Beskidy Ultra Trail- Getting There

  • 28 November 2017
  • Cheruiyot

On the 30th day of September 2017 I ran an ultra-marathon in the Beskidy Mountains in country Poland, little town Szczyrk (pronounced ‘I don’t-know-how’). This is about how I found myself there.

A few days after I got entry into the 2017 Berlin Marathon I thought; why not make this a more interesting outing? Why not make it longer? But to make it longer I needed a reason; So I thought further and had an idea, I’d look for an ultra-marathon taking place a week after Berlin. And I consulted Google, and Google had many ultras, and I managed to narrow down to two; Beskidy in Poland and Nordmarka Ultra- up in Norway. I think the title up there gives away which I settled for.

Beskidy had the following distance options with their attendant elevations and time limits;

Distance (km)

40

60

97

130

305

Elevation (m)

2160

3930

5460

7070

15770

Time limit

10hrs

15hrs

23hrs

29hrs

76hrs

 

Digging info about Beskidy painted a dark haunted image; the mountains, the forests, the night run, the distances, the small town setting, the language hurdles, the killer hills, and all this 6 days after an all-out full marathon at Berlin, it looked so out of my depth I just couldn’t resist it….the spell had been cast.

I registered for 130KMs, which should settle any doubts on my wisdom levels,  effectively throwing myself into what the people who wrote English call ‘uncharted waters’.

Prepping for Beskidy turned out to be more than I had bargained for, turns out apart from good old ‘running’ I had to give  lots of attention to Language, gear and my ever deteriorating troubled state of mind. Not forgetting I was also training for, where I was intent on running sub 3hrs.

Language messed with me early as I gathered info on the run. The race website was in Polish, its English auto translation a little clumsy. Then there was the literature, it’s always helpful to hear stories of those who ran a run before you, you’d want to know how close to dead you’d be at the end plus other useful info, such literature was in satisfactory supply over at World Wide Web but almost exclusively in Polish. Reading through the auto-translation of blogposts was like navigating through an accident scene.

Apart from the literature, I naturally wanted to learn the littlest bit of Polish for obvious reasons. Learning wouldn't bother me much as I’ve been able to learn a foreign language before- English. Google introduced me to an online language tutorial site going by name of Duolingo. I signed up in high gear and proudly learnt 9 polish words in one sitting… then I dropped out, and Duolingo was soon sending me e-mails titled ‘we miss you’. But I decided language was the least of my troubles.

So I paid for the run, which was also uphill, the race is mostly done by Poles (the people) and their European neighbors, for me all the way over here transferring cash in Polish Zloty to their designate account (no Visa /MasterCard payment options) proved impossible, so I contacted the race director and PayPal was the solution.

The physical preps

After analyzing the run profile and weighing it against my ultra experience, which was next to none, I knew I literally had a mountainous task going into the Beskidy Ultra. No shortcuts here, I had to do some very very long runs, some very very hilly runs, some really off-road runs, and one or two night runs. So I sat down and hatched a plan which in summary looked like this; I would do a longest run of at least 70kms, at least one hilly run with a net elevation gain and loss upwards of 3000m plus a few other hilly runs close to this elevation.  A 50km hard trail run - for this I would run the edge of Mau Forest. For the hilly runs I planned on Elephant hill in the Aberdares, go up and down twice in one day. So that was the plan, and this is the reality; I managed a tough run along the Edge of Mau and the lush tea plantations of Kericho over Easter-only 30kms though, Elephant Hill never happened, 3000m elevation remained a dream and 70kms a fairy tale.

What happened is as documented below, my longest and hilliest runs;

Date

Run

Dist.

Elevation gain

Comments

30th April

Voi

45.39

2069.7

Good distance and elevation gain. Useless in terms of downhill running as it’s one way uphill.

27th May

Ilovoto

42.63

1450.9

Most balanced run in terms of uphill and downhill. 1450m though is ‘flat’ for my ultra-purposes.

1st June

Karura

41.52

464.1

The only relevance of this run is that it was 4 days after Ilovoto and two days before Magadi.

3rd June

Magadi Road

51.59

Garmin misbehaved

Longest run, one way uphill, dang hot, two days after the 41.5 Karura and a week after Ilovoto. Therefore a fairly decent prep run.

