Run Wisla – The start!

Finally, part 10 of this never-ending story sees us actually start the run!

Run Wisla Stage 1 Day 1: Wisla – Barania Gora – Wisla.

I woke up in the morning to this view from the window:

13668834_10154321212286322_850004283382097883_o
Good morning Wisla!

The weather was looking good, unlike our previous visit to Wisla a few weeks before. It wasn’t too hot and the clear skies meant we should have some nice views from the top. Plus, it’s always much nicer running in the sun, so all of that put me in a good mood πŸ™‚

We had a quiet breakfast in the hotel, there didn’t seem to be any other guests except us. I was actually glad about that, before a race of any kind I like to have some peace and quiet to mentally prepare before the excitement.

After breakfast, and reading lots of wonderful messages from friends and families, Martin drove us down the road to the centre of Wisla.

We’d agreed to start at 9am at the main square in Wisla – Plac Hoffa (that name always made me smile and think of the Hoff, hehe) and assumed that we would need around 4-5 hours, including breaks etc.

Things got off to the best possible start when we were joined by a nice group of people and dogs at the start! We had Patrizia (who took the picture below) & Martin – our support team for the first stage, Kasia & Artur from Sport Guru, Kuba and Irena from Wisla, Artur from Zywiec, Krzysztof and Magda from napieraj.pl and Maciej who lived nearby and had contacted us via Rok Wisly. All in all there were 12 humans and 5 dogs. You can get a bit of an idea of our excitement in this video we took just before the start:

https://www.facebook.com/events/733524063417995/permalink/747188678718200/

Day1
Excited and ready to get started! Photo credit: Patrizia

And off we went. The first day we didn’t have to worry about getting lost, as both Kuba and Maciek knew the route really well. That meant we could relax, check that the tracking technology was working (apart from a minor issue at the start it was fine) and chat to the friends there with us. The views from the top didn’t disappoint and things actually went pretty smoothly. I remember being paranoid about twisting my ankle or something on the downhill, but thankfully nothing like that happened.

I remember Krzysztof making a comment about my running style at the beginning of the day, saying that one foot was landing differently to the other. This would come back to haunt me a bit as I would be thinking about this a lot over the next month…

One other thing we decided to do (I think Maciek might have mentioned the idea) was to count the number of bridges we would cross along the way. On the first day itself we would cross 9.

IMAG1203

All in all we were finished in about 4hrs (https://www.endomondo.com/users/19717809/workouts/776117419) so slightly quicker that originally planned, but we didn’t feel too tired and finishing earlier allowed us to rest a bit more πŸ™‚

There are a few videos from Day 1 – you can see Martin’s video here:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmartin.pape%2Fvideos%2F10210304974044073%2F&show_text=0&width=476

And Maciek’s here (featuring his wonderful dog – Frytka):

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpiesturysta%2Fvideos%2F1823448247890773%2F&show_text=0&width=560

At the end of the day, once we’d eaten, showered and rested, we made a short video about Day 1 from the balcony of our hotel room:

Day 1 distance: 34km
Total distance: 34km

Run Wisla Stage 1 Day 2: Wisla – Goczalkowice-Zdroj.

After effectively doing a loop on day one, day two would see us actually run downstream. Our destination for the day was the dam by the reserviour in Goczalkowice. The manager of the site, Andrzej Suidy, contacted Rok Wisly and offered to put us up there. It worked out to be almost exactly 50km from Wisla so an ideal place to stop!

After the excitement of day 1, things were a little quieter, and as we left Plac Hoffa again it was just me and Andy running, with Patrizia and Martin in the support car. We agreed to meet the car roughly every 10km for some food, water and photos. This part of the river was very different to other areas I’d seen before. There were lots of towns and villages right on the banks of the river, and people sunbathing and relaxing in and next to the river πŸ™‚

We started collecting bits and pieces of rubbish that we’d see along the way – I found that the pockets at the back of my bag were ideal for storing rubbish.

The day started off pretty hot, until the moment Patrizia decided to join us by bike. Then it started to rain. Gently at first, but soon it became torrential. We ran for as long as we could, but eventually had to stop & Martin came and rescued us.

Run Wisla-7
Just outside Skoczow the heavens opened! Photo credit: Patrizia

The mini-storm soon passed and we were able to carry on. As we reached the edge of the reservoir, Kasia from Sport Guru joined us and we ran along the levy of the reservoir. We could see the clouds gathering and as we saw Patrizia & Martin at our next checkpoint, it started raining again. As it got worse we went and hid in Martin’s car, and waited.

Run Wisla-5497
We were a little tired πŸ˜‰ Photo credit: Patrizia

I don’t know how long we were sat in the car, but it seemed to be for quite a while. The rain wouldn’t ease up at all, so in the end we agreed to stop for the day, rest and come back here the next morning to continue.

