Tears, sweat and chocolate: 1000 mile Adventure, Renata’s longest race

The 1000 miles adventure is an unsupported race across the breadth of Slovakia and the Czech Republic over the mountains; through areas of bears; across rivers and all sorts of other 'fun'. Portugal Holiday Manager, Renata took on the race in July and here’s her account of how it went!

Some facts about the race:

Total distance: 1619 km
Climbing in total: 43,193 m
Crossing: 3 rivers
Duration: 18 days 4 hrs 14 mins
Weight loss: 5.7kg
Average hours of riding per day: 14

Out of breath

‘Are you alright?’ I heard after my bike crash. I was trying to respond but I couldn’t catch my breath… It was the first day of the race, approx. 30 kilometres and thoughts in my mind were not very positive: 'It’s over. Months of preparation and this is the end.' I felt pain from the fall when handlebars crashed in my ribs. I kept asking myself 'Why has this happened to me?! And just at the very beginning?' after a while I accepted it and asked instead 'Why not?'. I knew that I had to be very careful after the fall, my ribs were very sore and one more bad fall would mean that I would be out of the race. I took this race more seriously and was considering my abilities with every terrain, more conscious about the path and my journey there.

The person asking if I was alright was a Slovak girl Daša and since my bike crash we continued together most of the time until the second checkpoint at 500 miles. Let's summarise it: My fall caused my bigger consciousness and a friendship, I felt like a winner.

Watch out for the bears!

Territory of brown bear.
There are areas in Slovakia known for the high presence of bears. One of the emergency rules was to take small jingle bells on our bicycles, this was meant to scare bears away. Bears are a protected species in the Slovak mountains and got used to human presence, often migrating from their usual 'homes' searching for food close to people’s homes. We made fun about this before the race but when you are actually out there in the prohibited section (prohibited because we could not be there at night) you can almost feel their presence and you kind of think that you will meet bears around every corner. There was one crossroads in the mountains where I was waiting for my friend Daša and I heard weird noises from the woods. All the jokes that we were making before and now here I was, standing next to my bike, talking out loud and ringing my small jingle bells like crazy.

Don't forget to be mindful

Beautiful landscapes of Slovak mountains - one of the
bears areas. Photo credit: Daša M.
I can honestly say that I have never felt so alive as during this race. You are out there, at one connected with nature, trying to ‘read’ the paths and also the weather, feeling the wind playing with oats on the field, cycling between cows and in the darkness of woods at night. You start to perceive those things more intensively because you don't have any distracting objects during the day. The whole day you think only about basic things: Am I too hot/cold? Do I need water? Do I have enough food? Where will I sleep tonight?

What a change from my days beforehand. You realise soon that you don’t need a lot for living.

Reaching 500 miles
Leaving 500 miles checkpoint.
Photo credit: 1000miles team.
We reached the 500 miles checkpoint with Daša at 10pm, Daša was finishing here and I was seriously thinking about giving up. I had plenty of reasons to finish there – my bruised ribs, my friend’s wedding which was in couple days, swollen Achilles tendon, tiredness, etc. the list goes on. But… Can I use bruised ribs as an excuse when I am cycling like that since the beginning? Can I finish at half distance when I am to raise money for kids? I had to ask myself the most important question: What would make me happy? The answer was clear: To finish. I shared my concerns with one of the organisers at the checkpoint, he listened to all my excuses and said: 'Renata, you can decide in the morning. Now, go to bed and we will talk about this in the morning'. I went to bed having all the small maps next to me looking at them and thinking there is no way I can make the whole journey. And in the morning? I knew. I didn’t say it out loud but I knew I had to keep going.

