Ziemniaki

The Lemkowyna Ultra Trail (LUT) is a Polish running event set in and around the Beskid mountain range of South East Poland. Lemkowyna is in its 5th year and has a series of events with races at 30km, 48km, 70km, 100km and 150km. The  150km race being a ‘discovery’ race on the prestigious Ultra-Trail World Tour UTWT.

Through her various trail running contacts Jana ran the 30km Lemko trail in 2017 and dragged (far too easily) a few of us out to Poland for the weekend to run the 48km ‘marathon’ this year. One of the biggest selling points for me to join the adventure (other than filling my October ‘event’ and running with friends of course!) was the race tagline “enjoy the mudness”. Apparently it would be a very, very muddy event. Awesome. Let’s kick start the winter running season with some grotty fun!

After months of waiting, it was time. Myself, Jana, Yvette, Daisy and Clair were heading out to Poland for the weekend. Logistically it was a flight into Rzeszow and a taxi transfer to the town of Krosno. From here we’d be able to get the organised LUT buses to the start of the race in Iwonicz-Zdroj and also back from the finish line at Komancza.

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Team Cool Cats go shopping

Leading up to the weekend I was relaxed. Far too relaxed. There are probably numerous reasons for this. Firstly it was convenient to leave all the worries to Jana as the only fluent Polish speaker in the group (sorry and thanks Jana!! – Jana did try to teach us all the necessary pleasantries, however I was only able to grasp a single word “Ziemniaki”). Secondly, I’ve achieved everything I wanted to this year. I’ve come through my biggest challenges unscathed and smiling. I’ve 3 events left to tackle and had already switched to planning 2019. These races are now about enjoyment, experience and maintenance ready for what 2019 can bring. On top of that I am carrying a bit of an injury. I don’t know what exactly but I’m aware of some discomfort. I thought it was my calf. Now I think it’s my hamstring. Either way I still wanted to run but not too push it.

Unfortunately Clair was also injured so had to switch to cheer squad duties for the weekend. Yvette was a little apprehensive about the run (there is a tight 8 hour time limit on the course) so I imposed myself and insisted I’d run with her throughout so that she wasn’t alone.

After settling in at the accommodation and having a good nights sleep, we were up early to make it to the ‘shakeout run’ before registration. The shakeout run was led by Marcin Swierc who won the TDS this year in a gripping finale. Very impressive! A brief jog along some local trails before he put us through a series of challenging stretches and body exercises before we returned for a complimentary breakfast. The breakfast spread put on by the organisers was full of local made sausages, breads, cheeses and jams. We were in heaven. After which we had an impromptu interview with the media channel supporting the race. I’m still not completely sure what was asked and what we responded despite Jana’s translations!

After the morning’s activities we met up with Michal (who stayed with us in Chamonix during the CCC and whom recently finished 6th at Ultra Tour Monte Rosa!!). Michal was here with Team Vindberg (or “team Hot Tub” as I liked to call them) after claiming a podium finish at the 48km LUT last year. We went off for some ice cream and a walk around Krosno whilst we waited for race registration to open.

Race registration was straightforward and efficient with a check of all the mandatory kit list in exchange for the bib number and tracker. Oddly, despite a cut off time of 6pm the mandatory kit list includes equipment like head torches and back lights but no waterproofs or layered clothing. Odd, but rules are rules and there is no doubt a logic behind it. It did feel odd having such a lightweight kit bag! All checked in we posed for some pre-race pictures and made our way to a restaurant for some pierogis. I do love Polish dumplings!! We followed this up with a chilled evening drinking 2% Radler beers like the crazies we are. We know how to party!

The next morning was a breeze as the race wouldn’t start till 10am. So no early wake up call in Poland. Awesome. Fed and packed we eased through the bus ride, checked our drop bags in and were in the race pen ready and waiting. The 150km, 100km and 70km runners were already well underway and many 70k participants were at the aid station where we were starting in Iwonicz-Zdroj. It was good to cheer them through but I felt anxiety for them knowing any minute we’d be stampeding after them, surrounding them with our fresh energy.

Krzysztof, the race director (Jana’s friend at Lemkowyna), pulled us forward (with Jana’s help) to the front to get people focused and ready. He gave the mandatory race briefing at the countdown began. 10am. Race underway. Within seconds Jana vanished from sight and disappeared into the distance!

