Six races. 866km. 47,786m of elevation gain.
Recently I read back through all my old running notes from previous years and found one written in 2013 that listed my 2015 goal as ‘to participate in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).’ As it turns out, the goalposts significantly shifted in 2014 and, a few sporadic decisions later, I found myself on the start line of the world’s most famous ultra race one year earlier than planned. Being a bit of a meticulous planning freak, I must admit I was slightly disappointed that my best-laid plans hadn’t fallen perfectly into place but I can’t really complain because the unplanned 2014 UTMB actually turned out to be one of the best races of my life.
With a strong 2014, including that 5th place finish at the UTMB, under my belt I’m now looking ahead at what is to come in 2015. For me, 2015 is going to be a time to live the dream. I plan to compete in many of the famous races that every ultra runner has high on their bucket list. The backbone of my 2015 calendar is filled with races on the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT). I took part in this same series last and finished third overall. I’d love to go one place, maybe even two, better this year!
A big highlight will be my debut at the oldest 100-mile race in the world, the iconic Western States in June. Then after that, in August, September and October respectively comes a triple-header of 100-mile races, namely UTMB, Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji (UTMF) and La Diagonale des Fous (Le Grand Raid Reunion). Yes, I know, three 100-mile races in three months. People will ask why? My answer is quite simple, ‘why not?’ I love to push boundaries and give my body a hard time – 2015 will definitely see me do that! I can’t wait to get started, competing in races that will take me over some of the most beautiful trails and mountains in the world and pitch me up against the toughest runners in the business. This is how my 2015 race calendar shapes up:
March 6 / Transgrancanaria (Spain) / 125km / 8,500m elevation gain
From Transgrancanaria website: Transgrancanaria is a race that has been held since October 2003 and sees participants cross the island of Gran Canaria. It pioneered this kind of race in the Canary Islands. The first edition of Transgrancanaria attracted 65 runners. Now more than 2,500 athletes, joggers, walkers and nature lovers from more than 40 countries take part each year in a challenge that must be completed inside 30 hours.
Fight the time and tune the training
This will be my first big race following what has been a long, cold winter at home in Poland. The temperature difference (it is always hot in the Canary Islands) will make this an extremely hard race for me, though I’m hoping to benefit from having been out to the island in January to run sections of the course. Yes it will be hot, yes it will hurt but, I guess, this is what also makes it fun. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there on the racing trails and going into combat with old friends and new rivals. It will also highlight if my training has gone well. I’ve made some tweaks to my training over the winter, so it will be interesting to see if they have worked.
Aim: Improve on my 2014 time (16hrs 11mins for 11th place) and hopefully push the top runners along the course.
May 30 / IAU Trail World Championships (Annecy, France) / 85km / 5,300m elevation gain
From IAU (International Association of Ultrarunners) website: Only athletes and teams entered by their National Federation can take part in the official competition. We are looking forward to seeing a great turnout of athletes in Annecy on a rather rugged but beautiful trail course.
National pride and preparation for Western States
Back in 2009 I ran my very first international trail race. That race was the IAU Trail World Championships, held in Serre Chevalier, France. Recalling it always evokes a smile, because it reminds me of just how naive and inexperienced I was during my first encounter with real mountains. Perhaps I am a touch too sentimental, but I feel like that race helped me discover my way into competitive trail running. It gave me a first taste and instantly I was addicted. Since then I’ve spread the trail running bug amongst lots of others! I’m really excited about going back to race in France at the IAU Trail World Championships, five years after that debut. To represent Lithuania is always an honour and I will be doing my best to try and get our team on the top of the podium. The fact that it is so close to the Western States 100 is not ideal but I will be giving it my all, of course.
Aim: Build training in preparation for Western States and at the same time help national team.
June 27 / The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (California, USA) / 161km / 5,486m elevation gain
From Western States website: The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race. Since its inception in 1974 it has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world. Following the historic Western States Trail, runners climb more than 5,486m and descend 7,010m. The race offers the sport’s oldest and most prized possession – a sub-30-hour finisher’s bronze belt buckle or a sub-24-hour finisher’s silver belt buckle.
