Run Wisla – Busy April

Part I
Part II
Part III

With Andy coming back for the Warsaw 1/2 marathon, we thought we’d try to do something at the race to raise awareness about our project and the issue of waste. The Warsaw Half Marathon is one of the biggest half marathons in Europe and was, of course, in our home town. It was going to be my 5th time running it (I think) so it seemed the perfect event to do something at. Initially we were thinking of dressing up as pieces of rubbish (e.g. as a can or bottle), but then we had a much simpler idea – how about we collect rubbish during the race? It seemed to be a good way or raising awareness and the simplicity really spoke to me. So first of all I contacted the organisers to check if it was ok with them. I think they thought it was a strange idea but were ok with it as long as we didn’t get in the way of other runners … and then actually invited us to talk about Run Wisล‚a on stage at the 1/2 marathon Expo! Wow ๐Ÿ™‚

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Talking (about) rubbish at the Half Marathon Expo
So just a day or two after Andy got back we were up on stage talking about Run Wisล‚a, the first time we’d really done than, which was a great opportunity to spread our message as well as being good practice ๐Ÿ™‚
The race itself was a lot of fun, people reacted a bit strangely to us as we stopped to pick up rubbish along the way, sometimes while doing squats or spider-walks, but were generally really nice to us. In total we managed to collect 14 bags of rubbish, made up of all kinds of waste, from bottles and gels to flyers, wrappers and random bits of plastic.
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Spider-walks were a good way to collect rubbish
I planned to fully exploit Andy while he was around, so a few days after the half we organised a meeting to talk about the idea, and the kind of help we’d need to make it happen. Agata from Groole was really willing to support us with the project, even offering to be our support driver for one stage of the run, and kindly offered to host us at Groole.
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Talking at Groole – photo credit: Patrizia Fagiani
Having done the presentations at the 1/2 marathon, we’d prepared a lot of the material so in that respect it was easier to do the talk. All in all we had a nice evening and got some good feedback.
Following this busy start to April, a lot of things happened… Andy went off to South America for the next part of his travels, while I went to run the marathon in Vienna, and then to the WITC tri camp in Italy.
Having worked out our budget and not had much luck with sponsors, we decided to set up a crowdfunding page. I remember preparing it in April between travelling and then sent it to the crowdfunding page wspieram.to for acceptance (not knowing how long that would take) just before leaving for Italy … without having it properly checked by a native Polish speaker. And also not really telling several of our partners, especially RRW, mainly because I wasn’t ready to go live with it yet.
Of course there were a lot of mistakes in my Polish and the page went live earlier than I expected, so as a consequence a few people saw it before it was ready, all of which meant the important launch didn’t go as well as it should have. Once I’d got back from Italy I managed to have it proofread and did an “official” launch around my birthday at the end of April.
So with this not ideal start, the page didn’t get the best reaction, and to be honest I wasn’t great at publicising it – I’m not very comfortable with asking people for money. All of this meant it wasn’t really getting much attention. I remember talking to Andy about finances around this point and we agreed that in the absolute worst case we would just cover the costs between ourselves, treating this basically as a holiday. On the other hand, thanks to some good friends, we had a couple of companies interested in sponsoring/helping us, so I set up meetings with them, hoping that something would come of that.
In the meantime, I’d decided that the next part of the route I wanted to test was Torun. We would have our 4th and final day’s rest here during the summer, so it was an important point on our journey. The May bank holiday seemed like the best time to do this, as thanks to the extra day off I could do three days of running.
I’ve mentioned this before and it will continue to be a big theme of Run Wisla, but we were indebted to people reaching out to us & offering to help. A guy called Karol in Opalenia, a town on the Vistula not far from Malbork, had contacted us, offering us somewhere to stay during Run Wisla. He works at a centre for rehabilitation of people with addiction problems called Zapowiednik, and running is a big part of the therapy. We weren’t planning on stopping there originally but having talked to these guys we really wanted to stop by. It wasn’t much of a problem to change the route, and the plan was to end the third day of running in May there, covering a total distance of approx. 140 km. The day before I was going to stop in Grudziadz, and a friend called Kasia put me in touch with a friend of a hers called Przemek, an amazing vegan ultra runner (check out his blog here) who lives in Grudziadz & he straight up offered to help out in Grudziadz, both in May and in August.
There was one more important thing to do. I couldn’t imagine doing this trip without a car, and a driver, so that I wouldn’t have to carry a whole load of stuff with me while I was running. Robert was busy this time so I decided to ask Patrizia if she was free. Luckily she was & loved the idea!! And so it was, on the 30th April, that we headed up to Torun from Warsaw…
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Run Wisล‚a – Moving forward

Part I
Part II

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t mad at Andy for disappearing like that … although I might have been a bit jealous ๐Ÿ˜‰ He was gonna have the adventure of a lifetime, and also by taking this time off he was able to also have all of August free for the run without having to worry about holiday entitlement etc. But nevertheless, it did represent a big challenge.

