Polish poet runs ultra-marathon for the Vistula river

This autumn, Polish poet and runner Małgorzata Lebda successfully completed a 1,000 kilometer-long run – 26 marathons – along the Vistula to draw attention to the state of the river and the threats it faces. Starting the run along the river’s headwaters in the mountains close to the border with the Czech Republic, she finished four weeks later in the north of Poland where the Vistula meets the Baltic sea. While running along the route of the planned E40 waterway she highlighted the environmental disaster this massive infrastructure project would cause for life along Poland’s largest river.

The run was a manifesto; a voice of opposition against the violence and aggression imposed on the river, its water constantly struggling against the attempts to take away its freedom. The E40 waterway construction plans brought the situation to a breaking point and cast a shadow upon the whole situation. There were months of preparation, training, logistics, choosing the route, where to sleep, what to eat, how and when to organize meetings. Here, the huge role and work of the photographer Rafał Siderski shines through. Rafal provided support, but also took photos and filmed on the ground and ‘from the air’ during the run. He documented this unusual way of day-to-day life, allowing for the story to be told both in words and pictures.

The physical aspect of such an endeavor is one thing; Małgorzata had wanted to tackle the challenge more as a poet than an ultra-marathon runner. As a result, this was no ‘ordinary’ mileage (though how can such a mammoth effort ever be called ‘ordinary’?) and in the human-river relationship there was also a ‘word’. Małgorzata named her run ‘Reading the Water: Vistula’, but it is not only about reading – it is also about telling a story; the history of the Vistula, which collects new stories with every kilometer. The everyday stories, about going out for a walk along the river bank in the evening; the special stories about the people for whom the Vistula River is the whole world, about the irreplaceable protected areas and their wild inhabitants, for whom a piece of sandy shoal is often the whole world. And the sad stories, such as the visit to the Włocławek dam; a place where the river loses its freedom and humanity gains power over it for a short while. A fragile power, illusory, exercised with the help of technical tools, which symbolize human pride.

Małgorzata Lebda meets with Justyna Choros from the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds to discuss why the Vistula needs to be protected from the planned E40 waterway. Photo credit: Rafał Siderski.

From Dęblin, the route of Małgorzata’s run followed that of the planned E40 waterway. The multitude of protected areas in this section is cause for alarm and almost every part of the Vistula is protected by a landscape park, Natura 2000 area, nature reserve or Important Bird Area. The running project was also an opportunity and a pretext to take a closer look at these areas. It is an opportunity to overcome meanders, the comings and goings of the river and a chance to feel the rhythm of wild and untamed nature. A rhythm that we rarely experience. Małgosia took this opportunity to the full, showing that we could all accompany her. And at the mouth of the river at the Baltic Sea, Save Polesia partner OTOP could thank her for casting her vote for the Queen of Polish Rivers.

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