Becoming an eating machine
Find a nice place, stop there and enjoy your lunch.
Photo credit: unknown lady who took a picture of me.
I was quite lost regarding nutrition. I am vegetarian and I have an idea about what to eat during the 'normal' training day, but I have no idea what to eat during a race like this. During the race, we were allowed to use all facilities that were available on the way but Czech and Slovak cuisine is based on meat and I had limited options at the restaurants. I was lucky to have a chance to chat with Helen (http://www.helenmoneynutrition.com/) and that turned out to be a great opportunity. Helen was very helpful and provided me with an exact plan which – to my surprise – involved Creme eggs as a snack. Main meals were ordered from UK and the company Expedition foods, their meals need only hot water and you have a proper meal within a few minutes. Helen made a nutrition plan which for me seemed like a lot of food and I was worried that I would not be able to eat as much as she said. I was wrong! Within a few days I changed into a proper eating machine. I basically ate all the time and the amount of food surprised me. Eighteen days of racing and eating like crazy and I lost nearly 6 kilograms. Honestly, this race should be advertised as a great diet plan...

Ups and downs
Dripping wet. Photo credit: Jindra P.
This race sounds like a great idea for someone who loves cycling as much as I do. Cycling the whole day, meeting new people, being up in the mountains, seeing beautiful views… Yes, there were lots of ups and highlights but you can be sure there were lots of downs too. Sore legs, pain, sore ischial bones, tiredness and exhaustion.

I had two mantras that I repeated in hard times: ‘With every step the finish gets closer’ and during very steep climbs: ‘Every hill has a top’. These two sentences were stuck in my mind and as a broken gramophone were repeated again and again.

What if you are so despondent that you can’t go any further? Well, that happened to me in Slovakia. It was hot, I had problems with my brake pads and I felt absolutely exhausted. I couldn’t go any further. I sat down on the field and started crying like a baby. Then laid down and watched the sky and clouds. What to do now? I asked myself. I found a chocolate biscuit, ate it, calmed down a little bit, took my bike and continued my journey. You know, there wasn't much to do than just keep cycling.

I also experienced hallucinations. Athletes that were cycling on a tandem bike pointed out a mountain hut that should be close to me and I wanted to get there and meet them. It was already late at night, I was slowly pushing my bike, exhausted and trying not to fall asleep. I heard weird noises and tried to do some maths calculations to keep my brain awake - I am bad at maths so I couldn't get any correct result and that kept me awake. It worked and I reached the mountain hut at 1:30am so happy to see the 'tandem athletes' already sleeping there. Another time I heard organ music in the woods, there wasn't any village or anything closer to make such music. I wasn't concerned anymore, I just kept cycling and enjoying the concert in the woods, it was certainly interesting. 

You’ve finished!
At the finish line with race director
Jan Kopka. Photo credit: Libor Č.
I reached the official finish of 1619 km after 18 days. Suddenly I was lost, I didn’t quite know what to do now. I gave a few shy smiles to the camera but my mind was in chaos. I had finished. There was no more cycling towards the finish, no more freezing nights or hot days, no more meetings with interesting people on the way.

I got it now. It is not about reaching the finish line, it is about the experiences you get on the way.

What went well?
Having a consultation with Helen about my nutrition
Training in Portugal and getting used to the heat
Sending parcels to the post offices on the way to get meals and some goodies
What was hard?
Sleeping outside alone
Mornings without coffee! :-)
Getting up to cold from the sleeping bag
What could be better?
Better sleeping bag to not get cold at night
More off-road training with loaded bags

What surprised me?
How much I can eat! Suddenly a giant size pizza wasn't big enough!
Kindness from people

If you liked my journey and the idea why I was doing it please take a look at my justgiving page:

Big thanks to:

Tri Training Harder - for support and messages during the race
Coach Rhiannon - for encouraging me during my preparation for the race and helping with setting up a fundraising page
Coach Alan - for suggesting last year that I should do some long cycling race (he probably meant on road bike and probably something like 200 km long, but I understood it my way)
Helen Money - for providing me a great nutrition plan
Scott and Lynn - for their never ending support
Philip - for bringing me a lot of Creme eggs
Zdenek and Barča - for updating my Facebook page Pastel Re Nata with my messages
Tomáš S. - for taking me and my bike to the train station and for messages during the race
Daša M. - for sharing half of the way of the race and sending supporting messages when I was cycling the second half
My mum - for picking me up at the finish and messages during the race
All the people that helped us on the way - for water, biscuits, insoles, places to sleep and shower.