Why would I run in Arizona?
As of 2014, I really wanted to run a 6 days. A big one. I can't really tell why, but I felt that was the right thing to do. I had a feeling that my 504 miles in Antibes were below my optimal level. Naturally, I considered the 6 jours de France but this year the race director had a very hard time organizing it. At some point it was not even sure the event would happen at all. But finally there has been a 6 days in France. Meanwhile, I had already registered for this "new year's eve mile junky fiesta" which is called "Across The Years". The idea is quite simple, race starts in 2014, ends in 2015. Several races are held together, including a 24h, 48h, 72h, and up to 6 days. All in the same place, same track. Paradise for those who enjoy playing the hamster on a track.
I planned "big family vacation" around the race. We visit NYC for 3 three days before the race, then move on to Phoenix. My spouse Valérie and my daughters have activities planned there, rather cool, such as visiting Grand Canyon, running a 24h. Yeah, because in the US kids can race, something that would be unthinkable in France, due to our local regulatios. So well, Adèle and Lise will give it a try. To be honest, all this trip is awfully expensive, but those vacations were cool.
As far as "running" is concerned, I did Tor des Géants in September and 6 jours de France (racewalking) in October . So I'm either very well trained, or overtrained. Hard to know until one tests the machine for real. I took some risk by having such a dense schedule for the last 4 months. It's done anyway, now let's see!
Race day one, I discover the course. So, what's up? Honestly, it's quite nice, beautiful scenery, not boring at long, rather long (a little over your standard mile) with a few very gentle climbs, nothing bad. The local Mount Everest is way less impressing than those of le Luc or Lenshan . There's some hard surface but the vast majority of it is in dried dirt, quite soft - proof: one can see footprints, if one can see footprints it means it's not hard like iron - so there should be no injury, this is great news.
I start by walking an hour. This year I decided to take it simple, in Antibes or le Luc I had chosen a 2 hours run / 1 hour walk scheme but here I just target a plain 1h run / 1h walk, this means even more walking. But I plan to go even faster, even walking more, because at the end my 2:00/1:00 was transforming into 1:30/1:30, meaning I was not able to run as much as I wanted. Besides, since Privas, I know I can walk strong if needed.
I give a glance at my rank from time to time. Globally, people started out slowly, no crazy burn-baby-burn guys like I usually see in France, targetting 130-140 miles on day one. Too bad, I usually appreciate to have those, they usually warm-up and then burn out the field in a very predictable manner. So well, people here are serious, let's face the facts.
First night, I decide to stop for an hour and a half "just to cool down", to avoid going out really too fast and far on day one. Now I tell you something, I think I did it wrong. I was in such a great shape that I really did not close one eye for all this time. Not sleeping is one thing. But getting out of my sleeping bag, OMFG, ouch! It's dead cold. I usually have a hard time waking up, on a daily basis, before going to work. This is plain torture, it's cold outside, it's freezing in my tent, a good thing the girls are comfortably installed in a warm, heated hotel, when I sleep in a tent (set up by race crew!) just near the track.
So when I wake, which is not really waking up as I did not seep, I'm frozen. I took off clothes thinking I would sleep better, but putting gear back on is just so awful. T-shirt is dry and clean, the rest is wet and icy, I still had the good idea to stuck most of my clothes between my two sleeping bags, one that I rented here, the other one I brought from France. So everything is not *so* frozen that it becomes rigid with ice, but globally, this is hell, even the cream I use for my feet not to get blisters is hard to get out of the tube by this temperature. "Low thirties" they say. It takes me 30 to 40 minutes to get back on track, a pathetic score.
But well, I'm moving again.
Now this is monday, cool! I have a small thought for all my co-workers who are having their weekly monday meeting. I feel way better here, I enjoy it. Those holidays I've been planning for months, I wanted them, organized them, now let's have all the fun! I feel my late 6 days in october did not leave too many bad traces, I feel great, alternating walking and running proves to be a working option. I had prepared a rather precise race plan but forgot it in the hotel on day 1, so I just do it with the famous "go as you please" popular race plan, still respecting my run/walk scheme. It seems that on day one, even doing bad during the night, I'm a little ahead of schedule. It might not have been a bad idea to stop, after all. We'll see, I can optimize it at least.
