Royan 48h Race Report

My first time

Officially, this is my 1st 48h on a loop. I already have done a bunch of longer races (6 days...), a lot of shorter ones (24h, 100k...), some similar as well (trails ranging from 30 to 40 hours, ultra triathlons in a bit less than 45 hours...) and I even did a 48h on a treadmill (same time limit, same sport, only it's truely easier on the treadmill).

I registered almost by accident. More precisely, Jean-Louis, one of my co-workers, wanted to know "what is that ultrarunning stuff about". So I searched for the nearby races calendar, and stumbled on these 12h/24h/48h in Royan, and hey, why not. Royan is the town where I ran my first 100k some ten years ago. And in the end, it happened we were a nice team running together :

  • Valérie (my spouse, read her race report) got enough motivation to give a fair try to the 48h.
  • Jean-Louis registered on the 24h
  • Stéphanie too
  • Wilfrid too
  • Alison too
  • Maxime too
  • Florence (my sister) too
  • Fanny too

Well, the list could have grown longer, I personnaly would have loved it, but to sum it up there were 2 of us on the 48h, including one person who was about to discover the distance "for real", and 7 of us, acting as rookies on the 24h. Some members of the team were simply discovering the concept of a running competition, no matter what the distance. But this should not be a problem, I tried to give then a good piece of advice . In theory it's perfectly manageable. In theory.

Cool start

So in this nice 1st of October Friday, the weather's just perfect. Valérie and I slept like retired lovers (at this season, a city like Royan is supposed to have its hotels and everything filled with retired people enjoying their vacations while workers... work!) and start the race at 10 am. I have a last minute almost-panic session, as I realize I forgot the hotel key in my back pocket. Hopefully another racer offers to drive my to the hotel, this saves me a super-stressing useless walk.

In the beginning
With the walker Alain Grassi. At this very early stage of the race, everything seems and feels so easy.

I've chosen a very simple rythm pattern:

  • 30 minutes walking
  • 1 hour 1/2 running

Repeat 24 times.

So I walk during a half hour, and see the race leaders pass me, then I jog. Well, to be honest, I even run. I aim at something between 220 and 250 miles. Below 220 I'd be disappointed. It would not be that bad, but well, I already passed at about 205 during the first 48h of a 6 days, so if I push it hard enough, I should do better than that, let's say at least 15 miles, on a flat 48h. The 250 miles limit seems quite inaccessible. Given the very few number of people having done it, and also considering my personal bests on other distances, there are not many chances that I would hit and go past that barrier. But anyway, even 220 miles is quite hard, and to achieve this, one must activate one's feet. The very simple view would expect the first day to be about 125 miles worth, but with then a significant performance drop on the second part, say 95 miles. It's simple but not totally stupid I think. I still have blossoming ideas about how to maintain a steady pace on day 2. And it shouldn't be that bad if I'm a little late on schedule after the first 24h. 120 miles plus 100 is another wining formula when it comes to evaluating the different ways to totalize mileages. and reach the 220 miles limit in the end.

I feel rather optmistic, my training is good, at least when considered from a chair in a heated living room. Just after my stupid bike accident in April, when my collarbone was broken, I had no choice but to stop but since then things went quite smoothly.

I fear what's laying ahead as a quite strong pain defies me at every lap when I run/walk, and reminds me it's there each timepass the U-turn on the left.

Still, we must all keep moving. And then the pain disappears.

Holiday time

Happy meal
Eating on the course, there's no real reason to stop when you can do it while moving.

There's a nice atmosphere over here, we enjoy a beautiful automn light. I'm glad I wear gaiters, without them those little stones would have made my race hellish. The refreshment area is very fine, it took me some time to get used to the per-runner glasses, but I finally find a rythm that suits me: at each lap I empty my glass and ask for it to be refilled with plain water, fanta, and sometimes coke. During the night I would ask for coffee or soup. The people at the refreshment area quickly spot me as one who does not want to waste his time. They are efficient and nice. You need to appreciate this spreadable cheese called "St Morêt" and this "saucisson" French speciality, but if you do, then this is really almost paradise on earth.