In the end we’d run 47km of a planned 55km: https://www.endomondo.com/users/19717809/workouts/776933888

Later in the evening the weather cleared up and our wonderful host Andrzej showed us some beautiful gardens and the pretty town of Pszczyna.

Run Wisla-5509
With Andrzej Suidy, our host, once the rain finally stopped

Once we got back to the place we were staying, I got out my computer and finally finished the last bit of work I had left. I was slightly annoyed I still had something left to do, and it meant I was up later than planned, but I was very happy to have finally finished it and got everything done so that I could focus on ‘just’ running.

Martin’s video from day 2:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmartin.pape%2Fvideos%2F10210313470896489%2F&show_text=0&width=476

Day 2 distance: 47km
Total distance: 81km

Advertisements

Run Wisla – Ready, set …

At this point it was a matter of days until the start. I’m sure we were counting the hours. I remember feeling excited and stressed, in pretty much equal measure.

Thursday 28th July (-2 days)

Compared to the two previous days this day looks quiet. All I had written down was:

  • Collect water from Zywiec Zdroj
  • Dagna 3pm
  • Haircut 6pm

As I mentioned before, the water company Zywiec Zdroj had offered to sponsor us and provide us with kit and water. We had roughly estimated how much water we’d need per day (5/6 litres I think) and so headed to their offices in Warsaw to collect over 200 litres of water.

As it turns out, we misunderstood things and when we got there we found out that the water was actually not in Warsaw but in the town of Zywiec where their factory is! Zywiec is really far from Warsaw, in fact, it’s quite close to Wisla. Luckily for us, we were more or less passing that way so we could stop there, but it messed up our plan a little as we’d already have a full car when we arrived and would struggle to load up all the water. But hey, we’d do our best and work it out somehow.

At 3pm we met our friend Dagna, who’s a doctor. She used to train with us quite a bit, but I guess being a doctor is a very time-consuming thing. Or she just doesn’t really like running. Anyway, it was nice to see her and a kind thing of her to offer. She gave us a 1st aid course, showing us how to make bandages, do CPR and deal with emergency situations. Hopefully these were things we’d never actually need to do, but of course it was good to know.

1
Ready for anything?

Friday 29th July (-1 day)

The final day before the big event. As our support driver for stage 1 of Run Wisla, Martin was going to drive us down to Wisla, along with Patrizia who would also be with us for the first stage. I have in my diary that we agreed to meet in Kabaty (the district of Warsaw where Martin lives) at 12, and actually left at 1.30pm. On the way we stopped at Sport Guru to pick up some energy bars we’d ordered, so it was probably gone 2pm by the time we left Warsaw. We had also packed my mountain bike so that Patrizia could get out and join us while we would be running.

It’s hard to remember exactly what I was feeling then, but I’m sure I was really excited to be starting this. This was something we’d been talking about and planning for so long, that I’m sure I couldn’t wait to start. I was a little stressed, I remember, because I had some work that I hadn’t quite finished, but otherwise I’m sure it was great to be heading down to the mountains with some good friends πŸ™‚

We stopped on the way at a restaurant called Janosik. In the diary I wrote that it has red chairs, funky decor, strange lights and good food πŸ™‚ I also remember there was a lot of news then about the World Youth Days, an international Christian youth festival that was being held in Krakow. And we were heading in that direction.

We got to Zywiec to pick up the water late in the evening, and managed to squeeze 17 x 5 litre bottles into Martin’s car. We left a few behind but I’m amazed we managed to pack what we did! On the way from Zywiec to Wisla, a saw an article had just been published on napieraj.pl about us. Magda Dolegowska, who had interviewed us at PKP Powisle in November of the previous year, just after we announced our plan, had been in contact during the day asking for a bit more information, and published a really good, long article.

We’d booked a hotel to stay in for all 4 of us, and Kasia & Artur from Sport Guru had also booked the same place, so we met up with them and went for dinner and a “last beer” before the start of the run. I remember Artur going Pokemon hunting on the way to the restaurant – it’s funny now I look back on it. Does anyone still play that game?

13879458_10210297552938550_5608119101835306625_n

Back at the hotel in the evening, I read some great wishes from friends and family, did a bit of work and then tried to get some sleep…

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII

Run Wisla – The final countdown

Links to previous posts can be found at the bottom as it was taking up too much space at the top here!

We’d done all the training we could do, planned as much as possible, I guess we were as ready as we were going to be! Luckily we’d avoided injuring ourselves in the run-up to the start too πŸ™‚

I started writing a diary with 6 days to go, so will have a look there to refresh my mind about what was going on. I remember we were still really busy, which also meant I wasn’t thinking too much about actually running the river. In hindsight maybe that was a good thing, as it meant I didn’t worry or stress too much about whether I/we could actually do this crazy thing.