Like I said in my last post, we knew there was no way we could do this by ourselves so if anything, this made me more aware that we needed help.
We started off this big year the way we intended to continue it … with a running challenge! Giving it the highly-imaginative name of “Run January”, we planned to run every day in January, at least 1km. I wrote a bit about it here so I won’t go into too much detail again now, but it was a very good exercise for several reasons. a) We’d get our bodies more used to running every day, b) it was fun just going out for a 15 min run – I’d never done that and it really took no time c) we managed to get a lot of friends, and people we don’t know, to join us. In the end on endomondo we had 27 people and together managed to run 4,124 km. Despite the cold weather!
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This would look quite a bit different in the summer
Plus it got the year off to a good start and meant I could keep an eye on Andy to make sure he was also training ๐Ÿ˜‰
Halfway through January we had our first (and to date only ;-)) radio interview about Run Wisล‚a. Radio czworka (four) had got in touch and invited us to come along and talk about our crazy plan. Of course with Andy being abroad (in Cambodia at this point, about to do a race there) he couldn’t make it to the studio, so they managed to call him. I think it was the first time I’d been in a radio station and the host, Karina Terzoni, made me feel incredibly welcome ๐Ÿ™‚ The interview, although short, went well I think and was a good experience for us both.
In February we held the first event organised together with Rok Rzeki Wisly (RRW), a run along the river in Warsaw using part of the route we’d be running later on in the year. We offered two distances- 30km and 18km, I took the group that did 30km and Magda helped out by leading the 18km group.
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Despite the unhelpful weather we had a nice turnout, it was a chance to run along the river with some nice company and get out there and meet some new people. We had a large group of people from Lomianki (they’re the ones in the orange shirts) joining us, who would turn out to be very helpful later during Run Wisล‚a.
By this point we knew one section of the route, from Plock to Wloclawek, which me and Andy tried out back in November, and this section here around Warsaw. So one and a half out of 22. Not much…
I wanted to get out and explore as much of the route as possible, partly to check the route so we wouldn’t get lost (or would have less chance of doing so), but also it was a chance to do some longer training, check logistics and, most importantly, meet people.
The first place I chose to do this was Sandomierz. I’m not sure exactly why I chose it for the first trip but anyway, Sandomierz was one of the places where we’d have a day’s rest during Run Wisล‚a so it was an important place, one I’d never been to before and where didn’t know anyone. My idea was to go for the weekend and run 2 days of the route, up to Kazimierz Dolny – so around 90km. When I first started planning it I was fully expecting to do it all by myself.
The first place I started was with contacts. A friend of Andy’s – Tomek Pajฤ…k – one of the few people I know who isn’t on Facebook, comes from Sandomierz and put us in contact with another Tomek (Biernacki) who works at the local sports centre and was part of a triathlon club TSA. I phoned Tomek and explained what I wanted to do, and he was incredibly welcoming and friendly ๐Ÿ™‚ He even said he’d run some of the way with me. I can’t over-emphasize how important it was at this early stage to get such a positive response from people. It encouraged me to keep on working and reaching out to others.
So things in Sandomierz were looking good ๐Ÿ™‚ In the meantime another Tomek – Kล‚รณsek – was interested in the run and was happy to join me for the weekend. Robert from RRW was also interested in supporting us, and had also been in contact with the Wojt of Jozefow nad Wisล‚ฤ…, the town we would stop at after the first day, and arranged accommodation for us – nice ๐Ÿ™‚
I headed down on Polski Bus by myself on a Friday afternoon in early March, it was already dark when I arrived in Sandomierz, but I enjoyed walking through the streets of this pretty town by myself on the way to the hotel. I had a good, friendly meeting with Tomek, his boss Pawel and Ania, another friend who was going to run with us the next day, on the Friday. By then we had some provisional brochures about Run Wisล‚a (thanks largely to RRW) and I was able to hand them over and talk a bit about our plans for the summer. Tomek and co. were really supportive and I was delighted to see we had a great partner there.
Saturday morning came and Tomek & Robert arrived in Sandomierz, and off we headed. To be honest I was really unsure how I’d cope with running nearly 100km over two days, but given what I was planning in the summer, this was something I needed to do. It was cold and a bit damp when we started next to the river in Sandomierz but the four of us running (me, Tomek K, Tomek B and Ania) were in high spirits, looking forward to the adventure. Robert had brought his bike and planned to cycle with us and drive, which meant I could leave some things in his car and only needed a light rucksack.
The locals decided to surprise us at the beginning by taking us up through the pepper mountains (Gory Pierprzowe), a beautiful area which was, you’ve guessed it, very hilly ;-). But afterwards things flattened out & we followed the levy for most of the first half of the route. The weather slowly improved and the route was pretty good for running.
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The view from the top of the Gรณry Pieprzowe – plus random dog ๐Ÿ˜‰
We crossed the Vistula in Annopal, which seemed to take forever to reach, stopping at the petrol station there for some refreshments, and then headed on up towards Jozefow. Ania and Tomek B were still with us at this point and had decided to run all the way to Jozefow. A tributary had caused us to add a few extra kilometres to the route, so by the time the four of us, plus Robert now on his bike again, arrived in Jozefow it was getting dark and we’d done 56km. We received a warm welcome there at the school which even gave us some food, before Tomek & Ania headed back to Sandomierz.
I felt pretty ok most of the day, we were running at a pace that was good for me and I wasn’t pushing it at. When I got up the next morning I felt some stiffness in my legs but generally things were good. On day 2 it would be just me and Tomek K running. So we left Jozefow and started the shorter 40km route to Kazimierz Dolny. For most of the route we were running along the levy and had some great views of the river and the fields/farmland on the way. About 5km before the end, we met Robert and a guy from Kazmierz called Jarek (from Kazimierz Aktywnie), who wanted to show us a nice route into Kazimierz ๐Ÿ™‚ He took us up some hills and through the picturesque town of Mฤ™czmierz. From there we had about 2 km to go, right next to the river, to Kazimierz. We generally ran at a good tempo on day 2, with Tomek going strong and pushing the pace, and when we heard how close we were in Mฤ™czmierz we found another gear and finished really strongly ๐Ÿ™‚
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One of the best things about the trip was discovering beautiful places like this – Meczmierz
This was a really important weekend as it gave me a taste of what was to come in the summer, meeting locals, enjoying the views, what to carry in my bag and more. And I’d made some really good friends in Sandomierz that I will happily go back to meet again.
On the logistics/organisational side of things we were moving forwards. We now had 3 friends willing to split the route and support us on the run – Martin, who would do the first stage to Krakow, Agata, who would be with us from Warsaw to Torun (stage 4) and Asia who’d be with us the rest of the time, so from Krakow to Warsaw and Torun to Gdansk! We considered ourselves very lucky to have such great friends, without them we wouldn’t have a chance of doing this.
RRW had also set up a website for us, helped us create our brochures (which Ela did an amazing job at designing!), and we were organising ourselves by getting a budget ready as well as a list of equipment we needed.
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Before I had time to blink/think it was already the end of March and Andy was coming back to Warsaw for a week full of activities …

