Polish-born Piotr Babis has smashed the previous fastest-known time for an unsupported run along Central Australia’s 230-kilometre Larapinta Trail in his first attempt.
- The 230-kilometre trail traverses spectacular scenery in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park
- Being an unsupported run, Mr Babis had to be self-sufficient and carry his own safety devices, food and water
- The ultramarathoner experienced hallucinations due to sleep deprivation during his near 54-hour run
A Larapinta trail tour guide by day, Mr Babis managed the feat in 53 hours and 50 minutes, taking five hours off Simon Duke and Rohan Rowling’s 2018 record of 58 hours and 48 minutes.
After being delayed a few days due to fires in the region, Mr Babis started on the evening of August 17.
“When I started out there was a point I thought I can go a little bit faster than that [the record],” he said.
“But then you get into those slower sections and I actually started questioning if I can go on below 58 hours but I got a second wind and finished strong.”
An experienced ultramarathoner who has run all over the world, it was Mr Babis’ first ever unsupported run, meaning he had to be self-sufficient and carry his own safety devices, food and water.
Mr Babis calculated that he needed 17,000 calories for those two-and-a-half days.
“I had gels, bars, liquid nutrition and salt tablets,” he said.
“The other half was solid food or just a variety of food like jelly beans, nuts, sandwiches and [pre-cooked] fried eggs, just to make sure I had a good calorie intake,” Mr Babis said.
Mr Babis said he was carrying one to two litres of water for each section.
“There were a few sections where I wish I had more water but never got to a point of dehydration,” he said.
Jogging through sleep deprivation
Mr Babis said he only managed five minutes sleep during his attempt, with extreme temperature changes making it difficult.
“The first attempt [at night], it ended up to be too cold, so I had to wake up and keep going,” he said.
He said it was too hot and there were too many flies during the day to sleep.
That was when the hallucinations started, which made trees and rocks appear to be people or tents.
“There was this big chunk of wood or branch which looked like a witch,” Mr Babis said.
“It really scared me at first.
“I only had a sleep after the second sunrise at Standley Chasm
“I just lay down on the dirt trail and had a beautiful five-minute nap, which was rejuvenating.”
Challenges running at night
Mr Babis said the most technical stages were at night.
“I was bit intimidated at Hugh Gorge and Spencer Gorge,” he said.
“I could barely see the end of the rock walls.
“It’s also very slow going. You have to veer your way around the water holes.”
The overnight temperatures were about 5 degrees Celsius.
“So it was too cold to swim through. I didn’t want to get my gear wet.”
Father an inspiration
Mr Babis said his love for hiking came from his father, Andrzej.
He said they hiked the Tatra Mountains, the alpine region between Poland and Slovakia.
“[My father] wanted to see as much as possible and we covered most of the tracks on the Polish side over a number years,” Mr Babis said.
Despite this, he did not tell his parents about the Larapinta Trail attempt as he did not want them to worry.
“It’s challenging for them because it’s a new sport and they’re not used to feats like this,” Mr Babis said.
“My mother thinks I’m crazy.”
Reaching the finish
Just before 11pm, nearly 54 hours after starting the gruelling 230-kilometre run, 10 people met him at the old telegraph station near Alice Springs, including former record-holder Simon Duke.
“I was just excited … what an honour to have someone of the calibre of Piotr come and do it,” Mr Duke said.
“So as he crossed the line, he wasn’t just another runner, he is someone who will be considered a friend.”
Mr Duke even brought a wheelbarrow in case the ultramarathoner could not walk to the car.
“The telegraph station gates were closed by that point but he was fine to walk to the car and he went to work the next day,” he said.
Mr Babis said it was good seeing the welcoming party, given he had not planned how to get home once he had finished.
“I wasn’t entirely surprised but I really appreciated it,” he said.
“I was very grateful for a lift home, which was another 3 kilometres from the telegraph station,” he said.
But rather than resting after his record-breaking run, he spent the next six days back on the trail.
“I got home and went to bed, woke up six hours later and went to work,” Mr Babis said.
“I went back on the Larapinta Trail for a 60 kilometre, six-day hiking tour.”