 

Sunday 24th July (-6 days)

My first entry has four bullet points:

  • Made Alanowka
  • Meeting with Robert from RRW about logistics (postponed)
  • Brought marker pens for signing flags
  • Andy has spare sleeping mat πŸ™‚

Basically that’s all logistics stuff. I wanted us to have some gifts to give the hosts who would be putting us up along the way, so made a batch of Alanowka – home-made vodka – to give as thank-you presents. I think I made around 6 bottles of grapefruit & honey flavour and put a sticker on them with our Run Wisla logo. In addition to that, we had some extra shirts, hoodies and caps from Zywiec Zdroj, as well as some folders about the Year of the Wisla that we would give out.

The thing with the flags was an idea of Robert’s. We made a couple of flags which we took with us and would ask people to sign along the way as a kind of memento.

And finally, Andy having a spare sleeping mat meant that I didn’t need to buy one πŸ™‚

Monday 25th July (-5 days)

This day was really busy!

At 12 I(we?) had a meeting with Martin to discuss logistics for the first stage where he’d be our driver. I also noted down that he was a maybe for our picnic in Warsaw.

At 4pm me and Andy went to Enel Sport, which is the company that owns the gym where we did a lot of our training with Przemek (see the second part of this video). Having seen that video they offered us free consultation with a physio. From that meeting I remember the guy being quite concerned about all of the imbalances in my body, and then later on saying that compared to Andy, my issues were actually minor πŸ˜‰ Nothing like a bit of encouragement, right? But it was fun and interesting.

13626463_10154482204636549_4166740211794189400_n
Apparently this is called a Y-balance test

Then at 7pm we had a meeting with Robert, his wife and Wiska, about logistics and things. We met at their dzialka, which is basically a small allotment, sat outside and chatted over a few drinks. Wiska would be our contact on a day-to-day basis and help coordinate logistics, so it was good to meet her. By now we had most of the places along the route covered πŸ™‚ It was our final meeting with them and we left later that evening excited about the start and thankful & relieved we had the logistics covered.

Other last minutes things that cropped up included a phone call around 10am about an interview (I wrote down MZA Klakson, so I guess it’s these guys) and a message via the Facebook fanpage from a Sandomierz news portal, so I sent them the press release we’d prepared.

Tuesday 26th July (-4 days)

Another busy day. I did some shopping, getting some shorts, running underwear and cold packs. I also took the shirts we’d ordered for the picnic in Warsaw to a contact Robert gave me for printing shirts. I was in touch with Ricoh, Dzielnica Wisla (a city portal which focuses on promoting the river) and to our point of contact in the town of Nowe Brzesko. The other main news was that a guy called Krzysztof, who had said he was going to join us for most of the route, suddenly pulled out. It was a bit of a shock, and slightly disappointing I won’t deny, but in a way made the logistics a little bit easier for us because there was one less person to worry about.

IMAG1201 (2)
My handwriting really is terrible!

Wednesday 27th July (-3 days)

The page for this day is full! I spoke to our contact in Sandomierz, Tomek, and checked with Robert about the leaflets we were going to hand out along the river. I agreed with Patrizia that she’d pick them up.

I also checked a few things regarding potential sponsorship with Aromat (a company a friend of ours, Matthieu, works for/runs) & Roche, where both Andy & Asia worked. There were other little things like getting the invoice details from Groole for the food they would provide at the picnic. Kuba, our friend in Wisla, also wrote and put me in touch with the local council in his town, so I sent a quick message to them.

Then came the big moment. Around 10am I got a call from Andy that the vice-major of Warsaw had been in touch and wanted to meet today! So, at 12 we made our way to his office, not really knowing what to expect.

We sat down in this official, slightly-Soviet looking office and met Michal Olszewski and Jasiek. They were really friendly and wanted to support our initiative, especially when we came into Warsaw. We had a really nice talk, they offered to help us arrange a test of the water quality as we came into Warsaw, promote our initiative, and join us both as we arrived in Warsaw and at the picnic the following day. It was fantastic πŸ™‚ Not only because they were offering to help us, but also I liked their approach to things. It was good to see the local government being proactive and wanting to get involved grass-roots initiatives.

The other points from this busy day include a Lotto budget update (for the picnic in Warsaw), sending Asia Robert’s phone number, sending an e-mail to another contact in Wisla called Maciek, and an article about us being published by Festiwal Biegowy.

