Going David LANEY | Part 3 – TGC

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My training prior Transgrancanaria (TGC) was hampered. It’s because I had twisted my ankle few times and couldn’t precisely follow the plan. You can imagine how one feels when something restrains you from doing what you really love. In normal conditions I would take some rest and let my body recover. However common standards are not for ultra runners. What is said is done. I shouted at my tired body, “Shut up!”, taped the traitor foot and got back to training. No excuses!

Being already in Gran Canaria and counting the days until the big day comes, I still felt pain. It made me anxious as I was not sure how it will go from there. Finally I decided to give my feet last chance to prove if they are worth anything. I am a man of habits and every time I go to TGC, I do training on the same course. It gives me an answer where exactly I am: if I need to rest, train more or simply pack the stuff and go home. Sort of last check up before the race. I didn’t want to make an exception this year so I decided: I’ll kill my ankles for good or make them loyal again. I think they got the lesson. My standard run from Agaete to Artenara was great, actually the best one in recent years – it boosted my confidence and from that moment I knew the race would be just great!

Ultra Trail World Tour venues are good occasion to meet friends and runners from all around the world, people who share the same passion. Although I like challenging myself during the races, the time spent with them on the trails prior the running events are no less important and even more fun. Each year TGC brings more and more talents to the island and this time field of athletes was impressive as well. This naturally formed the question, which persecuted me all the time: – “do I feel pressure?”

Coping with pressure is one of the keys to success. So, another task for me before TGC was to get rid of tension. I still remember the painful lesson I received at Gran Raid Reunion, but what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. And this is exactly what happened to me. I found a remedy that made me immune to stress – my family! As long as they are next to me, nobody can get under my skin. This time they were with me, so I felt secure and serene, ready to make TGC my day.

I believe family is the best dope ever invented (should I be disqualified for using my closest ones as illegal substances?) as it boosts your motivation, self-confidence and lets you fly from one aid station to another. Basically this is what happened to me this time as well. My family’s presence added me wings, which carried me kilometer by kilometer closer to the finish line and further from my rivals. I felt amazing, my feet were finally tamed and didn’t create much problems. The entire run went at lightning speed and I was able to sustain this crazy pace till the finish line, improving my TGC time once again. Although I finished second I am so thrilled to be back on track – the future looks bright!

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Going David LANEY | Part 2 – HK100

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This was my second time in Asia and I have an impression that trail running becomes more and more popular over there. Especially it is the case of Hong Kong which has an enormous population and wonderful trails which are easily accessible from skyscrapers backyards.

I have never run such a long race at the end of January, a month that is usually dedicated to recovery, therefore suddenly started gamble looked as prolonged and never-ending 2015 season.

I was told that Hong Kong is a great place with no winds and warm all year long. Hence, coming from deep winter back home, I put just few T-shirts and shorts in my luggage and expected to sweat a lot consider humidity of China’s special administrative region. Oh boy, how wrong I was! It seems that European runners brought cold winter to Hong Kong along.

Vibram Hong Kong 100  (HK100) started with very low temperatures and super strong winds, which made waiting at the start line almost as challenging as upcoming race itself. I don’t know how other Europeans felt at that moment, but for me, even coming from -25°C winter, it was icecold. However, I notice that sometimes feeling really bad before the important event doesn’t necessarily mean that competition itself would be shitty. So, with my messed up mind and frozen body I was praying for a miracle.

HK100 is notorious for its steps and concrete trails, but after few running sessions with local runners prior to the race, I felt confident and kind of comfortable there. HK100 is a fast race and – speaking about speed – François and Long Fei come on the scene. Two different and very strong runners, who almost certainly are the winners, no matter the race. Anyway, it made my planning easier, since now I knew whom to stick with. I followed them almost to Ma On Shan and was pretty sure that could keep their pace till the finish line. However, when “flat” part of HK100 ended, they showed great ascending skills and literally disapeared, leaving me alone. Running third seemed to be a good option for early season so I focused more on keeping my place rather than hunting them down.

Ultimately, the wonder happened and I finished third. Moreover, it turned out that I am among only six runners ever to conclude the course under the time of ten hours. All this caused that after HK100 I substantially rebuilt my confidence. I knew it is high-time to forget OTS, over-racing and other bullshit worries. Because it is not for me!

Going David LANEY | Part 1

 

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Time

I’ve been keeping my blog nearly dead for quite some time now. It’s not that I don’t like to write anymore, it’s simply that I found less and less time to do so. ‘Time steals time’, my good fellow told me once. And he was damn right!

