Ultrabalaton - 3rd female, 8th overall
I will do this in reverse order, and write my Ultrabalaton race report before the Boston Marathon race report - if I ever get to that haha... I have another race in 5 days (Sulphur Springs 100 mile trail) and then my "A" race 3 weeks later (6 Days In The Dome) so we'll see.
The lead-up to this race was shaky at best, but since it wasn't an "A" race (that is, target race for the season) but rather a preparation race, I wasn't too worried.
I ran the Boston Marathon 2 weeks earlier, which is fine in terms of the running, but it did include 2 x 10-hours of driving and that can get tiring especially coming back overnight, arriving at 2am to get the kids to school at 6am. Then the weekend before Ultrabalaton there was a food show in Vancouver that we attended for my company, again, overnight flights, late nights, full nights of completely missed sleep.
The day after I got back from the show, I got on the flight to Europe - overnight again, so another night of missed sleep. But landing in Budapest and seeing my mom, sister, niece and nephew made me so happy.
Then after an early morning TV appearance...
... we drove to Lake Balaton for the race. I love it that my mom can come to these events and she really enjoys them. I wanted to do this race for a few reasons. It is the biggest ultramarathon race in Hungary, a huge festival, 17,000 people participating (most of them in the relay) so I wanted to experience it.
This little 4-minute video shows the great atmosphere:
Another big reason was that it is a preferred Badwater qualifier.
Ultrabalaton is a road race and the route goes mostly on a bike path. It is one loop, its slogan is actually "Just One Loop", around Lake Balaton - it is a 130 mile / 210 km loop! Last year Patrycja Bereznowska from Poland won it, who just broke the 48h World Record a few days ago and holds course records on Badwater and Spartathlon and at one point held the 24h World Record I believe. It is always a very competitive race. Most Hungarian ultrarunners target this as an "A" race and Hungarians are very strong ultrarunners.
The event is sponsored by NN - the same insurance company that sponsors two-time Olympic Marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge's team, so he sent a Good Luck message to the competitors!
This was the first time I ran an ultra that was not a timed race and not a backyard but rather a point-to-point, even though the start and finish were the same. I wanted to get into these kinds of races (Spartathlon and Badwater are both in the same category) and this seemed like a great introduction, because of the continuous escort that the rules allowed. That is as close as you can get to small looped races without actually running on a small loop in terms of outside help.
There are official aid stations but you can also have a maximum of two cyclists who can ride with you for the whole race, plus a support car. I took advantage of those options and had my friends, Zoltán and Miklós, who are twins, on the bike, and their childhood friend, Pudvi, in the car. In this race the support crew also get full hot meals and they even get t-shirts and support crew finisher medals. I love this. After all, they biked for 210 km / 130 miles each, which is also quite an achievement.
Miki, me, Zoli, Pudvi
Zoltán and Miklós are both Ironman finishers, so they are fit and could do the distance, no problem. Although they were switching it up with Pudvi sometimes, and he also biked quite a bit. I wanted both cyclists by my side for most of the race, they each had different tasks.
Zoltán was responsible for my nutrition exclusively and everything else was on Miklós. Clothing, shoes, asthma medication, calling out turns, alerting the timing guys at aid stations, etc.
The race itself was a bit of a blur. Most Hungarians will know each stage of the race from aid station to aid station and the characteristics of each. There is a vinery that we ran through, there are a few uphill parts, there are absolutely gorgeous paths, etc.
Running through the Varga Winery
I spent a lot of time vacationing at Lake Balaton as a child so I also know the place well but I'm not the kind who can put these pieces together in a race. I'm just going where they tell me to, and I had no idea which town we were in, what was coming up, etc. All I can pay attention to is how my body feels, if I might need something, if there are any issues lingering that need to be solved, if I'm on track with my plan, etc.
