I decided to write the occasional race review, but only where it hasn’t been widely covered in English elsewhere - so you won’t see a review of the London Marathon, but you may never have heard of Kierat, Mozart 100 and .... (This page will be updated).
Mozart 100 - English website here.
Salzburg, the home of Mozart.  A cultured and sophisticated Austrian town now being subjected to muddy, sweaty ultra runners.

The Mozart 100 came to my attention through the Western States qualifier list - now a multiple lottery loser, it makes sense to have a few options to make sure I can keep my ticket count up.  Last year I used Kierat in Poland, technically 100k but an orienteering route which leaves you free to make your own way to each checkpoint - leaving a navigation novice like me the opportunity to add at least another 30k and find every dangerous gully and piece of impenetrable brush in that part of Poland. It also starts in the early evening, guaranteeing even the elites the joys of navigating right through the night. Which is a long winded way of justifying why it took me nearly 27 hours - fortunately though the Western States people are quite clever and the qualification times for tougher events like this do make some allowances for idiots like me, meaning that a strong push got me the sub-27 needed and a 100k PB which really ought to be eminently beatable...

The Mozart 100 is billed as 103k and the cut is 18 hours, but you will need 16 hours to satisfy the Western States people as they clearly think this is much easier - and part of their definition of easier relates to the degree of self sufficiency required.  Mozart has aid stations every 10k and a well marked course with a significant road component, plus all of a 16 hour run will take place in daylight. So all I needed to do was improve my one and only 100k time by nearly 11 hours. It sounded doable, the entry price was I think 70 Euro and it was easily reachable by Ryanair from Stansted.

The race started at 5am in one of the main squares. I had picked up my chipped number the afternoon before, and the minimal kit list - just a cup and a whistle - meant that I could run with just a twin bottle waist belt. I wasn't convinced I needed two bottles but it was worth having options. I deliberately started with both bottles empty as it was cool and I was already properly hydrated - but I also started with no GPS as the 310xt hadn't picked up a signal in time.  The first stop was at 10k and I filled a bottle and reset the watch - a bit of a pain as that had taken me just over an hour, complicating the mental arithmetic for pacing purposes later in the race.  The first 10k had been fairly tame - a mixture of road and some fairly gentle trail sections.  The second 10k was much tougher, with significant ups and downs and a lot of technical trail. Although there had obviously been a lot of rain the mud was very tame by English standards - a very high leaf litter component meant it wasn't particularly slippery, although there were lots of tree roots which did need more care. I was using my last pair of Reebok Zigtechs - a weird looking road shoe which has quite a deep tread because of the wave type construction, but its grip would not be good in English mud and its tread pattern only really works forwards / backwards, not sideways, so tree roots and wet rocks need to be watched with care. That said, they are very comfortable and suit me well - the previous pair have done multiple marathons, Comrades, the Thames Path 100 and tons of training miles but are now starting to fall apart.  If anyone has a pair in 8/42 they want to get rid of, please let me know - they aren't sold any more.

The signs and trail markings were very good and they even had marshals in a few places, including police help on a few road crossings. The second half of the first loop was mainly road and forestry tracks and included an interesting view of club racing at the Salzburgring at very close range at some points. It also included a couple of very steep hills, including hundreds of trail steps up a mountain right in the town centre followed by some steep downhills and then stone steps to complete the first loop.  I was aiming to break 6 hours for the first loop, partly for pace reasons, but also because that avoided picking up a mandatory head light for the second and much longer loop - I made that with only about 5 minutes to spare and then immediately found a bench to get some grit out of my shoes and retie them much more tightly to stop my feet sliding forward on the steep downhills.  It was now getting quite hot and having two drinks bottles helped my peace of mind.  

I was maintaining a fairly disciplined pace - walking up all the hills and jogging everywhere else.  I was more cautious on the steep downhills than many of the others as I didn't want to wreck my quads and cause problems later on. My pace plan was to keep each 10k section under 90 minutes - that averaged out the very steep sections so I didn't need to focus on individual miles. The second loop added in an extra 10k around a very attractive lake, and the hot weather made way for a thunderstorm and heavy rain as we reached the furthest point with about 25k to go. The rain was actually quite refreshing and there would have been no point carrying a waterproof given the weather and the humidity.  

Most of this course is quite runnable, and especially the last 30k, so it was now looking as though sub-16 was on assuming no major problems but I was worried about the last mountain as the steps were brutal. For that reason I maintained my wimpish downhill running, wondering whether my legs would be wrecked on the steep step sections later - I was probably over cautious on that and if I knew my time was going to end in .02 I would have pushed harder.  As it was, it was virtually impossible to change your natural step climbing pace and I hit the last short flat section in to the finish without enough time to claw back the 3 mins I would have needed for a sub 15 - but 15.02 was well within the 16 I needed and felt quite comfortable - no blisters or injuries, just the usual shredded legs. A beer on the finish line, a framed picture of your finish and it was time to find somewhere to eat - job done.

