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B-HARD 2023: Testimonial of a first ultra-distance race experience

If you haven’t heard about the B-HARD Ultra Race yet, it is an ultra-distance bike race in Bosnia and Herzegovina that recently held its 5th edition. For some it might be seen as the event is competing with the Trans Balkan Race that also takes place in that region, however Bosnia and Herzegovina definitely has many more highlights than a single event could cover.

Jakub Jandík goes for his first ultra-distance race

We interviewed Jakub Jandík, a Slovak amateur cyclist who decided to set off for an adventure to his first ultra-distance bike race. As his premier race, he chose the B-HARD Ultra Race, having learnt about the event from past year’s attendees. We bring you a testimonial of what it takes to participate in a cyclist’s first-ever ultra-distance bike race, how he prepared for it and what he takes away from such an experience.

The course of the race covers 1.200 km with over 15.000 m of elevation, which must be finished within the limit of 90 hours. This year’s edition saw 86 participants across multiple categories. Apart from competing in the 1.200 km race, there are options to participate in the event in brevets of 600 km, 400 km, 300 km or 200 km. With its international attendance from Germany, Italy or Slovakia among others, it was a pleasant, community-like and multicultural atmosphere in the group of participants, without any rivalry, as Jakub described.

Jakub has always enjoyed solo rides from 100 to 200 km distance. After his friends Adam Popovec and Martin Čermák shared their views of their experience from the B-HARD 2022, he decided to take on this challenge.

Adam has already had a couple of ultra-distance races under his belt, among them the Transcontinental and Three Peaks. He advised Jakub that B-HARD could be the ideal one to start at, as there are overnight stay options at some of the checkpoints. And so Jakub got ‘into the game’. On top of that, Bosnia and Herzegovina attracted Jakub with its less prominent landscapes and several of the hidden gems of the Balkan region.

Preparing mentally as much as physically

Ahead of the race, Jakub did several long rides over 250 km, Bratislava – Budapest for instance, apart from his casual distance rides. In the end, he was heading into the event with 3.500 km ridden, which was less than he wished for, but that was what his work–life balance allowed him, (with work grasping the bigger portion, he adds with a laugh).

“First time at an ultra-distance race is a giant and unpredictable leap into the unknown. You can do endurance training, and have thousands of kilometers clocked in during the early months of the season, but you probably still won’t be fully prepared for the mental challenges it presents. Like going out into the rain in the morning with 300 km and 5.000 m of elevation ahead of you.” – Jakub Jandík

Anyway, Jakub did not underestimate the psychological side of preparations. “I wanted to be as balanced and with peace in mind as I could, so that any unpredictable setbacks at the race wouldn’t throw me off easily, “ the rider describes.

Biggest challenges and the toughest moments

Jakub’s plan was to split the route into 4 days according to the checkpoints, so that he could stay overnight there each day. But with the unpredictable weather, his plan had to be adapted already the first day. Initially, he was optimistically aiming for the 5th checkpoint at the 500 km the first day but managed to finish that first leg at the 4th checkpoint – 366 km, which was already a hefty portion, as some rain occurred in the afternoon. Adam and he stayed overnight in an apartment and got a decent 6h of rest.

The second day, he managed to arrive at Višegrad, at around the 700 km mark and after 7.000 m climbed. This time without his friend Adam, who abandoned the race. Two days done, two more to go.

As the organizer Nikica Atlagic said, “The third day is the one which separates the men from the boys.” It was raining the whole day already since the morning. Jakub woke up at 6 am but had a hard time to persuade himself to swiftly get back on his bike and get going again. 300 km and 5.000 m of elevation were ahead of him. At 8 am he finally set off to what would be the hardest stage of his race.

During such a race, you get bursts of emotions, and the mood can change several times, usually as the landscape changes. At some point, typically when climbing, you become desperate and start to lose the will, questioning why you are doing all this. At other moments, you enjoy the scenery, feel the joy of the experience and reclaim your will back. Sometimes you are just in your mind, head down and eating kilometers, not really paying attention to what is happening around you. “I created my cover versions of dozens of songs along the way. Other times I was just imagining what snack they might have at the next checkpoint,” jokes Jakub.

At the climb to Vlašić, located about 1.900 meters above sea level and the final hors catégorie peak of the race, Jakub had another tough moment. He had to walk up some parts of the climb. Luckily what motivated him was the checkpoint waiting at the top of the hill with refreshments.

Jakub finished the 3rd day at 2 am at checkpoint #9 in Konjic, 988 km from the start line. After a short sleep, he could at least enjoy breakfast at the hotel, as he knew that the finish line was within sight, just 230 km away. Suddenly, such distance seemed like a relatively short ride, compared to the experience from previous days.

After 86 hours and 48 minutes, Jakub finally crossed the finish line within the race limit, 19th out of 34 riders in his category, successfully finishing his first ultra-distance bike race. He was pretty satisfied with his first-ever ultra-distance race.

Takeaways from the experience

Such a race is concentrated with new memories made and moments lived. Most of them can be fully processed only the following days after the finish.

Jakub told us that he will compete in an ultra-distance race again, be it this one or another, but only if he sticks to his approach of staying in a proper bed. B-HARD in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a life-long experience for him, during which he learned that he could complete such a multi-day course, even if not aiming for the highest positions. Maybe he inspires several other amateurs to try an ultra-distance event.