Run Wisล‚a – Where to start?

So it’s already October, over a month since Run Wisล‚a ended. It’s been an incredible journey and both me and Andy are trying to get our heads what exactly happened.

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We did it!!
First of all – we did it!!! It was amazing – the experience of a lifetime ๐Ÿ™‚ However, both of us have found it hard to talk about the whole thing, so much happened and there were so many emotions involved that it’s kinda hard. And it’s still a bit too fresh in our minds. But I need to … so this is my attempt to write about it.
Over the last few days I’ve been reading my previous posts on here, about the marathon in Vienna and my first post about Run Wisล‚a. It was fun to go back and read what I wrote back then, it seems like such a long time ago…
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Where do I start? How do I start? To be honest, I don’t really know. In my experience it’s good to just make a start and then work things out as you go, so that’s what I’ll try to do. This project was like nothing I’d ever done before and I have no idea how long it will take me to tell the story, so apologies in advance if this takes a loooong time ๐Ÿ˜‰
I’ll try starting at the beginning. After coming up with the idea about a year ago (you can read a bit more about that in my first Run Wisla post from December last year), we soon realised there was no way we could do this by ourselves. We needed help! Luckily the people we’d talked to about the idea had been really supportive, which gave us a lot of encouragement. Both me and Andy admitted that the thought of running over 1000km was a bit scary, so we decided to focus on smaller, manageable issues like planning the route, finding partners and training.
We had a rough route together fairly quickly. The main reason for this was to actually know the distances involved and to try and start and end in towns & cities, rather than in the middle of a field or something. Also it would help us plan the logistics. Andy also suggested having some rest days along the way, something I would thank him for profusely later! So we planned breaks in Krakow, Sandomierz, Warsaw and Torun.
By December we had the route, a video & a fan page set up as well as a nice logo, and started to gather contacts. This was something which we knew we’d struggle and need help with, as outside of Warsaw we don’t really know all that many people, and those contacts would be vital as we’d travel through the country. We wanted to find running clubs, local organisations and environmental groups along the river.
This actually forced us to reach out to people which was a really positive thing. The reaction to our plan was amazing and that really encouraged us, but one of the key moments was in December when we met Robert and Magda from Rok Rzeki Wisly for the first time. We’d been looking for a partner that focussed on the river, and these guys were the only ones we could find that dealt with the river as a whole, nationwide. They were trying (and in the meantime have succeeded) in getting parliament to officially call 2017 the Year of the Vistula river (celebrating the 650th anniversary of the first time the whole of the river was able to be sailed freely on), and there will be a whole load of different events on next year celebrating that. Although Robert was somewhat sceptical of our mad idea, I think he saw the potential. In turn I also felt his pragmatism would help us a lot.
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RRW turned out to be a huge help. Photo credit: Patrizia Fagiani
By the end of the year things were starting to come together. Sport Guru had offered to help us with equipment, Elwira was talking about organising the day’s break we had in Warsaw and of course we were talking to RRW. Lots of friends had also offered help. Patrizia said she wanted to follow our journey and create a story of Run Wisla in photos. Things were moving ๐Ÿ™‚ However, we were under no illusions about how much work, and of course training, was still left to do. And with Andy about to leave for 6 months, I knew a lot of it would be on my shoulders…

Vienna strikes back

Or rather I strike back ๐Ÿ˜‰

I first really got into running when I was at Uni. The fields and countryside in and around Bath were great for training. When I finished my degree there I’d had a few good years of running under my belt and had set some pretty good times (it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I set new 10km and 1/2 marathon pbs). So when I graduated and knew I was moving to Vienna, I checked to see when there was a marathon there: “it was time for me to try this distance”, I thought.

