“The Canary”

It all started three years ago. Two crazy guys, Alan and Mark, decided to create the 1st Annual Head Torch Marathon. Date? Saturday after Christmas! Start time? Late evening! Insane or genius, you be the judge of that. At a time when most people are in a food coma and no one really runs, waiting for the New Year before lacing their shoes again; for me it was just perfect.

But there was another reason for this run, behind the craziness there was a good cause. You see in 2017 Mark was diagnosed with cancer, one that is massively under researched. A man with strong will power and refusal to go quietly, Mark decided that he wants to help the hospital which fights with him to get him better. More research is needed, as well as more staff and resources and all that comes down to more money.

The idea was to simply run, run long, run at night, and alongside all that fun, raise some quality cash for the King’s College Hospital Charity.

I still remember renting a tiny car and driving in the darkness towards the Surrey Hills thinking to myself, “why the hell did I agree to run?” The cosiness of my sofa and the glass of red wine sounded much nicer at that time. The 1st Annual Head Torch Marathon was a small event. Few of us set out into the darkness from the carpark each carrying a canary (it is part of the mandatory kit to this day) and a backpack with all the food and drink we needed to keep us going for a few hours. It was lovely to run with others, although the weather was not very kind to us, battering our bodies with rain and wind.  About 7 hours later we reached the car park again, got changed in the cold and had some hot beverage (or mulled wine if you weren’t driving) before receiving a certificate of completion from Mark himself! And that was that, home time.

The following year, I took a lift from a friend, another Mark, it was great to return to a lot bigger 2nd 1st Annual Head Torch Marathon. The word has spread quickly amongst the ultra and trail runners’ community. Rules stayed the same, it wasn’t a race, it was free and you needed a canary! What’s more we would start together, stay together and finish together. Oh, also no one actually knew where we’re going, except a chosen few, who led and made sure that no one wondered off the trail. I actually liked the unknown; this way I could focus on the run, the surroundings and the people. The second year was tougher for me. I wasn’t as fit as year before and Alan decided to throw some extra hills into the mix. It was a slow plod, but having many of my running friends with me, it was a fun night nonetheless. Miles ticked over one by one, we stopped a couple of times for a photo and whisky, and after 2am we returned to the town hall where we were fed and watered (with beer and mulled wine, pizza and mince pies). By then I knew I would return.

Time goes fast when you have fun, so no wonder that it felt just like yesterday when I was getting ready for my 3rd 1st Annual Head Torch Marathon. This quickly became my little tradition. Just could not, not be there. The event grew enormously in just 3 years. The number of runners reached about 80 people, and the entry fee was set at £35, but there is a fun fact; if you didn’t like the run after you had run it, you simply had to say so at the finish line and you would get your money back. I mean, you’d have to be very brave to say it, but the option’s there. Also, all money would go to charity. The feel remained the same, it was lively and friendly. As soon as I placed my foot in the hall, I felt at home, chatting with my fab friends who were there for the love of running and a great cause.

At 7:30 pm we were set off by the group of even more amazing volunteers, who stayed behind setting up food and drinks ready for our return.

We ran into the darkness of the night, I settled somewhere in the middle of the pack with Mark, who was my lift to the event and back, and also like me had run all pervious Head Torch marathons. We chatted happily until the steep climbs cut my breath short and for a while it was all about dragging myself to the top. Oh Alan! Where did you manage to get more hills from????

I didn’t know where we were, I just followed the group. The run was brilliantly organised, Alan led from the front, but he had a few run leaders who kept an eye out for the middle and the back of the pack. Amazingly we pretty much stayed together throughout the run; that in itself is an achievement for such a big group.

The trails were dark and very muddy. With each step I was sinking into the sticky mud hoping for my shoes to stay on my feet. In all fairness I didn’t even worry about not having the views. My eyes would have to stay focused on nothing but the trail. It was a warm December night and it felt like for most of the run we were going up and only a little bit down, and then up and up and up…..You get the idea. At points I was convinced somehow we have moved to the mountains? But with limited view, I cannot confirm.

Eventually we reached a 14 mile marker, a few volunteers set up a pit stop. We were welcomed with mince pies and mulled wine in happy cups. Got to be the best feed station ever. Before we knew it, we had some quick picture time and headed back to the darkness of the forest. Still not knowing where I am, I focused on conversations with other runners. It was an easy pace run but the run was far from easy. Yes it is social, but you need to be able to run a marathon distance as you will be moving for 7 hours or so, you need to be able to run when others run, and walk when others walk, then stop and regroup before moving your tired and sore muscles again. This in itself can be a challenge, especially in winter in the middle of the night.