As you can probably see from what I’ve written, these last few days were really intense but very important to us. We were now almost ready to go πŸ™‚

Previous posts:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

Run Wisla – The Return of Andy

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

In some ways it was a bit strange, Andy and I came up with this idea together and it was very much our thing, yet with him being away for 7 months in the run-up, I’d been having to take most of the decisions, and do most of the work myself. I’m not resentful or anything, Andy was always clear about his plans, and I understood this travelling was something he had to do. On the other hand, I certainly could have used his help, and although we talked regularly about things it’s not the same as if he’d been here with me. I guess what I mean is, although this was very much a team effort, Andy was just a lot less involved that I was. That meant I was the one who found the contacts, talked to or met people, arranged things etc. Of course, with a lot of help from Robert, Patrizia and many, many others.
He mentioned later on how this affected him during Run Wisla, and how it felt like he was in the back seat while I was on the phone and planning things. Looking back on it now I can understand how that came about. The way I see it, it’s natural because of the situation we were in. I like to think I involved him as much as I could, although maybe I could have done more, I don’t know.
Of course, I also missed him as a good friend. And how did I express how happy I was to see him when he came back to Poland? By planning a ton of things for us to do πŸ™‚
First up, we headed down to Wisla, the town in the mountains which is named after the river, or vice versa. It gave us the chance to see the route and meet a few locals. We were lucky to meet up with Kuba and Irina, who Magda (from napieraj.pl) had put us in touch with. Kuba is a fantastic runner, while Irina is a dog lover (well actually they both are). On the night we arrived we must have talked to them about dogs for hours πŸ™‚ The next day, Kuba showed us the way to the peak of Barania Gora and back down, so that we didn’t end up stuck on top of the mountain, or accidentally cross into Slovakia or something πŸ˜‰
13
Kuba did a great job guiding us
After having lunch, and giving an interview over the phone to the Warsaw insert of Gazeta Wyborcza, we headed to Krakow. The press were starting to take a bit of notice of us, and the Krakow edition of GW also invited us for an interview (thanks to Andy Eddles for the contact).
Krakow is a beautiful city and the former capital of Poland. There’s quite a bit of rivalry with Warsaw, but as an outsider, I can just say I love both towns πŸ™‚
Andy managed to sort out somewhere to stay in Krakow at “one of his girl friends”, as I would joke, called Emilia. As it turns out, her brother is a journalist, so he also interviewed us about the whole project for his website “Polska ma sens“.
Later we met a friend called Eduardo, a Spanish guy who lives in Krakow, who set up a small meeting for us to talk about Run Wisla, and a Polish-Australian guy called Matthew, who had been in contact via Facebook and wanted to join us on the run the next day.
The next morning, having taken the train out to Brzeznica, we followed the course of the river, which at this point meanders a lot, right into the centre of Krakow. It was a beautiful section of around 35 km, with views of monasteries, the landscape of the area and the mountains visible in the distance πŸ™‚
All in all, it was a useful trip, we’d got to know part of the route and met some more people.
After getting back to Warsaw, we picked up Patrizia and headed up to Grudziadz, where we met Przemek again. The four of us then went to the small village of Witunia, to meet a person we’d heard and read a lot about.
When we first came up with the idea for Run Wisla, we looked up any stories we could find about similar things. One such undertaking was Hard Way Round, where a British guy from Devon called Kevin Carr ran around the world by himself, unsupported! The numbers are just mind-blowing:
16,300 miles (over 26,000 km)
621 days
That’s roughly a marathon a day.
One of the other stories we found was about a Polish guy called Ryszard Kalaczynski. Ryszard is a former alcoholic (and as we would later find out, also a former weight lifter) who gave up alcohol one day and started running. And hasn’t stopped since! At that time he held the Guinness world record for having run 366 marathons in 366 days in 2014-2015!
Przemek knew him well so we agreed we’d go over together from Grudziadz and, of course, run a marathon with the guy! By the way, he organises marathons every Saturday and Sunday, so if you’re in the area, I recommend popping by!
This trip was quite an experience. After negotiating the country roads we finally arrived at the ‘race office’, basically a small hut on the main road running through the village.
It might not look much from the outside, but on the inside it was impressive. There were medals, race numbers, newspaper articles, books and more. The hut itself was very modest, and the people there were very welcoming.
I think around 11 or 12 people showed up to run, some of whom are regulars. Patrizia would be the photographer for the day, and after posing for a picture, we were off.
PAT-4822-3
Ready, set, go! Photo credit: Patrizia
There were, I think, 6 loops, with each loop passing by the race office, so you could grab a drink there if you wanted/needed to. Most of the route passed through the fields and countryside in the area, and I really liked the laid-back, friendly atmosphere. I had the chance to talk to most of the runners there, including one priest, as well as Rzyszard himself. His charisma and joviality really made an impression on me, and we discussed running and triathlon – he was looking at getting into triathlons (of course, Ironman-distance ones ;-)). I really hope I still have such enthusiasm for running when I’m his age πŸ™‚
PAT-4888
Medal presentation with Rysiek, in the race office/shrine. Photo credit: Patrizia
With less than a month to go until the start, this would be our last trip. Physically, I guess we were as ready as we would ever be – check out this video we made of the training with Przemek. And regarding logistics, it felt like we were getting there. Robert and Wiska from RRW were helping us out a lot with accommodation, and we had a sponsor in the form of Zywiec Zdroj, who were going to sponsor our shirts, water, and a few other goodies. It might not have been much, but we were grateful and somehow it fitted this ragtag way things were coming together.
We had most of the things now in place, and as the big day approached my main concern really was not injuring myself!
p.s. That means we’re soon going to get to the start of the actual run!