This is a very well organised event, easily reachable from major airports and presenting no problems for English speakers. Hotels, food and beer were all reasonable by European standards although Salzburg isn't a budget destination. There was no T shirt and the medal was poor quality plastic, but that doesn't bother me.  The aid stations had water, isotonic drinks, Red Bull and their version of coke, various gels, energy bars, cake, apples, oranges, etc. I can't eat much on these events but tomatoes dipped in salt were working well for me.  The field for the 100k was only about 150 but the supporting events help give it a big race feel and I would expect this to become more popular over the next few years - its definitely worth a look as a Western States qualifier if you can't get a place in one of the UK 100 milers, or if you want to start at the shorter distance.


Kierat - English Website here
I stumbled across this race on the Western States qualifier list, knowing that I already had issues with some of the UK qualifiers.  It seemed to have quite a generous time limit for 100k but English information was very limited, meaning that the usual plea on Facebook was the obvious choice.  This produced a Belgian living in Poland who did it in 2014, and Stef Schuermans proved to be extremely helpful in making this happen for me.
Kierat is nominally 100k, but there is no route – you are given 15 intermediate checkpoints to visit in the correct order before you return to the finish.  The Limanowa area is extremely hilly and the route included a couple of climbs which you could probably fairly call mountains at around 1,000m – choosing a route definitely needed to take in to account the potential gradients involved but the map is supplied just a few hours before the start and no-one knows where the checkpoints are until then.  The entry fee is approx. £15, which includes overnight accommodation in a school hall at the end if you bring your own sleeping bag.  There are slightly more expensive hotel options, but my wife was staying at home so I can revert to living like I’m a tramp. I can hear her now - REVERT ?? Support on the route is very limited as only 3 checkpoints have water – you will need to be largely self sufficient.  Ideally, you would also have some experience using a compass and a map – which I didn’t…
I arrived in Krakow on Ryanair late Thursday to meet Stef and Tim de Vriendt before an overnight in the city.  My hotel was too close to the rowdy bar area, which was a good start to a sleep deprived weekend, but we were underway in Stef’s car by 10am and in Limanowa around noon.  There was a small queue waiting for registration to open so we had lunch before picking up our maps – the race would start at 6pm, giving plenty of time to try and work out your preferred route on a mixture of roads and trails, including options to cut directly across country if that seemed to make sense.  It all sounded quite straightforward…. How wrong I was !  On tables all around us, Poles were doing the same thing – some also plotting courses on GPS devices.  Incidentally, I had brought a pair of poles and they soon proved extremely useful – if you want to get all snooty about cheating sticks, good luck here…  The compulsory kit list was limited but sensible, and it wasn’t checked.  Stef and Tim, in UK speak, are probably more LDWA than runners as such – Kierat is actually billed as an Extreme Walking Marathon – and they were clearly comfortable with the orienteering side.  They also needed room in their packs for two packs of cigarettes each, but I still had a nasty feeling they would be finishing before me.
I was travelling quite light – a Raidlight 15 pack with 2 front bottles, a few energy bars and the basic kit, which was going to be fine as we were expecting quite a warm night. Unfortunately it had been very wet and more rain was on the way. I had my old North Face Singletrack shoes with low cut socks and shorts  and was getting a few curious looks from the Poles.  If you could see the state of my legs now you would understand why…  Long trousers would be sensible for this event.
We set off at 6pm from a nearby park and it was mainly road for the first two checkpoints.  We had an electronic tag which had to be touched on a reader at each CP and they were taking numbers manually as back-up. There was also a set of LDWA type clippers which could be used as a further back-up if you wanted to make extra sure – I only realised this about halfway, but most people didn’t seem to bother and the electronic tags worked well.  I later found out that Stef and Tim had dropped out quite early on as both started unwell – the tags were letting them watch my progress on a big screen at the finish as I passed each CP. By CP3 it was getting dark and was definitely a true trail run – there were still enough runners around to buddy up if needed, but people were now taking different routes and I decided to take what looked like a shortcut down a more minor trail at about midnight.  This turned out to be a disaster, despite a Polish guy with GPS having the same idea.  There was pretty soon no trail at all and we ended up hacking up and down steep stream banks and through brambles, nettles and bogs. I was already on my second torch battery and was desperate to hang on to Mr GPS as we were in dense forest on difficult terrain – losing the light and the GPS was going to be a big problem.  We eventually emerged on to open ground but we had lost a lot of time and my folly in choosing shorts was now very clear, with my legs in a bad state as I had ploughed through heavy cover to make sure I didn’t lose my new friend – lesson learned !