I went out at my own pace and didn't worry much about who were ahead of me. I knew my competitors and I was aware who could potentially beat me and who can't - and I was very confident that the ones in front of me who shouldn't be in front of me at that point will not stay there for too long.
Cycling crew members had a separate start 5 minutes after the runners. Miki in blue on the right, Zoli in black in the middle
I was running in 5th-6th place for the first 100 km / 64 mi and was feeling very comfortable with it. There were two packs in front of me, my friend, Lilla Cseke was in the first pack with sometimes Zsanett Horn and / or Leonie Torn and the second pack was one or two of these two plus Eva Tóth and Hungarian ultrarunning legend Szilvia Lubics - previously Spartathlon course record holder and champion of Spartathlon and Ultrabalaton numerous times. She is running more for fun these days, had a few surgeries and an accident recently so she wasn't and didn't really want to be in the mix for the podium.
The first pack was pushing a very strong pace and I knew that some of those girls had no business being there. By the time 100km /64 mi came about, Lilla was alone up front and the other 4 have started to drop behind me. I already passed Eva and I knew I could chase down the other 3 comfortably, so I wasn't worried. I also knew that I can't chase down Lilla unless something doesn't go as planned for her - and I was perfectly fine with that.
I don't usually chat during races. The one exception I made was talking to Szilvia Lubics, Hungarian ultrarunning legend, whom I met in person for the first time
The 3 started to drop behind me one by one. First Leonie by 106km / 68 mi, then Szilvia and Zsanett by 120km / 75 mi. By 170km / 106 mi I built up a nice gap of over 30 mins over 3rd place runner, Zsanett and Lilla was about 30 mins in front of me. And that's when things turned South.
I can say that for the most part the race went as planned - up until 170km (106 mi) that is. I swapped shoes around 40km / 25mi to one size bigger but I had no other stops in the first 12h and the shoe change only took less than 30 sec.
I had a great plan for the heat, and it worked well. It wasn't overly hot but hot enough that I used my cooling shirt, cooling bandana and cooling headband and I asked for some freezer pops which the guys picked up at a gas station.
When things were going really well
My problems started when I took one too many 5h Energy that contains 200mg of caffeine. I wasn't sleepy but caffeine helps you run faster and I was starting to split over 6:30 min/km (10:30 min/mi) and I didn't like that. My original plan was 800 mg caffeine since I had 700mg before and I knew that was fine - I always like to test boundaries. But what happened was that I really liked the Red Bull I drank at one point and I knew I bought a second one so I asked for it. Then I didn't change the rest of the plan.
So when I took the last 5h Energy at 170km / 106 mi, it didn't take long for the caffeine overdose to knock me out. I got dizzy, almost passed out and just generally felt very weak from that point on. There was a big sudden drop in my pace at 170km / 106 mi (which is very clear from my Strava file) . I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the finish line at all.
My pace slowed so much that Zsanett who was running in 3rd started to catch up and by 200 km / 125 mi she passed me. To be honest, it was a relief that she did. I just felt that I shouldn't be just walking if I had any chance of holding on to 2nd (which I didn't). 4th place was 2 hours behind, so I was quite confident I can hold onto the podium even if I start power walking. But again, somehow I felt that I have to try and hang on even just as a matter of honour until Zsanett passes me. After that I gave myself permission to walk since it wasn't going to change where I finish and there was simply no point in keeping a running motion when I felt so weak and again, wasn't even sure if I was going to make it.
The scenery was gorgeous but it was hard to enjoy it in the last 30 km/ 18 mi. The mask is for my asthma.
Those 30km / 18 mi were by far the hardest parts of the race. Someone passed me playing loud techno music from the bike - I think he was a relay runner. That fired me up - as much as I could be fired up at this point in my condition. But my guys also brought a speaker for the bike, so I asked them to find any kind of techno music (we call it tootz tootz music in Hungarian haha...) and just play it loudly which they did. In the middle of the night. That helped so much that I started to believe again that I can get to the finish line eventually.
