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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