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When I received an invitation from the organizers of the first ultra in Podlasie, Ultra Śledź for 80 km, I said “I’d gladly run through the Knyszyn Primeval Forest!”. But time was flying and I still couldn’t train or run. I’d postpone the return to running for a week, for five days, over and over again.
But let me start from the beginning. I had minor surgery in a clinic in Łódź. Nothing big, removal of a bone overgrowth on my toe. I was sure it’d take me less than a month to run again, but instead of running practice, I practiced train trips between Łapy and Łódź. Train after train, appointment after appointment… in November I had another surgery. During all that time I was hoping that I’d run or at least walk again before the end of the year. None of that happened. 10th of January – I’m in pain, 15th of January – still in pain, time keeps on flying and I start to give up on all the planned marathons one by one. 19th of January – I leave hospital with a diagnosis that my injury should be examined by a surgeon. But I gritted my teeth, put on my shoes and went for the first run after that long break. It hurt so much I managed to run barely 14 km.
Two weeks passed and I was facing the possibility of giving up the Ultra Śledź run. I spent the last week before the contest by the sea. Surprisingly enough I managed to run a few longer, 30 km distances during training. I decided to participate at the last possible moment. It was the 11th of February, Friday, one day before the run. I arrived in Supraśl and realised the weather was entirely different than in Łapy – cold, wet, snow was covering the roadsides. But, as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound. I picked up my number, they checked out my gear, all that was left was waiting for the start.
Saturday, 13th of February, we’re leaving at 6 AM. We agreed with a friend to a wake-up call at 4 AM. As always, I stayed up all night, looked at the watch every few minutes, as if it was going to to be the first run of my career. Maybe it was caused by such a long break I had… Finally we set off, 6 AM. The weather was completely different than the day before – cold, dry air, nearly clear sky, still dark. The headlamps are shining on most runners’ heads, we’re off for a wonderful running adventure. The first kilometre of the route was covered in cobblestones, then asphalt, then pavement. It was slippery after the evening drizzle. Then a 90 degrees turn and we entered the forest. I kept a steady pace for the initial few kilometres. The first terrain rise forced us to slow down to a march, but the next ones I trotted through – I don’t like to walk when I run! After 10 km there was a pleasant, flat part along the Supraśl river. The view was amazing in that weather. Before the 15th km we entered the forest and ran down forest trails. At about the17th kilometer we had to cross a stream. You had to walk over a fallen tree, but I stepped into the water – luckily it was only ankle-deep. The first checkpoint was at the 27th kilometre. I felt great, my legs didn’t hurt, I was surprised, but also glad. I pressed on!
I had no troubles reaching the second checkpoint, Królowy Most, at the 38th kilometre. No muscle problems, but more importantly, no pain in my toe. I was more and more hopeful about reaching the finish line. After the second checkpoint we had to climb Mount St. Ann, Mount St. John and Mount Kopna, the biggest acclivity on the whole Śledź route. There’s a vantage point on Mount St. John and the view was amazing, quite like Bieszczady Mountains. In the distance I could see a river and Kołodno town, covered in snow and surrounded by forests, and a clear sky above all that. But I had no time to admire it, I had to press on! As I ran, I started to have first muscle pains, especially in my thighs, but I could survive that. Before the third checkpoint my Achilles heel-toe came into play. It started to hurt and when I left the third checkpoint I couldn’t run, so I marched. I found a painkiller in my bag, remains from a previous running trip (good thing I hadn’t done any cleaning!). After about 2 kilometres I started to trot, and then I slightly sped up.
Together with my friends we reached the last checkpoint. From there we had only (and at the same time no less than) 17 km. I had a crisis due to lack of training and not enough kilometres run. I half ran and half marched, thinking only about the finish line. At the 70th km there was some mud, not that much, but enough to get our shoes dirty. I was getting closer, I was just counting – eight, seven, six kilometres left. I expected nothing but the finish line, but then we saw hills we had to cross – about three of them. I marched upwards and ran downwards, and then a friend, one of the volunteers said that we had just 3, maybe 4 kilometres left. Then I took wings! Even the last rise didn’t stop me, I just wanted to reach the finish line as fast as I could. After getting to the sidewalk that was it. I did it, I reached the finish line! Time and position didn’t matter, but I have to admit that I wanted to take less than 11 hours and I finished the race in 9 hours 33 minutes. I’m happy that I came back to running, training, planning the contests and marathons, because when I’m running, I feel alive!
