Harpagan 58 – race report

Welcome to my blog after a little while. I’ve neglected blogging over the last few months. Partly because of other priorities, and partly because I guess I’ve lost some of the enthusiasm I had when I created my blog in early 2017. I still have a whole list of topics to write up on the blog. That includes some 90% ready posts that have been languishing in drafts.

Since my last post from May 2019, the report from the Thames Path 100, nothing much has happened running-wise. In August I took part in the Peak Skyline race. I had been very enthusiastic ahead of it, but I hadn’t trained much. Consequently, I got timed out at the penultimate timing point and scored a failure. I may come back to that and write up my experience on the blog one day.

Next, from mid August I’ve embarked on an 8-week training plan for Harpagan. During these weeks I’ve done some decent amount of training. In the end not as much as I had planned, but at least enough to feel comfortable I’ve done something. The numbers are 163 km in August, 153 km in September and 64 km in October. That was topped up by an occasional bike ride, a few swimming sessions and some leg strength workouts.

Bożepole Wielkie for the third time

Harpagan takes place in the Pomorskie region in the north of Poland. The 58-th edition in October 2019 took place in a village called Bożepole Wielkie. I arrived at the event HQ with enthusiasm and some nostalgia. For the first time I had a chance to participate in Harpagan for the third time in the same place. My first ever Harpagan, the 31st edition in April 2006, was actually in Bożepole Wielkie. I gave up my attempt after 14 hours or so, totally exhausted and half dead. A few years later, the 47-th edition in April 2014 brought me back to Bożepole Wielkie. The race was going well and I was aiming for a top ten finish. Unfortunately, a terrible navigation error near the end cost me two hours or so and I eventually finished 17th.

Another thing worth mentioning is that I had a chance to run around these forests many other times before. Namely at the following editions of Harpagan:
31 (Bożepole Wielkie), 35 (Łęczyce), 47 (Bożepole Wielkie), 53 (Cewice), 54 (Szemud), 55 (Choczewo). From experience I knew, that these is a challenging terrain. To the north from the race HQ there is a lot of boggy terrain and the paths network is quite unreliable, comparing to what one expects based on the map. To the south, on the other hand, it’s very hilly. There are some tough climbs, especially after tens of kilometres already covered. Therefore, on a Friday evening on 18th October 2019, I had a very cautious and respectful anticipation of the race.

With Michał and Mateusz, ready to start in a few minutes’ time.

At the race HQ, an old crew assembled: Michał, Mateusz and Piotr and me. We also met Grzegorz, with whom we ran one year ago in Kwidzyn. A few minutes before 9 pm we got our maps and started planning our route. The first loop was to the North.

The report

In a similar style as I’ve written in previous reports, I am analysing the race on a checkpoint to checkpoint basis. This is illustrated with map snippets. Each snippet has two traces. The purple trace is the theoretical optimal route and was published by the organisers after the race. The yellow trace is my own GPS track. I use the acronym CP for checkpoint (CP1: checkpoint 1).

Start – CP1

We set off at 9 pm and had a couple of minutes to decide if we’re attacking CP1 from east, or from west. I decided to head east and interestingly we were the only runners that chose this option. A whole crown of head torches went the other way, so we were on our own pretty soon. Mostly running with short walking breaks, we easily found CP1. There seem to have been lots of people coming and going from and to various directions already. I interpreted this as our variant may not have been the best. But on the other hand, the organisers’ route also led from the east, so maybe we were ok.

CP1 – CP2

We immediately continued on a seemingly obvious route. For the first few minutes going was slow on a heavily overgrown path. Apart from that, the path was very good and we maintained a strong pace and easily found CP2 at 10:07 pm. Unbeknown to us, we were leading at this point! We didn’t suspect that at all, due to the impression we had at CP1.

CP2 – CP3

The stretch seemed obvious to follow. In reality at one point (close to the 07 digits on the map) the path disappeared in a bushy forest and we had to slowly fight our way until we reached a major forestry track. Just before CP3 we lost 3-4 minutes having gone a bit too far, but that wasn’t a big thing.

CP3 – CP4

It was immediately obvious this won’t be an easy stretch. The first half of it was fast and east. Then when we expected a path, there was just dense forest, so we chose a safe option and followed a forestry track around. Eventually we made it to the vicinity of the CP. Attacking it from south-east, we followed some people north too early. Fortunately, I soon realised what mistake we made. To make amends I took a bearing west through a boggy forest and made it to CP4 safe and sound.