I take a look at mileages. First runner is David Johnston, moving steady and string, and I'm hand in hand with Sue Scholl. My opinion is that she's running really fast and looks like she's overdoing it, spending a lot of energy. I think she won't keep that pace for the whole race, I'm heading for "900k and a bit of something" which is about 560 miles (OK, now, I said it) so if she follows me at that pace she's likely to explode some female record and well, I don't feel like this is breaking-records-week. 400 or 450 certainly, she does have them, but way over 500, I doubt it. But hey, we'll see what happens.
I keep going, logistics is perfect, it tool me some time to warm-up and find my habits but the refreshment area is very (very!) efficient, one can find pretty much anything. I think I drank an amazing amount of "Mountain Dew", and also ate an unbelievable number of "turkey and cheese" sandwiches. "Moutain Dew" tastes good, we don't have that flavour over here in France, but it's a cool variant of limonade, which worked perfectly for me.
And this takes us to the... second night. Now, this is getting complicated. I need to sleep "for real". I slip in my sleeping bag and set the alarm clock on "I want to sleep for 2 hours and a half". After an hour and something, I wake up. And then, I decide to go up the 150 minutes. I'm scaredd because at Le Luc as I had shortened nights from 2:30 to 2:00, I had troubles and got stuck. But thinking of it it was a mistake to go back to sleep. When one wakes up naturally like this, it means a sleep cycle is over, I should have kicked myself strong in the butt, get out and move. Instead, Mr Christian Mauduit, king of the Lazy Runners' Club, decides to waste precious minutes in his sleeping bag. I then get up exhausted after the extra nap, everything is cold including, but not limited to, my own self, my jacket is hard frozen. Wow, it's not hot in there. This time I have put the cream for my feet in a bag which I use as a pillow, so it's quite warm and gets out of the tube easily. I beat records of time wasting when putting on my clothes, my lap time is 3:17, almost 3 hours and a half, in good shape I'd put a marathon within this time frame. OK now I rested for real but more than 3 hours is way too expensive for what it's worth. Not to mention that I do have a solution to stop less, which is just : "get up when you wake up".
Now this is Tuesday. This is D-day for the girls, with the Grand Canyon tour. In a helicopter. Cool, hey? I tell you one thing, I missed them. Not from a logistics, racewise point of view. No, because the race organization is top, so there's no probleme in being alone. Only I miss their company. I'm happy to see them back again in the evening.
Now, about the race, mileages are increasing steadily, but with no surprise. I'm still a little behind David, and being me the gap is increasing. The only two racers that are in my radar are Sue and Ed Ettinghausen "the Jester", with his clown outfit. I must admit that after some time, I'm only racing with David, as the other ones do look slower, and the rare informations I take about their mileage confirm what I suspect. In reality, I'm not even racing with David, I just want my 900k-and-something and if I can get even closer to the personnal record of my friend Olivier Chaigne, I won't complain. But for know, I just need to pile up more miles.
In the evening, I feel really tired, and go to bed a little earlier than planned. But I do wake up as early as possible, even *before* the alarm rings, just at the end of my cycle. This materializes in a much more efficient break, an hour less than the previous one, and I feel as fresh as I would have been by waiting for an hour more, at least this is what I strongly believe.
And now, here we go, this is the last day of 2014. We also cross the symbolic 72 hours limit, which marks half-way into the race. I did 294 miles. I'm behind my schedule. I suspect I did bad second and third days, as on the first one I was slightly ahead. 294 hald way is not bad but to reach my goal I need to score 266 miles for the next 72 hours, which is not *that* easy. But it's doable, let's face it, miles won't pile up by themselves, I need to get moving!
But in fact, nobody cares about all this because today something incredible is happening. My daughters Lise (age 9) and Adèle (age 10) are going to run their first 24 hours race. Just for this, it was worth crossing the ocean and make our way to ATY. It looks like american regulations are much more permissive than our over-protective French stuff (they do not require any doctor signed document either...) as one can register kids. And there are quite a few of them on the track. Some of them actually running like mad, but most of them just gently walk, talk with the elder. Very nice, I love that.