I’d had a competition like that on my mind for a couple of seasons by then. I was filled with doubts if I could manage in the cold and snow, if I was prepared for such conditions. After all, it wasn’t a run for 2-3 hours, but for 30-40, runners were to be self-reliant. Finally, I found Rovaniemi 150 on the 21st – 23rd February with winter conditions. I decided to participate and see how my body would react for a few hours run under adverse conditions. The required equipment, checked a day before the run, included a gas stove, a pot, a lighter, a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag with parameters up to -30 C comfort (borrowed from Michał Olbycki), and a sleigh that could be rented from the organizers.
Saturday, the 22nd of February, 8 AM sharp, the participants start to gather at the starting line. Everyone reports to the organizer’s, signs a paper before the start. 9 o’clock and there we went, all three groups – runners, skiers and cyclists, we all started the race, the self-reliant adventure.
The map suggested that the route would be relatively flat and the terrain rises – mild. It turned out that it was flat only if you ran on the frozen river or lake on short parts of the route. There were more higher grounds than the map showed. A few times I’d slide down the hill on the sleigh instead of running, just as if I was a kid. Two parts of the route were tough, we had to run through some bushes, the sleigh would fall repeatedly, we’d have to detach the belt and put the sleigh back on its “feet”. In my case it was quite a difficulty and a waste of time, but on the whole route it happened about 100 times.
On the route there was also a bridge across a rushing stream. The organizer said that a year before one of the contestants fell into the water and had to give up the rest of the race. To avoid the same fate, I crossed the ice-covered bridge walking backwards on my knees, pulling the sleigh. I succeeded. At the 80th km in the 24th hour there was a checkpoint providing the best chance to rest. I felt excellent, I ate, had a drink and moved on, but after just two hours in rather unfavourable conditions, -20 C thanks to the wind chill, I started to feel tired and sleepy. Thankfully it caught me on a beaten path where I’d often hunt hares.
Two, maybe three times I wandered off the route. The first two times cost me 5 extra kilometres, looks like I can never get enough. The third time had physiological causes, which weren’t fulfilled anyway because the snow was thigh-deep. I had to crawl out of it and relieve myself into a “loo” dug and buried with my shoe.
The last checkpoint at the 140th km was closing in together with the finish line. Only 10-11 km remained – so close yet so far. I could already see the high arch of the bridge behind which the finish line was waiting. I was trying to run, walk, reach the checkpoint as fast as I could, but the arch didn’t appear any closer. Two Finnish skiers accompanied me at that point until we were approached by Kamil who had been posting all the news on Facebook.
When I finished the race I was extremely glad that I made it in time and without any problems. Only after I got home I learned that I was 4th in the open men’s category. It surprised me as I wasn’t fighting for a better score, but with myself, my weaknesses and the route itself. I’d also like to thank Gosia Śmieszek and Kamil Jagodziński for the warm welcome and help during my stay in Rovaniemi, inov-8 for the gear and Michał Olbrycki for the sleeping bag.
the report and summary published in “Bieganie” Magazine
Darek Strychalski finished the Badwater Ultramarathon! 217 km in the deadly desert sun covered in 45h 11 min and 10 seconds. Darek – you’re the man! And standing ovations for the crew that supported him at the finish line – you’re great, guys!
“Roadside in Keeler, 34th hour of the race. The legs of our runner have already made around 180 km. He has a major crisis and is sleeping in the car with AC on. Kamil, our driver, is looking after him. Me, Kuba and Miki are sitting on the sand next to the car, trying to figure out what’s next. A moment ago Darek tried to leave the car and collapsed, and threw up more. It was the third time it happened. He’s just wrecked… we all agreed that if he doesn’t get better in 2 hours, we quit the race, drive him to Lone Pine and get him the IV drip. Our bullhead just asked for it. We force feed him at about 8 PM, half an hour later he starts to walk, staggers, but doesn’t fall. We all know he won’t be running anytime soon. 40 km left to the finish line, he had to shuffle through it. And the bastard did it. That strong will, that passion and durability, it’s incredible. And that stubbornness that nearly got him down for good… luckily when we pacify him and explain what happened, he promises to be more responsible. He’s a great guy who has some things to work on, just like all of us. We had a great time with great people and a happy end there. Our team can break any system, really. There were some f*cks thrown around, some weeping with emotion, loads of laughter – it was good. I’m glad and satisfied with how we fought together. Darek is a G R E A T man who gives others more than life ever gave him.”
