- Written by Katie O'Donoghue, 12th January 2023
My first ultra in Poland; a stage race with three challenges in two days over three different mountain ranges. It all starts from a small village located in the southern part of my country. I have to say that the last two months of my training felt futile and worthless due to various issues, so I wasn’t sure how I would cope.
I was following the weather forecast for a couple of weeks and everything indicated that I would be running in deep, soft and delightful snow!
Irony was, when I got there, all this wonderful scenery had gone!
Never mind, we do not always get what we want, right? Fully equipped with various running gear, I checked into an apartment which was conveniently located just 3 minutes away from the start line.
Stage1- Gorce, Saturday morning, 21 miles, 5500ft elevation
I packed all I needed, including food for 6 hours as I didn’t know what the check points would provide for the runners.
The very first stretch of 6 miles totally up hill felt relentless. I really didn’t know what to expect, but after 2 miles I got into my tempo and started to feel tuned in, the adrenaline had kicked off. The ground conditions were very bad, lots of slippery mud, rotten leaves, rocks and puddles. My legs had quite a big job to do.
The temperature was plus 4 degrees C and there was no wind. We had two big climbs to run in total with a flat tarmac stretch between them through the neighbourhood village. At the end of our second climb runners were rewarded with a stunning view from the top of an observation tower. Awesome!
But that few minutes up there were enough to start me off shivering as I was totally wet under my windproof due to the intense workout. A quick photo session and I was ready for descending back to the village. You would imagine that 6 miles running downhill is easier, but the truth is, it is sometimes harder than going up. Still, I managed to overtake more than a dozen runners on the final 3 miles flying to the finish line. Wonderful feeling!
A few more shots, quick chat to fellow runners and a swift return to my accommodation for a few hours of rest before second race.
Stage 2 - Saturday night, Pieniny, 3.8 miles with 1300ft elevation
The participants from Super Ultra, Ultra and Intro are gathering at the start line. The atmosphere is buzzing. Big smiles and excitement are very infectious!
I’m looking around to try find my lovely companion, Gosia with who I ran the early part of stage 1, but without luck. A short brief and in a few minutes we will be on the move again. 5,4,3,2,1, gooo!
I really don’t know what there is apart from a ridiculous amount of elevation and right now I’m just trying to establish my pace. I’m being pulled along with a big wave of runners attacking a hill covered in an enormous amount of sludge. Poles are not allowed on this distance; it’s slippery and my legs are working twice as hard. It wouldn’t be me without trying to capture this madness on a photo but instead of a good shot, I fell over. Someone helped me to get back up. My hands, phone, glasses, watch and face have a new look! There is no time for crying!
We are nearly half way through, reaching the flat stretch, so my legs can get some rest. Another 30 minutes and the job will be done. Descending isn’t easier at all. I’m trying to concentrate on my balance, watching carefully where I’m putting my foot.
We soon reach tarmac and I feel real relief that I’ve survived this mud carnage game.
The finish line is a half mile away. Everyone tries to speed up on this stretch. Yoo-hoo, few more minutes and I will get a second medal.
100 yards and there is end of it…
No way! That is not the end! I didn’t listen carefully to the brief! The final stretch is… running up 150 yards and then downhill to the finish line! I’m empty already, slowing down significantly, but I’m not alone. That 150 yards going up takes ages. Now, it’s very hard to run down. Slippery, uneven ground, ditches, small rocks and my legs like jelly.
I’m crossing the finish line and I’m just about to pass out! But the second medal is hanging on my neck.
I’m wishing to be in bed, washed, fed and watered. I’m walking back to the apartment slightly dizzy, but happy that stage 2 is over. I have 11 hours to recover for tomorrow’s 20 miles, again with a shed load of elevation.
Stage 3 - Sunday morning, Beskid Sądecki, 5100ft elevation
I’m waking up with stiff and achy legs. Spending some time rolling them and stretching. It’s not actually that bad.
I’m leaving my apartment fully equipped with everything that I need. The weather is fine, a bit chilly with a prospect of sunshine later. There are two check points within the time limit, mile 8 in 2.5 hrs and 4 hrs to get to mile 12.
It looks generous, but soon it’s obvious that only a good pacing will guarantee to get there on time. The route is leading through forest trail; very boggy and covered again by rotten leaves and loose rocks. There is at least 5 miles constant uphill before I see flat terrain. I’m trying to occupy my mind thinking about hundreds of different things. The miles pass by slowly, but chatting on and off with my new running friend - Gosia - makes racing more pleasurable.
Adrenaline starts buzzing in my bloodstream and I suddenly feel pressure about the time limit.
Gosia and I reach a crossroad where other race distances joining us. The trail looks like busy high street. We have now 30 minutes until the cut off time and everyone looks like they are being chased by a scary monster. It’s a downhill section with plenty of obstacles including fallen branches. It is hard, it is crazy, but it is fun as well!
We make it in time, precisely 20 minutes before cut off. I feel relief. There is a food station in about 300 yards and I’m looking forward to grabbing something to eat. A couple of minutes there munching a pretzel and a gulp of coke, and then it is time to go.
There is 4.5 miles until the next check point. No surprise... UP all the way.
I’m thinking about the finish line, a hot shower and foood!
Around half way through the weather is changing suddenly from autumn to winter, there is fog, snow and wind. I’m starting to shiver as I’m completely wet under my jacket again. I’m trying to imagine how beautiful it is here in the summer; coniferous forest, dry paths and sunshine…
A big crossroad and marshal are the next hint that our check point is nearby. It’s located in a mountain chalet. I’m having a red borsch and hot potato with a lot of salt! Yum!
7 miles to go. I feel happiness even though my legs are very tired. I’m starting to trot joined by my friend, we’re chatting away. There is a long flat(ish) stretch , then a short climb and well anticipated descent to the finish. The last couple miles are full of excitement. I can say already, I DID IT!
Gosia and I am crossing the finish line holding hands, happy, tired, dirty and proud!
I love my running adventures. I love birthday presents like this, but the birthday cake will have to wait!
Written by Katie O'Donoghue, 12th January 2023