So my kids are enjoying the real stuff. Let me be clear: I but no pressure on them, no performance goal whatsoever, and did not insist on them entering the race. Just, I told them it was possible and they wanted to. And after all it's quite nice to have your name displayed on the board each time you cross the line. You are also offered loads of candies, sodas, and more, at each lap, this is just like a big party! I pass them regularly, encourage them, it's a very unique experience.
Night is back again, and with it a good old fatigue falls on me, I'm getting more and more tired. My first hand reaction is to put my MP3 player on. More precisely, I don't listen to any MP3, but a local radio, 104.7, which broadcasts, between 8 pm and 10 pm, a summary of all the best songs of 2014. And this, I can tell you, is something, the best tunes from a local pop radio in Phoenix, AZ, is not a stream you fall asleep when listening to it. Good old pop with a taint of country/local stuff. And then, next, after 10 pm, here's the super mix by DJ-I-forgot-your-name, woohoohoo. Every 20 minutes or so, they fire an ad about this party they are sponsoring in the city, "it's going to be bananas! No, it *is* banabas!". Looks like there's a cocktail bar, a beer bar, a wine bar, some place to stuck your kids into while boozing around, an amazing dance floor, the best DJ in the West, well, this is the pparty you're going to remember for years "hey, do you remember when we want to ... on January 1st 2015?" "oh yeah, that was sooOOOoo cool!" and the guy on the radio is your friend, he does not want you to miss *that* fun, so he's inviting us, because, you know, this is where you want to be. Oh yeah, and thinking about it is there a track, a arch with a lap counter, Mountain Dew and turkey & cheese sandwhiches? If not, please do not count on me, I got better things to do.
At the refreshment area, things are getting crazy, it's hot (physically, and virtually) people sing, jump, that's an ambiance, man! I waited until midnight to go to bed but in reality I did this section as a last chance action, I'm exhausted. Note that going to bed early has its advantages. Because you wake up earlier so the air is not as cold. Past 4 or 5 am, it's just hellish, it's so frozen I really hate it. Once you're out it's really OK but starting off with these temperatures is a pain, no thanks. I think a little electrical heater and/or clean and dry clothes every morning might change the deal. But this, I don't have. This night I do not change my underware, do not count on me to get naked any more, I'm fed up with this, I'm going to stay dirty but warm, period.
Last night I got it quite high, I was convinced I was on some mountain road, near a ski resort. Bad things happen when sleep deprived.
Cheer up, this is Thursday!
Lise and Adèle finish their 24 hours. 33 miles and 26 miles. An ultra and a marathoner. Wow! And you, what's your excuse? I'm very happy for them, I take the time for a picture with them on the finish line.
And here I go again for a few laps. It looks like David is hanging strong 10 miles ahead of me, should I want to take the lead, I need to do something and not be happy following around. I try something new: I'm going to run for 2 hours then walk for 1, like I did in Antibes and Le Luc. Normally, this should make me move faster, on an average. Right?
Yeah, right, I move faster. But the drawback is: I'm exhausted. I fear that, lately I sort of lack running miles in my training. Basically, I replaced lots of my training sessions with walks, obviously what I gained somewhere I lost it somewhere else. I feel like I'm going to die at this rythm, so I switch back to the initial plan of 1h/1h.
Other problem, my left achille tendon is giving signs of fatigue. I limp to compensate. This is no good, I did not plan that, for sure. All this achieves to make me think I should take care before speeding up, I stick to my former rythm without improvising, not very sexy and thrilling, but there's some time to race left, and I want to be able to move around until the end.
We feel lonely now. It's very different from the former 24 hours, where it was packed with people. I acknowledge that to *start* a 24 hours race on January 1st, to arrive on the 2nd, not even at the same time as the 6 days, one needs to be sort of... strange. But strange people is not a rare item around here. I chat with David, a great guy very nice. He keeps on encouraging me "hey Christian, goog job! You're doing great!". I feel like I'm a little rude as my estimation is that I do not quite do the same with him, I do answer from time to time, try and be positive, but well, I'm tired you know. Just, tired. Hope he won't take it personnally, there's no harm meant, honestly. And being told "you're doing great" feels strange when I'm well behind my schedule. I feel that 900k splippering in my fingers, all my recent attemps to increase my pace ended up in failures. I'm still moving, but obviously, I'm too slow.