Run Wisla Part VI – Logistics

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

After the excitement of the trip in May, with the start of the adventure fast approaching it was time to start organising and planning the logistics.
Thanks to some of our very generous friends, we had a support car (or rather support cars) for the whole “trip”. Three different friends were going to accompany us: Martin would be our support driver for stage 1, from the source of the river in Barania Gora to Krakow. Then Asia would take over and be with us for 2 stages, Krakow-Sandomierz and Sandomierz-Warsaw. Agata offered to do the stretch from Warsaw-Torun, and Asia would then join us again from Torun to the Baltic Sea.
On top of that, Patrizia said she wanted to join us as much as possible and take photos, and a few others had also expressed interest in joining us, either running with us or supporting. You can see the whole support team here.
By now, I had got some contacts in towns along the river who had offered to put us up as we passed through, quite a few of them thanks to Robert from RRW and some from other people. But we still needed a lot more.
We were also not having much luck finding a sponsor. I’d talked to a few companies but no-one was willing or able to help out. Our Facebook Page was getting quite a lot of interest, and the videos were also relatively popular, but honestly I didn’t do that good a job at selling the idea.
However, we did had some successes. Our crowdfunding initiative had done relatively well, largely thanks to a big rush of donors on the last day (and thanks to Pekka and a few others sharing information on fb). Sport-Guru had offered some help, and had given me some equipment in May. Ricoh, who a friend Nick had put us in touch with, were really interested in the project and although they said it was too late to invest anything, they did offer us a sports camera for the duration of the run, which we could use to take films. A friend called Philippe put us in touch with the water company Zywiec Zdroj, and I had set up a few meetings with them. This whole Run Wisla business was really feeling like a second job – but one I was happy to do πŸ™‚ We did, however, drop the ball with a beer company that another friend Gary put us in touch with, which in the end I felt kinda bad about. I did had a slight concern about having a beer company sponsor an event like this, but really could have handled it a bit better.
With June approaching, I really wasn’t sure if we’d have any sponsor for the event, especially because, as Robert kept reminding me, we couldn’t give them a guarantee that we’d actually finish.
I had a chat with Andy about the costs and we agreed that in the absolute worst case we’d treat it as a holiday and pay our way.
Another friend of ours, Elwira, who was the first person to write about Run Wisla, helped us to organise a picnic on the day we’d arrive in Warsaw. There was quite a lot of work planning that, but I’d contacted Agata at Groole, Przemek our coach, Wojciech our physio and a few others, and with Robert and Elwira’s help things seemed to be coming together πŸ™‚
I can’t emphasise how much of a help Robert was with the organisation. His realism and, at times, scepticism about the undertaking, plus his contacts, played a significant role in everything coming together, especially with Andy still away in South America.
13266036_10154159465501322_7270306575437639452_n
Cool trophy for the Rzeznik Hardcore!

As for training, I managed a few ultras (including the Rzeznik hardcore 100km with Krystian) and started training more regularly in the gym with Przemek. The three days in May had given me a lot of confidence and I seemed to have sorted out the issue with blisters. So things were pretty positive on that front.

And so, as June arrive, Andy came back. I had a lot of things planned for his return … πŸ™‚

Run Wisla – MajΓ³wka

Part I
Part II
Part IIIΒ 
Part IV

The May Bank Holiday, often known as ‘MajΓ³wka‘ in Polish, was a perfect opportunity to try three consecutive days of running, something I’d never done before. Patrizia had kindly offered to be my one-person support team, and forgo a relaxing holiday break to spend a few days with a sweaty and smelly runner πŸ˜‰ I can’t remember exactly why I chose Torun, part of it was certainly because I wanted to check out one of the key points along the route that I hadn’t been to before, but another part of it was definitely related to the town of Opalenie, which would be the destination of day 3.

An organisation from this town contacted us, via our partner Rok Rzeki Wisly, to ask if we’d like to stop by their place on the run. Originally, we’d planned to have the town of Gniew (remember the name!), 10 km north of Opalenie, as our destination, but once I’d been in contact with these guys I realised it would be worth adjusting the route. The organisation was called Zapowiednik, and they run two rehabilitation centres for people with addiction problems in the area. A large part of the therapy involves running, and the centre also organises a few running events during the year. They straight up offered to give us somewhere to sleep, to feed us, and to have a group of people run with us during Run WisΕ‚a. It was a wonderful offer and one of many times we were positively surprised by Polish hospitality.

