued.

Part 2: Glyderau

On the arduous climb to Elidir Fawr, summit no. 4 I caught up with Maciek and since then we stayed together for most of the race. With Elidir Fawr bagged we stayed on high ground, always above 700 metres above sea level. With a mix of walking and running we continued checking off summits 5, 6 and 7: Y Garn, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach.

Probably descending Glyder Fach

After a steep descent from Glyder Fach we scrambled atop Tryfan, the 8th summit. Another slow and rocky descent followed, this time down into the valley and the A5 road. Maciek reached the road a few minutes ahead of me, but I kept him in sight when we run along the A5 for a short while. We soon reached the second feed station where I arrived 3 minutes after him.

With Tryfan presumably in the background (in the clouds)

At the lavish feed station I ate/drank some soup and drank a cup of invigorating coffee. I ate a few roast potatoes and some sandwich as I was very keen to break the sweet taste of gels and bars. At this stage I felt pretty exhausted and my legs and back were sore, but on the other hand I was glad that ‘just’ one, last part remained.

Part 3: Carneddau

Maciek lingered on at the feed station while I set off, being sure that he will catch up with me later. This part begun, similarly to the two previous parts, with a long climb up to the high ground, concluded with peak no. 9: Pen yr Ole Wen. Similarly to the Glyderau section now followed a bit of a flat, or gradually descending terrain suitable for running.

Summitting Carnedd Dafydd (I think)

Having bagged Carnedd Dafydd (summit no. 10) I could enjoy a fair bit of running until I reached Yr Elen (no. 11). At the following ascent Maciek caught up with me and together we bagged peak no. 12: Carnedd Llewelyn. A gradual and runnable descent followed by a short ascent and Foel Grach (no. 13) was ours. Then another runnable descent, short ascent and Carnedd Gwenlian (no. 14) was ticked off. Shortly thereafter, maintaining a nice pace, we bagged the last summit: Foel-fras.

Enjoying the last descent

What was left was just a few miles of gentle downhill to the finish. Most of it was either a grassy slope, or a runnable path, so we pushed on as hard as sore legs allowed. We had a chance to finish under 12-hours, so every second mattered. This really kept me going. Admittedly, the fact that we overtook 3 runners on the last descent was also quite motivating.

Finish

After the last grassy bit we were left with a final stretch of a minor road. We made it across the finish line 3 minutes or so before our self-imposed target of 12-hours! At this point I really need to thank for Maciek for sticking together with me on the final descent. He was clearly capable of running faster and finishing a few minutes ahead of me, but decided to cross the finish line together as we did most of the day’s running and walking together. We finished at 82nd place out of 149 finishers, the last of whom needed just over 17 hours.

Here we are about to cross the finish line!

At the finish line my wife awaited with the camera ready to immortalise our finish. Andrzej and Mariusz were also waiting there. They had a brilliant run, finishing together in around 9 hours at a top 20 position. Respect! Even greater congratulations to their friend Jarek, whom I just met there. He finished as the 6th runner in 8 hours and 34 minutes! The winner needed just 7 hours and 25 minutes… incredible!

Post-race rehydration begins under the watchful eye of my faithful fan 🙂

After the finish and when I settled down I really started to feel how exhausted I was. I was drained, sore and could hardly force the delicious vegan food into me. Luckily, at our B&B accommodation we had a bathtub to our disposal, so I could take a hot and relaxing bath to regenerate a bit. I got so relaxed that I actually felt asleep for 15 minutes or so while there 😊

The Polish crowd at V3K!

Summary

After my good results in April’s Harpagan (6th place, race report here) and May’s Kierat (37th place, race report here) the reality hit me hard and showed that I’m no good in skyraces. I’d need way more training, especially hill training, to improve. Despite that, I’m really glad that I completed the whole course in reasonable time and without any injuries. Interestingly, on Saturday, a few hours after the race I felt quite good. On Sunday I was sore but it was rather fine. However, on Monday and Tuesday DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) hit me with a brutal force! I could hardly walk, not to mention sit. Suprisingly, not only my legs were painful, but also arms and shoulders. It does actually make sense if you think of it, considering all the scrambling when I heavily relied on my arms or descended on all fours.

