- Day 5 Esztergom => Leanyfalu (38km)
As each day went by, my respect for ultra-runners increased. As well as my dismay: this is a disturbing hobby.
The first few kilometres of each day are the hardest as the natural anti-inflammatories which come with doing sport haven’t kicked in yet and this day was no exception: though most of the body was fine other than the Achilles heel, anything over 6.30min/km (!) for the first few kilometres felt like an agonising sprint, rather than a very fast walk.
The route then took a bit of a strange turn: admittedly, we may have taken a wrong turn, but we were now running along what could best be described as a rabbit path. Fun for me, less so for Pippa and her heavy bike!
Soon enough, and sure enough mind you, we were back on the blasted main road so we restarted our routine of me running behind her dangling my bright t-shirt and shouting out when to pull over. Not super relaxing but, on the plus side, it was most likely the fastest route and it took us through more villages which made some bits more interesting.
Unlike the first few days, the wind on this side of the river was non-existent and … it was getting hot! It was also hillier (so beautiful to see, just a pain to run along!) and, when we reached a small village called Pilismarot after about 15km, I had totally hit the wall so we took a long break while Pippa bought a ton of sugary sweets in the local Coop. At this point, it RAINED. For a full 90 seconds. And that was it. Our total rainfall for the whole journey. I guess we were lucky!
The sun came out again as we approached Visegrad, another old Hungarian capital from yesteryear which is worth a visit, so it was about time for my top to come off too. Unsurprisingly for someone who runs but never does any strength and conditioning, my upper body isn’t particularly strong. This was confirmed around then by Pippa who agreed that it was a bit “soft”, so I guess I’ll be introducing some more abs and planks in my routine this summer…
The second half of the day was mostly along pavements or a cycle path, which made the journey easier. Along it, we saw various quirky scenes, such as tons of abandoned mansions which had been reclaimed by nature: none of these things were life-changing, but they were still worth seeing, and it’s these kind of things we’d have missed out on if we’d travelled more “traditionally” (though, admittedly, we’d have been able to spend an extra 6 days in Budapest…)
Pippa tried her best to do a one kilometre detour to get nearer the river (I think my reply was ‘duck off’, or something like that…) and, after a few grinding last kilometres, we arrived at our hotel for the night and immediately proceeded to spend 90 minutes in a jacuzzi, by which point you could have peeled our skin off. Still worth it.
- Day 6 Leanyfalu => BUDAPEST! (27km)
The quads were tight, the Achilles heel was as per every day and I started off at my usual snail pace. However, at the back of my mind and front of my ego, I didn’t want to spend too long going slowly because I didn’t want my overall average to be under 10km/hour.
The motivation of the fast-approaching finish line was pulling me along mind you and I quickly started pushing a little more. Soon, I was running at way under 5-minute kilometres and kept getting faster, which, after 200-odd kilometres, was surprising to say the least.
I was the modern incarnation of young Forrest Gump, when his metal supports break off. Joking aside, once the motion and turn-of-legs started, muscles which had basically been asleep for the last few days reignited and off I went. As Pippa said, it “looked like I was actually running now” (ouch).
Broadly speaking, the closer we got to Budapest, the more the route became a proper cycle path/pavement path so the easier it was to run. It also meant there would be more people on the paths. And, by people, I mean swarms of schoolkids, by the hundreds. Shudder.
We crossed a shaky wooden bridge (I definitely think we went off-piste here…) and ran past an army base with huge missile rockets lying around. We pissed about taking photos, until I spotted a guard in a tower looking down on us. Oops. This was, however, a good incentive to keep running faster.
Tic toc, tic toc…the kilometres were flying by and I was averaging around 4.30/km for the last 15km (no idea how) and it was just one simple straight line to the finish.
Except, of course, it never is. The cycle path eventually became a wide pavement. And the wide pavement eventually became a narrow pavement. And the narrow pavement eventually became … non-existent. Along a 70km/hour highway. Mmm. We took the slightly-less-lethal option and opted to walk along the railway line for a bit until we got to a different road, and this time kept going.
And, finally, it was in sight: the Budapest Parliament, the third largest parliament building in the world. I was properly speeding along now (my last kilometre was under 4 min/km).
We crossed the Margaret Bridge. Pippa tried to keep up whilst not getting run over by cars. The Changing of the Guards was taking place (good timing!). I tapped the wall of the Parliament and…well, that was it.
Truth be told, the ending was actually a little bit anticlimactic and I felt a little bit deflated afterwards. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, though a handshake from the President would have been nice.
Realistically, all that was ever going to happen was that this arbitrarily selected route came to an end and I turned my watch off.
Maybe I should have been elated? I don’t know. As a starting point, I’m not particularly ebulliently excitable. And I tend to classify things as:
- Things which are challenges which I look forward to
- “Ok, that’s done then” things
- “wahooo” things
And, whether it’s running marathons, this slightly odd adventure, getting a good degree, things tend to move from Category 1 to Category 2 but never 3. Anything that’s been achieved is, by definition, achievable, and it therefore loses lots of its mystique and ‘wahooo-ness’.
In this instance, running 235km seemed nuts up front but, once it was done, it just became a feasible achievement that anyone with a bit of application should be able to do.
This is not a particularly unheard of situation either, there are a hundred and one similar articles online outlining the effect of dopamine on motivation. As this article says, “you have neuroscience kicking you in the face while you’re down. The brain releases dopamine, a hormone associated with both motivation and happiness, in anticipation of reward. So when you plan and know you’re going to work for something, you’re in biological position to feel good. Each milestone gives you another dopamine hit, which makes you want to keep going with the job. But when you reach your goal, that release of dopamine drops. It’s harder for you biochemically to have joy.”
In a way, this also highlighted why, in many ways, the ritualism of events e.g. crossing a finish line, getting a medal, going to a graduation ceremony or doing something constructed by someone else can be really important in closing a chapter and marking an achievement. Here, I’d picked a slab of marble I spotted about 10 seconds earlier as the last page of this book. Meh!
But, as Nietzche apparently said according to this article, “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end, it would not have reached its goal either.”
This is an unusually high-brow quote for me but, actually, quite a nice way to reflect on the full challenge. Which, for what it’s worth, feels more and more like a success the more time has passed so no need to pull the anti-depressants out any time soon.
So, with all this said, I need another melody to focus on! I’m not sure what it’ll be, when it’ll be, but I don’t think it’ll be a similar length run. It was a fun experience but a little…extreme! What else did I learn?
- The mind can play impressive tricks to keep you going and zone out to break down and/or ignore the challenge ahead of you.
- Doing 100 miler races is a totally different approach to any kind of other race. I genuinely didn’t sweat for about 150km in the middle. I decided to just move fast rather than run (ok, the constant breeze helped) but that meant that, although my tendons and muscles were a bit sore, I was really not tired as my heartbeat never went up. On the last day, I even went for 5 hour walk around Budapest after we arrived.
- Thank god I had company. I might have gone crazy alone at times, plus it meant that someone could carry the huge volumes of water and other kit we had. I reckon my neck muscles would have been destroyed otherwise.
- This must be the flattest segment of land on earth. The total elevation gain was around 250m for 235km which equates to an 0.1% incline average!
- DHL Slovakia is very efficient! (thanks Mum and Dad…)
- Weather makes the adventure. We got so jammy with weather. It was probably 5C cooler than normal for this time of year and we got virtually no rain. Either 5C the other way or rain would have made it a totally (and very unpleasant) experience
- Who needs cushioned trail shoes?! I went with my trusted super light Adidas Adizero Boston racing shoes and ended up with no blisters!
Total time: 22h53!