Life is so dynamic and goes so fast, sometimes too fast. If I wanted to run, race, dream, develop new projects and of course do my regular office job I had to sacrifice something, which really means a lot to me. My family. Nothing new in our society, but it still hurts. Moreover, my too much structured life, obligations that have no sense at all, office job with no real value, all these self-enslavement activities were absorbing me. I felt that I was going against everything I believe in. I lost the peace of mind. I got frustrated.

Feelings

I was lucky in few races and running community started to believe in me. Knowing how ultrarunning evolved in the last few years and how many new talents are joining the sport make such expectations ridiculous. So, all this pressure started to influence me and led to the “volcano eruption” in Reunion, where I totally lost control of my mind. Finally Diagonale des Fous  was a disaster, which I never would like to repeat.

Did I suffered from overtraining syndrome or had I been racing too much? Was it the end of my career, as it happened to many trail runners who wanted to compete too much and too fast? This is how I felt and those were the demons that I fought at the end of 2015 looking towards 2016 with horror.

Plan

In such moments I prefer either retreat or completely destroy myself. This time I didn’t want to listen the whim of traitorous body and I chose adventurous self-destruction. I decided to jump in some Ultra Trail World Tour  race ASAP. After all, dying without fight is not in my blood!

I divided 2016 running season in two parts with recovery period in between. My final racing plan looked like this:

  1. Vibram Hong Kong 100  – A race. Do my best and check if I am not too fat after the winter. Transgrancanaria – B+ race. Play safe and try to repeat last year’s success.
  2. Enjoy the life, 3R (Rock’n’Roll, Recuperation) and come back to training strong with no injuries. Spend some quality time in Lithuanian mountains J – nope, but anyway somehow do vertical training.
  3. Lavaredo Ultra Trail  – B race. Check if I’m on the right track with my training and spend some cheerful time with friends from Trail Running Team VibramUltra Trail du Mont Blanc  – A race. Avoid blisters so early in the race, sleep till Gran Col Ferret and then go 2015 David Laney (can read crazy fast) to close the gap and finish strong. Last but not the least, go for a ride with Gintare and boys on @vibram sole factor’s truck. Grand Raid Reunion – A+ race. Fly to the island earlier and have fun prior the run not to be distracted by its beauty during the race. Less media, FB and other socials – proper rest and clear mind is priority, so no buzz as well. Put all in – revenge!

Man vs Horse

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This weekend I will take to the start line of the Western States 100, the oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail running race in the world. For the last three years I have obsessed about running the Western States, driven by a desire to proudly own an iconic finishers’ buckle. This year I will get my chance. My journey to the Californian promised land, however, started long ago in North East Europe.

Winter 2012, Lithuania –
How a quarell led to an obsession

I’d just returned home after a quarrel with two running friends and was eager to find the answer as to who was right. With a mug of tea in one hand, I sat down at the computer and loaded up the internet search engine with the following: Who is faster… man or horse?

I found stories of a few races in which men had raced horses, but none of the information satisfied me. The races were too short, too fast or too easy. None of the stories supported my theory that man was faster. Undeterred, I dug deeper and expanded my research. Eventually I discovered something called the Western States Endurance Run (WSER), which had evolved from the Western States Trail Ride, more commonly known as the Tevis Cup or the 100-Mile Endurance Ride. Bingo… this is what I had been looking for!

The human, with their evolved sweating system, running so many miles in such a hot climate was bound to kick the horses’ ass… or so I thought. The problem in my research was that from 1978 onwards the Western States Endurance Run was organized separately from the Tevis Cup. However, given the two events were held only a month apart – and were run on the same trails – I began comparing the results. ‘Not fair’ you may say and, yes, you’re probably right, but I was so determined to win the quarrel that a little bit of bias was always likely to creep into my research!

To my huge disappointment, after digging into years and years of race results, the horses still had the faster times. Ultimately I had to admit defeat. I was wrong. Upset at losing the argument, I went to bed but couldn’t sleep. My mind was obsessed with the Western States. Inside of me, torturing my brain and body, were thoughts of racing against horses. Could I outrun a horse? Maybe not all of them, but surely I could outrun some of them. Still unable to sleep, I kissed my wife goodbye, put on my trainers and went for a run.

It was cold and dark outside, but while running I kept envisaging parts the Western States movie footage I’d just watched. Suddenly I was not alone. Horses and trail runners were all around me and the hot Californian sun was burning my skin. I was in my own little Western States bubble. My obsession had started.