“He must hate us a little bit more each year” I said to Mark as we climbed yet another hill. How many hills can one person add to the social run? My legs were burning, breathing became harder, sweat started to warm my back! Mike ran passed me and shouted C’mon Boz, before grabbing my hand and pulling me up. I was so glad for the sudden pull, as I could really feel myself snapping in half at that point. We were half way up the Box Hill steps. From what I remembered it was pretty much the last hill to tackle before the end. I felt relieved, but as soon as I thought that, my dream was crushed by Mark who said that we have another monster to climb, which apparently is even tougher, up to the famous steps.

And then I saw it, the sign. It said Satan’s Staircase and had a little devil picture on it. Did I mention that Al has a great sense of humour? I just don’t think anyone was laughing climbing this monster…

But after going to hell and back, it was the home stretch, and like years before Al was waiting at the corner just before the last few meters to finish welcoming all runners in.

I smiled like a kid, we did it, we did it without really knowing where we were, without knowing which hills we climbed, or how many of them were there, we did it going through unknown fields, cemeteries and the muddiest trails. We did it without seeing great views, or even without really seeing each other’s faces.

We did it…

27 miles

Over 4,000ft elevation

Numerous hills, some real beasts

Crazy mud

Buckets of mulled wine

Plenty of mince pies

Endless laughter

But most of all over £7,000 raised for Liver Cancer Research…. https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=markthornberry&pageUrl=2

This was Canary 3rd 1st Annual Head Torch Marathon for you. See you back in December for the 4th edition.

Girl goes Wild

20170927_090024-01I switched off my head torch. There was only darkness around me. I could not see anything until my eyes got used to this unusual lack of light. I was snuggled in my brand new sleeping bag on my brand new sleeping mat. Felt like a pro adventurer for a little bit. I was alone, just as planned but I’d lie if I said that I wasn’t even little scared. Darkness has some specific feel to it. I still don’t know if I like it.

I arrived to Winchester that morning just past 8 o’clock. It was drizzling with rain, not wanting to get wet before I even started the walk, I took my waterproof out and headed for the little town. I started with Winchester Cathedral which is packed with history. Jane Austen was buried there, Henry III baptised and Mary Tudor got married to Philip of Spain in that same place. As you walk inside you can’t help but gasp with admiration to this spectacular place. It was humbling. I then headed  for Wolvesey castle, walked by the towns college and passed the statue of  King Alfred before heading to the rolling hills of Hampshire countryside and the beginning of my South Downs Way adventure.

20170925_122728-01The smell of green grass hit my nostrils as soon as I crossed the bridge. There, finally I was on my way. So eager to walk, so ready to be my own companion so ready for the camping under the stars. Before I knew it I reached a charming little village of Chilcomb, I admired their traditional cottages as I passed them.  Was a little amazed that people still make an effort to hold on to the tradition. I stopped a couple of hours later  near the Milbury’s. There was a beautiful pub where logs were cracking in the fireplace. The warmth spread around the whole area making you feel warm as soon as you walk through the door. It wasn’t even cold that day but that fire really made this place feel like home. I always loved real fire. I remember waking up as a child on the winter mornings next to the fire place at my grandma’s cottage. I would sit in pajamas staring into the fire, no worries no other places to be. So simple yet so special and beautiful. Only now I’m older I really starting to appreciate it.

I asked for a local Ale and chatted with a couple sitting at the table enjoying mid Monday morning drink. They asked if I could take their dog with me as he could do with a long walk but somehow I doubt our understanding of a long walk would be the same.

The rain stopped but the trails were left wet and muddy. Most South Downs trails is chalk. So in20170926_105649-01 the wet weather it sticks to your shoes like a glue. I wore my trail shoes and they were mostly fine, but the chalk covered slightly with falling autumn leaves gave me few scares of near fall. And this time I really did not wanted to end up in the puddle of mud. I could easily imagine myself falling to the ground. And if you know me, even my little falls always end up in a disaster, the best i’d have my knee cut open and the worst broken ankle. And as much as mud spa sounds good I don’t think this would feel anything as pleasant. Plus I took only one spare set of clothing, I had to at least try and keep them half dry.

