Mate Hegyhati

Performance Hiking - a Hungarian trend to follow

Before I started running regularly, I was obsessed (and I still am, kind of…) with performance hiking. As the title suggest, this is a form of outdoor activity, that is special to Hungary. There are similar things in other countries, however, according to my knowledge, this trend is the most popular and “developed” in Hungary. With this post, I want to give You a brief insight to what we have here. Disclaimer: reading any further may result in an irresistible urge to visit Hungary or organize a similar event.




First of all, let me note, that there is no official translation of the Hungarian term “teljesítménytúra”. The word “túra” stands for a hike, tour, long walk, or something like that. The meaning of “teljesitmény” alter based on the context, it is something about power, achievement, performance. Though I am not a native English speaker, my best shot for the translation was performance hiking. If You disagree and have a better suggestion, let me know in the comments. (I've seen powerhiking, endurance hiking, long walking, trail challange, etc. over the years.) Moreover, I'm a lazy person, so I'll just use phike / phiking / etc., as I (and many others) often use "ttúra" in the Hungarian slang too.

Now, after all this, let's get to the point:

What the heck is a phike?

To put simply, it is an organized hiking event, where the participants must walk through a given track within a predefined time limit in order to obtain the prize of the event. In the following I'll discuss each part of the previous sentence in a bit more detail, but let me have a disclaimer here: not all of the phiking events are exactly like this. The description I provide here covers most of the events, but there are some alternative ideas. It is important to know, that this term is not licensed, there are no strict definitions, national rules, or anything like that. (Though there were/are some guidelines, but let's talk about that later.)

Photo taken by Aron Dienes

Phiking, step-by-step

As it could be expected, if You want to attend to a phiking event, You must start with the registration:

Registration

More and more events allow (or require) pre-registration online, but in general, You register to the event at the same time and place, where the phiking starts. That is usually Saturday or Sunday early morning at a school, pub, restaurant, or something like that. Typically a small form is to be filled, where You give your name, select the distance choice of Yours (if there are options), and sign that You are physically prepared for the trip and take all responsibilities. For safety and other reasons the organizers usually require You to give them a mobile number on which You can be reached if anything happens. With this sheet of paper You need to walk to the registration desk, pay the fee (in most cases $3-$5), for which You get Your itinerary / phike booklet / however we want to call it. 

Crowd at the registration of a popular event

The itinerary

The itinerary is a small booklet that contains all the information required to successfully finish the phike. It usually has the following parts:
  • Short welcoming message, general description
  • Map, where the track is indicated
  • Textual description of the phike mentioning important crossroads, turns, etc.
  • Place for the stamps of the checkpoints
  • Distance and elevation data about the segments of the track
  • Cross-section diagram of the track
Sometimes it entails some information about the available public transportation opportunities at the finishing place, or some stuff about a hilltop / sightseeing tower / fountain / anything that the track visits. Some itineraries are a simple black and white A4 paper, others are more sophisticated. Here are two examples:

The itinerary of my second phike: Hegyhát 50 back in 2000. The most minimalist one I've ever seen.
Cover of a more sophisticated one
The map with the highlighted track

Short description

And the distance/elevation data for the segments

We are good to go!

Upon receiving the itinerary we are good to go. This also means, that participants usually don't start together. For most of the phiking events there is an interval in which one can depart. (Obviously, the netto time is measured for everybody with a high-tech approach: the time of departure is written on the itinerary by a pen.) Some people prefer to walk alone, others traverse in groups, some just go together with the person they meet on the road. 

So, now that we have a map, the task is set, there is nothing else to do but walk. Most of the phiking tracks follow tourist signs (will be covered in a later post).  But here are some pictures to make this long post less boring:



When the track is not aligned with any of the tourist signs, the organizers usually highlight the correct path with ribbons/stripes attached to branches of trees, lamp posts, fences, etc. So in general, it is not so easy to get lost at such an event, and one does not need serious orienteering skills with a compass.

Checkpoints

99% of the phiking events have some checkpoints along the way. The stamps collected here are the keys to prove that one has really walked through the whole track, not just drinking beer in a pub for a couple of hours.  There are checkpoints where some of the organizers sit and wait for the participants. They often provide some kind of refreshments as well, that is included in the registration fee, like chocolates, apples, or warm tea.

Getting the stamps on the itineraries at a "human checkpoint"

Other checkpoints consist only of a small laminated A4 paper on a tree, that contains some kind of code or a stamper is attached to it. The phiker should validate the checkpoint for themselves in this case. Obviously, refreshments can not be expected at such checkpoints.

"Self-checkpoint" in the forest.
Checkpoints are usually located at important crossroads, a well, tourist house,, or any other significant place along the way. On some phiking events they are rather sparse (every 10 km or so), others have plenty of them. Usually, a checkpoint can be expected every 6-8 km.

Finally, I'm at the finish!

