Warta Gravel is a 400-kilometer long ultra-distance bicycle race in Wielkopolska (Greater Poland). My first competition and the first such long distance in one go. A varied route, nice landscapes, good weather and my good result made it a very successful two days :)
Two years ago, going by bike from Warsaw to Poznań, I found out that I am capable of a very long ride.
Later, there were several other long routes, including Bloody Loop, the route from Białystok to Warsaw and this year’s 380 km in 33 hours, after which I seriously began to think about testing my skills in some ultra-distance race.
I chose Warta Gravel – 404 km near Poznań. Flat terrain, and I am weak on the climbs, short distance for an ultra-distance race and the organizers’ assurances that there will not be a lot of sand – it sounded like something for me. In addition, the time limit of 60 hours, which gave space in case I did not go as well as I wanted.
I signed up for the race and decided to try to ride the whole distance without sleep. I have good endurance, but slow pace and during one-day trips with friends, it is often me, who is at the end. That’s why I knew that in my case, the only way to be somewhere in the middle, not at the end, is not to sleep, but to ride and hope that others will go to sleep.
Whether it would succeed, I wasn’t sure. It is true that the distance from Warsaw to Poznań was not much shorter, but entirely on asphalt and with the wind. On the last 380 km of the route, the wind did not help and there were some climbs, but mostly asphalt. I expected it to be much more difficult on the gravel route.
At the time of registration for the competition, the route had not been published yet, but it soon appeared. And right after that, posts on the Facebook group for participants, showing photos of sand like at a seaside. Nobody wrote how long these sandy stretches are, but I imagined they could be as long as 50 km. “So I will be going for maybe two nights, not one …” – I thought, but I did not book any accommodation. After all, it was about checking what my body could do.
A few days before the competition, the organizers made small adjustments to the route, and the rains came, which have been gone for a long time, so before the start, I was hoping that it would not be so bad with the sand. The competition started on Friday, so I came to Poznań on Thursday evening to get a good night’s sleep. I was also very happy that I will start in the last but one group, at 8:50 and not at 8. At least a little more sleep.
But I didn’t get good sleep anyway … I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep for 2 hours. I slept for about 6-7 hours. It is not enough for me.
“Oh, it will be hard” – I thought in the morning and set off for the start.
At first I took my time. I didn’t want to get tired too quickly, so already in Poznań I was left behind the participants from my group, and soon the people from the next group, starting 5 minutes later, started to overtake me.
I did not care about it and enjoyed riding great paths along the river and beautiful areas on the outskirts of the Wielkopolska National Park.
After 30 km riding south, we crossed the bridge, went back north and re-enter Poznań. And there a great Wartostrada…
and a climbing wall next to the bike path!
“How about a break for climbing?” – crossed my mind – “But no, I’m at a competition”.
So I moved on, and soon there was what I was scared about and what I hate – SAND.
But it wasn’t that bad. 200, maybe 300 meters of torment and it was possible to go on. Soon after, the route began to lead along firm narrow forest paths. Such paths I love!
After 85 km, in Murowana Goślina I took a longer break for a kebab. About that time, I also noticed that I’m not sleepy anymore.
I crossed 100 km 8 hours after the start. I was pleased with this result and thought it would be very good if I could keep this pace throughout the race. But I didn’t have much hope for it. I always ride slower at night and in the morning, and I still expected deep sand.
Another longer stop was waiting for me at 118 km, where the organizers prepared “PićStop” (DrinkStop). You could drink hot tea or coffee, eat bananas and refill a water bottle. Just in time, as soon it would be empty.
After DrinkStop I regained my strength and the following kilometers were going very well. The sun was slowly going down and I was enjoying a very nice ride.
At around 8 pm I took an hour break at the Orlen station before Oborniki. I ate a burger, had a cup of tea, refilled my water bottle, put on all my clothes and set myself up for a long and hard night.
The beginning of the night, however, turned out to be very pleasant. For about 15 km, the route ran along smooth asphalt. Only after Stobnica did gravel roads begin, but interspersed with asphalt roads. I crossed 200 km just after midnight, so I did the second hundred in just over 7 hours. Not bad.