20170926_105642-01Soon I reached Beacon Hill. By the time I got to the top my legs were not only warmed up, they were on fire. This feeling of burning would spread through my legs many more times as South Downs turned out to be an up and down experience. The views were worth the pain though. Green fields, tall trees, fatty bushes and chalk grassland were all around me. It reminded me of home. When I was a child I’d walk for hours with my grandmother through famous polish forest coves, I’d run on the trails before reaching the top and out to the big fields where men and women worked. For me as a child it was great fun, my grandma always prep some food and make a picnic area on the sides of the field for me and my siblings to enjoy. It was with this memory I  walked into the little town Exton where I stopped for a lunch at the Shoe pub. Food was described as delicious and reading up in my guide book I felt obliged to have a traditional English plougmans  with hot soup. I was not disappointed.

The day was nearing the end and I had to decide on my first camping spot. I wasn’t too far from the highest point of the South Downs, the Buster Hill which has an elevation of 271m above sea level. There was also a promise of a shop and a coffee at the top. Win win, I thought. What a great end to day one. If only things were so easy. The shop was closed, as it turned out the next day late September and beginning of the week is seen as a dead time in the South Downs and even big pubs don’t bother opening its doors to the potential customers (or at least one). This would prove to be a big problem the following day where I did not find single open place until about 3pm. And it was tiniest little corner shop about 40 minutes away from the Way. I was not impressed. I did buy a sandwich there and crisps and some chocolate bars. At this point being nutritionally healthy did not even crossed my mind. I was so tired and hungry and aching all over I just wanted to sit down somewhere, have a hot meal and just rest. Instead I sat at the bench near graveyard and munched on egg sandwich before moving back to the Way.  Up the hill…oh how I wanted to cry.

Before setting up my first camp I sat at the bench with the freat panoramic views all around. The evening felt warm. I closed my 20170927_090719-01eyes and enjoyed the birds singing and the feel of gentle wind tinkling my face. It was a shame that the clouds completely covered the sky. The sunset would have been spectacular in this place. I was imagining for hours pink and orange sky. Puffy clouds forming nice bed for the lowering sun. Me standing on the top of the hill with my hair blowing in the wind….like in the scene from “Gone with the Wind”. Instead the sky was grey and I was left with fast approaching darkness.

20170925_192910-01I chose little spot not too far from the trail, hidden behind a little bush. I did not want to be in anyone’s face but I was also too scared to camp too close to the wooded area on the side of the hill. You just don’t know what sort of monsters might hide in there.

I dose off instantly. Not for very long as I heard a loud sound of heavy breathing. I was desperately looking into the darkness. I sat down in panic trying to find my head torch in my sleeping bag only to realise it is still on my head.  The noise was getting louder. Eventually I saw little white light coming from the bottom of the hill and with that I saw a biker, he was riding up the hill and hence the heavy breathing. Phew, nothing too scary then. I don’t think he even saw me. Once he was gone I relaxed into my sleep again. I woke up some time in the middle of the night. The clouds disappeared and the sky had a beautiful dark blue color with millions of stars on it. I could barely believe the amount of stars that were shining on me. Living in London I nearly convinced myself that the stars no longer shine. But here in the middle of this amazing countryside, they were. I was staring at those beautiful diamonds and thought to myself that his is why I do it. I would have missed this if I was not here. I would have missed it if I had the tent. Wild camping was amazing. Most of the time. Because if you are anything like me, an amateur who sometimes does not have the brightest ideas and sets the camping spot on the hill, wild camping can also be a hard work. I kept sliding down. Not ridiculously fast, but every hour or so I would find myself further and further away from my bag. I would then attempt to drag myself back up to the original spot. Of course I would be too lazy to come out of my bag and got to the better location, no instead I would grab the grass with my both hands and try to pull myself up. Eventually I think I just gave up. It was long way down anyway!

I set my alarm few minutes before sunrise time. But there would be no beautiful sun rising this morning or the next for that matter. Thick fog would spread across the 20170927_090102-01Greenland like a spilled milk filling even tiniest gaps. I could barely see the end of my own hand. I dragged myself out from the comfort of my oh so warm sleeping bag into the coldness of Way. I must have put every piece of clothing I had in an attempt to keep myself warm. I packed my bag and headed for the Queen Elizabeth National Park which was only few minutes away. It was 7 am and as I walked to the bottom of the Buster Hill I saw a group of horse riders. We exchanged greetings and went our separate ways. Breakfast was on my mind but I soon realised that there will be no place to have such luxury. I sat in the beautiful woods instead and ate fruit pot! It had to do for now. In all fairness I am a lazy eater anyway. Often I skip meals simply because I can’t be bothered to cook. This was not a novelty for me.