The marathon was in April 2004, and I started work there in September 2003. I was fresh out of Uni and in a new town, so running took on less of an important role as I was more interested in going out and meeting people. Plus I was working now and quite often got back home late. I just about managed to go for a long run on Sunday afternoons, and that was about it.
April came around pretty soon (I remember my grandparents were actually visiting that week) and having signed up for the marathon, I felt compelled to run it, despite knowing in the back of my mind that I hadn’t done nearly enough training.
Mistake no. 1 – Not enough training

Race day soon arrived. When the race started I got carried away by things and went off way too fast. For the first 10km I felt ok, the second 10km too, and from about 25km on things went from bad to worse. I remember stopping to use the toilet in Prater (around km 30) and really struggling to get going again. The last 10km I could hardly run, I basically hobbled from water station to water station (thankfully they were pretty often) before managing to run the last 100m or so.
Mistake no. 2: Starting too fast/bad pacing!

Also I had no idea how important nutrition is, and as I never used to eat or drink anything on 1/2 marathons, I thought I wouldn’t need to on a marathon either (I know, I was young and stupid). It was only on the last 10km, when it was already too late, that I started to eat some bananas and drink anything.
Mistake no. 3 – No/insufficient nutrition.

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I’m sure there were other mistakes too but these were my main ones. I had such a painful experience that I pretty much stopped running until 5 years ago when I found WITC.
I only did my 2nd marathon in 2013, in Warsaw and thanks to a lot of advice and good pacing over the first 30km from a friend of mine Mark, I had a much more positive experience and since then have done 1 or 2 marathons a year.
This April, 12 years after my nightmare debut, I returned to Vienna for my 6th marathon, looking for revenge over a race that maybe didn’t haunt me, but had a big effect on me for a long time.
I’ve been training well this year, and with an ultra, an Ironman the bloody loop and everything else I’ve done I was confident I could do well. I haven’t done many races this year and this was my number one goal for the first half of the year.
The week before I’d done the 1/2 marathon in Warsaw with Andy, but we took it easy and collected rubbish along the way to raise awareness for Run Wisล‚a, so I was feeling pretty fresh.

I travelled down on the Friday, to make sure I wouldn’t have to rush at all over the weekend, and stayed with a friend of mine, Christophe, who was also running the marathon.
I also had two friends from Warsaw in Vienna that weekend, Philippe (who was running his 66th marathon!!) and his wife Jo. It was cool to meet up with them the day before for some (run faster) pasta and a chat.
The time, as it always seems to do, flew, and it was soon Saturday night and time to get ready for the big day.
The race started at 9am so that meant an early alarm call.
I was lucky to have Christophe with me before the race as he was running the marathon in Vienna for the 6th time, so knew how much time to allow to get there, which way to go and everything, which meant I didn’t have to worry about a thing ๐Ÿ™‚
Having dropped the bags off it was time for us to head to our start zones. There were 4-5 different zones depending on your expected finishing time, and me, Christophe, and Philippe were all in different ones. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to see Philippe before the start, there were just too many people. In addition to the marathon, there was also a 1/2 marathon and a relay marathon at the same time, so there were around 30,000 people in total.
With about 15 mins to go I joined the other runners in my zone (zone 2) and tried to soak up the atmosphere. I remember hearing the British national anthem (no idea why that was playing) and then just before the start the Blue Danube waltz, which made a bit more sense ๐Ÿ˜‰ And soon enough it was time to start.
The conditions for running were perfect, it was dry (despite quite a lot of rain the previous two days), not too warm, not too cold – around 10 degrees I think – the only slight thing was a strong wind in a few places, but really the conditions were as good as it gets.
At this point I have to say that the organisation of the race was great, with the different zones, each one starting slightly after the next, the route was never too crowded, after the first kilometer or so there was enough space to run easily. The race started in the north of the city, next to the UN city, and then took us south over the river towards the amusement park Prater.
The first few kilometres I was trying to not run too fast, to run as smoothly as I can and keep good form. I was looking at my watch and seeing splits of around 4.30-4.45, so faster than I’d planned, but thought I would trust my instincts and just keep running at a nice easy pace. Running around Prater reminded me of the toilet break I had there 12 years ago, but that was a different race, a different me. The atmosphere here was good, there were lots of people watching and I managed to get a few good hi-fives in ๐Ÿ™‚
I took a few sips of water at almost every possible point, and managed to keep up this good pace as I headed towards the city centre. Jo, Philippe’s wife, was waiting at km 10 and got a few photos of me (thanks Jo!) and soon the route took me down towards Schรถnbrunn palace. This section of the route was very nostalgic for me, I passed right next to the two places I used to live, the stop I used to get the bus to work from in the morning, the crossing where the police told me off for crossing on a red one night, and then Schรถnbrunn itself, the gardens of which are one of the best places to run in Vienna.
After Schรถnbrunn came the Mariahilfer Strasse, one of the main shopping streets in the city, here I passed the place I went to play pool and snooker, remembered some of the bars I used to go to, and lots of other little things like that. There was also a really pleasant downhill here and I still felt great as I approached the half-way point.
The route then took us around the centre, past Votivkirche and the Irish pub where I spent way too much time and money when I was younger, and then back to Prater.
By now it was nearly kilometer 30, I was checking my watch and could see I was on to smash my pb, and I was still feeling good ๐Ÿ™‚
For some reason Kipling’s famous poem “If” came into my head around this point, in particular the line “If you can walk with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”, which I found massively inspiring. Soon I passed the national football stadium and the 30km mark. There would be no walking or disasters today, by now I knew it was going to be a triumph ๐Ÿ™‚ From kilometer 32 I was counting down the last 10, in my head I wanted to try and push from kilometre 35, but by then my legs were really starting to tire, although my mind was pushing them on. I kept telling myself I’m doing great, thought of all the people back in Warsaw, England and elsewhere sending me encouragement, and again about that line from Kipling.
35, 36, 37km passed but I didn’t mind the pain, I was in such a zone that nothing could disturb me. I’m not saying it wasn’t painful though, you always feel a marathon – as someone once told me, they don’t call it an easython you know ๐Ÿ˜‰
Now I was down to the last 4 km, the last 3. There was no point taking on any more water now, just push on through to the finish line.
As the route took us back towards the centre there were more spectators and the atmosphere was really good. Approaching the Ring, with just 2km to go, I saw Jo again and was smiling like a crazy idiot as I passed her, albeit a very happy one ๐Ÿ™‚