Summer 2013, Poland –
Discovering a Lithuanian trail running monster

I moved to Poland in 2013. With its mountains and huge trail running community, I was excited by this new challenge. My running too was in a transitional period, from road to trail and from flat to mountains. Despite this, I never neglected the trail running community in Lithuania, where the sport was up-and-coming.

Lithuania was offered the chance to participate in the IAU Trail World Championships but our small, enthusiastic group lacked the numbers to make up a strong team. It was then that I took to the internet in a bid to find ‘undercover’ trail runners in Lithuania.

During my search I came across the name of Dalius Kumpa. According to his records, he was the most experienced Lithuanian runner on the trails. He already had iconic races like Way Too Cool, American River, Miwok 100 and Tahoe Rim Trail under his belt. But the most fascinating fact for me was that he’d finished Western States and, having completed the course in under 24 hours, owned a prestigious silver finishers’ buckle.

Wow, there was a Lithuanian trail running monster living somewhere and nobody back home knew anything about him. I had to contact him, so I did. As our friendship evolved, he encouraged me to visit the US and try to gain an entry for Western States. For Dalius, everything looked so easy. ‘Hey, it’s time to visit the US and run WSER, believe me you are ready,’ he told me in one of our chats. ‘Just simply apply and the organizers are sure to accept you,’ he added.

I wasn’t quite so sure. The Western States is a hugely popular race and is always oversubscribed. They also have a lottery system to select runners. Dalius, however, remained confident about my chances. I decided to give it a try.

Summer 2014, Italy –
Mixing it with trail running royalty

I’d just finished the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy – held on the same weekend as Western States – placing third behind Anton Krupicka and Mike Foote. Hanging out at the finish line with these two greats of ultra running, I couldn’t really believe what had happened, what I had achieved. It was surreal. I was in dreamland. A couple of days later I started thinking… could I do even better? Could I get even closer in a race to a legend like Anton, the American hero who I’d seen in the run the 2010 Western States in the film Unbreakable? (Watch film trailer above). Maybe not now, but in the near future, probably yes.

That performance in Italy gave me the confidence to go on and survive the longest, hardest, but easily the most fruitful, running season of my life. More importantly, a third place finish in the Ultra-Trail World Tour strengthened my chances of being accepted an entry for Western States.

Spring 2015, Spain –
Reaching the unreachable

Hooray! My application was successful and together with Julien Chorier and Francois D’Haene, I was chosen as foreign consideration for Western States. It’s a bit scary given I have climbed such a long way up the trail and ultra running ladder to reach what I thought was unreachable and, to be honest, upon receiving my entry, I started to question myself. To prove to myself that everything was under control and training was going well, I went to race the 77-mile Transgrancanaria ultra, which includes 8,500m of elevation gain. I ran really well, winning the race in a new course record time. It proved that I was on the right track and filled me with the belief that I could do well in the US too.

Summer 2015, USA –
Western States 100 – the time is now

I arrived in the US two weeks prior to Western States. My tapering has gone well and I’ve eaten lots of carbs, including the American-style pancakes! Despite all the research, what I’ve actually found is that I knew very little about the Western States course, which includes over 5,000m of elevation gain. It has me concerned that I haven’t done enough specific training and maybe my legs have too much racing in them to perform well on this speedy, runnable and hot course.

Checking out sections of this epic trail in my X-TALON 200 shoes, I have been left surprised at how unpopulated the trails are. Even though some places are partially civilized, the trails are full of savage animals, such as black bears, mountain lions, coyotes and, of course, wild horses.

So, my Western States journey that started in the local pub with friends has brought me directly to the roots of the quarrel. Western States is, I guess, the best place finally to find out the answer to that question – who is the better runner, man or horse? Actually, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The three-year journey I’ve made to get here is what matters. It’s a journey that has seen me establish new friendships, travel the world and immerse myself in a sport that I’m passionate about and a style of living that I love. Thank you, Western States.

TRANSGRANCANARIA 2015

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Background

Last years Transgrancanaria (TGC) turned out to be my worst race of the season. Being a planning enthusiast and disappointed with my result last year, I started to analyse what went wrong and what crucial mistakes I had made. I was shocked that my tactics, pacing and overall plan worked just fine. So, where was the problem? I couldn’t understand how I had run well in the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, UTMB and Diagonale des Fous, but failed during TGC?
I figured that knowing Szczecin, Poland and Vilnius, Lithuania (countries where I reside) it is not difficult to notice that these places are totally flat and both had harsh winter conditions. Both those factors had an enormous impact on my preparation for the 2014 TGC and I came to the island with huge expectations, but sadly undertrained and wasn’t prepared for the type of terrain.

