Winter Trail Malopolska offered a truly memorable experience for the fans of nature and trail running alike. The organizers did a great job in providing warm and festive atmosphere in the start/finish area and across the aid stations. Personal GPS trackers were handed out to all of the participants in the 65K and 105K distances. The ability to track runners in almost real time was greatly appreciated by the supporting crews. The course was well marked and it was possible to navigate even at night and during snowfall. I felt safe and well taken care of during the whole duration of the race. I can definitely recommend it!
The ultimate goal that I have set for myself as a trail runner is to qualify for UTMB and one day make that full circle around the white mountain. As of the end of 2018 the qualifying criteria for UTMB are a minimum of 15 ITRA points from 3 races. This means that if I want to make it to UTMB, I will have to get comfortable at running the 100K distance. WTM was the best race that fitted in my training schedule. I did a 70K ultra in August and I felt ready to try a harder effort this winter. I also had plenty of time for training, so when I toed the WTM start line I felt well prepared and ready to take on the challenge.
The biggest challenge for me in this race was not the distance nor the vertical gain, but the weather conditions. The course had a substantial snow cover, which on some parts was almost knee deep. In such conditions having crampons (I used the Snowline Chainsen Light) became a major advantage. I ran without poles, since I thought that they will be more of a hindrance than aid (the longest climb was 630m and the terrain was not that mountainous).
Based on my training and the course profile I anticipated that it will take me somewhere between 17 and 20 hours to cover the 105K. My primary goal was to finish the race and make the distance. If I had a really good day, I could maybe even make the top 10. I started by running relatively easy during the day (the race started at 7:00 am.). The nature in that region of Poland was so beautiful that sometimes I forgot that I was running a race. I was moving quickly and had fun filming (see bellow).
Things changed completely with the fall of night. Around km 55 I started to feel extremely exhausted, both physically and mentally. I knew that this will be the turning point for me in the race. I was cold and miserable walking alone in darkness. At this point my whole world shrunk to the several square meters that were illuminated by my headlamp. Nothing else existed (or so I thought). Suddenly, I was remind that I was not alone in this. A message flashed on my GPS watch. “Stay strong! You are 15th!” flashed on the the display. It was Vale! She was following my every step using the GPS tracking service provided by the organizers. As if she could read my mind – her words of encouragement arrived when they were most needed. It is hard to describe how much a few words like that can mean in a dark moment like this. I took a couple of gels and tried to stay focused on the task at hand (putting one foot in front of the other). At this moment I knew I wasn’t going to fade away. I was going to persevere and give it my best to make it to the finish line. From that point on I ran with determination and purpose.
I crossed the finish line at 1:52 am. and ranked 11th place together with Polish ultra runner Rafal Majchrzak who I met on the last climb. It took me 18 hours and 52 minutes to complete the 105 km.
Header photo: Oleksander Hordziej