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I looked at my watch, 3.10! I’m gonna break 3.20 ๐Ÿ™‚ Some crazy Austrian chap next to me got the crowd going and thanks to him a big cheer went up as we passed by the parliament (I thanked him just afterwards). And that was it, 600 metres to go, I could see the finish line! 500m, I speeded up a bit, 400m … a bit more, 300m now I was sprinting! As I pass the grandstand I’m waving my arms around like a mentalist, people are cheering, music is playing, this is it, I’m there – remember to jump at the line – aaaand I’ve done it!!!

I stop my watch and look down at it …
3.19. 3.19!!! Incredible… That’s 8 mins faster than last September and over an hour faster than 2004!
I’m still in shock though, those other numbers don’t matter for now. A girl puts a medal around my neck, I’m still smiling like a lunatic ๐Ÿ™‚
I need to stop, I can’t take it, this is beyond anything I expected – wait, am I gonna cry? I didn’t even do this after the Ironman! Seriously? Yep it looks like it … oh man this feels great ๐Ÿ™‚ Just let it go…

I try to stretch a bit but my mind is I don’t know where… I grab my finisher pack and get a photo with the medal. I stumble on through the area, pick up some water, and a beer, alcohol-free for now, the real stuff would have to wait a little. This race really meant a lot to me, maybe more than I even realised. I’m still emotional. I need to find somewhere quiet. I grab my bag from the deposit truck and sit down. I look at my watch again, shake my head a few times in disbelief, write a few texts. After a few minutes I put some more clothes on and hobble on over to the point I’d agreed to meet Christophe.

Eventually I calmed down a bit, I managed to stretch a little more, and I think for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed drinking alcohol-free beer! I called Jo who was still waiting for Philippe to come around, and then finished all the food in the (fairly modest) finisher’s pack.
At this point I was starting to get a bit cold so went off to find a hot drink, but the queue was too long so I headed back to the meeting point. And there I saw Christophe! He’d finished already – wow! His best time before this race was 4.02, so I wasn’t expecting him for a while, but like me he also smashed his pb and ran 3.46!! Amazing ๐Ÿ™‚
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I then chatted to Jo again and she still hasn’t seen Philippe (who was probably too busy taking selfies or something ;-)) so we went off to find some much deserved food.
The afternoon then flew by: food, beer, a visit to the thermal baths, sauna, more food and more beer. It took me a while to fall asleep because of all the adrenaline, but as my eyes finally closed I knew that the marathon in 2004 was now well and truly out of my system ๐Ÿ™‚

Goodnight Vienna, now bring on the Wisล‚a!

Run January

Run January aka running every day in January

As you may have gathered from the title, I started off 2016 by doing a 31 day running challenge, where I ran every day in January. First of all, where did the idea for this come from? As usual I lay the blame fully at the feet of Andy ๐Ÿ˜‰ Last year I remember he did a challenge in winter (January I think) where he ran 1km every day for the whole month (you can read about it here). I remember even running with him on a few of them, including a short run to the bar where he had his leaving party before going to San Francisco.

Even though I readily confess my love of running, I don’t usually run all that often, usually 2-3 times a week, very rarely more often than that. Part of the reason for this is because I need to fit in other training and, of course, work ๐Ÿ˜‰
With Run Wisla looming large on the horizon, I thought it would be a good idea to give this a try, and with Andy heading off travelling around Asia at the start of the year, I also figured it would be a good way of keeping in touch and motivating each other to run.
We also encouraged our friends to join in and ended up having 27 people involved on endomondo of which around 8 ran every day or close to every day.
After taking things a bit easier in December, I was ready to attack the new year.
So how did I approach this challenge?
First of all I found a few races to sign up for, then looked for other runs (e.g. with WITC and the Orlen marathon training group), and also regularly arranged early morning hill sessions with friends at WITC as I always prefer running with others.
On top of that I started to use running as a way of getting from A to B. I remember Andy talking about doing this as a kid, but it’s something I’d never done before. Growing up, and even now in Warsaw, I would often cycle to get around, but not run. And this was something I wanted to try.
And I’m glad I did.
How did it go?
First and foremost, well! I managed to run every day, and did a total of 223km in January according to Endomondo ๐Ÿ™‚
MyJan
The days with multiple runs were generally where I’d merged a couple of runs

Once I got used to it, it wasn’t hard to find time for a run. By running, say to the pool or the gym, I found a way of getting in a run without really losing any time (and sometimes it was even quicker to run!).