I made my own way after the next CP and luckily some country road sections let me save some battery on my torch by borrowing moonlight and overspill from other runners.  Daylight arrived quite early, much to my relief, and we had a couple of hours of reasonably clear weather – I was solo again and seemed to pick up another non-existent path, eventually bumping in to another couple of Polish guys and hacking across country again, this time in reasonably open fields but the road we picked up turned out to be a dead end farm track, and we needed a bridge to cross a small river.  This was a significant detour but the farmers wife directed us through her front garden (which gives absolutely no flavour for the several acres of rough terrain and electric fences actually involved) to her private single plank bridge – this godsend would never have turned up unless the two Polish guys had explained the problem, so thank god for that.  We split up in the next village with me (and others) following a road for a few miles aiming for a bridge over a major river. People were looking worried and leaving the road, and I soon realised why – the bridge was visible in the valley below.  I had already passed it and was obviously on the wrong road, meaning another long hack directly downhill over electric fences and mixed terrain towards the back of a village.  The fields went from agricultural to become more like gardens, leading to a concern that someone was about to come out of their back door and shoot me for stepping on their cabbages – the only way to the road in the fence channel I was now trapped in was to walk directly through someone’s carport.  Awkward, but at the last minute there was a small gap in the fence and I was on a path – bit of a relief, as I didn’t want an introduction to the yard dog…
The bridge got me more or less back on track, but I had already lost several hours and done lots of bonus miles.  Although now on the right route, I was on a very, very long climb straight uphill which saw me averaging 30 minute miles despite my heart apparently working at very near to its maximum – it now started raining, combined with the fact that we had walked in to cloud cover – and would remain in a mixture of cloud / fog until the finish many hours later. The poor visibility did give me a chance to address my failure to apply butt lube at the start - perfect visibility is not required when you are slightly bent over leaning on a tree with your shorts round your ankles, three fingers up your arse with a pained look on your face... it hurt even more for the next 5 minutes as there was probably a warning on the packet ‘Do NOT apply to broken skin’ but then all the pain receptors ran out of ammo and everything was sliding freely again.
Leaving CP15 we were required to use the mandatory route even further straight uphill to the mountain viewpoint, from which all you could see was the same cloud we had been in for the last 2 hours.  However, it should now be all downhill and a fairly straightforward route to the finish. Yeah, right…  As for much of the day, the downhill side was just as steep and slippery as the up – making it pretty much as slow and therefore depriving me of the hoped for – and much needed - free speed. My 24hr target was clearly already impossible so the basic requirement for Western States – 27 hours – was now the goal. And should have been easy. Ish. Or would have been if the visibility wasn’t so bad that I missed the left turn needed – a number of Poles in front and behind had done the same thing and one eventually turned and led the whole group back.  Except me, because I was sure we had overshot by some miles – we had already missed the turn once and could easily do it again.  Instead, I decided to stay on the current blue marked trail which appeared to be a much longer loop to the same destination.  Fairly soon I reached a posted track junction and scared myself with the place names shown – I seemed to be a long way out, but there was a track heading in what seemed to be generally the right direction.  All my running had been in the first 20 miles and the state of my wet and blistered feet had dictated walking for the last 30 miles or so, especially because of the mud and difficult terrain.  Now was different, with about 2.5 hours to go and a gentle gradient forestry track ahead – I was running scared.  Scared of missing what yesterday seemed like an easy 27 hours.  The track twisted and turned for miles, occasionally and worryingly going uphill with the cloud cover making it impossible to see for how long, or to spot any landmarks.  I was fairly sure I was headed in the right direction but was able to flag down a 4WD who confirmed it – no left, no right, just straight…  That saved a bit of angst at junctions but I had no idea how far it was and both tree and cloud cover still made it impossible to spot the town below.  The track eventually joined a minor road, but we definitely weren’t even in the outskirts of Limanowa and I was now constantly checking my watch – it was going to be tight, but if the town appeared through the mist soon I should be ok.
It did.  Limanowa, and I knew the track emerged on the wrong side of town.  I needed to get across a town I had never seen before and find the finish tent – worryingly a bit more difficult than I expected, but then I spotted the park where it all started – I saw the first runner I had seen in the last 3 hours or so and crossed the bridge with him before stealing a place back in the last 200m.  I was 265
th (of 647) in 26:34 – far slower than I expected, but job done.  Beer and sausage carried by Tim and Stef, and a kip in the car before I start repaying my debt to them in the bar in Krakow. I’m guessing – due to my watch battery not lasting the course – that I did at least 70 miles.
This is a major event in Poland but virtually unknown elsewhere, although that may change if it starts appearing in Western States plans.  I was slow primarily because of my navigational issues but in better weather, and with more navigational experience, I’m sure I could have cut my time by many hours – I would recommend this event to runners and walkers who are used to being more self sufficient.  Its very definitely a serious trail run and a big step up from one of the UK National Path events – and perhaps all the more rewarding because of that.  The organisers and the Polish people in general were very helpful and very pleased that foreigners were taking an interest – despite apparently being rather worried about whether we were up to it, and ready to send out a mountain rescue team if we were long overdue at a checkpoint.  The 2 Belgians and 2 Brits all got back to the beer at the finish safely – it must be a shared national instinct !
 This was my first 100k, although I have run 100m before. My second 100k will be in Cappadoccia, Turkey in October and I will be aiming to cut my PB by around 10 hours - if I do, that will say a lot about Kierat.