This last adventure was just that: an adventure. There were a lot of unknowns going into this years World Mountain Marathon Championships in Szklarska Poręba, Poland and I was excited for any and all challenges.
My "Ferenc" family heritage comes from this region of the world, more specifically Slovakia in the Tatras Mountains but very close nonetheless. So this trip had a very special aspect, essentially I was going to the land of my grandfather and it held special meaning.
The whole trip was navigated through Prague (Praha), Czech Rep. This beautiful city is only 90 miles away from the race site in Poland, which looked like a no brainer to hit up the area of my heritage. Little did I know, traveling the 90 miles to Poland would be a cussing cluster cuss. Communication was insanely difficult (zero to infinitesimal amounts of American) once I left Praha city and the true adventure started.
I hit up the train station and tough laborious communication finalized my ticket to Poland. It was to be a 4 hour, many train trip and I thought, cuss yea, adventure time.
Wednesday: The first train out of Praha was 15 cars long. By half way, Tunvald CZ, I had to change trains and the train was down to 8 cars. Every stop after that the train got smaller and smaller and by my last stop into Harrochov CZ, my train was a single car with me being the only passenger.
Northern Czech still seemed not too far removed from WWII, everything was overgrown and the buildings were very old looking, it was cussing awesome!
I found a map (after unsuccessfully trying to communicate) and found my destination. I man tried to draw a map on his hand, which was a cuss show, but he did have the great info of the direction I needed to hoof it to Poland (as the last train to Poland wouldn't be coming for almost 3 hours). The map seemed to show that I was 8k away, I said cuss it, and started walking.
Figured there would be a border crossing to check into Poland, but I was on a trail in the woods, therefore, no such thing: I walked into Poland, cuss yea!!!
The race site village was a very small and very cool little place carved into the mountains that split Poland and Czech Rep. I found my hotel (I had been up for 26 straight hours at this point) settled in, then headed back to look around before bed. The next day all my American teammates will be arriving (same with other countries) and hanging out will commence. We planned a TeamUSA course preview the next day and I was excited to meet my fellow teammates that we would be racing for come Saturday.
Thursday: On Thursday, the other counties started to arrive and first was Wales. I befriended these guys the year before and these dudes are righteous and a ton of fun. We caught up and shot the cuss and it was great to see these guys. Following Wales many more teams started rolling and and then the Americans. Dave James was the first one I met (later to be called the Big System, and a hetero-life mate). Dave and I are very similar, especially in the way we both say and do things you wish you could: we are the dudes that say the things you're thinking and worry about the content and do the things you wish you could do but also worry about the content.
I ran 45 minutes in the morning just to get up on the mtn (I was anxious as cuss) and was excited to run with my teammates later too. After a quick bite, The Big System, Zac Freudenburg and myself hit the mtn. Earlier in the morning I took the chairlift to the top and buzzed around the course, we elected to run the first climb (5-8k) then take the chairlift down. We did half this, but by the time we got to the lift it had stopped running, cuss my ozone, we have to run down! I ended the day with just over 3 hours of running with only 1 (one mother cussing) recovery day before the race: awesome.
This worried me a little, then I remembered: I'm the Last Hero an Only Hope SO I was fine.
Friday: on Friday we all met for a nice USA breakfast and plan for a small run. I didn't want to run anything further than 5 miles and def wanted to soak in the cold cuss river flowing through town. Both were accomplished! Cuss yea!!! The river saved my legs and mind and I was ready to devour the souls of the spirits flowing through the course.
This area has a rich tradition and spiritual belief in a spirit of the woods, cussing gnarly. There are two, one being a gnarly blend of animals (which is the symbol of the town and has antlers of a deer, the head of an eagle, the body of a deer an the legs of a goat: super cussing awesome) and the other is an old man of the woods/mountains and his wife. The old man kind and forgiving while his wife has horns, a devils tale and a pitchfork, the old man will guide you and his wife is vengeful and mean (any truths?) haha.
The spirits of the universe are kind to me in the woods so I was fueled with awesome energy.
Friday was chill, the opening ceremonies was awesome and TeamUSA was ready to rock. At the ceremony I hung out with Gabe Rodriguez and it was awesome to chat and relax. Gabe is a super awesome dude and I was very excited to be on a USA team with him. When hanging with him it felt like I was chilling with a relative I haven't seen in a while but you pick up where you left off.