Now it's the last night with "some significant sleep". The next one, I just plan to go through it straight without entering my tent.
So well I go to bed and I have a weird problem. I was too tired to set the alarm clock. My android phone would fall off my hands before I had time to set it. Then I had to concentrate to find the right icon, and finally I set it to 15 minutes. Then I woke up and was able to think about the right time to use for my nap. So this was a 2-steps process, first get enough energy to get the right time to set the alarm, then set it for real. This is how clever you are when sleep deprived.
I wake with this smile that means "hell, it's the last time I get out of my sleeping bag to cope with that f*cking cold that produces natural ice cubes during the night'. I should have known better with that cold, K-G, a Swedish runner which happens to be a 6-days addict as well, told me that in Privas. At ATY, nights are cold. When a Viking tells you it's cold, you'd better listen to him. But as a regular Frenchman who knows better than anyone else, I did not pay much attention. Trust the Viking.
Last day, only a day and a big night, plus an hour and a half of sun on Saturday. Soon over.
But before this "last day" I must finish the night. And there, I played my joker. I forgot to tell you, but walking raises a heat/cold problem. When I run I do feel hot, I sweat, I need to unzip everything and carry loads of wet clothes around. When I walk, even fast, I save energy and therefore feel much cooler, so I need to close everything up, and bury my body in my clothes. I end up wearing 5 to 6 layers of clothes. It's a good thing I amost only have tops with zippers so I can really open everything and get it cool when running, with only my arms getting too hot. When I walk it's the contrary I'm conceiled very deep within all these layers, and suffer cold in silence. Or rather, I listen to music, as on top of being a heat breaker, walking makes me dizzy and I fall asleep easily. I naturally slow down, walk sideways, and here we go I almost fall on my back, falling asleep while moving.
I should take this into consideration when building my plans, walk when it's sunny and hot, then run when it's cold, dark, and when sleep is trying to get in my way. The rest of the time, I could alternate both activities the way I do now. This is for next time anyway.
Now, and to try and get the lost time back I decide to offer myself a steady, strong, early morning. 4 hours running, non-stop. BAM. I set to a small jog rythm, and it works. It works well. At some point, I just know it, I have discovered the secret of the ever-lasting stride, I'm just unstoppable! This is a great experience. I'm just happy. I'm no longer loosing any time on my schedule, my mileage target is truely ahead, but at least I don't loose any more miles on it. I'm doing great now. It seems this early night sleep is not a bad option, might be something I should generalize.
I must admit that as I write these lines I have a slight doubt. Was it really the night from Thursday to Friday or the night from Wednesday to Thursday that I was flying that way? Hard to tell, but I really think Thursday - Friday. And that's the point, I'm tired enough that my memories are all mixed up. The only thing that is important, really, is that I did live this dream, and will always remember it.
In the morning, I'm longing for the girls. On my MP3 players I'm listening to the old singer - long dead now - Joe Dassin, in loops. Fits quite well, mixing American and French origins. The girls are now here, I congratulate, again, the two older ones for their great 24 hours race. Then with their mother they drive away to Scottdale, at the other end of Phoenix, to get my boots. Because, yes, I decided to come back to France with some cow-boy boots. And then need to get them to the shop, as we ordered them a few days ago and now, they are here. So well, they are away for a few hours again.
And now, I just don't know why, my feet decide to swell for real. Oh it should not be a problem as my shoes are 2 to 3 sizes too big for me, and my shoe laces are loosened almost at their maximum. But still, I feel a nasty pressure on the top of my feet. Why is that? And this scares me because at Le Luc, I had to stop on day 5 because of a shin problem, which was, I'm pretty sure of it now, due to my laces being to tight. I think I'm going to wait for Valérie to handle that problem but time goes by. It's 10 am, it's getting hot, I feel uncomfortable, I'm almost gained by some psychosis. Alert, panic!
I decide to stop and take a look.
And then, I get it. It's not the shoelaces. It's the gaitors. Damn, I came with two pairs of gaitors. One pair has just fallen apart at the beginning of the race. The second pair I use know, and is a new model I had not tried for long. It happens they do require some string that goes round the shoe, to make the gaitors stick to the bottom, right in place. But this string is not extensible enough and this is why I feel this insane pressure on my feet. Hard to see when you don't try the gear with swollen feet.