The initial part of the course ran through the town as we sought out the beginning of the trail. Within just a few kilometres we were climbing the first of what I’d describe as the 3 “small” inclines of the route. Besides this there would be one big-bastard climb and plenty of rolling hills along the way. As we climbed we were greeted with loud voices from a group of men positioned halfway up the hill. Music pumping and bottles(!) of something no doubt alcoholic being drunk, they were in for a good time!

Now what I haven’t already alluded to was the weather this weekend. In fact, as to how much we were sweating! We came in the search of mud. We were ready to ‘enjoy the mudness’. However, we were presented with a 20+ degrees (C) beautiful summer’s weekend. There would be very little mud. The layers had been swapped the night before for short shorts and a vest! As we climbed the sweat only increased. But what goes up must come down and soon we did.

Here came my first surprise of the day. The terrain. The ground was very uneven and rocky. The climbs were tough and the downs were harder. Much concentration was needed to ensure a strong footing in the jagged stones and dusty trails. So much so I removed my sunglasses to help focus. This was going to be quite a painful run for the feet I decided. The second surprise followed soon after with a delightful warning of bears in the woods. hhhmmm.

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Don’t look, keep running!

Throughout the day we were never alone. Plenty of runners from our event and also the 70km event mixing and running together. At one point the route took us onto a road that was still in the process of being re-surfaced. The ground was sticky with tar and you could feel the heat coming from the ground. This was a new experience!! I stuck with, or near, Yvette for the first 10 miles and we soon came across the first aid station at around 18km. Here we met Sarah from team ‘hot tub’ who was readying herself for an assault on the 30km race which would soon be starting.

We filled our bottles and bellies (chocolate and biscuits for me!!) and set off again. I checked my watch (I still only run with current and average pace showing – this gives a huge sense of being free from pressure and not thinking about distance nor time!). We’d covered the 10 miles or so in just under the two hours. This was great progress. I told Yvette how well she was doing, to not worry nor thinking about the 8 hour cut off but instead make her realise a sub 6 hour was a real possibility!!

Onwards we went. Upwards. The big-bastard was immediately after the aid station and was about 800m or so of climbing steadily over several kilometres. I lost sight of Yvette somewhere over this climb but carried on knowing she wouldn’t be far behind. I was in my own bubble at this point. I was a little concerned as I could feel my leg (this is were I became conscious that it was more likely my hamstring and not my calf) but I was Smiling. Enjoying. The hills were stunning. All around us the trees were turning red and brown but the sun was shinning brightly. As you climbed higher and higher the unobstructed views into the distance became more and more impressive. This was a side to Poland I’ve not seen before. It really is beautiful out there. I plodded along with a smile on my face, absorbing it all and cheering the runners who’d pass me along the way. After about 15 or 16 miles Sarah cane zooming passed with a huge smile and cheered me on. She was third lady in the 30km LUT and looking very strong. She was gone before I knew it.

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Exceptional views from the LUT

There was a long section on top of the hills which was very pleasant, out in the open sunshine. I was a little worried I’d get sun burnt now! I had a brief moment of distraction talking to a Polish lady (Agata) who lives in Devon. She too powered off into the distance as I walked the little hills happily. I met her again at the finish and found she finished 4th lady in the 30km LUT, narrowly missing the podium by under a minute! I hope this wasn’t down to talking to me!!

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Get ready for the descent!

Next up was the down that inevitably follows the up – Over a very short distance we’d descend the 800m or so back down. This was rapid with gravity taking you probably faster than you’d like. I was again very conscious of my footing as, although the ground was softy and grassy it was riddled with lumps and cambers. Immediately at the bottom the next aid station awaited.

I briefly checked the time, 2pm. We were still on for that sub 6 if we wanted it. I just had to wait for Yvette to show. I filled the ten mins or so eating. Lots of orange slices, biscuits and chocolate and a load of flat coke. It was so flat. Perfect. The volunteers here were excellent and incredibly helpful and I joked around with one lady who was drenching people with cold water whilst I waited. The volunteers throughout were absolutely fantastic and help make this a special event! After about 10 mins or so Yvette showed up and it was her turn to stock up and refresh.