This is how Filip Bojko from Darek’s support team described Badwater Ultramarathon. The other guys also wrote a few worthwhile words. The article below contains an extensive coverage and photos, both from the marathon itself and the preparations before. Congratulations to Darek, his team and to Zbyszek Malinowski and Darek Łabudzki, who also beat the blistering hot Badwater Ultramarathon!
Harvey Lewis from Cincinnati, Ohio won the marathon after beating the 135 miles long route in 23 hours and 52 minutes. The fastest woman, Alyson Venti from Miami, Florida was 8th in the general category after finishing the race in 28 hours, 37 minutes and 28 seconds.
News from the battlefield
Our cowboy sets off, the first 8 km he doesn’t need any support. We take the car and drive to the further part of the route, where there’s no reception. We’re expecting to hear from Darek only in the evening, after he runs down Horseshoe Meadows. Then he’s going to get the transmitter – there’s no point to weigh him down with it in the no reception area. For now, the transmitter shows us, the support group – reports Filip Bojko.
Filip Bojko reports: “Darek had a solid crisis at the feet of Cerro Gordo rise. Vomiting, drowsiness and “cement” legs. Only after a short nap at the top of the rise he felt relatively better. Running down a gravel road in the dark was a real bugger. Luckily now he’s on a road as flat as a pancake. It also turned out that this section of the route was critical for many other contestants. At least a dozen of them gave the race up. Darek has been running for an hour now. The weather will spare no one today, but nobody said this marathon will be easy.”
9:30 PM Polish time: There are already seven contestants on the finish line. We’re waiting for any news about Darek. The part he’s at takes a lot of time. We know that Darek had a crisis and slept a bit to regenerate. Now the guys are silent. We’re crossing our fingers.
23rd of July, 1:00 AM Polish time: The crisis of the 90th mile has been overcome. Darek was down and halfway out, but he rose like a phoenix. He’s just crossed the 100th mile. Now the last straightaway to Lone Pine and then Mt. Whitney.
23rd of July, 2:00 AM Polish time: Dear friends! We passed all your comments and support to Darek. He needs you now more than ever! A blazing wind is blowing, dust and sand is everywhere. (Cheer for Darek on his Facebook fan page Zwycięzca!)
He says he’s gonna make it. Cross your fingers! About 50 km left.
23rd of July, 6:00 AM Polish time: The best moment of the marathon. Darek went through a major 2-hour crisis, Filip is tending to him and reading your comments and messages aloud.
23rd of July, 7:00 AM Polish time: Still putting Darek together.
9:30 AM Polish time: Lone Pine – Darek reached the 122nd mile after 40 hours and 14 minutes. He’s pressing on! He’s 74th. Not so far ahead, 69th and 71st respectively are Zbyszek Malinowski and Darek Łabudzki, they crossed this point after 38 hours and 56 minutes. We strongly support them too! Don’t give up, guys! 45 people are already at the Badwater Ultramarathon finish line, including 8 women! 12 people quit the race.
22nd of July, around 8:00 AM Polish time: Darek and Filip went from Lone Pine to Keeler together, reorganized, changed clothes and shoes. Some quick pasta with tomatoes and a fresh hare, then pressing on. 30 minutes ago Darek, who’d run nearly 100 kilometres so far, started climbing Cerro Gordo with Mikołaj. At 2:20 we’re to meet on the other side of the rise.
Around 3 PM Darek Strychalski reached the finish line of the Badwater Ultramarathon! 217 km in the sizzling desert sun beaten in 45 hours, 11 minutes and 10 seconds. Zbyszek Malinowski and Darek Łabudzki finished as 62nd and 63rd – 42h 57 min 31 secs! Congratulations!