On other days I would just pop out to Park Praski or run along the river.
On the weekends I generally did some longer runs while during the week I’d keep them shorter, as much for practical reasons as to ensure I didn’t overdo things.
Was it hard to find time?

Generally this wasn’t a big problem. It just required some planning. Using running as a form of commuting was a great way of fitting a run into my schedule. I found it a bit more difficult when travelling, and one day had to stop at a service station in England and run in the muddy fields around there.

What did I enjoy most?
Discovering the fun of running from A to B, doing a lot of runs along the river and running with friends. Also it was nice seeing and supporting (either in person or virtually) other friends who were also doing this challenge, even if, like Andy, they were on the other side of the world. I found it motivating knowing that other people were doing this too.
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I did a lot of running along the river in the snow ๐Ÿ™‚
What did I find hard?
Running the day after a long training run (20+km) was tough on the legs, I felt the lack of freshness and my legs were still slightly sore most of the time. Luckily I felt no major discomfort, although my right hip was sore at times and I felt some pain in my right shin on longer runs. I have a hunch this is due to my running style and this is something I want to look at over the next few months.

What advice do I have for anyone thinking of trying a challenge of this kind?
Remember it’s not about how fast or how far you run! It’s good, and important, to just do some short, easy runs from time to time. Sometimes I just popped out for a gentle 10 min run, especially after some tough training the day before.

What next?
This month I want to look into my running technique and work out a rough training plan for Run Wisla. I also want to investigate nutrition to find out what I should be eating before and during the runs.

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Some impressive stats for Run January!

It’s been a good start to the year, now I need to keep it up ๐Ÿ™‚

Run Wisล‚a

2015 really has been an incredible year… When I look back on it, it’s hard to believe that managed to fit so much in! My personal highlights would have to be Malbork, the Bloody Loop and the Gdynia 1/2 IM.

Over the last few months, maybe half a year in fact, I’ve been thinking about what to do next. I think it’s very easy to lose motivation after the kind of year I had, so I wanted to set a different kind of challenge. At one point I had this crazy idea of running all the way from Warsaw to Bournemouth, but after a few inebriated chats with Andy, who was also interested in doing a running challenge, we came across an even better idea that just feels right.

As we both live in Poland, we thought, why not run the length of the Vistula river (the Wisล‚a in Polish), which is the iconic river in our adopted country. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Following the river will allow us to see some beautiful parts of the country and get to know Poland better.

After sobering up it turned out that the river is 1047km long (or 650 miles), which to be honest is a bit further than I thought ๐Ÿ˜‰

BUT WHY, I hear you screaming!??

Reason no 1 is because it’s going to be a huge challenge and adventure ๐Ÿ™‚

The river is one of the best places to run in Warsaw, and with WITC we often go running there. There’s this great trail that runs along the river, right in the middle of the city, which means you can be stood in this small woods and look across the river to the old town and the city centre. It’s also quite a wild river and from what I’ve seen is very natural and beautiful. We’re both excited about getting to see this up close and sharing it with others, and that’s reason no. 2 ๐Ÿ™‚

Then, the more we started researching things, the more we realised that there’s a problem with pollution in the river. On the one hand this is evident from the rubbish you see often on the banks, but by investigating the state of the water we found out that contamination is also a big issue here (I recommend checking out this Greenpeace report from 2008: ).

So our third aim is to raise awareness about the state of the river, the contamination in the river and the rubbish on banks.

In a nutshell, that’s our plan. Yes it’s insane, yes it’s ambitious, but sometimes in life you have to do something crazy – if I’ve learnt anything from the last few years it’s that ๐Ÿ™‚

The name we came up with for this challenge is – Run Wisla.

Logo by N. Gora
Logo by N. Gora

Now the challenge is to work out how to actually complete this mad plan. Can we physically run over 1000km in 26 days (that’s our plan at the moment). Then there are the logistics issues, where will we stay and what will we eat and drink? We also want to take water samples to measure the quality of the water along the way. How will we organise that? And so on…

One thing that has been amazing has been the reaction of people to our plan. It’s been received so positively and so many people have offered to help that it’s really given us hope that we can do this.

I’ll be writing more over the coming months but for now please check out our promo video and fan page.

Thanks for reading, have a great Xmas break and all the best for 2016 ๐Ÿ™‚

Photo by P. Fagiani
Photo by P. Fagiani

Malbork

I can remember the moment (fairly) clearly. It was December last year, about a week after the end of season party. Mark and Julia were throwing a party (I forget what the occasion was, although maybe there wasn’t one?) and I was in the kitchen trying some of Mark’s punch. Igors had just won the WITC Athlete of the Year award the week before and announced that he would be doing an Ironman race the following year (when I heard that I remember thinking – what a mentalist!) As I turned around I saw Olga and Igors talking and then Olga said to me that she’s also going to do an ironman next year! I started to get this sinking feeling, I remember telling Olga “no, no, don’t do it…” but there was no way she was backing down. A few months before she’d joined me in my first (and her first)ย 1/2 IM in Mragowo, despite being even less prepared than I was, and I really appreciated that show of solidarity (even though I fell asleep and missed her crossing the line ;-)). I began to realise I had to join these guys in this Ironman too, even tho part of me didn’t want to. Why? I’m not sure I can put into words what was going through my head back then… Because doing this kind of challenge together would be a great journey? Peer pressure? Solidarity? The effects of the punch? Whatever the reason(s) a few seconds later I had just agreed to sign up for a full ironman distance race…

