Nearly 8,000m of ascent, 107 kilometres, 7 very long ascents (including 6 summits of the highest point), 7 seemingly never-ending descents and an endless number of stone steps. This is the brutal race that is 6 x Babia Góra in Poland. The challenge is to complete it under 17 hours. This feat had never been accomplished during the history of this ultra marathon event….. until this year.
Babia Góra, or Witches’ Mountain, is one of the highest and most prominent mountain peaks in Poland. Unpredictable when it comes to weather (nicknamed The Mother Of Bad Weather), the hard rocks crowning its ridge are often lashed with strong, cold wind and rain. The mountain itself is a popular tourist destination, even though she has claimed the lives of some who wanted to conquer her. The breathtaking sunrises that can be admired from the summit are legendary.
But it is not the mountain itself that is the true challenge of this race (watch the video from the 2016 race above). It is the sum of many elements: Monstrous ascents and descents, treacherous, slippery, hard surfaces and sections of the route that take runners off-trail through streams and shrubs.
On top of all that, rough time limits and the aforementioned unpredictable weather make this a huge challenge for all who take it on.
At the start there was a general feeling of apprehension. However once underway, many runners began at a fast pace… little did they know that the mountain and later on the weather would quietly suck the energy out of each and every one of them. Krzysztof Dolegowski (inov-8 distributor in Poland) did not succumb to such temptation and ran at a steady pace.
It was when clouds enveloped the summit and it started raining, making the trails slippery and full of deep puddles, that Krzysztof sprung to life. The fact that he started enjoying the deteriorating weather conditions more after each visit to the mountain’s 1,725m summit led some to the assumption that he was losing his mind!
Krzysztof had put a lot of work into his preparations for this race. During March, April, and May he ran 15,000, 20,000, and 25,000 vertical metres respectively. He had also been training on the race route in torrential rain and gale-force winds, as well as running off-trail through the mountains surrounding his home in Bielsko-Biała.
At the midpoint of the race Krzysztof knew he was capable of finishing within the 17-hour time limit. It was this fact and the deteriorating weather conditions that boosted his confidence and convinced him to push harder. During his fifth summit attempt he, with madness in his eyes, told everyone that he had the strength to run uphill and neither the fatigue nor his sore legs would stop him.
However, there was still a rather large fly in this soothing ointment – namely one of the most difficult trails in the Polish mountains (outside of the Tatras range), the Academics’ Path. It is ominously steep, with chains and steel steps to help people clamber up. Usually this is a one-way trail, going only to the summit. Descending on this path is immensely difficult, but the race route does indeed go both ways, up and down. “My body was rebelling against me. My adductors were cramping badly at this point,” recalls Krzysztof.
Despite this, he reached the last aid station. He was actually the only person who managed to reach it on the day itself. From there, Krzysztof ran to the finish, crossing the line in a time of 16 hours and 6 minutes – well inside the 17-hour limit. Cheered like a hero, he struggled to believe that he had achieved the impossible. It is hoped that others will now be able to follow in his footsteps and try to repeat his feat. However, no matter what happens in the future, Krzysztof will always be the first one to break the curse of 6 x Babia Góra.
* Blog post written by Magda Ostrowska-Dolegowski. All photos by Karolina Krawczyk.