New trophies to my collection: a coaster and an edible, already devoured, medal

I very much recommend V3K as a race worth running. It has a great atmosphere. Unlike many other races it doesn’t seem to be very commercialised and you can sense the organisers’ and runners’ passion of mountain running. Combined with a great setting in beautiful Snowdonia and a demanding, technical race, V3K offers a memorable experience.

The race route
The altitude profile. Height in metres, length in kilometres

On the last note, I cordially invite you to watch the recording I made during my run. I ran with a GoPro camera strapped on my head and kept recording short movies. My aim was to show the atmosphere of the race and the beauty and ruggedness of the terrain. Most of the time we were high in the clouds so there are no such views as could be experienced on a cloudless day, but still I think it turned out OK. It’s only 5 minutes. Do make sure to watch it with your speakers on!

All the best,
Marcin

Training- 10k tempo run

Recently, one regular visitor to my blog and a devoted fan has asked how to train to be faster. I thought it would be a good material for a short blog post so here we go: a 10k tempo run today.

This is the training session I did last week during a lunchtime break while at work. I set off with a slow jog over 1 km to warm up. Then I picked up the pace with an aim to run 10k as quickly as I could.

I ran the first 3k at an average speed of 12 km/h (5:00 minutes per km, or 8-minute mile). I slowed down a bit on the next 3k due to a bit of an incline. I have to mention that this was a lovely, sunny day with a temperature of 24 degrees or so, so it quickly became hard because of the heat. For following 2k I still maintained a pace just over 5-minute per km, but I was fed up with it and seriously considered stopping at 8k. I somehow managed to continue but the last 2k were agonisingly slow as there was an incline and I was drained. I eventually finished the 10k in 52:48.

After that I slowly dragged my legs back to work over the last 1.5k, where after a short rest I took a shower, ate lunch and got back to work. It took about an hour for my body to settle down! Normally I can run 10k under 50 minutes, so I blame it on the hot weather. Still, I consider this training run a job well done, because of how tired and drained I felt afterwards. Interestingly, while running and shortly thereafter I kept on repeating in my thoughts how I hate fast running, how I despise such intensive tempo sessions, and how much I prefer running in ultramarathons at my own, slow pace.

To sum up, I guess this post doesn’t do a good job of encouraging people to take on doing tempo runs, does it? Well, that’s reality: not every run is pleasant; sometimes we need to push ourselves to the limit in training in order to make our bodies stronger so that we can run faster (and longer) later. I must make an important note here: I would do such training session at most once a week; doing such intensive workouts too often can lead to injury, or to burning out.

The run route: you can see where I was fast and where not

All the best,

Marcin

Kierat 2017 race report

International Extreme Walking Marathon Kierat (http://maratonkierat.pl/indexeng.html) is an event that has been on my mind for years. However, there were always adverse circumstances preventing me to go. Whether it was too short after another ultra I ran, or a family event taking place the same weekend, or too frequent travels to Poland to add the Kierat trip, or too expensive airfare to Cracov etc. This time, taking advantage of a 2-weeks’ leave in Poland I made a deal with my old ultra running buddy Michal that we’re going, got my wife’s consent for a 3-day lads trip and in February signed up for Kierat. Since then the excitement had been gradually mounting ahead of the race day!

About Kierat

The literal translation of kierat from Polish to English is horse mill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_mill). The use of this word also implies that someone performs a tough, gruelling and seeming endless work, which gives you a good taste of what this race is about.

Kierat is a navigational race over a distance of 100k, so it has a very similar formula to my favourite race Harpagan. What the rules at such races are I described in detail in one of my earlier posts, section About Harpagan. The two main differences between Kierat and Harpagan are:

  1. Harpagan has two 50k loops with bag drop between them. At Kierat you have one 100k loop. Every 25k or so the organisers provide water and at around the 50k mark you can also get hot instant soups, tea and coffee. There is no food provided, so each participant needs to take enough to sustain himself/herself for the whole event. It is possible to buy something in passed shops, if there are any of course;
  2. Kierat takes place in Polish mountains called Beskid Wyspowy (loosely translated as Island Beskids) which results in way more vertical gains, comparing with a relatively flat Harpagan.