Cold and foggy morning soon warmed up as the sun pushed its rays through thick clouds. It was perfect autumn day. Crisp and fresh air, blue sky with some white puffy clouds! Sun kissing tree leaves. Real indian summer. I felt lucky. I was here on my own having the pleasure of the time to enjoy it.

Second day was on one side an easier one. I knew where everything was in my bag. I figured out how to read the map in my guidebook. I felt like I’m staring to belong. The walking itself was becoming a little bit of a challenge though. My legs were fine, more than fine. Felt great. It was my back that was giving me issues. Pain on the side of my middle back was at points unbearable. I stopped and stretched many times but it would give me little or no ease at all. I would dig my knuckles in between bag and my back trying to self massage tense muscles. I knew that I will have to work hard on my core strength if I want to succeed in next year 825 k hike in Spain.

In late afternoon I came across little note pointing to the pub. It was 20 minute walk away from the Way. The guidebook warned that the route is via very steep and very muddy downhill which can be challenging and need to be taken with caution. The guide even recommended to have a walking stick, I was convinced that this would be place I will have my mud bath or at least aided slide to the bottom….but what the hell. Pub was calling.

20170926_120428-01I found a tree branch and used it as my walking stick. Oh what a difference it made. I felt so good walking again. This really eased the back pain too. I also felt like a real long distance walker, you know those people that when you pass them they just have that something about them which screams a pro. I felt like that. I walked like I’d do it every day. I was proud, head up high. Shame there was no other people to witness it. I am sure I looked cool.

In the pub I met Olivia who shattered my dreams of a meal saying that they stopped serving until after 6 pm. I had a beer, then another and after little rest I picked up my bag and set for the exit. Then i saw it. The big white and black with lots of cream in between layered cake. Sitting on the side of the bar with a note on the top.  It was chocolate and praline cake made by a local lady. Olivia offered to pack it in the box for me. I had my dinner sorted.

The climb back to the Way was tough but beer had clouded my senses and I don’t think I struggled that much.

Second night was approaching fast. My confidence was boosted and this time I decided to be more comfortable and find somewhere flat and further away from the trail. I was set for a good night sleep.

I walked passes some fields until a saw a little circle of trees in the middle of one of them. It was perfect. I walked across and set my camp between the trees. I snuggled in the 20170926_191934-01sleeping bag and enjoyed a cake. I had some water, brushed my teeth and was ready for sleep. Then I heard some noise. I turned to check what it was and I saw herd of deers. They stood few feet away from me, looking at me and me at them. My heart stopped. What was I supposed to do now. Could they hurt me? Would they? It was already dark, finding another spot to sleep could prove difficult. I kept using my head torch to see if they were still there. Little shiny eyes kept popping in the darkness of the night. Bugger, I thought. I Googled if deers hurt humans sleeping in the wild and as expected there was no answer. I did not have much choice and to risk it. It looked I was going to sleep with some company.

I woke up just before 6 am, no sign of deers just thick fog. It was cold, very cold. About 20 minutes passed and I saw some signs but not those of South Downs Way. Was I lost? I mean it was me so yes of course I could be lost. My sense of direction is non existent. I decided to go back. The fog lifted a little. I realized that just by the field where I slept was a crossroad which I did not see last night nor this morning and therefore I missed the turning.

By midday of day 3 I reached little town Amberley, half point of the South Downs Way. 50 miles! I walked more that that with all the coming off the Way for food trips but officialy this was the distance completed. And it felt great. Reaching this point. Sun was shining. I was near river Arun enjoying good breakfast and coffee. I was definitely in my happy place.  Initial plan was to walk another 10 or so miles that day, however I would then have to find a bus and return to this very place to catch train back to London. So I thought that finishing here will make more sense. It will be easier to restart my walk here too. After some food I went to the pub and had a beer. I sat by the river and enjoyed the sun, the freash air and the silence.