Valérie is doing a good job, with a steady pace. Things definitely look good. To be continued.

The best team

And during the afternoon, then in the evening, my friends arrive in Royan. Yeah, those who dare to try a 24h. They observe us. I can't figure out what's happening in their heads. Now when they start running for real, it will be a piece of cake for me to play the "hey, I know what you feel" game. But now, mystery is still around, they are alien.

4 guys, 4 girls, too many possibilities
The backs of the jackets I had printed for all of us. This to identify us as a team.

I'm eager to run with them! I mean, it's been month we've been getting ready for this. We talked a lot about this 24h, but now, it's for real. I bought some dark jackets with our names printed in big fat letters on the back. I think they do look cool, but it's my opinion and I'm probably biased.

Night is everything

Let's be serious, a 48h, a 24h, a 6 days, is won or lost during the night. On day time everyone manages to move somehow. At night, the temptation of going to bed is very strong. There's no more music outside. Runners are less numerous on the track. The body gets ready for a break. Indeed, all parameters are set so that it's very hard to move fast. We have evolved and got adapted for daylight activities, I'm positive.

The hard thing, in a 48h "ran as fast as possible" is that it's *possible* not to sleep at all. It's possible, but it's a gamble. If one fails, then expect deep fatigue, a dead slow pace, and in the end some sleep and lost time anyway. But if one succeeds, then the gains are high.

So I keep an eye on my self awareness, I don't want to push it too hard now. Especially on the first night. This one should be passed without fighting hard against sleep deprivation. I'm mostly vulnerable when I walk. The switch and drop in rythm quite immediately induces an overall sleepiness. I decide to use a trick I learnt this year on PBP|page:../crpbp]: I sit down on a chair, stick my head on my bag, and ask someone to wake me up 5 minutes later. 5 minutes, no more. In 5 minutes, I do not have time to really fall asleep. But I can at least get my brain off, not taking care of anything. I just "let it go". I forget the track, let my spirit loose, my body to a complete rest. And at the 5 minutes signal, FIRE ! I'm back. It's surprising, I really feel dizzy when starting again, but I can quickly acknowledge it's efficient. And not much longer than a big stop at the restrooms. Good to know.

It's been raining a little before midnight. Now at about 5 am it rains again. A small rain, which accompanies us the whole morning and part of the afternoon. Bad news for the 24h.

12h

The 12h starts at 8:30 am. Wow, they start fast! It's way too fast, they're nuts I think, not a slight chance they can keep up with that pace. I mwan, it's OK, they might be strong, but starting at 7 minutes miles is ambitious. Let's see what happens.

Concerning the 48h, Julia Fatton, the first lady, is making her way through the leaderboard. I can't remember exactly at what point she got second, just behind me, but clearly she appeared very soon as the most threatening runner. She is devilishly steady, and does not look exhausted. At all. A great runner with a handfull of powerfull cards to play.

24h

And at last, at 10 am, we enter the real stuff, finally, the 24h starts, with all the friends on the track. I observe them. Stéphanie and Jean-Louis opted for a very cautious start, and walk, mostly. Alison and Maxime run at a reasonnable yet efficient pace, they look like they're having a good time. Florence handles it on her self, looks like she's doing well. Wilfrid gives the impression of a kid in a toys shop, he's just maxed out, not running too fast, no, but very concentrated, following very precisely his 20 minutes walk / 20 run / 20 walk / 20 run / 20 walk / 20 rest, which I suggested to him. Or at least, it seems he does. Fanny is smiling, I believe she started out a little fast, but I did not have the time to really discuss that pace subject before the race, so well, it's not such a problem anyway. All the team is here, and this is the only thing I care about.

We had set a 1000k collective target. Adding all our mileages, it should add up to 1000k. Fanny got with us afterwards, but I wouldn't raise the goal up to 1000 miles, because that one would have really been too much. 1000k is OK. In thoughts, it looks easy. But in thoughts, everything looks so easy. In thoughts.