My expectations

The plan was to finish below 24 hours and get a place in the first hundred. Nothing particularly ambitious considering an overall time limit of 30 hours. Michal felt a bit more ambitious thinking we should aim for a sub-20-hour finish. This sounded reasonable, but very ambitious considering that we didn’t know the area and that there will be over 4000 metres of altitude gain…

On our way to Kierat

At 6 AM on Friday, May 26th I picked Michal up and we set off. The drive from Gdansk in the north of Poland to Slopnice in the south took us just 6.5 hours, which is an amazing improvement from what it would have taken a few years ago. The improvement is of course due to a much better road network, including hundreds of kilometres of new motorways.

Analysis of the map performed while enjoying a pre-race shoarma

We registered for the race, picked up our race packs and went for a meal to a nearby restaurant. With a few hours remaining until the start, we laid down in the school gym, which was the designated sleeping area in the base, to relax after the drive and then get ready for the race.

My base and race equipment- quite a lot of stuff!
Ready to rock and roll!

One hour before the race start we were ready; we walked to the nearby football pitch where the race would start. There at 17:30 the race planner wished everyone good fun and good luck. A few minutes before 18:00 660 people were ready to set off.

Before the start, waiting for the race planner’s soliloquy

Stage by stage report

Before I jump to my report I’d like to recommend the winner’s report: http://maratonkierat.pl/kierat14/kierat17kl.htm (only in Polish, but Google Translate can help). I like the format of his report which I’ve decided to use in my report too. Aside from that you could see what an amazing event he ran. Still out of my league, but working on it.

At each mini map I overlaid my GPS track which also reflects my speed:

  • intensive green is running, light green is jogging
  • yellow is brisk walk (3-4 mph)
  • red is no movement, or moving very slowly, such as laboriously climbing up a mountain (1 mph or so)

Moreover, the purple line denotes the optimal race route, as shown by the race planner after the event.

Above is the recording from the start. You can see me in the middle of the shot between seconds 22 and 25.

Start – CP1

At 18:00 we set off and quickly the 660 people split between runners and walkers. Michal and I initially jogged with roughly 100 people ahead of us. After the LOP (a compulsory stretch where no other routes were allowed) we turned to walking, as the uphill started.

En route to Checkpoint 1

It was a beautiful and sunny day, so I very soon heated up and started sweating profusely, particularly on uphills. Other than that, CP 1 reached without any problems.

CP1 – CP2

The beginning of the climb towards the Mogielica massif

After the arduous climb towards the top of Mogielica (which can be clearly seen as a lot of red colour on my GPS track) we missed a path and then had to traverse the mountain through a forest.

Looking for a decent descent route from the Mogielica massif towards CP2

To get to the road marked as white on the map turned out to be a little nightmare, because the path we were following suddenly disappeared in a dense forest on a steep slope. After a taxing and precarious descent, we reached a forest road that in turn led us to main road which led us easily and quickly to CP2.

CP2 – CP3

Navigation on this stretch was easy, because we pretty much had to follow marked tourist trails. We had the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful sights and a stunning sunset. When passing Jasien there was a brief shower and it suddenly got dark so that we had to turn our headtorches on. The refreshing shower passed soon and at 21:09 we uneventfully reached CP3.

Post-rain freshness enjoyed while on the way to CP3

CP3 – CP4

This was the second longest stretch at Kierat, also there were a couple of not obvious places where good navigation was crucial. From CP3 we quickly descended to the road. On the way, similarly to the winner, we had an encounter with a couple of cows that were roaming free on the path… fortunately these were just two calves that quickly ran away.

Between Road 968 and village Konina we got a bit lost and had to plod through tall grasses and a couple of ravines until we reached a nice road that took us to Koniny. From there the navigation was easy, though we didn’t go for the route proposed as optimal, because, according to the map, there wasn’t supposed to be any road there.

We checked in at CP4 at 23:06. This meant we covered 29k (18 miles) in just over 5 hours. My Garmin watch showed we actually covered 30.74k (19-ish miles); so far a very reasonable overhead. The checkpoint crew informed us that we were around 70th place. At the CP we refilled our water supplies and set off.

CP4 – CP5

This was supposed to be an obvious and quick descent to Koninki. Instead by taking a wrong turn we went too much south and had to slog through grasses and brambles until we made it to the road. This cost us a few precious minutes. After that we made it to the wearying ascent upon Gron. Just before another hill called Ostra I could have gone almost straight onto the CP. Instead I ran too much north-west and descended too low. As a consequence, had to laboriously go up to get to the CP. This small error cost me 10-15 minutes, so I was in a vile mood.

