Succeed in an ultra is often directly linked to how well you're prepared. I've no magical recipe for this, all I know about is good, serious, copious training. For this 6 days, AKA Ultra French Festival - just FYI, the concept is simple, run/walk as many laps, or put another way as far as possible, in 6 days, that is 144 hours - I decided to improve my walking power and style (by doing long walks and some exercices technique ) and of course, try to still better my running level, which some good old long runs. And this is where I got problems. A few weeks before the race, on a 35 miles long run (I seldom fire a day off job, and have fun this way, I rarely do it but still do it once or twice a year) I was going downhill when CRACK I twisted my right ankle. It's one of my weak points. Right ankle and left knee. These are the places that hurt first. So well, this right ankle made a strange noise. Then it did hurt, I managed to keep going for 6 or 7 miles on it, just enough to get to the nearest train station and go back home.
I keep an eye on it during the following days. It gets bigger, but the pain is still bearable. I got 2 options. Either I slow down and expect it to fix with rest. Or, I ignore it and keep going with heavy training, taking the risk never to fix it, or least be unable to run on race day. I choose the later. I already have a personnal record of 500 miles on a six days, and I want to better this, and if I take a rest now, I suspect I won't make it, so I play double or nothing. Day after day, I look - and listen - closely at my right leg, I double-check I never take any bad step - no second chance ... - and, miracle, it works. Two weeks before the race, it still hurts a but not too much. On D-day, the final rest before the race having done its ultimate work, I don't feel anything anymore, and I have a strong training behind me. I won that bet.
The track, called circuit du Luc is a real race track. Not something improvised on a supermaket parking area with a few barriers and some cones. No way, it's a real professionnal track, designed for cars, designed for speed. It's a bit unusual, but very convenient since we are allowed to camp on side of the track. Concerning logistics, Gérard Cain, race director, has just been perfect, we have - important detail - showers and restrooms just 10 meters away from the track without any stairs. It's not absolute and total perfection, but we're closing. Usual complainers will argue that the track was hard to run because it was not totally flat, and because turns had a tendancy to break your ankles and knees because they were slightly inclined for cars to be able to go faster. This is true, but the track was the same for everyone.
The Mauduit team
I came with my whole family. My spouse Valérie but also my daughters Adèle, Lise and Garance. We planted the 6 places family tent plus a smaller one for me, so that I would not disturb everyone when going to bed at 1:00 AM, and, what's more, waking up at 4:00 AM. I could not ask for better than that, both from a technical and human point of view. I only had one thing left to do : run strong.
A six-days is kind of weird. Just in the middle of the afternoon, we start. Just before, everything was quiet. Then everything is still quiet, except the race is on. I start slowly. I walk for one hour. I plan to alternate run and walk. My bet is : by walking strong, and I should able to power-walk, because I trained for this, I should do better than last tie, and better my personnal record of 500 miles. Try and reach 530 miles, and maybe even 560. Very likely, such a mileage should put me in the first three places, but carefull, there are lots of serious contenders, and there's plenty of rooms for surprises. I just plan to do *my* race, run as far as possible, wether it's possible to win and/or finish with a nice place is a question for day 4. Until then, I follow my plan.
On day 1, I surprise myself with my mileage. I'm about 115 miles, even with a short night break. For a slow start, this is not bad. But still, I respected my planned run and walk sessions, which, one has to face it, is quite efficient.
Now the question is... how long this can last. But for now, everything's fine.
Problems start to peer out on day 2. I feel a very distant pain on my lower tibias. This is annoying, but I have a fix for this. I just relax, think about something else, and pain disappears. Or at least, makes itself bearable, I barely notice it. It's getting worse and worse, but nothing really bad at this stage. I have logged 150, 200, 250 miles, it's not a big surprise that those miles have some impact on my body.
This race was definitely very nice, as on many long distance track races, there's this unforgettable spirit, ambiance, it turns out as this is a big holiday camp. I chat with people, I chat, chat, and log miles. I can't remember when I really got in first position, but who cares. My estimation is that my current rythm can lead me to 530 miles possibly 560 if everything is going smoothly.
