It all started in January when I was browsing polish websites looking for trail races near my home town in the east of Poland. I came across first edition of Roztocze National Park races with 5 different distances and immediately I was drawn to a 60k. I can’t explain how but I felt it was something I was ready to do and before I had a chance to change my mind I put my name on the register.
I didn’t really knew where to start with my training. An ultra-marathon, that was something my lovely but at the same time little crazy friends did and I didn’t even run a marathon. So this was new, exciting and a little bit more than scary. Where does one even start?
I shared my fears with a friend and he told me about TrainAsOne. I though I give it a go even though every online training plan I tried before never really worked for me. Having no better ideas I was quickly convinced that this will be best option for me. Its website said that they “provide intelligent, round-the-clock coaching for runners of all abilities and goals. Allows you to train on your terms, guiding you every step of the way to help you achieve amazing results.” Sounds great right?Right. But it was the train on your own terms that appealed to me the most.
In a short (because to be honest I could talk and talk about my training forever) it was the best time of my running life. For the first time I was systematic with my training and the knowledge that each run has its purpose was a massive confidence booster. I loved running and my miles quickly build up.
I overdone it in late March, my legs told me to stop and from hitting 100k a week I was out. I was close to tears but having race in two months time I had to be smart and not let emotions get to me. I spoke with Sean from the team, who from that point week by week adjusted my training so that I could recover and safely get back to running again. He answered my endless emails and kept me sane. I don’t know how I will ever thank him enough. In no time I was running again. Pain free. But the race was approaching fast. Was my cut short training enough? I still wasn’t too sure.
Obviously it was not ideal and I was scared but Sean and few other friends were doing their best to convince me that I was ready. And with that the race day came.
I found myself back in Poland travelling with my family (who were my support crew for the day) to the start line which was in small town Kranobrod. The start of the race was next to the lake and with temperatures reaching 30C all I wanted to do was to have a swim. But I had a job to do. I kept telling myself that this is not a race and that I am not to chase anyone but safely get to the finish line and actually enjoy the journey. The time limit was 12 hours and it was plenty.
At midday the gun went off and with that about 100 runners started its journey through picturesque low and gently rolling hills, green forests, blue lakes, villages and towns. I went steady in the middle of the pack and I made sure not to rush. It was very hot day and it was only going to get hotter.
First few miles went fast and I felt really good despite the heat. After an hour I opened my bag and had a sandwich. I felt full of energy and kept going. In the forest I was welcomed by sandy trails which I found impossible to run so I started to walk. It was uncomfortable but I was happy with my steady pace. I caught up with few runners and we chatted for a little bit. At about 14k we were told our times and positions. I was 5th lady. 4th female was just in front of me. I gave a little cheer and then I don’t know what happened but I felt very strong need to get ahead. Oh dangerous way of thinking. Silly, silly me. But it was in my head and I had to act on it, with that I looked at Daniel, who I was chatting with for few k’s now and he just said lets go then. We picked up our pace and left the group behind us. We run out of the forest and went through the fields where we soon reached little village. There, my parents were waiting with water and fruit. We restocked our supplies and swiftly moved along. Few miles later Daniel slowed down and I was running on my own. I was surprised how well I felt. I had to keep reminding myself that I need to take it easy. I was strict with my food intake too. With high temps it was not easy but without it there would be no finish line. So I ate.
The route was amazing, every few kilometers rolling fields turned to forests and forests turned to villages. The flowers and green long grass looked amazing and the shade from the trees gave everyone needed cover from the sun.
It was at about 27k where we run into Szczebrzeszyn town and had few k’s to cover before we reached the control point. I struggled a lot as it was all on pavement, without good views and no shade. The sun was unbearable and I was crying inside for some shelter. Then I saw my mum and my cousin. There was food and drinks and buckets of freezing cold water! I was happy again.
I made it to half point in 3h37 minutes.
Few minutes later I was back on the road. It was again couple of miles of road running until we reached the National Park and joined the trails. I was in this area month earlier and I knew that next stop is not too far. I kept running with a smile on my face.