CP5 – CP6

We made it to Jasionow after an initial run followed by a slog along a ravine. From there followed a nice stretch of running followed by a long and toilsome ascent along the yellow tourist trail towards the Stare Wierchy tourist shelter. From there followed a downhill towards a valley, which we took slowly due to the path being muddy and stony in places, plus we were already quite tired. In the valley, we entertained a short run followed by a fast-paced walk on a slight uphill straight to CP6. There was a great surprise- the organisers provided grilled sausages! We took a longer than usual break to each devour a ketchup splattered sausage- yummy!

Delicious!

CP6 – CP7

A key stretch, because it led to the halfway point with hot soups! The first couple of miles we briskly walked along a stream, until the road/path disappeared and we had to wade through the stream itself. Jumping from one stone to another and getting our feet frequently into the cold and refreshing water was actually not too bad. It was a picturesque route, which I’d love to cover on a hot and sunny day, as opposed to doing it in the middle of the night having covered 25 miles already.

After a while we left the stream and enjoyed an arduous climb towards the ridge, up where we could pick up the pace again. Once we found the blue trail which was supposed to lead us straight to the checkpoint I got a motivational kick and set off running most of this bit. Meanwhile night turned into dawn and at 4:39 we clocked our SI cards at CP7.

At CP 7

CP7 was located at 55k (34-ish miles) so more than halfway through. It took us 10.5 hours to reach it, so my target of 24 hours looked easily doable; the 20-hour target seemed a bit of a stretch considering that the second part of Kierat involved more challenging navigation. My Garmin showed we covered 58k (36-ish miles) so still a very decent overhead. The CP crew informed us there were about 50 people or so ahead of us so far, so we made great progress since CP4, despite the navigational errors. At the checkpoint, I refilled my water bottles, drank one soup and one cup of tea and we were gone.

CP7 – CP8

A relatively short stretch: firstly, a laborious climb up Chorobowska (200 metres or so up) and then a bit of a puzzle how to proceed- either a long way around or risk a forest path that was not on the map.

Descending on the path that was not on the map

I chose the latter which turned out to be a very good decision because it led us to the checkpoint. There it turned out we moved up by almost 10 places! Also, there was another surprise: we could grab a bread roll with cheese which served as a great replenishment of calories and nicely broke the sweet taste of gels and bars.

And here’s CP8

CP8 – CP9

Navigationally quite an easy stretch: firstly, an ascent to Przelecz Knurowska (Knurowska Pass), then a fast descent to the village and then another laborious ascent. We easily found CP9 sitting at an edge of a glade.

A view from Knurowska Pass

CP9 – CP10

The worst stretch of all! After a relatively slow descent down a sodden and stony path I chose an evidently bad route. In hindsight, I see that the optimal route or the winner’s route were much better than mine was.

After a gruelling climb up Skalisty Gronik, influenced by some other competitor we cut it straight towards Jamne through brambly forests and sodden glades. This was exhausting, to put it mildly. Once in Jamne we took a forest path uphill which soon disappeared on a steep, wooded slope. Moving laboriously up at a snail’s pace I was hoping we’ll soon reach a walkable path, but we kept on and on. I was seriously pissed off at that point and fed up with the whole thing. Michal was a witness to my dirty expletives aimed at the hills, trees, branches, stones and other inanimate objects, which didn’t seem to care at all about my predicament.

Eventually we reached a forest road which easily led us to the green trail, from which we sought to descend a ravine where the CP was supposed to be. After an exhausting descent, we made it to CP10. It took us 2 hours and 42 minutes to cover a 5-mile stretch! We certainly dropped from our good place from the previous CPs.

CP10 – CP11

Still fuming, tired and annoyed with chafed heels, rather than have a bit of a rest and take stock of my situation, I set off on another arduous climb in order to find a path traversing Strzelowskie. To add to my misery, it turned out that while battling with branches and brambles I lost one of my two Salomon Softflasks. Aside from the fact that they’re quite an expensive piece of an equipment it meant that I was left with frighteningly little water for this long stretch. Michal and the surrounding trees were a witness to another set of obscenities from my mouth.