A nice point: race director had organised a partnership with a local association, so I had the opportunity to make a little "interview" with a very nice boy, about my daughters' age, whom I've been able to share my passion with. This was definitely a great idea, I really enjoyed that part of the event, and he did to I think.
I also remember all the efforts of Valérie who did everything she could not only for me, but also for other runners. Watermelon on a sunny day is a recipe that always does work, and it will keep working I guess, no runner can resist. And Gérard seemed to appreciate the "Big Mac" coming directly from the nearest local Mac Donald's (then, we'll talk about mediterranean food and how it's supposed to be one of the best diets in the world...)
I also sort of innovated and decided to bring an MP3 reader. I usually do not carry that kind of item with me, but finally though it could be usefull at night. It's strange, but I realized time feels *longer* with music than without. Seems counter-intuitive, but it's like this. I still use it to keep awake since after 11 pm I start getting... tired and at least, with music, I don't fall asleep. On a bike, this fight against sleepiness is very different, since one has to keep fully awake and avoid falling down. Running, things change, one can go much farther, especially on a track, and try and reach the extreme limit. I remember, on night, I asked Dominique (an old friend from my former club Tri91, which I've somewhat motivated to come and have fun with us on this 6 days) to help me "come back home". Indeed, I was afraid to collapse on the way back to my tent, which was, let's face it, only a mile ahead.
I took the time to make a few laps with Jean-Claude Perronnet. Jean-Claude is a somewhat special runner, who needs someone to run with him. Why is that? He's blind. And runs up to 400 miles in 6 days... Had he been able to use his eyes, a bunch of us - including me - would have lost a place. A very interesting guy, very nice.
I also remember all those times I passed my tent, with my wife and daughters helping me the best they could. I had everything I needed, any time.
The only thing I regret concerning logistics - and this is entirely my fault - is that I did not use their help as well as I should have when going to bed. One night, just when I was supposed to sleep, I spent about 40 minutes trying to fit the various wheels and cables in my tent, so that I would wake up at the right time. Wheels? Cables? In a tent? What the hell is that? I don't know. I can't remember. I think I was just "half mad" and started to have weird ideas alone in my sleeping bag. Still, I wasted more that half an hour of good old sleep that way. It's like that, that kind of thing happens, when one is very tired, one does not always make smart choices ;)
I appreciated the 100k and the 100-miler, those were side races, with - and this is sad - too few runners racing them, but at least they brought happiness and movement on the track, with runners who were sometimes racing those distances for the first time, and deserved their "finish".
After some time, the pain it my lower limbs is getting worse and worse. Olivier Chaigne gives me some cream to release the pain. I appreciate his help, unfortunately, it does not really have any effect. I passed the two thirds of the race (4 days) and decide I need to speed up. In any case, If I want to reach 530 miles, I have no choice, I need to move, and fast. So I switch in "race mode" and watch after every single minute, trying to "almost never" stop.
On the evening, I make a very slight change to my schedule and follow Jimmy, and chat with him while jogging - when on my plan, I should have been walking - and this way I increase my daily mileage. I go to bed really tired. A little late, but I can afford this because the end is, or at least seems, close.
The next day ouch'! My legs are suprisingly stiff (but well, after nearly 400 miles, this is maybe no big surprise...) but by concentrating a bit I manage to smooth things out, and even manage to jog again. Yeah, I'm on the road again! I rejoice myself and expect this to be a beautiful day. I pass my tent, I signal Valérie that there's going to be some action!
I pass the offical arch, counting our laps.
Then my left tibia, on its lower part, in front, tells me something is going wrong. In less that half a mile, I'm forced to stop. A very precise pain, in the area that was "globally suffering" for 3 days. This time it's different. I feel like someone is cutting my bone in two parts, that something is getting seriously broken in there. I read that for a champion, pain is merely information. I don't know if I'm a champion, but here the message is clear. It says: STOP! STOP NOW! I try my usual remedies, I walk, take it easy, concentrate, calm down, but nothing helps. I'm stuck. Half way on the lap, I decide to stop to sort things out. Going accross the rack, from right side to left side - about 5 meters or so - takes me a full minute. Any movement on my left side fires intense pain, something is going on. Something not cool, if I believe the "informations" I get about it.