Second night

The second night is, according to my friend Emmanuel Conraux, "un moment difficile", which could be I guess translated to "a hard time". It's at that point that many things get sorted out. I passed the 24h mark at about 129 miles. Julia is just a few miles behind, not far. Nothing is done yet. And to be honest, I'm not really sure I want to win. I do want to make my 220 miles. And if I can close up to the 239 I did on the treadmill, it's even better. Globally, it's good that Julia is here, because it's really motivating to have a runner so close on the board, it maintains a motivating atmosphere, which can help us to do our respective bests.

My 24h friends start to be attacked by distance and time. I, too, am tired. Trishul Cherns, a canadian guy I got to talk with since the beginning of the race, reminds me I should eat, in his opinion, I'm not pouring enough energy into my body. I might be right. Very concentrated on my doing the greatest number of miles, I may have neglected some important details. So this night I get myself into a new fundamental mission: finish that pasta & meat plate. What that meat porc ? Turkey ? It's a little dry and does not flow that easy down my throat but I chew it with method. It takes me 2 full laps to complete the meal (yes, I eat while walking, no need to stop for something you can do on the move). I think it's worth it.

Julia is really sticking on me. And the race end is going closer and closer. I'd like to put some more space between us. I decide to adapt my race plan. Replace the 30 minutes walk / 1 hour and a half run by 15 minutes walk, then 1:45 run. More efficient. And I do not run fast anymore, so better do it more often if I want to pile up a lot of miles.

Jean-Louis, Stéphanie, Florence and Alison walk in zombie mode. Yes, they are zombified. At least, the zombification process started. That second state where one moves without knowing exactly why, at an everything but impressive pace. It's hard. It's freakin' hard. But it's the only way I know to handle to handle that "pile up as many miles as possible" problem. Sleep in the hall is nice, it feels comfortable, but this is not the best way to have your chip beep under the counting arch. Fanny and Maxime handle with slightly more control, it seems to me. And Wilfrid, hey, but where has he gone? I spot him on the side of the track, on my right, just after the refreshments area, lying in the grass, with a couple runners around him. What the hell is he doing? Apparently he eanted to rest but decided not to go in the gymnasium. Too comfortable. Yeah right, this is for tough men but you're just risking hypothermia that way. He's taken inside, where he can rest in safer conditions. I'm a little disappointed and feel guilt and remorse. Should have I been in coach mode, on the side of the track, I would have seen and handled this, but today I'm running too and it's complicated to take care of everyone and everything. At least he's safe. This is what I like in track/circuit races, there's way much less less risk than on a straight point to point race.

Let's come back to Alison. She's having a hell of a hard time. She cruises arround buried in her scarf. Put the other way, there's a cone of clothing that keeps on going around that track, and on top of the cone, there's Alison head. I try to make some little jokes to cheer her up but it just plain does not work. And anyway I do not communicate that much, I'm myself fighting sleepiness with the help of pop-rock loud music in my ears. Later I will understand how hard it felt for her, even if I already suspect part of it. Read Alison's race report to know more. One of the best reads I know on the "I discovered ultra" theme.

And I even have some Joe Dassin (a famous quite long dead French singer) for Julia. She was asking for some yesterday, so I lend her my earphones, to cheer her up. She quite needs it, I'm sad for her, I can see she is experiencing those totally non-funny problems such as "my stomach refuses to work". She needs to stop to puke every 5 laps or so. I can't figure how she manages to move in such a state. Despite her being sick, she's moving almost as fast as me through that night. I, for one, have no problem but the unavoidable "hey, I'm tired, I got nearly 200 miles in my legs". She's an unbelievable athlete, if you have a friend and think "that guy, he has such a strong will, he's the strongest in the world", then it means you haven't met Julia yet. She's above that.