My circadian disturbances help me on night bike trips. My natural day is about 26 hours and I have to take sleep tablets every day to be able to live the 24 hour rhythm. I wrote more about this disorder on my second blog in the article When the day is too long, i.e. non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. If I plan to ride a bike all night, I just don’t take a sleep pill. The first sleepiness usually occurs at around 11 pm, but it’s just a slight drowsiness out of habit. At about this time, I usually take my medication and start to prepare to sleep. If I do not take a tablet, the drowsiness will disappear after about an hour and only around 3-4 am I start to feel real sleepiness from fatigue. It was the same this time, even though I was afraid it would be worse because I was already starting with a lack of sleep.
So until about 3-4 am I rode completely awake, but other issues started to worry me. First, it’s cold. As I rode it was just right, but if I stopped, I immediately started to cool off. And I expected it to be even colder around sunrise. Second, my knee started to hurt. I was hoping it was just because the legs were cold and that it would hold out until the end of the tour. Massaging helped. Third, at one point I noticed that I had too little food and drink for the whole night. I had to save.
In addition, a nice route ended near Sieraków and what I hate – a washboard on a gravel road – has started. It had appeared before, but these were only short fragments. Here it stretched for kilometres! 10 km north through the Noteć Forest, then 3 km west on the asphalt, turn south and again 10 km of the washboard. I was wondering why people were complaining about the sand. Until now, there was maybe half a kilometer in total of deep sand. After all, this washboard is worse!
I couldn’t wait to get to Międzychód. 1 km from the route there is an Orlen station, where I planned to warm up, drink and eat. I also looked at where the other competitors were and it turned out that I had probably overtaken several dozen people at night.
Unfortunately, at night I was so dehydrated and I was so deficient in calories that I was unable to replenish it during one break. After 40 minutes I moved on but still weak.
Beautiful scenery improved the mood. Lots of greenery, hills and a beautiful morning mist :)
I wished it was not a competition but a regular trip. Normally I would stop for longer to take pictures, but anyway I’m on the race … It’s a waste of time, quick photo and let’s go.
Still in great terrain and still slow.
Moments before 9 am I broke 300 km, so the third hundred took me almost 9 hours. Not the best.
I felt that I needed a decent dinner and a 1-1.5-hour break to regain my strength. But it was already not far away. “Only 100 km left, I can do it without lunch, it’s a waste of time to leave the route.” I was satisfied with grocery stores. A break with one, then a longer break with the other, a few minutes break in the meantime, and so I dragged myself towards the finish line. From time to time I was overtaken by other competitors, those whom I had overtaken overnight. It was just good that the knee did not bother. I didn’t even notice when the pain stopped.
At about 320 km, the long-awaited sand appeared. Terrible, impassable. Although if I was not so tired, maybe … but in the state I was in then, sometimes I didn’t even feel like fighting, I just got off the bike right away.
Fortunately, they didn’t stay with me for long. It was a distance of maybe 2-3 km.
But soon there was another hurdle. A few hundred meters on the stone pavement. And I was so fed up with all the bumps…
It was tough, but soon things started to get easier. I felt that the crisis was passing and my strength was returning!
I rode the last 60-70 km without any breaks and, for me, at a fast pace. I didn’t feel sleepy, I almost managed to get rid of my hunger and I felt that I had as much strength as the previous day. I did not know how many kilometers I would have these forces, but I decided that as long as they are, I am going. I didn’t even want to stop at the store to refill the water bottle anymore. I knew that by the end of the tour there would be nothing left in it, but I thought it’s no problem, I would get a little dehydrated, I would hydrate later.
And I got there. 32 hours and 9 minutes after start.
At the finish line, the organizers waited with hot drinks and lunch. Easily digestible rice with vegetables, just what I needed. And the shower. Only after I sat on the deckchair did I feel really tired.
After returning home, I slept for 12 hours and had sore thighs for 3 days.
And after the publication of the official results, it turned out that I am 4th among women and generally 55th out of 125 participating competitors. I am very happy with this result :)
Next year, maybe I’ll try again. Maybe I’ll start faster, because if I had so much strength at the end, maybe I didn’t have to save myself so much at the beginning. I will also prepare better with the bicycle equipment. I absolutely have to mount the second water bottle somehow. Additionally, if I could increase my strength and thus speed, the result certainly would be better :)