It was the first manned CP, and one where we could refill our water bottles. To my amazement, the CP crew informed us that we were so quick that the organisers haven’t yet managed to bring the supply of water! Fortunately they had a 5-litre bottle that they graciously shared with us. They also informed us, that we’re running in the 2nd place, just 25 minutes after the leader!

Me at CP4 (photograph courtesy of BEAR.photo)

One more comment on the theoretical variant following a firebreak (a straight line in the middle of a forest). I didn’t consider it for a moment. I remembered, that firebreaks in these forest are notoriously overgrown and tough to follow. Perhaps it would be doable in daylight, but not at night.

CP4 – CP5

Excited by the news how high up we were, I wasted no time and ran off quite hard, so that my friends stayed a bit behind. After 1.5 km or so I slowed down to think where to go next and they caught up with me. Also, someone else appeared: Marcin Hippner, winner of multiple previous editions of Harpagan. I was shocked that after 20 km or so into the race, he was not far ahead of me. Marcin with his mate Mariusz continued hard. At this point I decided I want to keep up with them as long as I can. My friends, on the other hand, had enough of this wild pace and decided to slow down.

I managed to keep up with Marcin and Mariusz maybe for 1.5 km. They were too fast for me. My heart rate went above 185 BPM, so I had to slow down. Surprisingly, they chose the forestry road to the west from the big lake. I decided to take the shorter path east of the lake. It was a goo decision. I easily found the checkpoint and did it a couple of minutes before them. This was also one of my fastest checkpoint to checkpoint stretches: 6.12 km done at 9 km/h.

CP5 – CP6

I saw Marcin and Mariusz when I was leaving the CP, so they were not far behind me. Indeed, they overtook me halfway between CP5 and CP6, and reached CP6 just one minute ahead of me. At CP6 it turned out I was 23 minutes behind the leader Krzysiek Lisak. I remembered him as the winner of the 2017 edition of an awesome mountain ultramarathon called Kierat, which I actually had a pleasure to run that year. At the CP I refilled my bottles, asked for a mustard sandwich, took a banana and a sausage and continued the chase.

CP6 – CP7

Following the road, for a while I could see Marcin and Mariusz a few hundred metres ahead of me. That was until they turned right into the forest. I assumed, they’ll attack the CP from the north. I took a risky variant, the last 500 metres of which involved going on a bearing through a boggy forest. My gamble worked out. The terrain wasn’t as boggy as expected. The cautious walk gave me a chance to rest from the previous running. I reached the CP a few minutes after Marcin and Mariusz, whose head torches I could still see when approaching the checkpoint.

CP7 – CP8

I continued my chase following quite an obvious way, 100% coinciding with the optimal route. The navigation was straightforward. Despite that, I slowed down comparing with the last few stretches. Tiredness was catching up with me. I probably 40% jogged and 60% walked this stretch. Just before the checkpoint I caught up with Mariusz who was struggling with some gastro issues. We arrived at CP8 together at 2:14 am.

CP8 – CP9

Mariusz quickly set a pace much higher than mine and I was again on my own. Annoyingly, I still didn’t have much steam to run, so there was plenty of walking. Having easily reached the vicinity of CP9, I committed my first major error this night. I turned right some 250 metres too soon and made a silly loop that cost me 10 minutes or so. Having then realised what I did and where I was, I soon afterwards hit the checkpoint. I was sadly 11 minutes behind Marcin and Mariusz and 33 minutes behind Krzysiek.

CP9 – CP10

I was pissed off at me for the mistake made before CP9. On the other hand, I was relieved, that the consequences of my lack of focus were not much more costly. Now focused on not screwing up again I continued towards CP10. After some slow going uphill, I sped up downhill and kept a strong pace. For most of the way the navigation was straightforward. The only question was how to attack CP10: via roads/tracks from the north, or through fields under the high voltage lines, or another way. I chose to take a bearing through a field till I reached a path. I fortunately found the path and easily followed it straight to CP10. Last stretch remained until the halfway point.

CP10 – Race HQ (halfway point)

With no time to waste I followed what seemed to be the only logical route choice. It would have been ideal, if not for the second half it, which ran mainly on an edge of a field. It was muddy and very uneven, so at times it was hardly possible to run. Still, a bit jogging and a bit walking, after 40 minutes from CP10 I checked in at the race HQ at 4:34 am. I was fourth, 14 minutes behind Marcin and Mariusz and 43 minutes behind Krzysiek. Interestingly, the next runner appeared a whole hour after me!

