Running in Hungary.
Once again, I decided to do some fundraising for CanTeen, a Charity supporting young Australians living with cancer. This time I chose an Ultra Marathon race in Hungary, where I could also test myself against other athletes and to attempt breaking some Australian and even World Age Records.
It was also time to visit our families and friends in Czech Republic after six years since our last visit. We were very much aware that it could possibly be the last time we would see them. But then again, never say never again!
We arrived in Czech a week before the race to get acclimatised, and few days later we were on the way to Balatonfured, a tourist resort on the banks of Lake Balaton. We actually visited this lake three times while living in then Czechoslovakia, some 45 years ago. We had good memories of those times. We never saw sea before and that made the lake look so huge to us!
My brother and his wife drove us to the race and stayed there for a couple of days before leaving, because Jana Kocianova, well known Slovak singer, had a concert in Slovakia.
The tourist season had not started yet, so a large part of a camping ground with foot paths was converted to a 900 metre track. We were accommodated in comfortable cabins on the side of the track; each had two bedrooms with two beds and common living area, showers and toilets. Jo and I were supposed to be in the same cabin with our friend from Austria, with whom I ran several Ultra Marathons, including the Spartathlon, a race from Athens to Sparta. It was very hard to learn after arriving, that our friend could not take a part in the race, since his father passed away two days before. It was so sad.
Instead, a Bulgarian runner with his daughter took his place in the other bedroom. He could not speak any English, just as most other competitors and organisers, but his daughter spoke good English, which made it much easier for Jo, since they spent most of the time together during the race, cheering us up and organising the food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were brought in from a nearby Restaurant. Apart from that, a long table full of huge variety of foods was available all the time, as well as another table with many variety of drinks. I have never seen anything like this before. We were really looked after well. Sometimes people ask me how much weight I lose during such long races. In fact, with so much food available, I am having a mouthful of something almost every lap and I am likely to gain some weight, rather than lose any.
At twelve noon, 8th of May 2013, the race started. 39 runners were on the way. Weather was very hot; soon many of us were running only in shorts. I always start slowly, aware, that we have six days and nights to survive.
My sight was mainly on Pal Bozo, a Hungarian runner, World record holder in my age group with 536 km he achieved the previous year. Watching him running, I thought that his running style seemed to require too much energy. I was quietly confident, that I had a chance, especially since I was running each lap faster by about 2 minutes without pushing myself too hard. The first night I was well ahead of him and decided to get about four hours sleep.
The lap count was done automatically by a chip on each runner shoe which counted every lap when crossing the finishing line and displayed it on an electronic board. It included the number of laps, the distance in kilometres, the time it took to run the last lap and the overall position and the position in each category.
When I got up and looked at the score board, I found myself about 10 km behind Pal Bozo. No problem in such early stage of the race. I found out, that he never went to sleep. I was wondering, how long he can keep doing this. Soon I started catching up with him. It was another very hot day, by noon we were on almost the same distance – I had covered 123.7 km in first 24 hrs. First time ever my calves started to hurt, causing some concern. I was trying to stretch them and slowly it started to improve. Meanwhile, Pal Bozo started to get anxious and tried to keep up the pace with me. In the afternoon, in the hottest part of the day, whenever I caught up with him, he started sprinting, as if we had only a couple of hours left to the finish of the race. It looked to me as if he changed his batteries for fresh ones every time I passed him. Such was his willpower to protect his World Record. I let him go and did not try to overtake him again for quite a while. This sort of running needs not only a well prepared body, but also good mind. What is better to do to win? I knew I was quicker than him, but he seemed to be able to stay longer on the track without sleep than I.
I expected him to build up his tactics on this strength, but to my surprise, he used the wrong tactic. He was running as hard as he could instead. I was following him in close distance. For me it was still a comfortable speed. After an hour or so I saw his legs started to wobble. It was time for me to step up. In most cases, if you pass your competitor when he is looking tired and keep running fast to make a good distance on him, it usually works and he loses his fighting spirit. But it did not work on him. After looking to be spent, he somehow found a new energy and to my surprise I could not shake him off. I knew that it was not going be easy. He was a very tough and determined man.
However, by evening I made some distance on him and went to bed, expecting him to be well in front by morning, if he can keep his effort.
When I got back on track after few hours of sleep, I was surprised to find out, that he did not make as much ground on me as expected. Later I found out, that he spent few hours in the medical room on drips.
Overnight there was a dramatic change in weather. Cold front arrived with very strong winds and showers. We had to put on some warm running clothes. It was hard to run in the heat of previous two days, but now it became even harder. I built a lead of about 10 km and started to slow down to preserve some energy for future days. Pal Bozo was back on the track and tried hard to catch up with me. I let him pass few times, his wife was standing next to the scoreboard and kept writing something, building a hope, that he can still catch up with me. I stayed cool, let him reduce the lead to 2 km to give them some hope and then to crush it. It sounds nasty, but this is a war! Too much is at stake. As I built up my lead, she stayed at the scoreboard with her book for few more hours until they realised, that it was hopeless. She packed the book and both disappeared in their cabin. Later I found, that he spent another evening in the medical room receiving treatment.