So before the 2015 TGC I tweaked my training plan by adding more vertical kilometers, on the only one “hill” (ascent up to 70m) that I can find in my locality also I introduced heat adaptation by using a sauna. In my mind this was supposed to eliminate both failures from the last year.
To check if this really worked and if I didn’t need any further tweaks to my preparation, I flew to Gran Canaria in January. A week long training camp on the island proved that all my training was going to plan, I got too excited and I returned back home with shin inflammation, which meant I couldn’t train properly for a couple of weeks. As you can imagine I wasn’t happy!

I’m not a professional athlete and have full time job working in an office and each day closer to race day I felt more and more tired, trying to work hard both at my hobby and real job. So, it came with no surprise that I got sick with just three weeks before the race. Luckily I was back to it pretty soon, but I panicked and something was definitely wrong with me. I lost self-confidence as my brain and legs just didn’t feel right. Being tired and running like a lunatic I was loosing focus and motivation, but then I read on the inov-8 blog Ben Abdelnoor’s, article “Think positive run faster”. Such an incredible and motivating story with so much self-assurance and optimism to make me think, I was on the right track once again – committed!

I deliberately flew to Gran Canaria one week in before the race to let my body adjust to the changes and more importantly to have time for recuperation. Sleep and proper rest are very important ingredients in a recovery cocktail. Early in 2015 inov-8 sent me pair of x-talon 200’s, which I found the finest shoes produced by the company. I do like the x-talon 212 (which I was racing in all of 2014), which is an excellent shoe also, but having a wider toe box, a 3mm drop and being lighter at 200grams, this finally became my shoe of choice. I had run more than 900km in my first pair of x-talon 200’s, but then I noticed that they were a bit worn, so luckily my friend from Poland was flying to the island and brought me a pair from the inov-8 Polish distributors. This could have been risky to wear new shoes before an ultra event, but I had no choice. They were more than perfect!

Agaete – Artenara

This years TGC had a stacked field of elite runners. I wasn’t at all worried or concerned as my main aim was to improve upon my 2014 time and position (16hrs 11mins,11th place) and hopefully have a good race with the top runners along the course. I was happy to meet my inov-8 team mate, Brendan Davies, where we chatted for hours, a typical conversation of runners, sharing running secrets and trying to predict possible winners, which does help me reduce any pre race nerves. I had no doubt, that with all the elite runners that the start would be super fast and if I tried to keep with them it would finally kill me and this could ruin my whole race. I chose the classic approach, which has played well in my previous races – start slow and if i still have the power, then case everyone down later in the race.

When unleashed, all the runners went crazy and ran very fast kilometres up to Tamadaba, using up more energy than i would have liked at the beginning of an ultra race. I tried to run clever and chose to stick with a group consisting of Antoine Guillon, Anton Krupicka and Freddy Thevenin.

Approaching Artenara I started to suffer cramps. I wasn’t ready for it so early in the race, but such is life and every movement I made by muscles would spasm. I couldn’t stop, as this made the pain worse. At the aid station I asked my wife, Gintare, to help find some salt pills and luckily Nadine Davis (Brendan’s wife) was prepared and had some spare – a lifesaver!

Artenara – Teror

Getting lost is becoming my trademark, which I’m not proud of. Being absent minded doesn’t help at all. On the ascent to Valleseco I took a wrong turn and went off course. On a positive note with so many times getting lost in a race, being able to control yourself in these situations does help. I felt something wasn’t quite right, the runner that had been in front of me just disappeared. I turned on my GPS and navigated my way back on the trail, loosing several minutes. I was frustrated as I was behind runners who I had previously passed, but I paid the price of loosing my concentration and not following the markings. At the same time it is the beauty of ultra running, as it means nothing – there is plenty of time to close the gap once again, while in shorter races making a wrong turn could be crucial.