It took me so far 7 hours and 34 minutes to cover 56 km. According to the map, the optimal distance could have been 50 km. Taking into account the terrain and navigation, 6 km wasn’t a large add. Conscious I am just 14 minutes from the second place, I quickly entered to building of the HQ to access my drop bag. It took me 8-9 minutes to refill my bottles, pack gels and bars, prepare the new map, use a bathroom and get a cup of hot tea. I started the second loop at 4:43 am.

Race HQ – CP11

I ran out of Bożepole, crossed the main road and a few minutes later started a steep, tough ascent towards CP11, located atop a local hill. With more than 120 metres of positive vertical gain, slowly and steadily, I reached CP11.

CP11 – CP12

The plan was clear: I wanted to traverse the hills southwest until I reach a major forestry track which I could then follow downhill westwards. The traversing was going all right for like 10 minutes, but it felt a long time, so I was sure I will hit the track any minute. Indeed, I followed the first path downhill. Unfortunately, it started to turn north and eventually led me to the main forestry road in the north. Instead, I could have continued my traverse for a 100 metres or so and would have hit the right track.

This failed manoeuvre cost me some 10-15 minutes. I wasn’t despairing too much, because at least I knew where I was. From the main forestry road on the way was smooth and easy. The crew at CP12 informed me that I am losing 23 minutes to the runner in front of me.

CP12 – CP13

Quite a short stretch between CPs, with a pleasant and easy attack variant. I decided to take a a shot at the CP taking a bearing from the south, rather than following the track all the way around. It was a good choice as the navigation was quite easy. While at the checkpoint, my watch told me I’ve covered 70 km in almost 10 hours’ time.

I haven’t seen anyone for a while. I was pushing ahead thinking I’m in the fourth position, chasing a podium place. Unbeknown to me, some time earlier Krzysiek pulled out of the race at CP13, while Marcin got there 11 minutes after me. So I was in fact in the second place, 31 minutes behind Mariusz!

CP13 – CP14

A few minutes after leaving CP13, just past 7 am, it was light enough. That meant I could pack my head torch. Until the crossing near the number 102.4 on the map everything was going smooth. From there, my plan was to follow the theoretical route. However, due to a drop in focus and due to the fact, that the paths network was completely different than what I expected based on the map, I followed a different path. Strangely, for a long time I was convinced I was following the right path!

1 km or so before the CP, while going up a hill, I met Michał, Mateusz, Piotr and Grzegorz. They were heading towards CP12. They must have been some 2-3 hours behind me. I misled them (not deliberately!), saying where I thought we were on the map and continued going my way. A few moments later, having climbed a steep hill, everything stopped making sense. I started going round in circles trying to figure out where I was. Fortunately, the visibility was good and I headed towards the highest point in the vicinity and I found CP14 there.

Later, looking at the results, I saw that my 31 minutes loss to Mariusz widened to 51 minutes. My lack of focus and poor navigation cost me some 20 minutes or so.

CP14 – CP15

I’ll start with an admission, that the theoretical route looks really interesting, because it avoids some serious changes of altitude. In hindsight, I probably should have taken it, but it didn’t cross my mind to consider it. Instead, with no navigational difficulties, I chose the more undulating route. I walked the uphills and ran some of the flat and downhill bits. I easily found the CP and got it at 9:18 am.

After 12 hours and 18 minutes, I had 84 km in my legs done. According to the map, the distance elapsed at CP15 should have been 74.8 km, so I still had more than 25 km to the finish. My loss to Mariusz increased by 3 minutes to 54 minutes, while Marcin got CP15 13 minutes after me. Still, I had no idea whatsoever about that. In my mind, I was in the fourth place, chasing Marcin and Mariusz some 15-20 minutes behind them.

CP15 – CP16

The first priority having left CP15 was to take advantage of a pit stop, denoted on the map with a little red fork. I was running low on water, so this additional feed station was much welcome. I spent there maybe 1-2 minutes, just enough to refill my bottles and grab a banana. The route to the curve of the forestry road near the number 08 on the map was smooth. Once I got there, the plan was to take a bearing east to a path, follow the path north east and take another bearing east towards the CP. I descended into a little valley and there was no checkpoint. I crossed to the adjacent valley and again nothing.

Meanwhile, I somehow paused GPS tracking, so 25 minutes of walking desperately in circles is not reflected on my track. While trying to find the CP I saw Marcin Hippner, who told me he got the CP and was continuing towards CP16. I was astonished he had been behind me and now is ahead of me! I was so pissed off at myself. Eventually, a runner from a different race showed told me that the checkpoint was 200 metres to the north. Again, the lack of focus cost me dearly. I was looking for the CP too soon after leaving the main road. I found the CP and when I pressed the ‘lap’ button on my watch, recording of my track restarted.

