This was such a great adventure.
I met up with my friend Tomaz on Friday morning and after a shopping for a few last minute things we left his home for 3 plus hour drive to Tihany on Lake Balaton. Along with 5 other Slovenians we had rented an apartment very close to the race start/ finish. After checking in at the apartment we went to race packet pick up and the pasta party, during which time a thunderstorm came and went.
Back at the apartment there was some race discussion and then we watched the world cup games involving Slovenia and England, which also included our own pasta party. The forecast was for rain over the weekend and we got a lot overnight, but Saturday morning was beautiful. The race started with about 200 runners, 85 of which were individual racers and the rest members of relay teams. The runners carry a code key which they have to insert into a box at checkpoint/aid stations of which there were 51 I think, spaced approximately every 5 km.
I was very impressed with the support the race gives, you could do the race without a handler without too big a problem. The course often goes on trails and bike paths, which are not accessible by car so this was a challenge for me. You are given a booklet with individual route maps from each town to the next, which can be a little confusing until you get used to them. On a couple of occasions you have to make long detours. Some runners used handlers on bicycles which means they can stay with you all the time.
Tomaz and I had talked about race strategy and his aim was to finish inside the 32 hour cut off. There are also a few time cuts during the race. My feeling was that he could do it in about 26 hours.
After about 1 hour I had to make a big detour and would not see him for an hour or so, I gave him extra water and energy bar, but knew that there were also aid stations during the break and off I went. Unfortunately due to some confusion I joined the course later than expected and it was 2 hours before we saw each other again, which was a little unsettling. He was doing well though he was feeling the heat. After that I think both of us settled in and became more comfortable as the race went on.
After about 5 or 6 hours the field was beginning to spread out and by nightfall there were not too many runners to be seen. At this time Tomaz had passed 100km in around 10 1/2 hours. During the night hours there were maybe 4 or 5 runners running fairly close together and small friendships developed between them and the handlers as we helped each other master the course and it’s interesting movements. There was one runner- Dr Szylvie Lubics I think was her name, she was having some major problems in the late night hours and dropped back a little, but I was very impressed with the way she came back quite strongly and finished second female and about 30 minutes ahead of Tomaz.
Having got through the night hours and struggling with tired and sore legs was within 60km of the finish and I think we were both confident that we could get there, I felt that maybe he could finish closer to 25 hours. Tomaz was now slower but steady and in the last few hours the rain came first some showers then a thunderstorm which made the arrows marking the course a little hard to see and Tomaz being tired and having to concentrate more was a little frustrated. We were so close now and there were 2 runners just a few minutes ahead. There was one last long uphill before you enter into Tihany where the race finishes, I gave Tomaz one last energy gel and told him I would see him at the last turn before the finish line. I parked the car and started back to that point when Tomaz suddenly came tearing around the corner, in a final sprint he had passed the 2 runners in front of him and I barely made it to the finish line before he did. He crossed in a time of 26 hours and 15 minutes plus some seconds and looked quite good if somewhat sore and tired. Peter, a Danish runner who we had befriended during the night came in a few minutes later.After you cross the finish line you are presented with a finish line tape with your name printed on it, which I think is a great idea.
After we both had a shower and some lunch and experienced another thunderstorm, it was time for me to drive us home. Tomaz got to sleep a little in the car and somehow I managed to drive back safely despite having not slept for 36 hours. Both of us were extremely happy with a good weekends work.
Race website: www.ultrabalaton.hu
Chanakhya has a blog that he updates everyday, I like to run.blogspot.com/