No going back now…
Mark, the maker of the afore-mentioned punch, was also roped into things and before we knew it there was even a picture on facebook and absolutely no chance of going back.
Let’s just go over the numbers involved in an Ironman:
3.8km swim
180km bike ride
41km run (marathon)
That’s a perfectly normal thing to do right? ๐Ÿ˜‰
Luckily we made this pact in December so there was plenty of time to train. And so, I figured the best thing to do is not to freak out and just get straight on with it…
Over the winter I focused on my weakest part in triathlon, swimming. The swim sessions with Przemek were great and I usually managed to meet up with Igors, Olga, Juan or someone else for another long swim on weekends. Over the winter I was also training for the London marathon and I discovered that going for a swim after a long run had a really good effect on the legs.
As the months progressed I found myself getting into a nice rhythm of training 5-6 times a week, mixing running, swimming, cycling and functional fitness. Now as you’re probably aware, I’ve had quite a few things on this year, so rather than just focus on Malbork the whole year, I focussed, in order, on the London marathon, the bieg Rzeznika, the bloody loop, Gdynia 1/2 IM and then finally Malbork, which was one month after Gdynia, on 6th October. The good thing about this approach was that I wasn’t thinking about Malbork the whole year and just got my head down and focused on the next event.
My training through the year had gone well, I’d managed to avoid injury, and think I found a good balance between training hard and not overtraining. Also I was able to build my training around club events and when I needed to do extra I was usually able to meet up with Igors (who also had flexibility during the day) or some other training buddies so that I had to do very little of my training alone – which made it much more enjoyable and social.
After a good race in Gdynia in August, I felt like I was in decent shape for Malbork.
Of course there were some hiccups in my preparations, I didn’t manage to get aerobars on my bike because the ones I wanted wouldn’t fit my handlebars and I probably should have trained a bit more in general on the bike, but overall and given everything else that had been going on, I felt I couldn’t have done much more.
Finally, race weekend approached. As it turned out there would be 6 people from our club doing the full Ironman (my bloody loop companion Krystian had signed up, as had Lauri who only realised he was signed up for when Garth spotted his name on the start list 3 weeks before the race!) plus a whole load of supporters ๐Ÿ™‚
The day before the race, let’s call it ironman-eve, went pretty smoothly. Igors had found us some nice accommodation, walking distance from the start, and after attaching Andy’s watch (which I was borrowing for the bike) my gels and (rice)balls to the bike I was ready to go.
The Ironman is a really long race, I think the time limit was 16 hours, so that meant we had to start at 6am. I’ve done a few ultras before where you basically have to get up in the middle of the night, so 6am wasn’t actually that bad, but still it would have been nicer to have a bit more time in bed. A lot of the talk before the race was about the weather. The day before it was beautiful, sunny, calm and warm, but in the evening the wind picked up and there was rain overnight. Most forecasts predicted some rain on race day and temperatures of around 10-16 degrees…
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On the way to the start – photo: P. Fagiani
However, when we headed out in the morning of the race, although it was cold, it was dry and the sun was even trying to come out. The wind we noticed the evening before even seemed to have died down.

IMG_5810The last hour before the race I was so glad to have this awesome group there with me, I can’t imagine what it would have been like had I done the race all alone. The camaraderie and goofing around helped the time fly, and us to relax, and before we knew it we were getting into the water. It was a strange feeling if I’m honest, I just tried not to think about how much there was ahead of me and kept telling myself that I’d done a lot of training and was ready for this. The water was relatively calm, certainly much better than some of the other triathlons I’d done this year (Olsztyn, Gdynia), and the fact that it was 4 laps would actually help break it down into manageable chunks. And all of a sudden, we were off!

