The last race
This is my last 2017 race, after this I will focus on cycling in general and more specifically on getting ready for the RAAM . About 9 months to get it right. A nice baby.
I'm wondering if I'm overdoing it by racing this 48h. I had the 6 days in August and Revolve24 in September and hey, this October month finds me say, tired. I can feel it when training, I'm sort of soft, and don't really feel like running. Hopefully this is the last one, I can just rest after it.
The idea behind a 48h is always the same: a few dozens of distance madmen and madwomen meet on a track which is more or less a mile (here, slightly above one kilometer) and they circle during 48 hours, he or she who scores the longest distance wins the race. The others win too, everybody wins as long as he or she tries to perform as well as possible. I won the race in 2015 reasonably I can expect within the top 3 performers. Valérie studied the race roaster for me and among them Tiziano Marchesi who has an amazing personal record of 257 miles and 31 yards (pay attention to the extra yards, very important) and also Alain David, who scored near 153 miles in 24h, has been selected in French national team once so it is safe to consider he knows how to run, and well. Looking at it on paper, they are both stronger than I am, and this is a good thing, there should be an interesting battle in front, which is what we usually enjoy.
Ah, last point, I heard that with the new Spartathlon registration rules, if one is 20% above the base qualifying 174 miles on 48h, that is 209 miles (OK with numbers?) then no need to be randomly drawn, you can just skip this step and be registered no natter what. Knowing I was about 205 miles at 48h during the 6 days 6 weeks before, with some margin since I go push it forward for 4 more days, I think I can do it. What's more, doing RAAM and Spartathlon the same year has some stylish note I find quite appealing, so if I can grab the qualifying ticket on the fly, I won't mind. Both races are equally mythical, in my opinion. They are the major events for long distance junkies who enjoy short cut-off times, all of which within a historical context. One is about Phidipiddes famous run, the other about crossing the New World.
In Royan, there's also Valérie and Fernando on the 48h, as well as Alison and a few former co-workers from Leboncoin who come to tackle the track for 24h. Royan is a very efficient race for me, as far as logistics are concerned. The start line is quater a mile far from the rail station. So with only a return ticket and a single hotel night, plus a day and a half vacation, I'm all set. We enjoy a nice restaurant the evening before the race with Valérie, Fernando and Sylvia. No stress.
I get my race number and start at 10:00 am. The weather's fine, everything's perfect. As usual, I start walking. This is what I have planned:
- 30 minutes walk, then 90 minutes run for 16 hours
- 15 minutes walk, the 105 minutes run for 16 hours
- run as much as possible for the final 16 hours
So logically, at the very beginning of the race, lots of people pass me and are in front.
But quickly, I get back into the front pack. I briefly take the lead then give it bac to Tiziano who is globally in the lead starting on day one. He reaches 100k in about 9:30. I'm almost an hour behind, but there's no point in hurrying more, 9:30 is what I have done on a single lone 100k in July so it's hard to imagine I could go that fast on a 48h without paying for it later. OK in Cléder there were a few climbs but still, I need to be cautious.
I note that Yolande got a very fast start. She's in ahead of me by the way. I feel she might have just gone too fast, I suspect she's going to slow down. I'm more impressed by Tiziano, super even and steady rythm, no sign of fatigue, and Alain also looks like he's out for a Sunday fun jog, he's making jokes and helping a lady watching the race with her crosswords definition. Not the kind of things you do when pushing it hard.
So well, I just do my thing, try to enjoy it and hey, speaking of Alain, I manage to have a chat with him. Which, honestly, is not a major feat. He talks, talks, talks and talks. I make the point with him that while it's perfectly fine to score more miles than me, one of my unofficial claimed prize is "he who spends the most time chatting around on the track". And he's about to win it, by a large margin. We chat, and chat. Interesting, we have common activities and points of interest beyond running. Music, for that matter. Those who think one can get bored on a 24h or 48h just lack conversation skills. Alain does not.
Valérie is in trouble. No incentive to run. None, at all. Motivation is gone. Physically she's probably marked by her 6 days but the point is: she just does not feel like running. I try and to my best to put her back on track but I fail. I still tried a bunch of options, including, but not limited to, putting Dominique on the subject, but this is not enough. So she makes a good night break, keeps a race number but stops pushing and to some extent she's "out of the race" and releases any kind of pressure from her. I understand this. I'm disappointed but also I know pushing it hard for 48h is not that easy and probably totally impossible if you are not 100% into it, so maybe it is wiser just to skip this one.