2015 training log
My 2015 training numbers, on can spot 1) the end of the 6 days in the US, 2) a period where I did a few disordered races and failed to really recover, 3) my stupid bike accident with a little more than 2 weeks of complete 'no sport' mode, and 4) a nice ramp-up period which could be interpreted as 'hey guys, I'm just back', just before the race.

Thrice during the night I play that "stop and cool down for 5 minutes" trick I did last night. This adds up to 4 breaks of 5 minutes each during which I tried to sleep without really doing it, but did rest efficiently. The usual suspects are running around, we're all together, all of us crazy mile pilers, I feel great, even if it's getting harder and harder. I'm just happy to be here, looping like a hamster with running legends (I know he does not appreciate and endorse that term...) like Jean-Gilles Boussiquet.

Valérie had to take a break. She was nervously breaking down. No use to insist in that state, when nerves are just so sensible, one needs to rest the whole system, and usually legs enjoy the rest as well.

Jean-Louis and Stéphanie do not believe in the 100k mark anymore. Why is that? From my point of view, they could still try it. It's sad but I do not have the time to investigate the problem and help them. Coach or runner, one must choose. And now I run.

Another one is having a hard time. It's the walk leader Alain Grassi. OK he's in lead but he's paying a great price for it.

One of the ladies on the track has a serious breakdown. Her face has that is all waxy, she needs to be taken back inside.

Generally speaking, the number of racers on the track really went down lately. It's not too cold tonight. It's not raining. And a nice fog makes it almost magical, it adds mystery and I like it. But still, we're talking about a running track at night, and this is hard. Very hard.

Last laps

Dawn, finally. I can now unplug my earphones. For me, most of the job is done, unless I make a big blunder such as getting my ankle sprained, or fall asleep in the restroom, there's no doubt I can finish with a solid mileage. The sun and daylight always provides me with some mysterious magical wings that empowers me to fly above problems.

Pushing it
I now look different, looks like those miles and hours did their work after all.

Still, I do not run fast anymore. I do not care about style at that stage, as long as I'm moving, this is fine, I'm happy.

Florence got the 100k mark during the night. Now Alison and Fanny are gonna make it. And yes, this is good job. Maxime has the 100k just a handfull of laps ahead, he should reach them before the end. Wilfrid is not far behind, Jean-Louis and Stéphanie slightly behind, but they did handle it quite well. Concerning Valérie, she's getting ready for the first "top three" place of her life. I can be proud of all of them.

I keep moving. I see Julia speeding up just an hour before the end. I can't follow her. Not now. She must be chasing some symbolic mark I'm not aware of. She's below her (excellent!) personnal record, but should, anyway, end up with a nice score.

A dwarf dressed funny offers us candies around the track. Everything is perfectly normal. Don't ask.

Ten minutes before the end, I manage to finally, you know, pull up my big boy pants and sort of sprint. Reading the final results I was just doing 9 minutes miles "full spead ahead", with an internal feeling of being much faster. Who cares, at least I'm convinced I did my best. And should this be wrong, the race is over, and my final mileage is 237 miles. For information, you can download the complete results on marchons.com.

And if history could be rewritten?

I'd do the same!

Winner's toll
Why on earth need we climb on that stuff at the awards ceremony ? Huh ? Hopefully, people help me. Thanks you all.

I especially hope that Jean-Louis, Stéphanie, Wilfrid, Alison, Maxime, Florence and Fanny did appreciate this short discovery of the fixed time ultrarunning events. And if this article can motivate the reader to give it a try, then my success is complete.

PS: Maxime calculated the total distance of our "4 garçons, 4 filles" team, and the final figure is 1,189,487 meters, that is 739.112 miles. Over a million meters. And this does not even includes Fanny's 107k. Not bad hey?

PPS: a big up to all those who sent me messages during the race, I do really appreciate this, it's very nice.

PPPS: thanks to Sylvie & Christelle for the pictures.

PPPPS: for further reading, don't miss Alison's race report and Valérie's race report (in French).

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Updated on Fri Oct 09 2015.