Malbork is a fairly small race so there were only around 200 people taking part in the full Ironman, which meant it was easy to find some space in the water. I got into a rhythm and tried to focus on my kicking. Every now and then I had this feeling of “wow, I’m doing this. It’s happening”. It was a great feeling now that after all the waiting the race was finally underway.
Swimming in a river meant of course that there was a current, which we swam against in the first half and with on the second half of the lap, but in all honestly although I could feel the current a bit, it wasn’t that noticeable. At some point the sun even broke through the clouds and shone towards us from above the castle – that was pretty cool ๐Ÿ™‚
On the third lap I felt a bit of cramp in my left calf so had to kick a bit less, and although I felt it again later the tightness passed as long as I didn’t try to kick too hard. By the time I started the 4th lap I knew there wasn’t much further to go and soon enough the 1hr 48mins had passed and I was getting out of the water (and not falling over ;-)).
Right, now for the bike…
Slightly disorientated but still on two feet
Slightly disorientated but still on two feet
On the way to the transition zone I saw a few of the supporters and Andy even ran with me for a bit, chatting away and telling me how the others were doing.
As soon as I got into Y1 and took my wetsuit off I noticed it was damn cold and I remember shivering a bit as I came out on my bike (thankfully I put my jacket on).
And so began the 180km bike ride. The first part was great, I felt like I was flying and Andy’s watch was showing speeds of well over 30km/h. I should have know it was too good to last tho. Then there was a u-turn at around kilometre 7 of the loop (we had to do 6 x 30km loops) and all of a sudden I felt the wind hit me! That also explained why the start felt so good … There were two other sections where you had to cycle/battle against the wind of which the last part, leading us back to the start of the loop, was the hardest.
As I finished the first lap I noticed my name, and the names of the other five people from our club, written on the road! It was such a nice surprise and so touching to see that and despite the crazy weather I couldn’t help but smile ๐Ÿ™‚
At the end of the first lap I really felt like I needed to pee so near the start of the second lap I had the first of my 3 “water breaks”. The interesting thing was that I hadn’t drunk all that much on the bike but my pee was transparent, so possibly (probably) I drank a lot of river water while swimming. Anyway, feeling much lighter and better on I continued…
There were quite a few sections on the route where you passed other people riding in the other direction and it was really nice to see the other WITC’ers grimacing/smiling/raising their hand in acknowledgement in these conditions. Igors once even said it was like cycling in Fuerta where we had our tri camp earlier in the year. In addition to the WITCers there were also a few other randoms I got to know along the way, there is something about doing something crazy like this, especially in those conditions, that brings people together ๐Ÿ™‚
And so I ticked off the laps, kept to my nutrition plan (one rice ball and one gel per lap), and pushed on through the mad conditions (it even started to rain at one point). I swear I’ve never cycled in wind that strong before. By now I wasn’t even worrying about my speed (the plan of a 6 hour bike leg was out the window), so I tried to just focus on riding smoothly and saving some energy for the run, my strongest part.

The toughest part of the bike was around the 3rd-4th loop, when I was already tired but the end was still a long way off. But stopping wasn’t an option (apart from 2 more water breaks). Mark’s wife Julia and her family were also there supporting, and I have to say how much respect I have for them standing around all day in the cold, wind and rain. At the end of some of the laps Julia even tried to give me some food, first she held out a kabanos, which I dropped… Then the next lap is was a snickers, which I also dropped, and finally, at the third attempt, I slowed down enough to grab a snickers! ๐Ÿ™‚

On the final lap of the bike it started to rain even harder, and with the strong wind I was starting to get pretty cold! But thankfully the bike leg was nearly over and I could look forward to the best part – the run ๐Ÿ™‚12059602_10153097857156776_1584492720_o

Because of the rain and wind I was really cold when I finally finished the bike, so kept my jacket on for warmth. Once my legs had got over the shock of transitioning from the bike to the run, I started to notice that they were actually feeling ok! Yes, it “felt like running”, my legs were doing what I was asking them to and I felt like I had strength – that was a huge relief. Like the bike, there were also 6 laps on the run, each 7km long. The route was really nice, it went around and through Malbork castle itself, across the river and back again, which also gave us a chance to see any spectators and supporters out there. It was great to see the other WITC’ers that were supporting and taking great photos as well as hi-fiving/nodding/saying hi/grunting to the others. Andy was great, running with me for sections of the route (while also running with Olga in-between) and bit by bit I was ticking off the kilometres and the laps. There were food/water stations ever few kilometres so I was just making sure I took on enough food (every second station I’d eat something) and drink (a few sips at each station).

1 lap left!!
1 lap left!!

And soon (well, actually actually several hours after starting the run) I was on to the final lap … By now, although my legs were sore, I had got into a good rhythm and despite being on the move for well over 11 hours I was near the end. As I completed each kilometre I screamed out the number of ks left, and after saying thanks to Andy and heading over the bridge, I managed to stretch those tired legs to finish strongly. Then came the piece de resistance (excuse my French!). I’d been thinking about how to finish this monumental race and to cap off this unforgettable season, and as I was going round and round the course I realised there was only one thing to do. On the Tuesday night training I usually lead, we do some plyometric exercises at the start, or as I prefer to call them, silly walks ๐Ÿ˜‰ So as I reached the final turn I took a quick look back to make sure there was no-one behind me and then proceeded to do 3/4 silly walks, crossing the line in my best John Cleese impersonation!

And that was it – over!! I have to admit I don’t even really remember my time, except that is was 12 something (12.49), and after crossing the line remember getting given a finisher’s t-shirt, a space blanket, some food and of course the medal ๐Ÿ™‚ 10 months of hard work and training had gone into this and I’d finally done it – it was over! I spent the rest of the evening taking in the atmosphere and talking to the competitors and supporters from our club. Every single one of us did amazingly well, especially in those weather conditions, heros one and all ๐Ÿ™‚ Because of all the excitement and the supporters, I didn’t really have time to take it all in and the size of the achievement actually took a few days to really sink in. Now, as I write this 2 months later, it all seems a bit surreal, like it was a dream.

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I’m delighted that I managed to complete something that I thought was insane and I would never be able to do just a couple of years ago. It just goes to show that we are capable of much more than we realise. But more than anything, I’m glad of the companions I had on this journey. Being able to train together with friends like Igors (with whom I did well over 1/2 of my training) and Olga, as well as Juan, Andy and many more people from WITC, made the training much more enjoyable and gave me extra motivation. And the fact that we got to do this race, the first Ironman for every single one of us, in Malbork together made it all the more special ๐Ÿ™‚

It was a great journey guys - thanks for the company :-)
It was a great journey guys – thanks for the company ๐Ÿ™‚