Darek Strychalski travelled to Death Valley to face the Badwater Ultramarathon for the second time. This time he has much more time to adjust. Filip Bojko accompanies him and we’re reporting on what the guys are up to in the USA!
4th of July (Friday) Darek Strychalski and Filip Bojko boarded the plane at Okęcie airport in Warsaw and took off to the USA. This time – also thanks to the money collected – Darek had much more time to adjust than 2 years ago. He managed to rest, adapt to the local temperature and toughen his stomach.
– We’re passed the clearance, packet received, shopping done, cars covered in stickers, the whole statutory gear packed. Darek’s been hydrating and eating carbs today, he also ran a short distance so that his muscles wouldn’t forget why they’re here. All of us are ready – reports Filip Bojko.
Courtesy of trackcourse.com, the link below will allow to partially track UltraDarek’s progress on the route. Partially, because unfortunately civilisation hasn’t reached some parts of the area.
We’ll try to broadcast something en route on the Zwycięzca Facebook profile.
Cross your fingers! He’s gonna get some long-awaited, solid pounding!
It’s Filip Bojko from Darek’s team, we’ll support him during the race and now we’re trying to keep his spirits lifted:
“Today we made a little retrospective car trip to the finish line of the original Badwater Ultramarathon route and back. It’s about 450 km total. This year the route is different because the national park administration was dead set against the organizers. Oh how well we know it! Tomorrow we’re headed for the mountains where we’re planning to stay until Saturday. As compensation for changing the route there are three damn high rises to torture the runners. It’s where we’re gonna show Darek to the bears real soon.
We were in the field with Darek to check out the last section of the route, which is a dozen mile-long rise from Lone Pine to Mt. Whitney. We also kept an eye out for rattlesnakes since they’re pretty common around here. The rise looks solid, my calves literally started to burn at the very thought that the contestants will have to run up that hill with 190 kilometres already behind them… unfortunately we didn’t find any rattles, so we jogged a bit to chill out.
From now on I’m stuffing UltraDarek with carbs – as much as he can take. He’s slacking a bit, being a fussy eater and claiming he can’t eat so much in this heat. Bad news for him, there’s no place for prince treatment. I’m gonna fatten up our UltraGoose even if I have to force-feed him.”
For the weekend Darek and Filip went over to Dominika and Marcin’s – a couple who had invited them to their home in California after learning Darek’s story. The guys arrived in Riverside, where Darek fell in love – not quite with the Mexicans, who make up 80% of the population there, but with the beautiful countryside. He immediately went for a run with the new friend and his dog, Negrito.
Darek and Filip realized pretty quickly that wherever they go things are getting hot, but let’s be honest – it’s not only thanks to the hot tempers of both of the gentlemen. It’s just hot out there.
Today we did the first longer training in this heat with Darek. We ran up one of the local hills and our hosts followed us on their bikes. On the way Dominika helped some missy who ran out of body fuel and fainted on the rise. Luckily she put herself together without too much stagger. It was kind of a foretaste before Death Valley. We want to go there on Monday to have the last long run before the marathon. The weather is a killer here, especially with all this dust that you immediately scuff up. Whoever stays behind in the race is quite in the doghouse, especially while running down a slope. You better stop sucking in any air then.
How does Darek feel a week before the run? Head over heels in love with California, but the topic of Badwater isn’t easy. Darek sees only doom and gloom which, obviously, doesn’t make sense, because we all know he can’t be blown out of the water. Filip gives as many motivational speeches as he can, but it’s not helping much. Darek is stressing over getting injured or letting his stomach out of control and failing all these people who support him. To all this Filip replies:
I tell him that nobody will criticise him even if all of these bad things happen. This is an extreme effort in extreme conditions and anything can happen. Not without reason this marathon is considered one of the hardest ultramarathons in the world. If Darek has to quit, the world isn’t going to end, and giving up is an option that also has to be considered, but I believe everything is going to be alright. Our method is that whenever a crisis appears, we go out for a jog. It works best, at least for some time.
11th of July (Friday)
The guys headed South a couple of days ago. They want to reach the mountains as soon as possible, be through with long hours spent driving, and start a solid trai… a solid relaxation. For now, it’s not going that well – they’re mostly up to fun and debauchery, namely eating by the roads, sleeping by the roads… and watching Mundial by the roads.