Meanwhile I had my own problem. My body started to lean to the left. It is very strange. I was not aware of it, till Jo kept telling me to straighten up! I tried, but it was getting worse. I do not think that anyone knows why this happens. Perhaps the muscles on one side of the body are stronger and in time cause the leaning. It sometimes happens to the best runners, it has even happened to Yiannis Kouros, the greatest Ultra Marathon runner the world has ever seen.
I continued all day trying to correct my posture but it was getting worse. Eventually I went for a massage, hoping to loosen the muscles and straighten up. It worked for a while, but the problem did not disappear completely. After few hours I was back on the massaging table. The lady, who performed the massage, had very strong hands. She said that my back muscles were like concrete block and had to push very hard to loosen them up. It was hurting, but I did not care.
As I was leaving the Medical Room I noticed a runner lying on a stretcher covered with blankets. It was Pal Bozo. Finally it looked as if I could take it easy for a while. To my surprise, a couple of hours later he was back on the track, running harder then ever before. The race was on again. My body leaning to the left more and more, I was looking for a solution. It would not be another massage, it did not work. My bottom left rib was aching, when I touched it, I felt cracking. I had no doubt, that it was broken, most likely from the massage. I did not mention it to anyone, if it leaked out, the massage lady would sure be upset. Instead I bandaged it with elastic bandage and it helped. One runner from South Africa suggested balancing the body by carrying a bucket of water! That did not sound sensible, instead I took my laptop in bag and started running with it to the amusement of other runners, organisers and spectators. “Are you going to the office” was frequent question. “I have to make living somehow” was my answer. We all had a bit of fun, It helped me to stay straight and in good humour. I stopped carrying it when running straight for a while, then picking it up again when I started to lean again. I repeated this for the rest of the race.
When the second last evening of the race approached, Pal Bozo was still running very hard. Weather was very bad, cold, strong winds and showers. I was still in front, but at that stage I came to conclusion, that it was impossible to maintain that speed for another day and half. I thought that if he could keep going like that, good luck to him. He would have deserved to win. I decided to go to sleep to have some rest. But I was not going to make it too easy for him. It was his intention to make it fight of life or death, so I had to respond. I slowed down and let him to catch up with me. As soon as he passed me, I started to sprint. He responded with sprinting as if he was in 100 m race. I ran only about 50 m and stopped, while he kept running like crazy. I repeated the same thing three times and went to sleep. I set alarm to wake me up in four hours. I had some strange dreams during the night and when the alarm sounded, I did not realize I was in a race and continued my dream, in which I had no reason to get up in such bad weather. Jo kept regularly repeating that I should get up, but I ignored it. By the time I actually woke up, I realized how much time I lost. The first lap after having rest is always very hard and painful. The whole body aches, legs are very heavy and stiff, but after slowly moving around and warming the muscles, the stiffness and pain are gone and the good rest pays off. When I reached the scoreboard, I expected the worst, but my belief, that he could not maintain the crazy tempo, proved to be correct. He was only 4 km ahead of me. I knew that it was all over. His last 900 m lap took 45 minutes. Obviously he stopped in his cabin for a while, tried to continue, but found it impossible. He had plenty of time to make a much bigger lead on me, but his body reached its limits. He was not on the track.
After several hours he reappeared on the track again, but was moving very slowly. When I caught up with him, in spite of not being able to communicate in English, he became friendly, indicating, that his legs were gone and that he lost any hope and accepted defeat. Few hours later, he handed in his number, packed his belonging and left with his wife. Jo and I were really sorry for him. It is good to win, but I would rather see him getting close and feeling good about it. Unfortunately he did not plan his race too well and gave me the opportunity to develop a plan that suited me and not him.
I still had a job ahead. His World Record was 536 km. I still could not take it easy. But running now, without pressure from him, made me more relaxed. I could run the last few hours better than expected after so long on the track.
At the end I had completed 549 km, new Age World record, 13 km more than the previous record. In addition I broke two Australian Age records for 24 and 48 hours.
I fulfilled my promise to run 12 Marathons in six days as a fundraiser for CanTeen, in fact it was 13 Marathons.
Several blisters and a couple of toe nails lost were the only visible signs of the tough times during the 6 days. I had a great satisfaction in completing the race, having done reasonably well. Race like that is not a Sunday walk in the park.
I got even bigger satisfaction from making a lot of friends amongst the runners and organisers, especially when the Director of the race Gyula Erdesz told me, that in spite of Bozo Pal being their countryman, they cheered up for me and wished me to win. This is what he wrote to me:
“It was a real pleasure to see you running in our race and I am really glad to meet you in person. You raced wise, most friendly and open hearted and you deserved the new world record”.
Making friends while supporting young people living with cancer, is even more important to me than any other achievement. After all, without the support from so many people, no records are possible. It is all a team effort and the credit goes to everyone involved.
As a fundraiser it was not such a success as when I can collect donations directly from people in Australia, but it was still worth doing. I thank very much all, who sent donation to CanTeen by Credit Card via https://give.everydayhero.com/au/vlastislav-skvaril It is not too late to donate and support young Australians living with cancer.