This mistake cost me 25-30 minutes. It looks like Mariusz must have also screwed it up, because my loss to him increased by just 3 minutes to 57 minutes. Marcin, on the other hand, had a 14 minutes advantage over me now. However, I still thought I was 4th and my chance for a podium finish is getting less and less likely.

CP16 – CP17

A relatively straightforward stretch, except around the number 10, when the path dissolved in a thickly overgrown forest. For a few minutes I had to improvise until I found the path again. Mostly walking, with some jogging, after 35 minutes from CP16 I made it to CP17. There I refilled my water bottles again. The checkpoint crew didn’t inform me how far behind the leaders I was. Even though I had no clue what my loss was, I was at this point determined to forge ahead as fast as I can and catch up at least with Marcin. The reality was at this stage that I was 3rd, 10 minutes behind Marcin and 52 minutes behind Mariusz.

CP17 – CP18

CP18 was straighforward, as can be seen on the map. I’ve also managed to maintain a decent speed of 7.4 km/h. Just before the CP I caught up with Marcin. Later I learned that he pulled a muscle and was mostly walking. I got the checkpoint a few seconds ahead of him and we exchanged a couple of words. I immediately set of running hard quite keen to build some advantage over him. Unbeknown to me, I was in the second position, 40 minutes behind Mariusz.

CP18 – CP19

Seriously uplifted by overtaking Marcin, I ran as much as I could, almost non-stop to the river Łeba. Then I slowed down, knowing that I have a serious climb ahead of me. I chose a short variant that involved taking a bearing up a steep hill. It certainly worked out very well, because my loss to Mariusz narrowed to just 27 minutes!

CP19 -CP20

Not wasting any time, I cut down through the forest to a nearby path, which I then followed uphill, walking fast with bits of jogging. The whole stretch, that included 135 metres of altitude gain, took me under 19 minutes. At CP20, a member of the checkpoint crew told me there were 3-4 other runners ahead of me! How was that possible? A part of me suspected he mixed something up. Still, I had a sense of dread, that despite all my efforts I am going to miss out on the podium.

CP20 – Finish

I didn’t think too much on a route choice and took the easy route I took. The theoretical variant would have been a bit quicker but hey ho. Despite tiredness and some 105 km done already, I ran as much as I could. I didn’t really count on overtaking anyone at this stage. I just wanted to get this bloody thing done and learn the truth at which position I am.

At this stretch I recorder my fastest average speed: 9.1 km/h. It was matches just by three others: CP5 (9 km/h), CP6 (8.9 km/h) and CP1 (8.6 km/h). I crossed the finish lines 29 minutes from leaving CP20. I finished the 58th edition of Harpagan at 1:19 pm, with an overall time of 16 hours and 19 minutes.

At the finish line I asked the key question and… relief came. I took the 2nd place, just 24 minutes after Mariusz. Difficult to express how happy I was.

Just a minute after having crossed the finish line

The end

The third step of the podium was taken by Marcin Hippner, who finished just 9 minutes behind me. Despite his injury he still managed to maintain a strong pace. The 4th finisher crossed the line some 90 minutes behind Marcin. Overall, there were 29 finishers within the 24-hour race duration. That included Michał, Mateusz, Piotr and Grzegorz who finished some 5.5 hours behind me.

A few minutes after having crossed the finish line, when my heart rate stabilised and the adrenaline rush let go, I felt how utterly exhausted I was. But it was certainly worth it. No doubts about the fact that it was my best Harpagan ever. It was neither the first time that I took the 2nd place. Nor was it an exceptionally fast race, certainly I did a few faster ones in the past. But it was the first time ever, where I was very close to the leader. In truth, had I not made one of the costly errors such as those at CP14 or at CP16, I would have Mariusz in my sight. Of course there is no point hypothesising now, but the indisputable fact is that at CP8 Mariusz and I were together and most of the race we were not far from each other.

The award ceremony (photograph courtesy of BEAR.photo)

I want to thank the organisers for another great Harpagan. As always, super organisation, great atmosphere and a challenging and interesting route. For me also, unforgettable memories. See you all in a half year’s time at the 59th Harpagan in Lipusz!

All the best,

Marcin

P.S. Below are the full maps with the theoretical route and my actual track

The first loop
The second loop

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