After the laborious slog, we finally found the path. However, after a few minutes I decided I need to stop, sit down, and repair my feet. I told Michal to proceed and that I’ll catch up with him. I sat on grass, took off my wet shoes and sodden socks and cleaned my dirty feet a bit. Then I put a couple of plasters on chafed areas and taped them up with a well-adhering kinesiology tape. Fortunately, I had no blisters. I put on a fresh set of socks, the shoes and … I felt reborn! The whole stop lasted maybe 5-7 minutes and it worked magic. I again felt strong and could run on legs which felt amazingly fresh.

As could be seen from my track I significantly picked up my pace along Strzelowskie. After a few minutes, I caught up with Michal and left him behind without stopping, assuming he won’t be able to maintain my pace and will easily finish on his own, just as we usually do. Before the final descent I of course had to make an error and had to make a beeline for the road on a very steep and forested downhill. This was followed by a fast run to Mlynne. From there another ascent and then a long but gradual descent to CP11 in Kamienica. On the last few miles I had to cautiously ration my water supplies, but fortunately made it.

I checked in at CP11 at 12:06, so 82k (51.2 miles) took me 18 hours and 6 minutes. The real distance covered showed us 86.3k (54 miles). At the checkpoint I refilled my bottles, took another bottle as a replacement of my Softflask and set off.

CP11 – CP12

The easiest stretch where it was impossible to get lost. Easy, but not too fast due to a long ascent.

CP12 – CP13

The last long stretch; I chose a good route, as can be seen from my track. I even covered it relatively quickly with a mix of running and brisk walking. Between the two checkpoints I think I overtook 8 or so people, which was quite motivating to push ahead. I arrived at the checkpoint at 14:25 (20 hours and 25 minutes underway) and got hopeful I’d finish below 21 hours.

Somewhere on the way to CP13

CP13 – Finish

It was supposed to be easy and quick: take the obvious path to the road and then follow the road till the finish line. Somehow I followed another path which abruptly ended and I had to follow a beeline course for the road through a glade which was a bit slow going. Just before the road I had to fight my way through a mix of dense nettles and brambles which unmercifully stung and scratched my lower legs. I ran almost continuously along the road, but a few minutes lost in the nettles resulted in not making it across the finish line under 21 hours; I finished at 15:02.

Job done!

Summary

I completed Kierat in 21 hours and 2 minutes. According to my Garmin watch I covered 104.83k (65.5 miles) and 4540 of altitude gain. It’s a result I’m happy about, considering getting lost a few times and choosing a couple of sub-optimal routes. With this result I took a high 37th place, which is much better than I had anticipated. After my crisis around CP10 I spend a few minutes taking care of my feet which resulted in consecutive gain of around 20 places.

Garmin Connect summary

Michal finished at 16:30, so just under 1.5 hour after me, taking the 51st place. In total, 660 competitors started, and 263 finished within the 30-hour time limit.

Another beautiful trophy to add to my collection

Afterwards I felt quite well. Besides chafed heels and scratched lower legs I didn’t have any blisters which is a significant improvement from my recent races. What’s even greater, a few days after Kierat I had no muscle soreness which is a testament to how well my body handled the event (or a proof that I didn’t push hard enough!). One week after Kierat I ran a sub 2-hour training half-marathon, so I’m ready for the next challenge.

Overall, my impressions from Kierat are great. It’s a well and professionally organised event, where one can clearly see how much effort the organisers put to make sure all works fine and everyone is happy. Combined with the beautiful scenery of the polish mountains of Beskid Wyspowy and Gorce, it’s now one of my top races where I’d love to run again in the future.

Here’s the full map if one’s interested

All the best,

Marcin

World Orienteering Day 2017

On May 24th, 2017, in many places across the world local orienteering races took place as a part of World Orienteering Day (WOD- http://worldorienteeringday.com/). The aim of WOD is to popularise orienteering, mainly among schoolchildren, as a great and fascinating sport and an interesting pastime for whole families.

I haven’t written about orienteering on my blog yet, even though it’s my second passion, next to ultra running. My first contact with orienteering was when I was a scout in primary school. Then, for a few years I was a member of ‘Neptun’, a local orienteering club in my hometown Gdańsk in Poland. In 2001 I even took the 1st place in regional championships.