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Going Strong

As we walked up the last of the “little hills” Yvette confirmed she was in a good place mentally and physically. The steep rocky down hills were taking its toll on her ankles (she’s had previous injuries there) but she was good. The last third of the race went by in a blur. We wondered if Clair had been able to find a way to get to the finish (it’s in the middle of nowhere with limited transport and she had no confirmed way of getting back either!) and if Daisy and Jana would have finished by now. For a while we interchanged places with a mixed group of other runners from our race, the 70km and the 30km. But we were consistent and comfortable. So comfortable that I inadvertently found some of the mud. Despite the weather, pockets of the course were still very muddy. I can see how, with a little rain, the whole course would become so much more difficult to run. But, throughout the course you were easily able to navigate around or jump the muddy patches. Lost in my own thoughts though I was no longer thinking or focusing and I ran straight through a muddy seduction. I was immersed to my ankles and almost lost my trainers as I pulled through! I cheered myself and laughed. No harm. A pain to clean at some point but I had come for the mud after all!! As a result, I ran through all the mud I could for what remained of the trail. Why not huh?!

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I found the mud!!

I was deep in enjoyment now and amused myself with a little game as we ran through some forested areas. As the seasons were changing, the trees were ripe with autumnal colours and leaves were falling. All around us in the tranquillity of the forest there was not a sound other than the foot strikes on the ground and the leaves rustling through the trees branches as they fell and floated to the ground. You could see them falling all around and the shadows they’d make. I made it my game to catch them as I passed. I managed it just once.

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Scenes from the forest trails

As we neared the end of the trail we knew there would be a few km on the road to run to the finish. We soon hit this and it was an ever so gradual incline. Yvette was stitching but carried on. I figured we had maybe two miles at most left to cover. I was a few hundred yards ahead of here and kept stopping to see if she was coming. But then, out of nowhere a sign saying ‘finish 350m’ appeared. What? This was too soon. I looked back. Yvette was there. So I legged it. I ran in to finish the race. Rounding the corner where the cheers from Daisy, Clair and Jana could be heard. I screamed “ziemniaki” (that one word I could remember) and passed the line. Moments later Yvette skipped in past me to finish too. We finished around 6 hrs and 4 mins. Amazing. If I’d known the finish was so close I would have pushed us to break that hour mark! Still, it proves Yvette is a far stronger runner than she gives herself confidence for, smashing the cut off she was concerned by with 2 hours to spare!

Race done we were treated with our favourite 2% Radler beer and snacks from Clair (who’d clearly made it!) and admired our amazing ‘cowbell’ medals. The organisers had arranged food (great food!!) for runners and we sat and chatted about our races and experience.

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How good is this medal and mug!!

As the night started to draw in we had a brief ‘wet wipe wash’ in the river (the showers were cold and the changing area was a bit chaotic) and made our way into the main tent ready for awards and live music. We’d planned to stay for the entertainment and get the 9pm bus back to Krosno anyway, but we had even more reason too now – Daisy had finished 3rd lady in the 48km and Sarah second lady in the 30km. We gave them a great reception as they collected their incredible awards and huge amount of sponsored gifts for the podium finishers. In an amazingly thoughtful touch, Krzysztof (the race director) invited Jana onto the stage to thank her and give her the honour of presenting Daisy (and the 48km lady podium finishers) with their awards in recognition of her support to the Lemkoywna. After all the awards there was also a chance to recognise and applaud some of the many volunteers whom received a very well deserved standing ovation.

It was an amazing finish to an amazing weekend that was all about the support and camaraderie of each other! Something tells me this won’t be the last time I go to this event!! The people, the organisation, the food, everything we encountered during our time in Poland was special!

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions?

thinking

The year isn’t even through and, like many, I’m reflecting. So many achievements and memories. But so much more to come. So much more planning to do. And I’m stuck. I’m confused. I’m stressing. I shouldn’t be. But I am…

Without wanting to sound ungrateful for the opportunities and adventures. The achievements have led to a sense of being unfulfilled. I want more. Is that normal? Am I alone?

The question I keep asking myself in relation to my running is “where do I go from here?”.  Do I run further? Do I run higher? Should I try to run faster? What do I really want? Where does one look for and find the next challenge? Is it in the races and events or through my own personal aspirations and ideas? What are the other challenges that I seek? I simply do not know!

I need help. I need your views. I’d love to hear from you… Does anyone have the same questions and a method for answering them? What do you do, how do you decide?