All about self-esteem and adventure
I am a runner, yes, but deep inside I have always felt I am more of an explorer or adventurer. Like Christopher Columbus was all about finding new continents, I am all about discovering new races around the world. It has taken me a while to prepare myself for this next expedition but finally this year I am more than ready for my first encounter with a race in California. Western States is the oldest and most iconic ultra race in the world, which is why it has been top of my bucket list for so long. Furthermore, to get into the race you need some luck via a lottery, so once I secured an entry there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make this a key race for 2015.
Aim: To finish top-10, even though Western States doesn’t suit my running style – it is too fast!
August 28 / Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) (Chamonix, Alps) / 170km / 9,600m elevation gain
From UTMB website: A mountain race, with numerous high altitude passes (+2,500m), often run in difficult weather conditions. Runners will have to put up with fatigue and overcome fears and anxieties. Some participants, having pushed their limits to the extreme, will not finish. Those who do will be rewarded for their achievement and their names added to the list of UTMB finishers.
Unanswered questions and unfinished business
Last year I did the impossible – at least I think so – and finished top-5 in the what is effectively the Olympic Games for long-distance mountain running. Despite this, I still feel slightly disappointed about my run at the 2014 UTMB because I know I had more to give. I suffered an injury with 20km to go and even had thoughts about abandoning the race. The encouragement of my family and friends got me to the finish line. Although I managed to cope with the increasing pain, my speed dropped dramatically. I was, quite literally, crawling instead of running. I don’t know if I can do better, I think I can, but the not knowing kills me. I definitely have unfinished business with the UTMB.
Aim: Eliminate the unknown
September 25 / Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji (UTMF) / Japan / 161km / 9,000m elevation gain
From UTMF website: The Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji is an unparalleled event that challenges the human spirit through the outdoor sport of trail running. By connecting mountain trails, local footpaths and forest roads around the foothills of Mt Fuji, this 161km course allows participants to enjoy majestic 360 degree views of Mt Fuji while experiencing the stunning natural beauty and culture of this region.
Land of my childhood heroes – ninjas and samurais!
I wanted to play wisely and do this race in April, which was the original date, but a change in the calendar now means the UTMF is in September – smack in between the UTMB and La Diagonale des Fous (Grand Raid Reunion). That means three 100 milers in the space of three months. Crazy? Quite possibly. It makes UTMF the most challenging and tricky race of the year. How do you pace yourself during UTMB, while knowing that the next month you will be running UTMF? How do you race UTMF knowing that GRR is just around the corner? These and a million miles worth other questions continue to play in my head. I don’t really have an answer either. The obvious answer is don’t race all three, but I just can’t resist the lure of Japan and Mt Fuji, it is the land of my childhood heroes – ninjas and samurais. They would never give up, so neither will I. I’d rather die trying than never try at all.
Aim: Fight to death and follow the principles of Bushido!
October 22 / La Diagonale des Fous (Grand Raid Reunion) / La Reunion Island / 164km / 9,900m elevation gain
From La Diagonale des Fous website: The Grand Raid is a fantastic physical challenge and those who dare to take it on are extraordinary athletes. From start to finish, competitors climb five peaks, with the highest summit being at 2,411m. They skirt the volcano, touch the sky on crest paths overlooking deep ravines and battle through deep forest mud. The race has become myth. Around 2,500 runners start, with about 70% making it to the finish.
Bonus and incentive!
When a race is hard you must be hard yourself, both physically and mentally. If you want to survive GRR you need to be twice as hard! It’s the most extreme race I have ever done. Last year I finished 4th, having been out on the course for 27hrs 25mins. Can you imagine spending that amount of time crossing the most brutal terrain on the planet with lot of mud, rocks, tree roots and steps littering steep uphills and downhills? The terrain changes all the time; you go through fells and alpine sections, then forests, jungle and over volcanic rock. There are parts of the course where you cannot run at all – instead you have to power-hike or crawl. Another thing you have to contend with is the weather, which changes as you run through different parts of the island. The wind begins as a pleasant breeze in the morning but by night it is storm-strength. It’s really hot and humid, while at the same time it rains harder than you can ever believe. Despite all that, it is Reunion Island and no matter how you do in the race or how much you suffer, the people support you. It’s the sporting highlight of the year on the island and the people there treat you like a running god, who has stepped from heaven to share in their homeland’s natural beauty. It is truly unbelievable and I can’t wait to return!
Aim: To experience the vibrant atmosphere of the race and charge myself with the good emotions for the upcoming winter season.