Thanks to another friend, I got in touch with a crazy ultra-marathon runner in the town of Grudziadz (the destination of day 2 of this journey) called Przemek, who also offered to help us with accommodation and run a bit with me as I headed out of Grudziadz (by the way, Przemek is know as Vegenerat Biegowy and has a really cool blog, check it out).

In addition to the logistics being sorted, I’d also received some equipment. The sports shop Sport-Guru (which has sadly closed down in the meantime) gave me a pair of trail shoes to try out, plus a rucksack, and lent me a Garmin watch for the trip. I also had a meeting with Ricoh just before heading to Torun, and they lent me a sports camera to try out. It was really encouraging to see how positive people were being about this project and how willing they were to help us πŸ™‚

And so it was, on 30th May, that we drove up from Warsaw to Torun. The plan for the next three days was:

1st May. Torun -> Borowno. 65km (originally I chose to finish the day in Borowno because I thought, wrongly, it was the same place where the triathlon is held)

2nd May. Borowno -> Grudziadz. 42 km

3rd May. Grudziadz -> Opalenie. 36 km

3 days. 143 km.

The general plan was to meet up with the car roughly every 10km. I had tracking set up thanks to the Garmin watch, so that Patrizia could follow my progress. I had a light rucksack (the very nice Dynafit one that Sport-Guru gave me) with the basics, so water, a bit of food, a light jacket, my phone, a power bank and the camera from Ricoh. That would be roughly the same equipment that we’d be carrying in the summer.

The first day was by far the longest. I was unsure of the exact route, as I’d just put it together using Endomondo and Google maps and hadn’t really checked properly for tributaries, fences, dead-ends etc. Heading out of Torun, I had to check my phone quite often to see if I was on track. On the outskirts of the town I had one slight difficulty where I had to climb over a fence near a construction site for a big new church, but after that got onto the levee (waΕ‚ in Polish. WaΕ‚ would become one of the words of Run WisΕ‚a) and followed it all the way for about 30 km, to the edge of Fordon/Bydgoszcz. From there the route took me a bit further away from the river and I ran through some small villages until getting to the destination for day 1 – Borowno!

Being such as small place, there wasn’t much in Borowno, so we headed to nearby Chelmno, where we discovered a delightful little town with a beautiful town square and town hall. Definitely one of the many hidden gems we’d come across πŸ™‚ I felt pretty okay physically at the end of that long day, I think it took me about 8-9 hours to run the distance. I felt like the pace had been good, my muscles felt alright and the only real issue was a few blisters that had developed. But they weren’t too bad and I felt fine walking around Chelmno in my sandals in the evening.

IMAG1917
The waΕ‚. My companion for much of this trip πŸ™‚

We stayed overnight in Chelmo and the next morning headed back to Borowno, starting at the same point I’d stopped the previous day. I tried to make a short video there, thinking ahead to what we’d like to do in the summer, and then headed north along the river.

My legs felt very stiff at first, but after half an hour or so I settled into a good rhythm. The area was picturesque and I was able to run along the waΕ‚ most of the time, which gave me some lovely sweeping views of the Vistula river, which by now was massive! There were no major towns from here to Grudziadz, so it was a nice, calm region, almost untouched by humans. I saw a lot of wildlife, deer, cows, birds and more. The weather was a little warm but not too hot. Really, the only problem was the blisters. By now, one of them had popped and I had developed pretty painful blisters on both feet. This made running difficult. It dawned on me that I’d made a rookie error, I was trying to run 150km+ in completely new shoes (the ones I’d received from Sport-Guru)!! Anyone will tell you that’s a very bad idea. About 10km before Grudziadz the pain was so bad I had to stop and take off my shoes, apply some new blister plasters, walk for a bit, and try to carry on. On top of it all, I noticed I was running differently to avoid the pain, which in the long-run could have serious knock-on effects.

IMAG1926_1
I encountered the odd obstacle along the way πŸ˜‰

I battled on through to Grudziadz, where I met Przemek. Przemek is a crazy ultramarathoner and vegan, who has a really interesting blog, and in the meantime has also written a book. It was really cool to chat to him and Dawid, a friend of his, and see the sights of Grudziadz, another place I would probably never have visited had it not been for Run WisΕ‚a.