  • How do you choose one event/race over another?
  • How do you balance the applications and ballots (which provide no guarantee of a place) with those events readily accessible? How do you weigh up the flexibility vs the certainty?
  • If you are looking at ballots, how far ahead do you plan to maximise the coefficient and lottery bonuses? Do I apply this year knowing I don’t want to/can’t run the event next year and hope I’m unsuccessful?
  • How do you balance the races/events you want to do now vs the events and races you need to use to qualify for other ones?
  • How do you blend in the desire to see new countries and visit new places. Mixing the glamour of the “big” races but avoiding the tedium of visiting the same places and the repetition of the same areas?
  • Can you be bothered with all the travel and logistics of different events? The stresses and costs involved need considering too right.
  • What about who you do the events and challenges with? I’ve certainly found more enjoyment sharing them with others, but not everyone will have the same aspirations or freedom?
  • What about the risk of over doing it? This year I’ve challenged myself each month. I feel good. But does my body need a rest? but If I rest, will I be as perpetually trained and ready for the challenges ahead?
  • What about going back? There’s been some great events I’ve done. Do I attempt to recreate them, do I have unfinished business there?
  • What about those ideas I have that are non-running related or don’t involve running. Where do they fit in?

How? What? Why? Where? When? Who? Decisions. I fucking hate decisions…

 


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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

Sounds like a plan

An adventure in Northumberland, the home of Montane…

So there is a back story here. The short version is that, after purchasing some of their products, I won a competition earlier in the year with Montane. We kept in touch and I promised a run sometime. This has led to some involvement with Montane in an Ambassador capacity, which is great because I’ve loved all of the kit I’ve used (I was pretty much kitted head to toe in it for the CCC!) and they produce some really great items! The idea for a weekend adventure was that we’d combine a ‘Run With Dai’ with a chance to test out some of the new winter range from Montane’s trail running series ‘Via’.

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It’s a long ol’ journey from London!

The weekend started with the long journey north on Friday evening  to Berwick-upon-Tweed (and a subsequent bus south from the station). The local bus from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Bamburgh is amazing. It has a built in tour guide so you are educated on the history of sites like Haggerston Castle, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Belford, Budle Bay and Bamburgh Castle along the way! Fantastic. All buses should do this!

Wim met me at Bamburgh Castle and we headed straight off for a pint to make acquaintances. Over the last 8 months or so we’d only ever talked over email. It was surreal and amazing to, after so many months, finally meet someone who I’d solely communicated with digitally. He didn’t quite have the Scottish twang I expected but in no time at all we were finding out more about each other beyond our common interest in running. The whole weekend Wim and his wife (Rosie) made me feel so welcome and spoiled me rotten with home cooking and delights!

The vague plan for the weekend was to run into the Cheviot hills. We’d start by driving to Ingram where we’d meet Ross, a fellow ambassador (and local farmer!) who knew the land inside out. He’d pretty much be the guide for the day, physically running with us for 3 hours and guiding us in absence with the directions he’d pointed out of where we needed to go after he would leave us.

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Ross ended up staying the whole day with us. His directions and knowledge were priceless!

We packed our bags and, along with Margot (Mags, the energetic four-legged companion), headed off to Ingram, the gateway to the Cheviots. Wim had sourced us some tops to test on the run – The via Dragon and the Fireball Verso.

Spoiler alert, the gist of my reviews are:

  • The Dragon is a great mid-layer. It has a Zipped front for fit and breathability but also unique double cuffs which provide emergency mitts when the weather turns. . These were super handy when running in the wind.
  • The Verso. Same as the old one but some tweaked designs – New colour variants, Different (improved) cuffs and an upgraded insulation material. Again great when running in windy conditions. I loved both these items and was reluctant to return them afterwards!

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Anyway, off running we went. First we headed up the field paths towards Dunmoor Hill. It quickly became apparent that the ‘trails’ would be few and far between. The land was mostly subtle in its path and direction and not as mainstream as many other trails and national parks you will find. Our first challenge was to navigate a livestock field full of cows and a warning from Ross – The livestock here was a little volatile and he’d recently been chased out of the field! We tentatively rounded the ‘crazy’ cows and continued up. From Dunmoor Hill we had views of what lay ahead. The next peak and the second highest in the area (I think that’s right) – Hedgehope Hill. The run down was brisk and boggy and our feet were soon soaked through.

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Temperamental Cows

Up Hedgehope Hill we went. A slow bimble as we climbed. The Dragon top was great here as my fingers felt the wind and I was able to quickly warm them without stopping to unpack my gloves. It was so easy to fold the cuffs over into the mitts! As we reached the top we surveyed the land. It was what I’d describe as lumpy. Rolling hills as far as you could see. Very little ‘flats’ between the hills. I love this. We layered up as the wind increased. I put on the Fireball Verso. The bright red outer Featherlite windshield making me standout in the gloomy grey summit. I was instantly warm.