I get back on track in "too bad, forget it" mode, with the gators loosened, hanging around. And stones getting in my shoes. I meet Ed who offers me (that's a nice guy, for sure) to lend me an extra pair he has brought. I try them. Sadly enough, they would require some scratch stuff on my shoe heels, and they don't feature that.
Forget it, I try another trick, put race number pins on them, to stick them to the shoes. 25 minutes to get this fixed, they bend and break, this is awfull. Please give me something to destroy or someone to kill, my nerves are breaking down. How can I loose so much time on a picky detail when all other aspects are just perfect (or almost... perfect)? No kidding.
Once on the track again, I'm just angry, mad, in a hellish mood. I know this is bad, I know I should not do it, but I need to get all that stress out of me, so the best solution I find: I run a few full-speed loops, something like 12 minutes or less, just, to get it out. I won't ever make all that lost time back, it's over, but I need to do it, else something bad is gonna happen over here.
And then, Valérie and the girls are back. The boots are awesome. Cool, this is good news. And other good news, I calm down, slowly. My pace too, calms down slowly. At a bit more than 120 hours of racing, I need to keep a steady 4 mph to get to the 900k (approx 560 miles). This is not going to be easy. About 17 hours of race left, and I can't count any more. I mix up everything. 10, 15, 80, 110, 90, I mix all figures, unable to make a race plan, I'm lost. What's more, I ate too much at lunch time and this extra sandwich won't make its way down my stomach. Swollen belly, I feel like I'm ready to puke, I've had better times.
Now I think I can't go through the night if I go straight now, I need to take a little rest. After all it's true I slept early this night and fatigue accumulates.
So I stop during the day (it's rare...) Valérie puts cream on my feet (this is new, before I had to do it myself but know she does it allowing me to almost sleep for those precious minutes). I think this has lasted maybe 30 minutes. Then I'm back again. At least my stomach is OK now, I'm positive, this is gonna be a blast!
In my mind David must have gained at least 10 more laps since I'm really performing like sh*t today, but this is another story.
The girls go back to the hotel, and I stay on the track for the last, final effort. I have a last-minute positive thought. Yeah, I'm ready for the 900k, I'm gonna do it, I believe in it. And as far as the gaitors are concerned, Valérie kindly made me some special gear out of worn-out socks, but anyways with my warm pants the problem is naturally solved, stones rarely get in. So I'm in a very positive mood. But as I try to push the machine again, wham, fatigue, sleepiness. Again, I can't calculate. Sometimes it seems I'm heading towards 570, sometimes I think I'm gonna collapse at 530. I'm unable to get a clear idea, it's pitch dark, I can't see, I'm lost.
Now it's really dark, the people at the refreshment area notice my poor shape. They advice me to go and take a nap. To get up it the cold, frozen again? No way guys, keep your lazy advices for those who are scared by the track, but no thanks, I prefer to keep moving, even slow. And now that I think about it again, I should have better slept in the common, heated tent, rather than in my own tent. I mean, at 3 am there are not many people and... it's heated! Since I ended up sleeping with almost all my clothes on... But well, no I decided it, I'm gonna walk the whole night, at least I won't sleep for 4 hours by mistake, and all the miles I'm going to collect that way are as many miles I can pile up over my personnal record (504 miles) which I've just beaten when the girls went back to the hotel.
Normally this should be a moment of joy and glory, I beat my own record at each step. It's also plain boring. I'm fed up, I sleep as I walk, and this coldness is seriously getting on my nerves. Back in Paris I see this very warm gear I usually wear in cold weather, and which I did *NOT* bring to Phoenix because I keep it for when it's "really" cold. Me stupid.
There's a intermediary line which registers runners' chips at the half mile limit, at the other end of the track, with a small tent and some race officials. This is where I could chat and have fun with a local biker featuring a would-be ZZ-top beard, and a nice and strong southern accent. Now the guy in the tent is out and asks me wether I'm OK or not. His question is quite logical. I'm actually speaking to the line. In French, of course. But it's an American line, so it does not get it. When one starts speaking to static elements, it's time to acknowledge one is tired. I decide to take a 10 minutes nap, won't be useless.