_PAT4257-1
Crossing the impressive bridge in Grudziadz with Przemek & Dawid. Photo credit: Patrizia

The next day, the two of them planned to run with me to Nowe, around 10km up the river, where I would meet a group of guys from Opalenie, who would then guide me to the rehab centre which would be the destination of this trip. I’d given my feet a bit of TLC, wrapped them up and applied some Vaseline to stop the friction (a new trick I heard from Przemek) and felt pretty good as I crossed the bridge in Grudziadz and headed up on the west bank of the river. Przemek and Dawid were great company and the time passed really quickly. Before I knew it, I was in the town of Nowe, and met up with a group of 6-7 people who would run the remaining 25km (ish) with me to Opalenie. One of the guys kindly offered to carry my bag, which I was very grateful for. From this point onwards, I didn’t see the river again, but I also didn’t lack for views. We ran through fields, woods and villages, through some beautiful scenery. Talking to the guys I was running with, they do a lot of training in this area and it truly is a fantastic region to run in.

_PAT4313-1
The arrival in Opalenie. Photo credit: Patrizia Fagiani

Arriving in Opalenie I got a wonderful, and very touching, welcome and soon got to see for myself the work the centre does. I was really blown away by the place, they are almost completely self-sufficient – they grow their own vegetables, have their own wood-working workshop, metal-working hut, they renovate most of the buildings on the complex themselves and even have their own pizza oven πŸ™‚ I’m not an expert so I’m not going to go into too much detail about their therapy methods, but it was fascinating to see some of the people that had been there longer, act as mentors for the newer people, and observe the way they always tried to explain things and allow discussion. The people in charge were also very open and friendly and invited Patrizia and me for dinner in their canteen (where the young people cook, serve and clean up), and the whole experience left me on a high. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay too long, as we had a long drive ahead of us to make it back to Warsaw that night – luckily Patrizia was driving as my feet were not in good shape.

All in all, it was an extremely useful trip.

First and foremost, I was delighted that my body held up for 3 days of running. This meant that I’d just have to manage one more day during Run WisΕ‚a and I could look forward to a day’s rest. I felt a lot more confident about the whole thing after this. I even put some footage together from the videos I took with the Ricoh camera, where you can get an idea of what the running was like.

Secondly, it was really important to get an idea of how the logistics would work. Such as the tracking software, how often to arrange to meet the car, what I needed to carry and what I could leave in the car, and also it was a great chance to meet some of the people who would help us come August.

Thirdly, the mistake with wearing new shoes was a good learning experience. Because of that, I started to look into how to prevent blisters, and from then onwards made sure a) I had good fitting socks, and b) that I applied Vaseline to my feet to prevent there being any friction, and therefore anything for them to rub against.

At this point there was less that 3 months to go until the start. Things were coming together slowly but there was still a huge amount to be done, both organisationally and training-wise. And Andy was still away for another month at least.

 