From here we had some options as to how we’d get to The Cheviot, the highest point clearly visible and standing 815m up ahead. Running the ridge line from Hedgehope we soon veered right and off the beaten track. We opted for the shorter but arguably harder “straight down and up approach”.

We were soon bounding and leaping through the waists high ferns and lavender, but not leaping as high as Mags who was like a rabbit vanishing into the soft underground between each leap. I don’t know how many times I laughed at the sight of her leaping through the foliage or thinking she could catch the birds she disturbed!

As we crossed the stream we looked up at the Cheviot in front of us. All 815m of it in its glory. Up we would go. Sometime later, after several rests and many wine gums we made the top. Crossing a field we made our way into the slab path (leading to the Pennine Way) and ran left (towards the English/Scottish border). We soon came across the summit’s Trig  stone and chatted to the holiday hikers already there taking a rest.

We continued back the way we’d came. Along the top of the Cheviot before heading down to Langleeford. The run down was great. Mostly soft ground and not too rocky along with great views of Hedgehope, Dunmoor and beyond. This was one of the main tourist paths walkers would take to summit The Cheviot. Several large bogs needed jumping, one leaving me with fear and pain as I landed awkwardly. But before we knew it we were at the Langleeford car park and crossing the stream at Hearthope burn. This was so idyllic.

It was time to climb again as we decided on our route back toward Dunmoor and Ingram. We’d go via Housey Crags / Langlee Crags and once again were soon winging it cross country. The terrain here was blind and again often at waist height so a walk was in order. In the distance the burning at a farm could be seen and acted partly as a guide as we navigated towards the tree line of Threestoneburn Wood.

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Housey Crags

By now the sun was out. We’d hoped for some ‘proper grotty’ winter weather to really put the gear to the test but had instead treated with glorious sunshine as the afternoon came. More of this and we might have ended up with a sun tan from the day!

There was a huge area of deforestation and commercial timber harvesting which we crossed at Threestoneburn Woods. A completely different type of terrain and views. The burnt crops were hard, pointy and sharp so we carried little Mags across. We were soon on the tractor paths for the machinery to access the forests and ran onward for a while, passing some walkers we’d seen earlier in the day.

Again the path soon changed as we walked through the remains of a harvested woodland. The wood once again dead and uneven. Reaching the other side we were back on the incline we’d started out on when we climbed to Dunmoor Hill. This meant it was time to head black down and pass the crazy cows once more. As we neared, they separated. 3 stood guard on the perimeter of the herd and eyeballed us intently as we passed. From here it was a gentle stroll back to the car. 20 miles of adventures covered. This turned out to be the furthest run Ross had covered. Amazing.

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The route of the day’s adventure

Throughout the day Wim and Ross talked about some of the local races in the hills. They sound like they would be pretty brutal, that and the excellent calibre of local runners who live and breathe these hills would make for an interesting challenge!

As we arrived back to base with achy feet and moans a plenty, Rosie greeted us with an incredible home cooked cheese and leek lasagna. This was exactly what we needed (along with the warm bath!) to replenish after the hard graft of the day.

Despite all the running, Mags wasn’t done. She is fascinated by balls and wanted more running as she kept fetching her ball and demanding it was thrown for her to chase. I couldn’t keep up with the demands!!

The next morning we forced our tired legs out of bed for another little run. We drove into Bamburgh and off to the beach for an ‘easy’, flat 5km down the coast. It was brisk and cold as the wind blew. Another great chance to put the Verso to the test!

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The beach views were stunning as, on one side you had the sand dunes and vast land of Bamburgh Castle and, on the other the cost and the Farne islands (apparently a great place for diving and seal spotting!). As we were looking out across the cost we caught a glimpse of a porpoise bobbing close to the shore line doing its morning ‘thing’.

Mags loved the run and it was the first time I heard her make a sound all weekend as she barked and played with the other dogs out on the beach. I loved the run so much less when we finished and waded into the ice cold sea. I got waist high before I couldn’t handle it any longer and ran out back to the beach. Probably the quickest I moved all weekend!

Soon it was time to go and start my long journey back to London and the reality that is Monday to Friday, until the next adventure that is!

 


Vote

So it turns out that I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!