The course was tough, but made even tougher by the footing. A lot of very large cobblestones (2ft x 3ft) with gaps that would break your ankle in between each. Then on the single track, it was littered with sharp protruding rocks, so paying attention the whole race was a must. There were some sections on a cinder-type gravel which meant "open it up and relax," and was a course very much suited for me and all the work I put in.
Saturday: the weather was set to be hot, 85-90 degrees. This was a bit daunting but it was to be hot for everyone, so attrition would be important.
Race Plan: I told myself to go for a run with Greg and Fyffe and just run casual bc eventually, "casual" will become an effort. If there is anything left, cash in and bury the needle. I want to finish running well.
I had 4 GU's pinned to my shorts and I was set to roll.
The first climb is up a gradual ski slope then we turn off to an access road, then to a technical trail to the top of the ridge where the first water stop was. The course is an out and back, with three water stops where you hit the first two on the way back.
At the first water stop I had slowly made my way into the top 20. On the climb I was in a large pack of about 40. I power walked when necessary out of choice (not bc I was forced to, but to conserve energy) and made it to the top feeling great. This next section rolled and by 10k I was comfortable with my effort and feeling good.
The next 10k was very difficult as far as footing but I was still in the mix of the pack I had started with. My buddy from Wales (who would go on to finish 2nd!) was being extra conservative. Here we are at about 12k (you have to squint):
The third 10k was very tough. The footing, the mountain climbs and the heat were taking a toll.
Any water on the side of the trail I was in. I was becoming desperate, and each ice cold spring or trickle was a savior. Just before 30k (and a very long, paved, steep climb (15-20min climb)) there was a pipe with ice cold water pumping out. I stopped for a few extra seconds to soak my head. My feeling was: better take a few extra seconds here then let it cost you multiple minutes later. This third 10k was the most difficult and challenging but I was super positive and focused on the last 10k, which had some long stretches to really run.
The last 10k was what I had been training for, leaving everything I had out there and killing myself to grind it in. There is the last real tough climb from 8k to 5.5k before it turns to open trail with very runnable terrain. I had moved into about 18th place here and had the energy to look ahead and know I was going to finish and finish running well.
With 4k to go is the last water stop. I could see two dudes struggling and took a little extra time to douse my head with water and completely try to cool down my head before ramping up for my final assault. Just after 4k is a 2k stretch of downhill, before a flat 1k and then 1k rolling back up to a Mt Wahington-esque finish.
I was all in on the down hill and flew by two, and kept rolling. I was going my move would break there will to try anything an it did. The flat kilometer brought the same fate to another victim of cramping and I tried to fake that I was relaxed as I pushed by. The last kilometer was tough but my heart knew it did all o could today (almost) and I was excited to be able you've this opportunity. I'm very fortunate, and understand a lot of work went into this and I didn't want to leave anything out there.
With about 500m to go the hill turns more mtn and the grinding started, the race was essentially done, the three I past were not coming back and all I had to do was finish.
The final push was awesome as all the people were cheering and going crazy and was a great feeling to finish. I was greeted at the finish line by a familiar smile, Gabe's wife Perla: 3:34:35 for 15th place!
One big deep breath of thankfulness and the. I turned to watch my teammates finish.
TeamUSA finished 4th, which we were a little bummed about, but knowing everyone did all they could was satisfaction and that our best was out there on the very tough course.
Post race keilbasa's with Zac and The Big System (Dave James).
Total adventure and very fun.
Sunday- after a long and awesome night hanging out with the other teams I had to try and figure out a way back to Prague. I made a sweet trade with a South African for his swearshirt, and was invited to ride to Prague with them. Very cool! My flight was on Monday and there would be no way I would be able to get there from Poland on Monday and make my flight. The night before brought a fun evening hangin with Wales and I ended up hitching a ride with them. How cussing awesome!?!
Now, these dudes are super intelligent and knew more about American politics than I could have cussing cared about. They had a great time telling me how Americans are really viewed and asking questions, laughing hysterically and shooting the breeze about anything and everything. It was a great time.
We hung out in the airport in Prague for a bit, they loved that I didn't have a plan and was going into Prague for the night, we said our farewells (I've been invited over for a few races) and I hit the road into the Old City of Prague.
That's a whole 'nother disease free story, for another day...
Next focus: KSC Alumni race... Since I'm going to win, who's your bet for coming in second? (I heard of a little pow wow where guesses were given of our top five, remember friends: what you THINK and what I KNOW, are vastly different).
Smiley face, wink wink.
Last Hero and Only Hope!