I write ths race report quite some time after the event, and thinking about it, I have few very marking feats about it. It just went from start to finish, as it should have. I had to put miles it. So I did. I did my best. Curiously, a bunch of friends who were there told me I looked tired quite early in the race. I watch pictures afterwards and they confirm their sayings. From my point of view, I just did as usual. But they are probably right. I reach about 130 miles at the 24h mark. My personal record is only 138 miles so the fact is: I had a fast start. Tiziano started even faster but at this stage, the paper theorical thesis "he is stronger than me" is just being confirmed by real world facts. I keep doing my own thing but there's no point in trying to speed up. I'm only 5% below my PR on 24h, if I push it hard, I'm taking big risks. Because, there's still a long road ahead... Compared to 2015, I did 3 miles more on the first half of the race. So technically, I can still pretend to beat my PR. This would be nice. I believe this is doable, and move on.
In the middle of the afternoon, I experience a serious down. I sleep while walking. Really, I sleep. I usually tend to wake up when I fall backwords but this time I tend to bend forward. Hard-core innovation. Alison helps me and chats with me, this keeps me awake. My rythm is going down, as a direct consequence of this sleepiness. I decide to stop for 5 minutes to get some mind-clearness back. No need to go inside, it's not cold so I can just lie down on the ground just beside the track. Tiziano's crew, composed of 2 italian guys, helps me taking a nap. They understand what I want in about 5 seconds. I lie down. They start the clock. 5 minutes later, no more, no less, with a strict precision, they wake me up and help me stand up. Professionals. And incredibly friendly. This is the magic of long distance racing. I'm chasing their man, and they do whatever it takes to help me do my best.
At some point, Joel Caduc, on of my active RAAM supporters sponsoring time station 28. El Dorado, KS stopped by to say hello. He cheers me up and tells me to keep going strong, and think about all the people cheering me up. I acknowledge the message. I'm doing my best you know but hell, this is not so easy. Thanks Joel.
The second night is usually the ultimate test on a 48h.
As far as I'm concerned, I still believe in beating my 237 miles of 2015. I'm just giving it a fair try. Hard, but doable. I'm cheered up by the amazing Jean-Gilles Boussiquet, who is here as a coach, but should be back on the trac next year. Generally speaking, the problem on a 48h second night is that you are being assaulted by sleepiness, at some point it is even worse thatn a 6 days because the legit temptation of not sleeping at all drives you to touch the very bottom. I must admit at some point I had to call it a day and make another pause. 5 minutes again (all in all I did two, maybe three, can't remember exactly, of these 5 minutes pauses) and Tiziano's crew is helping me again. Nice guys, really. I can't manage to thank them as warmly as I would like to, because I do not speak Italian.
I sort of feel my pace is too slow. Be it Tiziano or Alain, both move faster than I do when they run. Point is, Tiziano runs all the time so he's far ahead. But Alain is making many breaks so at the end of the day, I'm still ahead. Yolande had to take one step back and did seriously slow down, and she also gets cold during the night, so she's down on the general, scratch board, while keeping a strong lead on the ladies race.
By the way, Fabrise, Robin's father (one of my former co-workers) is doing well on the 24h. He will end up 3rd with about 112 miles. He had a few minor first-timer troubles (blisters & co) but seem to really enjoy the event. Nice.
This is the end
Before dawn, I try to push it harder. Tiziano is speeding up and while I can't keep up with him, it's motivating to see such a fast runner. I drag myself at not even 6 mph but this does not matter. 5.5 mph is better than 5 mph, which in turn is better than 4.5 mph, and so on.
Beating my PR is becoming complicated. At dawn, I think it's done, I won't have it. My sleepish errands at night killed it. Oh, well. Not sure I would have done better if going for a formal, longer sleep break. I just lack base speed, that's all. I switched into 6 days more. All in all I would do 103 miles on the last 24 hours. Not that bad. But not enough to reach my PR, period. I end up just below, at 233 miles. OTOH, for the Spartathlon, this is all good, I'm largely over the qualifying barrier. Valérie ran the last 50 mintues with me. Quite magical. This is the end of my running season, I'm in the best company ever, what else?
And, you know what, I witness something unbelievable. Tiziano is speeding up towards the end. A straight lesson in running and pure endurance. He still has something left in the bank. The race official on the microphone is doing a good job and pimps up the last hour, nice music and all. And then our amazing italian reaches 257 miles and 258 yards. Did you get it? His PR, which happened to be the Italian national record as well, was just 227 yards below. He just beat the race record, his PR, a national record, all this with... a merely 200 yards margin. This, I find totally mindblowing. I mean, keep the battle going until the end while having absolutely no certainty to make it is truely impressive. His commitment and attitude I deeply admire. Excellent race management, always nice, he's never been caught making any remark about other racing obstructing the track, he's a model of fairness and in the end: an impressive mileage, and he clearly deserved the standing ovation he had at the prize ceremony.
As far as I'm concerned, I get a second place, which is fine to me, of course it's not as good as being first, but honestly being second behind Tiziano is a pleasure. Now what's next? Rest. And then bike, bike, bike and more bike. I still keep in some remote corner of my head the idea of tackling 250 miles some day in the future. Looks hard, but doable, well trained and specifically prepared, it's worth a try. The best way to fail is to not try at all, so I know what I have to do next.