Initially Darek and Filip set off towards Santa Barbara. Darek can barely hold still – he’s hyperactive all the time. It’s a good sign!
Several dozen miles before Santa Barbara we stopped for a short rest. It was supposed to be a coffee break… we ended up drinking coconut water. Suddenly Darek appears out of nowhere in front of me, dressed in his running outfit and says, “I’ll be back in an hour”.
He came back as promised, the difference was that his mood was like ten times better than before. And that was the first training, casual 10 km to pave the road.
In the Los Angeles suburbs, in a landscape park, they had some troubles with the local Officer, Mr Milton C. It turned out that being in the park after dark is absolutely forbidden and Darek and Filip also broke at least 4 other laws. The situation must have been ridiculous for both sides, but our guys are so charming that instead of spending the night at the police station with giant tickets to ponder, they spent it… in Milton’s garden. The officer had already written a ticket for them, but in the morning…
We gulped down some coffee and, joyful like kids, went outside to make ourselves some porridge. Before we left, Milton approached us and said with a smile, “Give that ticket back, you’re not going to need it.” Thanks, Milton!!! Porridge at large tastes delicious.
Darek and Filip are still fighting jetlag. They flew with a stopover in New York and on Saturday they landed in San Francisco. Yesterday they were planning to rest, but things came out as usual and the day was spent active. Guys toured the area by car and made about 300 km. They didn’t enjoy the beach anyhow, instead they practiced running up and down the hills in Half Moon Bay.
Jest nam niezmiernie miło poinformować, że przy okazji spotkania podsumowującego „Bieg dla Asi” w Poznaniu, Darek został zaproszony na bieg sztafetowy XLPL Ekiden, który odbędzie się 14 czerwca nad poznańską Maltą!
Darek będzie honorowym starterem biegu, a dodatkowo Fundacja „Zwycięzca” wystawi w sztafecie swoją drużynę. Z każdego wpisowego kwota 42 zł i 19,5 gr zostanie przekazana na rzecz naszej Fundacji!
XLPL, PragmatIQ, Rafał Szymkowiak – dziękujemy za zaproszenie i do zobaczenia na starcie!!!
Naszym ostatnim wspólnym startem przed wyjazdem na Badwater był 80km bardzo trudny technicznie górski ultramaraton w Bieszczadach. Wspólny bo biega się go obligtoryjnie w parach – taka jest formuła tego biegu. Bardzo dziękujemy Piotrkowi Pelplińskiemu za pożyczenie kamery i Black Dragonfly za super montaż, jesteście zacne Chłopacy!
– Darek, jakiej słuchasz muzyki?
– Lubisz Neila Younga?
Przesłuchaliśmy prawie całą dyskografię .
Kochani, dzięki Wam nasz Ultrauparciuch puknął w tym roku Badwater – swoje największe marzenie biegowe. Gdyby nie Wy czyli grubo ponad 600 bezinteresownych Ziombelek i Ziombli nie dałoby rady, to czyste fakty. W imieniu Darka, jego rodziny i naszej załogi – W I E L K I E D Z I Ę K I !!! Historia naszego Asa dopiero się zaczyna ! Na najbliższym spotkaniu w Warszawie zdradzi Wam szczegóły owego-nowego-chytrego planu. Wpadajcie! Będzie miło i na pełnym luzie. Waszym krawatom i żakietom pozwólcie się dalej kurzyć w szafie.
Oddaliśmy dziś ze łzą w oku naszego miłościwego ultravana, który wysłużył się nam wręcz cudownie!
Naszemu mocarnemu UltraDarkowi cudowna ekipa z Redwood City – Sylwia, Michalina i Kuba zgotowała spotkanie z lokalsami. Jako pierwsi usłyszeli z ust Darka jak mu tam w okolicy Lone Pine słodziutko było.
Darek to istny zbój. Oczywiście większość się popłakała – tak ich załatwił ! Było po prostu E P I C K O !
Tymczasem pozdrowienia od wściekłych dokolanów !
fot. Ziemowit Folcik
P.S. Darek dostał od Kuby nie lada prezencicho na finał całego zamieszania. Mamy nadzieję, że ów prezent wkrótce ujrzy światło dzienne !