With this moment my mini adventure was over. As I sat on the train I felt relaxed. I was tired but rested. I felt happy and sad but most of all I felt very strong sense of achievement. 50 miles isn’t that far to walk, but it was not about that. It was about making an effort to experience something different. To experience the feeling of my own company. It was about stripping away the modern comforts we rely on. And depend just on myself. It was about pushing my own boundaries and stretching my comfort zones.

I feel I achieved what I wanted to. I learnt and I grew. And I loved it.




Ultraroztocze 65k

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 18601431_10155146596506955_1836681530_nfamily (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 18643471_10155149706071955_999464386_nvery 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 18643566_10155149706051955_1846072537_nvillage. 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.

ultraroztoczeThe 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

Beautiful fields but no shade

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 18624562_10155149705956955_893649644_nwas 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

Shower and cold water…yes please

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.

Dig Deep 12.12

The rain was tapping on my tent. I like camping but it was first time I was camping alone and at that time I really wished there was someone else next to me. My mind was preoccupied with the pre-race thoughts but couple of local beers managed to calm my nerves down and eventually send me off to sleep.

I woke up to nice sunny morning. Quick breakfast, double check my bag and I was ready to start my 12 mile Peak District adventure. Soon after the gun went off I realised it is not one of those crowded races I usually take a part in. People run off and there was barely anyone left behind me. I would have to give my very best If I did not want to be a last one coming home.

And so I run, mainly slightly uphill for first couple of miles, I struggled, a lot. I usually like to be warmed up before any kind of hills but this was Peak District so I should not expect much flat terrain.

I pushed on, miles ticking one after another. We reached highest points with purple flowers covering the Peaks. It was breathtaking. This stunning views took away my focus 13934679_10154324305226955_2257895803306824105_nfrom a tough course to the very reason why I choose the trail racing over the road. The pain of uphills was once again worth it and I knew that I am doing it because I love being in the nature. We were running in a small group by this point and we helped each other through the boggy and technically very challenging part of the race.

Soon we reached the final couple of miles and I allowed my imagination and my mind take me from the race, take me away from the thought of tired legs. I allowed myself to disappear in my own thoughts. I was in my happy place. I was smiling and giggling to myself enjoying my little imaginary world.

14102331_10154324305296955_9012634742254415106_nNext thing I knew was the scary thought when I realised I will not be able to stop. I was falling. And I knew I won’t be able to stop. The ground was closer and closer and then I hit it. I was running on the trail covered with loose rocks and sand. I was running fairly fast at this point and the fall was hard. I could feel the pain on my hands and my legs. I was lying there in shock and could not move. I was scared to move. Others run up to me and helped me to my feet. The blood was running from my hands and my knees. I quickly assessed the damage and confirmed that nothing was broken.  Still shocked I started to walk.

Pain was  everywhere in my body. I was angry with myself. How could I loose my focus. This was not like me, I never totally loose myself in the thought. But the damage was done, I transferred my anger into my final push home. I started to run again, I had a race to finish. Last year I had to remove my entry from that same race because I broke my leg, this year I allowed myself nearly not to finish the race. I had to be more careful. Bruised and in pain but grateful at the same time I run. It hurt, but I run some more. I was close to finish. I heard the music and people cheering. I was there, I was home.


Picked up my medal and headed for first aid point. Having my cuts cleaned was awful and more painful than the fall itself. People would come and asked what happened, and I could tell them my little story of how I fell whilst running. Maybe it wasn’t all that bad? Maybe it was worth it? Or maybe next time I should be just more careful and try to finish the race without some drama? Maybe one day I learn.




Home GUR 24k race

It was my first time….racing in my home country that is 😉

I was a little nervous but that is fairly normal feeling before any race, right? This time I also felt more pressure because my family was there too. Parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors all calling me days before with good luck wishes. I felt I can’t disappoint. I would have to go for it and give my best. But what if I did not have it in me?

14489560_10154422600581955_1200012985_oIt was cold morning with thick fog covering the lake and the mountains and before I knew it we started to run. It was more like a sprint and I knew I was going way too fast, but everyone were really pushing it and I felt I had no choice but to push with them. We reached the forest and started to go up. I was expecting for people to start to walk but they were still running. I was surprised and in my head I was asking why the hell are they still running? I did not want to be the first weak link so I run too…my breathing heavier with every step. Then one girl stopped, I smiled and overtook her feeling relief. Eventually I started to walk and others followed in my steps. I knew that If I wanted to finish this race I would have to stop looking at others and pace myself.