Then I go again. Irrrk irrrk, my body is screaming but well, I'm moving again. At some point I come across a guy with a camera. I figure out he's creating a business which has something related to taking films of people running for a long time in the mountain, and he's interested in getting used to carrying his gear (a hudge camera on a big iron pole) for a "long time" while moving. In short, like me, he wants to score a maximum number of laps. This is just what I needed. Someone to talk to. Because there are not many people out there now, and I get busted every 20 minutes or so. I know it, with a little company I can handle it for a much longer time, so we stick together. I chat and tell him my whole life, and learn a bunch of things about him as well. And you know, we're moving, that's cool. I feel almost ashamed of being so slow and not competitive at that time of the race but it's a least still better than being idle in my tent. My opinion.
We chat, and chat, and make 5 minutes breaks at the refreshment areas because, you know, we're human. At some point I make a proposal. Let's no stop at the refreshment area, skip it, and instead get some nice calories in the heated tent, just, warm-up you know. Accepted. I think it's not that cold in fact, it's just that being so tired, and walking, I do not generated enough heat myself.
So we stop. In front of me, the heater, with his two orange "heads". One of them gives the directions. The other ones give the transport medium, bus, train, anything. I look at them closely. I'm trying to find out their real meaning. What's all this map about? Holy sh*t, Christian! I got hallucinations again, and stayed here idle for... an hour! A complete, fat, long hour just to fix to orange spots with blank eyes. And I can consider myself lucky to have finally realized something was wrong, looks like I could have spent the whole night here. This is why on trail races I always keep some energy left, I would not like to be in that state lost in the moutain, alone. My friend has fallen asleep on the (cold) ground, he probably did not even heat himself that much. I wake him up, he takes 5 minutes to get warm, and we're back on the road.
A few laps later, I meet Martina Hausman, who also had some hard time this night, she slept 5 hours instead of 1. Bad things happen in those races. I walk with her, and my friend can't really keep up. I'll explain that later to him.
A complete mystery, for me, is what happened to David, the race leader. I imagine he must have simply tried to keep just ahead of me, adjusting his pace to mine, because even while I'm accumulating blunders, he just did not pull ahead and is still about 10 laps away. If that's the case, it's quite sad, because I figure out he could have done much better, I was a very bad pitch, the wrong fellow to follow, on this race finish. But well, he might also have had his own load of problems, I don't know and probably don't care, as far as I'm concerned, the 6 days race is all-year-round. Since my friend Olivier had done over 570 in May, the race was lost for me, so only the absolute mileage did interest me, before or after David, it did not change that much. I'm not in a very good position to give lessons, he was stronger and did better, but my raw estimation is that we both did a very poor race at the end, something to be avoided. Mark with a big cross and "don't do this again".
So well, finally, the sun is back, and this slow torture comes to its end. Strangely enough, here the extra distance after the final is not taken into account, so it's wise to end the last lap at 143:59 because at 144:01 it's invalid and counts for nothing...
541. No, seriously ? 541 ? It's not that bad after all. It places me (very temporarily, those stuff tend to move quickly these years) among the 10 fastest French runners on 6 days. The 900k (560 miles) I failed to reach them but well, I'll be back and that's it. Still a little disappointed because I had a very good physical condition and did a few stupid tactical blunders, easy to avoid (in theory). Of course it's easy to spot what is wrong, but one also needs to acknowledge all the things that went smoothly, including, but not limited to, a near perfect food/drink strategy (at least, that's my opinion), no injury whatsoever (was jogging 5 days after the race!), no serious motivation/mental problem, OK I was weak at the end, but things can get much much worse. So next time, no questions, no excuses, no nothing: 900k or out, I said ;)
And what's more, as always on 6 days races, I met very nice people, thanks Susan, Joel, Gary and all the others for your conversations. Hey, as I write these lines, I'm already getting ready for my next 6 days. Sort of addict now. To be more precise, I did already register for a days. Going to South Africa, this is going to be hot!
Thanks again to Jamil and Nick and all those who made this amazing ATY possible. Race results on Ultrasignup.