Teror – El Garanon

From Teror on I was trying to keep up with Swedish runner, Johan Lantz, who seemed very strong on the ascents, but was struggling on the descents. We passed each other several times and then he eventually finally he left me behind and I thought that our fight would last till the finish line. Reaching the top, of what seemed a very long uphill, I sprinted on the asphalt road trying to close a gap between us. Suddenly I noticed somebody lying on the road. Still approaching I recognised that it was Johan. In moments like these you must become human again and forget about your hunter instincts. I had no doubts that I must help him, even though I knew that there were other athletes that could appear at any moment. At first I tried to work out what had happened and when Johan replied that he had broken his leg it I couldn’t believe this. I tried to move him out of the road, but this was too painful. I adjusted his head torch so that he would be visible for any approaching cars. I assured that he would be ok and then I rushed for help. Only a short distance away I stopped a car and with some luck he was a local man who could speak good English, so I explained what had happened and that he would take care of Johan. My rescue mission was complete and from that moment I could focus on racing again.

El Garanon – Arteara

I arrived to the aid station at El Garanon and being in second position I was totally in control of myself, no cramps and still a lot of power in my legs. According to the plan the race supposed to start here. Good news was that just in front was Yan Long-Fei, but there were a lot of quick runners stepping on my heels. Leaving El Garanon I spotted Iker Karera just behind me and thought that Yan Long-Fei had left just a few minutes before me. There was no time for relaxing, the race for the podium had just started. I was now sure that I could make the podium, maybe not first, but a top three position for sure. Feeling fresh I power hiked to the highest point of the race – Pico de las Nieves. People at this point informed me that I was in first position. Wow, it was a huge surprise for me, as I was sure that Yan Long-Fei was in front of me. I was now questioning whether he was out of the race, or just taking a short rest?
Having known from last years experience that from Pico de las Nieves to Arteara is a very long technical descent. I had trained on this section trying to familiarise myself with every stone on the trail. Last year I was absolutely broken on this part, but now I was confident and running was very smooth.

Arteara – Maspalomas

In Arteara the real hell started. The temperature jumped up to 30 degrees, but there was no time for slowing down. I had to run the fast as the terrain allows for this, but after already running 110km, this is not an easy task. I was now worried about Yan Long-Fei, as he is can run the marathon in 2hrs 14mins, which means he can run fast, extremely fast. With such speed he would be able to easily close the gap even if he was 10 to 15 mins behind me. I decided that I would make it more difficult for him to catch me, so I started to speed up.

With the finish line drawing closer, I noticed that my time was good enough for the course record. With 8km to go I adjusted my plan once again and I started to race for the record. The final part of the race is difficult; running through dry channels, sandy beaches, passed tourists and all on my mind was the course record. No matter how hard something is, the job must be complete. I usually tell this to my children and in the race I found myself repeating this over and over. I was so happy to not only win the race, but also set a new course record of 14hrs 23mins and 41secs.

P.S.1. Johan wrote a thank you letter, explaining that he had broken his thigh bone.

P.S.2. Yan Long-Fei and Iker Karera were my bogymen, as I didn’t know that they dropped in the race.

P.S.3. Interesting fact: Sondre, Didrik and I were training together in January and didn’t even imagine that all of us would make the top 5!

The ultimate ultra running bucket list

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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) websiteOnly 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.

Run or Die

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Today my children produced and issued to me “Run or Die” passport. I don’t know if they were inspired by Kilian Jornet book, which we don’t have at home, or it was just their own fantasy. I would like to believe, that it was natural consequence of our frequent trips to the trail races and their mountaineering experience.

I don’t know why those words penetrated deeply into my mind, but later on I understood that it is the best slogan for The North Face Du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Moreover, it is what UTMB is about – ones runs and dies and the others still running almost dead. Being broken mentally or physically on UTMB is so normal as being punched in a face during boxing match.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t knocked out till the very end of the race. All the distance I felt almost excellent, because of the slow pace and all those mates from glossy magazines and trail movies, which I watched hundred of times trying to imagine myself running among them. And here I was, running with them, sharing the same trail, watching them rising and dying, washing sweat under the same shower. Unbelievable!

I was running like hell, but 30km to the finish line my right knee started to knock me down. Damn, pain crippled my ability to move – I became one of the walking dead. Technical parts became my nightmare, because I couldn’t lift my right foot from the ground.

Probably the wisest decision was just to stop back then, but it was not only about me. My family had sacrificed everything by accepting my dream, so it was not fair to betray them and myself. So, I continued my zombie run, but I was funny and loved monster, because people were cheering and encouraging me all the way to Chamonix. Thanks to them now I am proud “Run or Die” passport owner.

P.S. All the time I dreamed to be the real mountain goat with bell, from real steal, under my neck – the dream come true.