11th June

Karura

41.14

396.1

Run of no consequence

29th July

Fluorspar

50.00

1186.1

Night run (started at 4am), balanced in terms of uphill and downhill running, useless elevation gain/loss.

26th August

Fluorspar

43.05

1952.7

Good uphill, no downhill, good altitude topping out at 2700m asl.

27th August

Karura

41.13

367.0

Only relevance of this run is that the previous day I’d run 43km in Fluorspar making a total of 84kms in two days.

 

The data above meant I was spectacularly unready for a 130km and 7000m elevation gain/loss. So I quickly downgraded my planned distance to the shorter 90 km and 5000m elevation gain, which I was still unprepared for.

To compensate for the lack of hill preps, I incorporated stairs workouts which I suspect really helped my cause, memorably on 1st September I was  insane enough to do 50 reps of my regular 11 floors…meaning a stair climb of 550 floors.

The Gear

Knowing I was under-prepared physically, I could not to take chances with gear. There was mandatory equipment for one to have to take part in the race; personal foldable cup, survival blanket, phone with race organizers’ number (anything could happen in the mountains), headlamp, whistle, running pack, waterproof jacket, enough food to last to the next aid station, elastic bandage, Map, waterproof jacket etc… looking for these items wasn't a big issue except I had to find out what ‘survival blanket’ was, couldn't find good ultra-running packs in Kenya, I also ended up buying three headlamps as I hunted for a solid powerful one, we’ll see how this turned out later.

Aside from the mandatories, I needed to get reliable trail running shoes, I did. Also got myself a hardy X-Tigi phone with a 10000 mAh battery, the phone would be a torch, power bank and music player holding a playlist from here to eternity. I also had to upgrade my Garmin, getting one that promised a battery life in excess of 20hrs but more importantly it could be charged on the go. Its real time elevation stats proved good confidence boost during the race and the compass function would be invaluable in map reading.

And like that I left Nairobi on 21st September, to first handle the short business of Berlin Marathon on 24th September before facing Beskidy six days later.

From Berlin to Szczyrk

My initial plan was to spend two more nights in Berlin after the marathon, have one or two detours then head to Szczyrk where I’d enjoy 3 days of peace and cool mountain air as my muscles got in shape for the ultra. But my poor preparedness called for an adjustment, what if Beskidy disappointed? I therefore altered my plans to include more detours so I’d have something to show for my time in the event Beskidy whupped me into submission.

My new plan was a mini blitzkrieg of a few destinations in the following order Berlin>>Prague>>Vienna>>Budapest...Budapest…let’s have a little stopover at this Hungarian capital.

Budapest had me. I don’t know whether you know where your soul is, I found mine at Budapest. I was at peace, my Ultra worries dissolved, the city most becoming.

I landed and got bearings to my hotel, the lady checking me in spread a map of the city on the table and within 3 minutes has circled all the places of interest and given me a thousand tips, the map in the Google in my phone usually does that job without the luxury of circling…a physical map was more welcome.

I immediately took a sample of the city by dusk and night, out and about in a beanie hat (the thing made me look like a thug, so I made a point of removing it as I entered a deserted eatery late in the night…) in the morning I took a run tour of a few daylight places of interest in the Buda and Pest halves of the city dissected by mighty Danube. I managed to get back to my hotel and proceed to catch my bus (with three minutes to spare) for the last leg of my detour slicing right through Slovakia and into Poland.

I don’t know but I derive extreme satisfaction in looking out the window in a moving vehicle, my eyes open, my mind closed, my brain dead. And as I took my bus, to engage in this little pleasure, I was treated to a heavenly ride through backcountry Hungary and Slovakia, my eyes feeding on endless manna in the form of little picket fence towns- straight out of the pages of a storybook, ski mountain slopes sporting ‘shaved’ hill strips, a grand looking Orava Castle straight out of the dark ages, a sparkling clear Orava River running along the road for many miles and finally we entered Poland.

My bus deposited me at Katowice, 8pm. Took a train to the next town Bielsko Biala, the town is deserted at 10.30ish, I zig and zag in town, trace a taxi, my phone communicates with taxi guy in Polish and he delivers me to Szczyrk at a little past midnight. The late night hotel guy is also nil by English and my phone yet again plays middleman between my English and his Polish.

So here I was, at town Szczyrk- Ground Zero, in the early hours of 28th September 2017, a little over 48hrs standing between me and my race. I couldn't wait.

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