After a few years’ break I returned to orienteering when in 2006 I took part in Harpagan, a long-distance (100k) navigational race in which I have been participating ever since. Initially it was a walking event for me, but gradually over time I evolved to running it. After I moved from Poland to the UK, in 2012 I joined Thames Valley Orienteering Club, and since then I’ve regularly run in local and regional orienteering races, usually treating them as a good physical and mental workout. In orienteering you need to be both precise and quick to be successful.

Coming back to WOD 2017, on May 24th I was actually on family holiday in Poland and I thought it would be great to take advantage of the opportunity to run in Reagan’s Park in Gdańsk in an event organised by the Harpagan folks. My intention had been to run it leisurely because 2 days later I was about to participate in a mountain ultramarathon called Kierat (more on this topic in the next post).

Control scored, over to the next one!

Firstly, we set off as family Krzysztofik on the short course, where our daughter Ola was responsible for finding the checkpoints and punching the control card. We got 10 out of the required 20 points, then Ola’s attention got irrevocably directed to a nearby playground. That meant the end of Team Krzysztofik’s performance.

Ola with daddy en route to another control

While Ola explored the playground with her grandfather, I went off to do the long course which consisted of 30 controls. It took me 35 minutes to get them all, resulting in overall 3rd place. It was quite a fast-paced run, contrary to my initial plan, but fortunately 2 days later, at the start of Kierat, I didn’t feel any adverse consequences 😊.

Last but not least, me after my run

To sum up, I think that WOD is a great initiative and I wholeheartedly encourage people to try orienteering. It’s an active way of spending time outdoors for whole families, what could be easily witnessed in Reagan’s Park in Gdańsk, where overall 223 people took part, among them a couple of familiar faces and many families with children.

All the best,

Marcin

Interesting places- Paris

After my last two long posts (Viking Way Ultra race report and Harpagan race report) I’m back in the travel section with the capital of France. I tend to visit Paris quite frequently, usually once a month or every two months. Very often my visits are very short with a flight (or the Eurostar from London) out in the morning and back in the evening. This naturally doesn’t allow me to go out for a run. But when I stay in Paris for at least one night I normally try to take advantage of it and go for a run. I have two favourite places in Paris where I’ve run many times already: Bois du Boulogne, which is located in the 16th district so very centrally; and forêt domaniale de Verrières (literally the state forest in Verrières, a commune just south of Paris. There are surely other nice places for running in Paris which I might have the opportunity to explore in the future.

Bois du Boulogne

Bois du Boulogne is Paris’s second largest park, created between 1852 and 1858 on the orders of Imperator Napoleon III (Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew). Napoleon III actively participated in the design of the park and, interestingly, allegedly he was inspired by London’s Hyde Park with which he had fallen in love while in London. That’s why you can find ponds and streams in the French park. The detailed history of the park and more interesting facts can be found on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bois_de_Boulogne.

So great to take advantage of nice weather
Grand Cascade- an artificial waterfall and grottos in the park

Putting aside the history of the park, for me, first and foremost, it’s a beautiful green oasis amid a concrete jungle and an ideal place to run far from the fumes and the hustle and bustle of the great city. On one hand, I actually enjoy visiting cities by running around and across them, so a run along river Seine, underneath the Eiffel Tower, through the Champ de Mars, up Montmartre, around the Louvre and past the Notre Dame Cathedral is something very compelling to me. But given an alternative option such as Bois du Boulogne I don’t hesitate much where to go.

Lac Inferieur- the largest lake in the park

Taking advantage of exceptionally pretty weather on 27th and 28th March 2017 I went out for two runs. On the 27th I did over 8 miles and on the 28th just over 5 miles in order not to get too tired ahead of my approaching start in Viking Way Ultra. Regular visitors to my blog will probably notice the lack of chronology in my postings. The reason for that is just not enough time to write stuff up as much as I would like to, so consequently some material, such as this post, has to wait for a more convenient time to be published.

The 27th March route

An interesting fact to finish off with. While in Paris I once told my French colleague that I sent for a run in Bois du Boulogne. To my surprise, he smiled and then started laughing, while later he advised that I should rather not babble about it in public. He kindly explained that this is due to prostitutes who are abundant in the park. To Parisians it is a well-known fact what services can be found in the park, therefore by saying “I went to Bois du Boulougne” I could get smirks or raised eyebrows 😊

The 28th March route

All the best,

Marcin