Welcome to the blog after a longer while to enjoy the first race report in six months’ time. As I wrote in my 2017 summary post, for 2018 I had planned fewer ultra races, but more training mileage. Indeed, I started training in early January. Over the last months I’ve done some decent mileage (175k in January, 246k in February, 215k in March, 88k in April) and I have felt quite strong. If not for 2 1-week periods off training due to being down with cold, it would have been perfect, but what can you do. Anyhow, while pursuing my training I focused on getting in best shape for Harpagan, the 55th edition of this race taking place on 20th April in a village Choczewo, located in Northern Poland, about 1.5-hour drive from the city of Gdansk.
I encourage those of you not familiar with Harpagan and its concept to visit my introductory post from the 53rd edition. After my exceptional result (2nd place) at the 54th edition (report here) 6 months ago I have been super keen to put in a hard fight for the 1st place. That was the reason for no ultra races in the last months and instead focusing on systematic training. I have felt, and still do, that it is within my reach to win in, assuming being in a decent shape and not making any larger navigational errors. As it turned out, I was in a pretty good shape, but didn’t do so well on the navigation front, but I’ll get to it shortly…
I travelled to Choczewo as always with my running partner Michał. Once we registered, we shortly met Mateusz, our companion from the last few editions of Harpagan, so we already knew that we’ll run together. I also saw the winner of the last couple editions, Marcin Hippner, as well as a couple of other top guys, so I expected that I’ll have to put in good effort to score well.
It’s worth to note, that the weather was beautiful. On Friday night it was like 15 degrees and the night was supposed to be warm too. Both the night as well as Saturday were supposed to be dry, with Saturday morning getting slightly colder, maybe down to 10 degrees. It’s been a few years since it was so warm at Harpagan.
5 minutes before the start we got our maps at it turned out that the first loop is taking us north towards the sea, so I expected to be flat and fairly easy to navigate. Just before 9 PM we were at the start line, at the front of the pack, ready for some action.
The following maps have two superimposed tracks: the orange one is the optimal/shortest variant (provided by the organisers after the race), while the blue one is an approximate track of my race route.
The short stretch to checkpoint 1 (CP1) was obvious and mostly on road; for the first mile or so we sped faster than 12 km/h! Despite the fast pace, Hippner and a couple of other guys quickly gained a bit of a lead on us. The next checkpoints were navigationally easy, so we could focus on keeping a strong pace. CP2 and CP3 were easy and quickly done. We swiftly covered most of the stretch to CP4. In the vicinity we entered the forest a bit unfortunately and ended up fighting our way through dense shrubs until we found the CP.
CP5 at 24.6 km was quick and easy and we got it at 23:45 (2:45h for 24.6 km… not too bad a pace). There we faced a decision whether to continue to CP6 on the beach, or through the forests and dunes. Fortunately, we went for the beach, where on a packed sand I set an aggressive pace and we ran hard almost the whole stretch of 6 km, checking in at CP6 26 minutes past midnight.
A short recording of our beach run. One of the best moments in the history of Harpagan!
With no major problems we found CP7, CP8 and CP9 while still maintaining a strong pace. In fact, en route to CP9 Michał and Mateusz found my pace a bit too hard and let go. I got to CP10 on my own and shortly thereafter at 3:29 am I checked in at the base and finished the first loop. 6.5 hours to cover 51.9 km was a brilliant result so far, I think my best first loop at Harpagan ever. Actually, the real distance covered must have been around 55 km, but I am not sure, as later my Garmin died and didn’t bother saving the track ☹. I went inside the building to access my drop bag: I refilled my soft flasks, took some energy bars and gels, and ate and drank a bit. The whole pit stop took me maybe 10 minutes.
Disastrous second loop
I more walked than ran to CP11 as I had to warm up after the pit stop. I found CP11 at 4:05, so just 36 minutes from arriving at the half-way point. I swiftly covered the long stretch to CP12 with a fair bit of running: 9 km done in 66 minutes. It took me 8 hours and 11 minutes to cover 64.7 km to CP12, so probably my best pace ever for such distance at Harpagan. I didn’t know it then, but in fact at CP12 I was only 7 minutes behind Marcin Hippner. It was going well, too well, so something had to go pear shaped. And it did.
I quickly and easily covered most of the stretch to CP13 and had a clear attack plan in my mind. I reached the main forestry track (marked white), then find the intersection from which I started looking for small bogs between which the CP would be hidden. But there was no CP. I explored the terrain a bit, returned to the intersection, focused more on time and distances and tried again. Again nothing. I was thinking and thinking, kept searching left and right, going in expanding circles and nothing. I was so confident I was in the right place, that I completely rejected the thought that I could have been elsewhere.
1.5 hours later I was depressed and lost all motivation to continue. I knew I screwed up big time. It was only when I met another runner and he told me where he though we were, that I had a Eureka moment and 5 minutes later found CP13. It turned out, that all this time I was starting from an intersection about 500 metres NW from where I thought I was. What on the map looked like a minor forest trail, was in fact a new forestry road that must have been laid out not long ago and I failed to realise that.
Grinding it out
After CP13, with no enthusiasm left in me, I painfully plodded on and checked in at CP14 at 8:12 AM. I refilled my flasks there and continued with an aim to grind out the whole remaining distance. Some 1.5 km after CP14 my GPS failed on me, so I lost my track and the elapse distance data. I was furious. While trying to re-activate it and retrieve data, I lost concentration and as a result made a silly loop and returned to the track I walked on 15 minutes earlier. This was the final straw that made this day a failure. After that, I got myself together, focused, and made it with no further errors to CP15.
CP16 went down fairly well. Once I’ve got it I said to myself that I need to do some running again, so that I can finish this dreadful race sooner. At CP17 I still didn’t know at what position I was and how much I lost, but when leaving the CP I met Mateusz and Michał coming in. I had thought they were ahead of me, so that was a bit of a surprise. Later I found out that indeed they overtook me at CP13, but then I overtook them after CP16.
CP18 was easy. CP19 as well and I even managed to maintain a decent pace with a fair bit of running. The first part of the route towards CP20 was quick and smooth on good quality forest tracks, while the second part was slow going on a bearing across ploughed fields. CP20 was easy to find: it was beautifully exposed atop a small hill and visible from afar.
At the last, short stretch to the finish, surprisingly, another competitor caught up with me and pushing hard left me behind. I considered fighting for a moment, but decided that I don’t give a shit, because I failed anyway.
The end of my misery
I finished at 13:24, so after 16 hours and 24 minutes from the start. I estimate I covered a distance of 115 km or so. Despite my calamitous navigation error, I still managed to finish 5th. I lost 1 minute to the dude that passed me before the finish and 21 minutes to the 3rd place. Marcin Hippner won again, 3 hours ahead of me, even though at CP12 he was only 7 minutes ahead.
That’s the nature of Harpagan and similar navigational challenges. One error can wipe out hours of great performance and cost a potential victory. A lesson learned the hard way for me: even if a track/path looks easy and obvious, I always must stay focused, vigilant and conscious of time and distance elapsed. And another reminder not to fully trust the map, because their veracity varies. Where on the map I see a rough path, in reality this can be a new road.
Physically, this event shattered me. The reward for running much harder than usually was extreme muscle soreness. It wasn’t until Monday after the race that I was able to walk without pain. One week after I felt well and rested, so I resumed my training for the season’s longest race in four weeks’ time… stay tuned. As far as Harpagan is concerned, the next edition will take in October 2018 and this will be my chance to redeem myself.
For those interested, please find below the full maps with the optimal route marked in orange and my route in blue.
All the best, Marcin