Good for You :-) For most of the events, the endpoint of the track is the same as the start due to logistical and other reasons. The outro of a phike is the simplest. If you have all the stamps, and Your netto time is within the limit You get a final stamp on the itinerary, a warm handshake, a small pin / medal and a simple "diploma". Some examples:


Many people collect the pins and display them in a nice way as a house decoration. One of my friends just recently posted Her 2016 collection on facebook. Yeah, She is kind of a fanatic, in a good way :-)


That's it folks

Well, You basically know now the most important things about phiking, but there are still plenty of details, so let me clarify some of them in a Q&A style:
  • Who can participate in a phiking event?
    Basically anybody. Some long distance phikes require an age limit or medical report, but that's pretty rare.
  • How long are these phikes?
    I think 80% of them are between 20-50 km, but there are plenty of shorter and longer ones as well. (There is a debate, whether a 1 km long hike can be called "performace hiking" or not though.) The 100 km distance is some kind of a divider / degree. Those who do 100+ km long phikes are well respected for their results. The longest phike organized was 250 km long if I'm not mistaken.
  • How fast should I walk?
    Back in the day the general rule was someting like 4 km/h average speed. For shorter (and thus usually more popular) phikes this limit is usually lower. For the longer ones it is often higher.
  • Can I have a longer rest or even sleep?
    As long as You don't use a car / bus / etc. it is totally up to You what You do. Once I was really hungry and spent an hour in a restaurant.
  • Can I bring my dog?
    There is sometimes a debate among phikers, whether it is ethical / suggested or not. But the answer is yes in general. I never had any bad experiences with dogs along the way, but if You bring Your dog, please be considerate towards other hikers and bring a leash. Some phikers may be afraid of dogs. Once a dog just followed me, and it turned out that his owner was 10k behind me. He was really friendly, but it was not a fortunate situation.
  • Who can organize such a trip? Are there any requirements?
    AFAIK anybody. A person, an organization, a non-formal club, whatever. In Hungary the only important thing is, that You should get some kind of permission from the local national parks and hunting organizations. 
  • How can I get to the starting point of a phike?
    They are usually accessible with public transportation. It is also common that phikers with car offer seats in their car on forums, facebook groups, etc.
  • What if I know a shorter path between two checkpoints?
    If not indicated otherwise, this is considered as cheating. Some events have "secret checkpoints" to filter people with this kind of deficiencies, but that's pretty rare. In general, phiking is not a competition. The fastest gets the same reward as the slowest (considering, he/she was in the time limit). Peoples goal are usually to get better. If You want to cheat Yourself into believing that You managed to finish a 50k phike, but only did 48, that is Your mistake. 
  • What if I know a longer path between two checkpoints?
    Still, You are not following the track. But the best is to ask the organizers. Just this summer I participated a 42 km long phike, where the track did not visit a very nice fountain and valley. At the registration I asked the organizers, if it is ok to take the longer path, and include that into my trip (and missing another part). The organizers approved it, so I consider that acceptable. But in the end, this is Your choice, what You consider adequate, and what You don't. 
  • Can I run instead of walking?
    Yes, and many people do that (including myself). But keep in mind that (except for some rare exceptions) You are not the target audience. So be polite towards (obviously slower) walkers. If the path is narrow, be patient. (This holds for faster walkers also.) Usually there are no atrocities, but pay extra attention when You run, and don't scare for example elderly hikers by overtaking them suddenly from very close. Also, it is better if You start at the end of the time interval, as the people at the checkpoints usually don't arrive so soon to catch the runners. Most of the organizers let runners start even after the end of the interval for this same reason.  
  • Do I need a special gear?
    The beauty of this sport is that You can start with whatever comfortable clothes You have. You don't need the expensive "high-tech" stuff. Of course, if You intend to do longer phikes, it is advised to have good shoes. For the clothing, this is what I usually have now: (basically hunter and military clothes. They are comfortable and durable, and I like the style :-))
    Photo by Aron Dienes
    Oh, one more thing: If the phike is organized during the night (yeah, there are some of those too), or simply it is so long, that it will stretch into the night, You obviously need a good lamp.
  • How much food should I bring with myself?
    Obviosly this depends on You, the distance and also on the refreshments at the checkpoints. Some events provide a lot, some don't. It is usually highlighted on the itinerary, where You have options to take fresh water, which can be really important in the summer.
  • Is it only for walking or are there biking events?
    Yes, there are plenty of phikes organized for cyclists. Some require MTBs, others have the track completely on asphalt roads. Still, most of them is organized for hikers, but there are a really few for horse riding and kayaking I guess.
  • How can I find info about phiking events?
    There is a wonderful organization called the "Society of Performance Hikers", which maintains a website with a list of all of the events. If the provided info is not enough, the e-mail address or phone number of the organizer is usually public, so You can just contact them. Also, the aforementioned organization publishes the list in a form of a book each year since 1992. This can usually be purchased in January at most of the phiking events. It costs a couple of bucks, but totally worth it. Here is my collection:
  • When was the first event organized?
    There is a little debate about this, but it is generally accepted, that the first performance hiking event was the Kinizsi Százas organized in 1981. This is 100 km phike with a lot of participants ever since (it is still organized annually). 
  • Are You sure it is only a Hungarian thing?
    I know, that it is not. Even the title of the book above says: "Performance hikes in Hungary and abroad". We know, that there are plenty of similar events in the neighboring countries and afaik, IVV hikes are popular in Germany for example. But still, according to my best knowledge - as I said in the introduction - this type of hiking is the "most developed" in Hungary. (For which we are thankful to the aforementioned organization and all the wonderful organizers.) Just look at the list in the link above. Or just have a look at the next saturday: I can chose from 7 different phikes (not to mention the distance options), from all over the country and one from Serbia

I still feel like I forgot about something important, and I know I haven't talked about things like MTSZ rankings, the so called "sweeper" who chases the phikers, etc., but this post is already long enough as it is. I hope I could make You interested in these kind of events, and shoot me with questions in the comments if You have any. 



And as always: Thanks for reading! Sharing, comments and +1s are always appreciated. You can follow the blog on Google+Twitter, and Facebook.

Mate Hegyhati

About Mate Hegyhati

Amateur fun runner, geek, hiker.