The first hill was massive, my legs were burning, I felt shattered and we were only 1 mile in. I turned the corner and more uphill was in front of me. My hands were on my tights and one slow step at a time I was pushing higher and higher. Little raindrops were cooling my body. Eventually we reached the top and started downhill running. I loved it and overtook a few people. I felt in control. Obviously this did not last too long, few hundred meters later I was once again nearly on my knees trying to climb another uphill. I read it is hilly route but come one, someone give me a break and some flat part….for that I had to wait a little longer.

5 miles in I reached first control check and we could stop for some food and drink. But no one was stopping, people were grabbing bananas and carried on running. I again forgot about running my own race and carried on running with others. Someone shouted to me, you are 8th lady keep going? I was stunned but it did gave me a massive boost to push harder.

The forests of the Table Mountains were stunning, but with the thick fog that morning 14469195_10154422600576955_1994084452_nthere was something spooky about them too. At one point there was no other runners around me, it was just me and the trails. I loved it. Yes I thought I must be the last runner but in the end I did not really care about that.

Soon I saw some hikers. One guy shouted to me “Hey, who made you run”? I laughed and said no one, to which he replied “so why the hell are you doing this to yourself?” I did not have to think about the answer, “I love it” I said and ran on with the lightness in my legs, and at this point I actually believed it.

Eventually we exited the forest and run through a trail of massive stones. It was flat, maybe even a little decline but it was one of the hardest parts of the race for me. The stones were wet from the rain, they were not big enough to give a flat service under my feet. I was tip toeing from one stone to another freaked out that any minute now I will either fall and break my leg or loose control and twist my ankle. People in front of me were so fast. I could not believe with how much ease they were taking this route? I was genuinely scared, nearly walking. But that was ok, only a year earlier I had my leg broken, only a month earlier I had my knees hurt in bad fall so it was expected to be scared and it was fine to take it easy.

14483607_10154422600536955_932978280_nSoon we reached forest again and with more ups and downs I was slowly making progress. At mile 11 I reached second checkpoint. I stopped for few minutes, talked with the volunteers and other runners, I wanted to enjoy this race. I was also tired and my legs started to hurt. I needed this break.

From there it was pretty much downhill running. But I did struggle, tough trails of stones and tree roots played under my tired feet. But the finish was near.

I eventually reached the road and from there it was last mile to go. It was a demoralizing part of running for me. The hard service under my feet, slightly going up was not the way I would want to finish the race. But there was no other way. I mixed walk with run and I pushed knowing that in few minutes it will be all over. I reached the field, music was playing, people were cheering. I heard my dad screaming my name from the other side of the lake. I saw my mum clapping. It was happy moment. I had one last corner to do, I stepped onto the wooden bridge and flew to the floor. I fell so fast I did not even realised that I did it. I picked myself up and slowly run across very slippery bridge. The photographer was laughing but he did said I was not the first one falling in that same spot.

And with my last step off the bridge, I run up the last tiny hill to the finish line. My parents waited for me there. I was given the medal and a tshirt and my name was read out as a finisher. 14466945_10154422600596955_563109672_o

I was tired, actually I was more than tired, nearly broken. But in my heart I was happiest person. I finished. It was tough, it was challenging but most of all it was amazing. Till next time…


Mont Blanc

The rain was pouring, thunder echoing nearby and lightning breaking darkness of the night. We were 1000 m up in the Alps and in few hours me and Ania would be going 23km and another 1000 m up. The route was going to be a challenge, I knew that, but I was not really prepared for weather this difficult as well.

But at 7 am our host drove us from the thick clouds of Passy to sunny Chamonix. We left our race bags behind, took running backpacks and headed for the start. There we met with Helena who raced 1 k vertical just a day before. With her cheers and good luck hugs we were off. Ready or not, there was only one way to the finish line. 13621592_10154193289721955_676550978_o

First couple of kilometers were flat and going through a bit muddy forest trails. People were trying to avoid big rain puddles and it felt very crowded. Few steps further we stopped and saw that in front of us the whole passage under the bridge was completely flooded. This was last time I worried about my dry feet. Through the water we 13575605_10154193513686955_1339576861_owent. And carried on running. The first 10k we run mainly in the forest, slightly going up but soon following with fast and easy downs. It was beautiful and enjoyable part of the race. We got to first check point full of smiles and lifted at hearts. Maybe this is not as hard as people say it is?