We also had a very emotional moment with Miki, I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it. At one point, a very low point, I asked him to just talk to me - about anything. Just tell me stuff, tell me stories, no questions because I don't want to talk, I just want you to talk.
He proceeded to tell me about the time I won the Hungarian Long-Course Triathlon National Championship in 2020 (race recap here). He was in hospital for a surgery and he tracked me on the live tracker from his hospital bed. He said it gave him strength for going through his surgery and recovery to see me crush that race.
Miki escorting me on the bike
He also went searching for friends online who were up at those wee hours in the middle of the night - people who were in the US basically and proceeded to ask them to send me motivational video and audio messages. They totally cheered me up - I mean, as much as that was possible in the moment.
So once Zsanett passed me and I had 10km / 6 mi left, I started walking. It wasn't pleasant because I knew that it would only take me just over an hour if I was able to run at the pace I was supposed to be running at this point in the race. So the fact that it was going to take me 2 hours to finish was just really hard on my mind but there was nothing I could have done to make it faster if I didn't want to torture myself with running at a snails pace. Walking actually felt quite nice except this mind game of knowing that I just added an extra hour to this race by doing it.
My Mom met me where the race route passed our cottage, that was about 30 mins from the finish line, so only maybe 3-4 km (2-3 mi) left to go. That was a very uplifting moment.
I met one of my friends as I was running up the last little incline towards the finish chute - she was just starting her race in the relay. I walked up the incline and then ran the last few meters for the videos haha... (see below).
My Mom welcomed me across the finish which was absolutely amazing, I was so happy that she was there and saw this finish, as the speaker spoke of my prior achievements in triathlon and ultrarunning and announced my 3rd place.
When you are trying to hug your mom, she is trying to put a jacket around you and the staff is trying to put a medal around your neck all at the same time
In retrospect I don't think it mattered much at the end if it was an "A" or "B" race and that I came into it very tired after all that travelling. I think the only thing that could have helped me place better was if I didn't get a caffeine overdose, then I could have finished second instead of third and closer to a 21-21:30 time. I don't think I could have beaten Lilla Cseke, who broke the course record by almost 40 mins, even if I was targeting this as a goal race. She is just a much faster runner at this distance - my strengths lie in longer distances. I'm very happy for her success. She is a friend of mine and a rising star in ultrarunning, unknown outside of Hungary yet, but she already has a few National Champion titles and last year she was awarded the Hungarian "Ultrarunner of the Year" award. So it is absolutely no surprise how well she did and I knew full well that unless she makes big mistakes, I can't beat her at this distance.
Overall I'm very happy with my result, where I placed and what I learned from this race. It was an amazing experience, I've never run an ultra that had this festival atmosphere and I loved it. I will certainly come back in the next few years and hopefully I can bring my daughters so they can have some fun as well.
Podium finishers: Tibor Erős 2nd 16:50; me 3rd 22:21; Lilla Cseke 1st 20:15 - new course record; Tamás Bódis 1st 16:34 - new course record; Zsanett Horn 2nd 21:32; Borcin Tomás 3rd 19:40
My lessons from the race are:
- My caffeine limit is 700mg - at least after a 2-week withdrawal period. It might be the case that it is 800mg - I've never gone above 700 in a race before and this time I went from 700 to 900. But it is certainly less than 900mg. And I will probably just settle on 700mg and not play with the fire to push to 800 and find out.
- I almost certainly would be better off starting out in shoes that are one size too big and then I might not get any blisters at all. My plan is to try this in my next 100-mile training race before the 6-day and then go with this plan for my "A" race if it works. I know Jon Noll does this but it took me a while to come to this conclusion.
Thank you to all the companies and the amazing people who support me, I couldn't do all this without you all!!!
And now onto another 100-mi preparation race this weekend and then the big one! 6 Days In the Dome. Can't wait!
PS Pudvi made a cool video of my race. Thank you!!!! WATCH HERE