I passed more fields with beautiful yellow flowers covering the area like a carpet and no sooner than few minutes later I reached stunning forest with tall trees and little sun
going through the branches. It looked and felt magical. As I looked at my watch I realized I was about to finish a marathon. Crazy! Having never run it I stopped and took a photo of the time. It showed just over 5 hours. And from that point it was less than a half marathon to go.
I kept running. I was tired and my legs felt heavy. The trail was uneven and hard under foot and I could feel growing pain around my ankles. My calfs started to hurt and I was slowly convinced that this is where it all about to go downhill. I though my legs will give up, I thought that this is where I will hit the wall. Everything was an issue, the trees too close to my face, the trails too hard, too sandy, too uneven, too soft. I tried to stay positive and focus on the beauty around me as the forest was green and dark giving lots of shade.
But it was also muddy and I had to be very careful not to slip. The leaves and mud combined with plenty of fallen trees and branches were screaming disaster and I was praying not to fall (like on pretty much every other race).
Coming out of the forest I saw familiar trail and my mum was standing at the side of it. I was shocked how fast this section went. I stopped again, refueled the bag, grabbed tomatoes, banana, crackers, cakes and oranges
and I think I ate them all at once. I then saw little sign saying there is a shower and i just went under the stream of cold water laughing like a kid. This was amazing. People screamed there is only 14k left to finish. I knew I will get there.
This last section was hardest one. For one there was massive hill. It was however not the usual hill. It was in fact a canyon in the middle of the forest with many fallen trees which we had to climb over or under, at points it was hard to even tell that there was an actual trail and it was going up and up and up. I am not sure how people run through it in the nigh. I would be so scared. It was tough going and no end could be seen. It was tough on my legs but for some reason my calfs liked it as they stopped hurting after that.
Eventually I reached the top and I was already counting down the miles and when I thought there should be no more than a 7k to go I saw a sign! I actually stopped to make sure I read it right. It said 11k to the finish. I could not believe it. How could this be? I could not go any more than 7k….and I had to run 11???again??!!!
Then I remembered the route was slightly changed to remove another road section from the course. This must have added extra miles. It was devastating. Suddenly I felt pain in every muscle, every bone and I nearly lost a will to carry on. But I was so close. For first time I put music on, this kept me going for a bit. Then I heard someone saying hello, and a guy passed me fairly fast, I just managed to say hi back. Then I saw he was running the 115k route. I was shocked. He looked so good and was so fast. Later I learned he won that race. Even without knowing he motivated me to push harder and keep going. I decided I will enjoy it till the end. After all this is what I was training for for all those months. I turned off the music and focused on the sun slowly coming down, on the little wind in my face, on the soft trail under my feet. Before I knew it the last long uphill section was over and I met Piotr and we run together nearly to the very end. He sped up in the last few hundred meters and I followed soon after him. I entered the park, where the little church was build in the middle of the lake, I run next to it knowing that the finish line is just seconds away. Then I saw my parents and my other family members waiting at the finish line. Cheering me on and clapping. I did it, I just run 65k and I loved it. This moment when I crossed the line felt surreal. Something only few months earlier I thought was impossible today it actually happened. My heart was full. I was handed in water and beer and the beautiful wooden medal with my name engraved. I also finished a 4th female. I was shocked and happy. This was the best result i could have ever hoped for. And then I learnt that I came in first place in my age category. It is a shame I could not stand on the podium and pick my trophy personally the following day. But my parents did it for me. I don’t really know how I feel. All I wanted was to finish and enjoy this race. I achieved both. Truly one of my happiest moments ever.
What an achievement. My first ultra and the results I will be forever proud of.
It was hard journey. The training was tough and with a little bumper but in the end I was ready. I was ready to take on this distance and enjoy it from the very first to the last step. I now know that with hard work we all can achieve our goals. I can’t wait to get back to training because for me the journey of getting race ready was as much fun as the race itself….I might just wait till my legs stop to hurting.