Passing French villages when racing was fabulous experience. Whole families come out of their homes to cheer you on and it didn’t matter if you at the front or the back, they supported you like you were just about to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

With our spirits high, we turned from the village to the trails again. There we started to ascent. The hills were sharp and steep and as I looked up they were also never ending. I 13624651_10154193289661955_1377193575_ncould see small dots in the distance, runners one after another climbing higher and higher into the mountains. Soon legs started to burn and all the energy has left me. Smile was gone and I felt like I have to stop. Ania was strong, impressively pushing passed more people. My steps were shorter and slower and I had to take longer breaks. I just could not go on. Eventually we stopped for a little longer. I regained my strength and in my head “just one more step” repeating continuously I pushed on higher.

We reached beautiful waterfall. The water splashed on my face and gave me great feeling of freshness. Felt so good, gave me strength and power. But it was Ania who struggled from there. Her back was hurting badly, she could barely move forward. We were high in the mountains, less trees and more rocks, the route was challenging. It was tough moments. But we kept going. Through little passages, climbing higher, barely walking through the rocks and tree brunches. Then cold rain welcomed us once more, clouds covered  blue sky and thunder filled quite space. It was all getting tougher and tougher. Slowly we reached woods and started our descent, I thought we will be able to fly down, boy was I wrong. Stones were wet and 13582230_10154193513681955_2054900772_ouneven which meant we had to be very careful not to trip and fall, the trail was covered with tree roots sticking out and few hundred meters felt like eternity. Eventually the forest lead us to a massive field and huge empty trail going up. I feared this part the most. There was nothing beautiful about it. With rain and high winds this was my personal route to hell. But I sucked it up. I knew the next check point will be somewhere near. One step at the time. That’s all it takes.

And on the top, there it was, my refuge camp. We ate and drunk and got inside to warm up for few minutes. We needed the strength for our final leg home.

From there it was all downhill. No it was not easy, it was still pouring with rain and it was very slippery. But the feeling that the finish is near, kept us going. We reached the forests again and the trail became easier. We could increase our pace, the air warmed up and rain stopped. We enjoyed running again. We were nearly there, nearly in the end. We reached the town of Chamonix and with full smiles on our faces, hand in hand with my sister we run across the finish line. It was amazing. All pain was gone within few moments, the medals on our necks and congratulations from other runners felt amazing. It was tough, challenging. But this did not matter then. What mattered, was that we did not give up, pushed though our own personal boundaries to reach our goal. I run in Alps, through some of the worlds most beautiful trails. I can not wait to be back to this little heaven on earth.


The Tough Girl

I listened to Sarah’s podcast for some time now. What first attracted me was that all talk guests are women. I have to be honest here. When I first started to run, I was all about reading books, watching videos and those were mainly about men. I did love it but it gave me little excuse for never really going for it. I could explain to myself that I somehow am weaker, smaller or not as brave and therefore need to take it easy. Obviously that didn’t last and over time I started to look for female models who accomplished as much as men or even more that i could learn from. I needed female models who possibly go through the same struggles as I do. And I needed to know how they go through those tough moments without giving up.

This morning I sat with my coffee and looked through my twitter feed and then I saw Julie’s face on the Tough Girl podcast. I had to listen to it. Julie is behind the move “Too fat to run” she is also a member of my running club. She is fun and very inspirational. Even though I was never told that I am too fat to run, I do know lots people that hear it all the time. I found her talk with Sarah very refreshing, for me it wasn’t only about plus size women who struggle to run. I actually could relate to her issues and challenges. It isn’t all about the size, it is about being healthy and happy. Most of all her talk highlighted that we all have fears which stop us from doing what is good for us. We listen so much what others think about us that we forget to listen to our own voice. We fear that we might not fit in the society. But we are making the society. We are part of it. Julie said that we need to be confident in ourselves, but to do that, we have to grow, and to grow we have to push through those uncomfortable moments.

Julie’s talk was spot on. I believe every woman or a  man should listen to it. We all have different fears, different difficulties and barriers to go through. Julie shows us that if we put our mind to what we really want, everything is possible.

Tough Girl podcast is created especially for women, and in the world where there is so much female competition it is wonderful to know there are still few who don’t want to destroy each other but want to show others how to overcome own fears and become the Tough girls they were born to be.