A look back at 2017

I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately, but partly inspired by a friend of mine Alex, whose blog I read recently, I thought I’d revisit this place and look back a bit at 2017. I find that the end of the year – or rather the start of a new year, as it’s taken me longer than I expected to actually finish this – is a good time to take a look back, before moving forward.
When it comes to 2017, the first important thing is to acknowledge is that it came after 2016, which was a unique year for me, being the year of Run Wisla.
Run Wisla is a topic I could talk (ramble) and write for hours about, but to get an idea of what effect it had on me (and Andy) you can check out my friend Patrizia’s photographic and video project, entitled Run Wisla – A simple story.
After the massive highs of that all-consuming endeavour, I needed some time to recover, both mentally and physically. Mentally I think it took me a while to adjust again to ‘normal’ life. What do I mean by that? I think just the fact that I didn’t have this huge goal both hanging over me and motivating me at the same time took some getting used to. I needed some time to relax and recover, but also felt like I lacked a bit of motivation, at least for a while. The question of what to do once you’ve completed something as epic as that is a difficult one to answer. Do you go bigger? I had no desire to do anything like this again. I was certain it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so running the Amazon, Volga or whatever was out of the question. Nothing will ever come close (at least sports-wise) to Run Wisla, and that’s perfectly okay. As usual, whatever the question was, running usually helps me find the answer. So, after a while I got back into the routine of running regularly again. And by doing so, remembered how much enjoyment running brings me.
Physically, I think it took me maybe 6 months to feel like I was back to normal. I still remember the first time I tried to run after Run Wisla, and it felt like my legs weren’t my own. They wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do! But gradually things got better. The winter was fairly mild here, so I managed to keep running on a regular basis. I tried running on Saturday and Sunday, like I had the year before, but due to some pains and aches in my shins, I had to cut back on that. I was, of course, still complementing my running with swimming and functional fitness, but wasn’t doing much speed work when it came to running, and also wasn’t doing as much distance as I wanted. I was also travelling a fair bit and that also disrupted my training somewhat.
However, come the Warsaw Half Marathon in March I was still able to set a PB, finally getting under 1:30, and the couple of Park Runs I’d done showed that I still had some speed. I even managed to win my first ever race at the Warsaw-Praga Park Run in March!! So, all in all, I felt pretty confident ahead of the marathon I’d signed up for in Gdansk.
16825818_1211353515647705_7017095764831721031_o
I won’t deny it was a great feeling to finish first in a race, for the first time ever. Just as pleasing, however, was to set a new PB in doing so. Photo credit: Krysztof Selerski
Ahead of the race my goals were
1) set a new PB (3.18 was my previous best from Vienna in 2016),
2) go with the 3.15 pacemaker, and then
3) try to push ahead (if I still had strength) on the last 10 km.
For the first 30 km I was actually on track for 1) and 2), and felt like I’d paced myself well. But then my legs just went. I remember the 3.15 group passing me around the 31 km mark, soon after which there was a right turn where my legs suddenly felt like they’d turned to jelly. I felt low on energy, I couldn’t run the way I wanted to and my head had gone. I fought through to the end but faded badly and nearly fainted at the finish line.
Let’s just say, it was not quite the experience I was hoping for.
After talking to my physio and thinking for a long time about what went wrong, although I’m still not 100% sure, I put it down to a combination of a few factors:
1) Old shoes
2) Residual fatigue from Run Wisla
3) Not enough training
4) Nutrition. I don’t think my body was taking on the gels I was giving it.
What can you do in this kind of situation? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and take the learning from it. I got myself some new shoes and upped my training a bit. And set myself a few new targets.
In June I got the opportunity to run the Rzeznik ultra marathon for the third time, thanks to a good friend Gary. I felt good coming into the race and together with my race partner Juan, we completed the 82km, in tough conditions, finishing in the top 70.
19106017_10155344425296322_629815907523630484_n
At the finish line with Juan, after 82km and 12+ hours.
The week before, I’d been back to one of the places along the Vistula called Opalenie, which we’d visited during Run Wisla, to run a marathon organised by the centre there. It was a great event with a wonderful route and a friendly atmosphere, and the organisers Zapowiednik do a fantastic job. I thoroughly recommend going there & will definitely be back in 2018.
With the Rzeznik the following week, I didn’t want to push too hard, so took the first 30km relatively easy, running with a couple of other guys, and then pushed on at the end. The result was a time almost identical to Gdansk, but the feeling afterwards was completely different. This gave me a lot of confidence that I’d got over the issues I had struggled with in Gdansk.
After those races I managed to get into the habit of doing regular track workouts, usually on a Monday morning, with some friends – Joachim, Juan and one or two others. This would set me up nicely for the end of the season.
20638176_10155540281901322_4003249642972205386_n
This is what my Monday mornings would usually look like
Sadly this year, my Run Wisla buddy Andy left Warsaw in July and moved to Switzerland, so I went to visit him in August when there just happened to be a 10 mile race on! We ran that one together, which it always enjoyable and brought back a few memories from Run Wisla, and despite the relatively hilly course, I was happy with my time.
A week later came my one and only tri of the season in Bialystok, where I had a strong swim and a strong bike, on top of a good run, to finish strongly in the wet conditions.
From then to the end of the season it was time to focus on running πŸ™‚
21055139_10213739924957233_4946121611569880331_o
At the end of a wet and muddy Olympic tri in Bialystok with Juan & Tomek.
Coming into the autumn, I could feel I was in good shape and friends were telling me they’d never seen me running so smoothly and strongly. I’d managed to slowly increase the amount I could run on my toes and was feeling a lot quicker for it, and it also felt like I was running more efficiently.
The next milestone was the half marathon here on my side of the river, in Praga, which I ran with an American guy called Travis. The company was great to have and we kept a steady pace, not really worrying too much about splits, and after the half-way point I realised we were both on for a time well under 1.30. I felt strong at the end and pushed hard on the last 1500m, finishing in under 1.26! Wow, that surprised me! I didn’t run a marathon in the autumn as I was helping out at the Warsaw marathon (although Travis did a sub 3hr marathon!), but went on to set pbs at 5km (17.39) and 10km over September/October, before finishing off the season with a 37.11 at the Bieg Niepodeglosci 10km in November.
Interestingly, even though the thought of running these times was something I would have said was unachievable just a few years ago, and although I’m absolutely delighted with what I did, part of me thinks I can, and perhaps should have, run even faster. I guess that’s running, there’s always something to strive for, always improvements to make.
All in all, 2017 has been a year of many ups and some downs, which finished on a high note. In all honesty, and I know this is a cliche, having had the negative experience in Gdansk really helped motivate me and make the achievements in the second half of the year all the sweeter.
My goals for 2018? The big one for me is now the marathon. I’m going to return to Vienna in April and do the marathon there for the 3rd time. After that, we’ll see…