Holy f*cking sh*t!
I ask other runners passing me to ask someone to come and get me with the little electric car officials use to move on the track. All runners are great, one of them (I forgot who it was, shame on me...) will even move a barrier so that I can relax on it. Now an official (disguised as a prisoner, lol!) is here. I climb in the car. Valérie is suprised to see me like this. 20 minutes ago, I was fine. But it was 20 minutes ago.
The race doctor takes a look at my leg. Everything is swollen in there. One can't really see anything. My legs usually swell during races, even when "everything's fine". I don't want to keep going and risk an injury that would span on several months. I put my race number aside. This is not really a DNF, as anyway my mileage is recorded and I'll be ranked with others using my current distance. The second - Didier - takes about 6 hours to take the first position, while I'm stupidly sitting at a table.
I'm definitely broken, even to take a pee, I need to use clutches and get some external help. I'm crying in despair, I feel sorry for Valérie and my daughters, who have done such a great job, I feel like I did not do my part of the job. Maybe if I had not tried to log extra miles last night... Maybe if I had walked more slowly... It's easy to regret, now.
I do not regret the decision to stop at this stage, in the sense that every movement brings me back to the sad reality: I'm broken. In the afternoon, a very strong (very strong!) wind is blowing. The day before, it was already blowing strong (impressive, a tent flied about 100 feet over our heads...) but now it's even stronger. Runners inform me it blows so strong that it defeats any ambition to run on some parts of the track. By chance, our tent is on the only part of the track which is well protected from the wind. I keep watching the race. Half killed by tiredness - I'm in this "cool down" post-race stage - and also half jealous not be be in the party any more.
The day after, at noon, I go and see the race director and the race doctor and after talking to them, I go back on track. I keep quiet. It's just that, I just could not leave this thing going on and not be part of it. I believe I'm the slowest guy on the track now. I limp and it's ugly, but I think I can manage to protect my body and not worse things. I feel a little better than yesterday but running is out of question. With this little limp I still pass the 700k symbolic limit. It's stupid but I'm pleased to have finished the race at 4 pm with everybody, even if I was fondamentaly "out". In the end, beautiful victory of Didier Sessegolo, who really deserves it, one needed to be strong on this track.
Of course, I'm disappointed.
I still do not know exactly what was my problem, I tend to think it was just a good old tendinosis. Two days after I went to a hospital in Marseille. Seeing me, the doctor thought about kidney disorder, since my leg swelling was kind of impressive. I must admit it was a nice one, coming from the ankle, it was going up my hips, and I could clearly see the mark of my underware strings printed in my legs. But finally, no, no kidney problem, they were functionning OK. He recommended I should take a rest. Good joke.
Two weeks later, I went and see a sport doctor, who sent me doing a leg scanner and blood analysis, he suspected some stress fracture. With the swelling - still there and pretty big arround the ankle - it was not easy to make a diagnostic just with the eyes and hands. Scanner revealed nothing. Since then, I must admit I did not came back to see a doctor. I had the impression to meet lots of sympathic and willing-to-help people, all telling me to slow down.
Which I did. 5 weeks without running, at all, and most of them I was still limping, any "normal" walk was impossible. Not the kind of injury I could ignore... Hopefully, I managed to stay in a correct shape by cycling. Yeah, cycling, let's talk about it, I've two projects for this summer, the first one London-Edinburgh-London, 880 miles on a bike, end of July. And then, in September Race Around Ireland even harder with 1340 miles and a hard-to-match cutoff time of 132 hours. So no kidding, I need to be able to cycle "for real" as soon as possible.
As of today (August 2013, 3 month later) I still feel some stiffness in my lower left leg, so I run but I run carefully. I'll check all this out once the season is off, for now I keep going with "moderate activity" as far as running is concerned,
If I've got one lesson to remember with this 6-days, it's that you don't fool arround with injuries. One can say "mental strengh, mental strengh", when your body is broken, it's broken. I have a couple of ideas, things to do and other not too do, to avoid this next time. That's also the charm of these races, they take it a bit farther than a simple "run strong" ;)