You think a Ironman is hard ? Right, it's a tough thing. But how would something 20 times longer than an Ironman feel like ? Yes, we're talking about 47 miles swimming, 2237 on a bike, and 524 on your feet. I tried it, and this is my story.
Si vous êtes francophone LA VERSION FRANÇAISE EST LÀ .
The problem with a double deca, is that when you start writing the race report, you've already forgotten half of it, if not three quarters, as it's way too long. Hopefully, even if I usually can't remember where I just put my keys, I got a reasonably good memory when it comes to races.
At first, my plan was just to register to a "simple" deca, as in 2010 , the whole point being to get prepared for RAAM 2020. But as I was filling the registration form, I realize there is also a double deca. That is 47 miles in a pool, 2237 cycling, and 524 running, walking, or crawling. Time limit, 4 weeks. Damn, this is tempting. I check that I can have enough vacation days. Check. I check that I have enough money to handle this. Check. I check that my family is OK with me leaving for such a long time. Check. It's even better than this, my kids will be on vacation during the last 2 weeks of the race, so we can all meet in Mexico. My target time is 21 days. On paper, it fits right, I could do it, something like 2 days swim, 9 days bike, 8 days run. And 2 extra days because "you never know what could happen Out There".
Crew is key on such a race, if you want to perform well. But finding somebody to crew you for a month in a row, is not that easy. So I opted for the "rotation" tactic. Marc, my crew chief for RAAM 2018, will handle the swim and the beginning of the bike. Paulo, my father, will do most of the bike and the beginning of the run. This is the longest period, 11 consecutive days, non-stop. Valérie my spouse, and my daughters Adèle, Lise and Garance, will be here for the finish.
So a triathlon starts with a swim. I had in mind, thanks to the pictures sent by the race director, Beto Villa, that the pool was outside. Protected by a roof, but basically, in open air. In October, in Leon, Mexico, the weather is rather nice. Weather forecast announces 80f during the day, and 53f at night, with a generally blue sky. It's been raining the day before, but nothing super bad. I just tell myself that an outside pool will prevent us from being intoxicated by the chloring, as it is by construction very well ventilated.
As we get to the pool with Marc, it's pitch dark. The start is given at 7 but the sun is up at 7:30. 2 men and 5 women are already swimming since yesterday, 10 pm. Indeed there has to start waves, the "slow" ones starting Friday evening, and and the "fast" ones Saturday morning. I am not totally sure to be a fast swimmer, but I prefer starting in the morning. In terms of sleep, it is way easier to handle. 5 minutes before the official bang, I get into the water. Ferenc, winner of the previous similar race in 2010, gives me a piece of advice with signs which I interpret as "take it easy dude, there's a long way to go". I totally agree.
First contact with the pool, and I notice something weird. I can't see the bottom of the pool, at least in the first half of it. Is that due to darkness ? Not really, water is just a little turbid. When it's not as deep, I can take a look at the abstract drawings formed by missing squares, which have probably been taken away with time. It keeps me busy. But hell, seriously, not seeing more than 10 or 20 feet ahead is annoying, I can't even see the border of the pool and on several occasions I almost bumped my head into the wall when it was time to turn around. Hopefully this is a big, 50m olympic pool.
Daylight is now coming and the temperature rises. I decide to take my swimming suit off, and swim almost naked. Several persons ask me why I do this. There are basically two reasons. First, I was too hot with the suit, during these first hours. Second, no suit means no chaffing. And chaffing is the plague of long distance swimming. Without the suit I eradicate a lot of side problems. The price to pay for not wearing a suit, on top of risking to get cold, is that relatively bad swimmers like gain a lot, in terms of speed, from wearing it. You float better, it keeps your legs up. So I did slow down, I think I approximately swam 9 hours like this, and maybe lost 1 hour by doing so. But I do not regret it. When I put my suit back on, I feel warm and great, and have no chaffing marks at all, nothing on the neck, nothing anywhere.
Night comes. I was very worried about this first night. I had memories, when doing the simple deca, of my arms hurting like mad passed mile 16. And I am not a great swimmer, two weeks before I got kicked out of a 10km swimming race in Paris because I was too slow. But today, nothing. I'm not super fast, but my body handles the job correctly, and I do not experience this pain when pulling my arms forward. This is good news. On the other hand, it starts getting cold. I did not really think about it, but 55f is not that warm, to swim. OK the water is warmer, slightly above 80, but still, I can feel that coldness from the outside and to be honest, I'm freezing. And there is no place to get warm again. I think I need to sleep this first night. OK I could have done it "the hard way" by swimming my way through the night but it is more reasonable to anticipate and cut down the effort a bit. I offer myself an hour (or was it 90 minutes ?) of sleep. Marc, watching after me like a real mother, has prepared a very comfortable bed for me. We have waited that the other swimmers, who had left the pool for a nap, free the mattresses again. Comfortable gear provided by the race organisation but, obviously, outside. I am happy I brought my bivvy bag to put over my sleeping bag. I feel great there, and sleep rather well, my head protected with a warm hat. Never forget to bring something to cover your head, a warm head changes everything. Now what I think is this: there's literally no scenario that makes me get out of the water under say, 36 hours. So everything I do not swim tonight, I will need to swim it... next night. Which is even worse. So let's do as much as possible now.
Sunday morning, the sun is up and the pool gets warmer. Not warm enough for me to quit my suit. All these hours spent int the water, fatigue, finally got me to this point where I'm always feeling cold. The pool is now partially open to public, and the simple deca race has also started. So the lines are reorganised and we're now 5 in the line instead of 3. It's almost crowded here. Also Kristian Kristiansen is swimming very fast. Compared to me, he's a real rocket. I think he planned to do 30h, when I was planning 40h or more. I observe him swimming, and this is legit, he swims at least 30% faster. But what I do not get is that he stops all the time. This makes no sense. This is a major race for him, so why is he not sticking to it ? I have other things to think about, but this looks strange.
Another problem is bugging me. Chloring. Since this morning, past 24h in the water, I can feel all the contours of my mouth, gums, throat, every part of it either itches or frankly hurts. My eyes are hopefully OK, I got good goggles and even a swimming mask to alternate shapes. But my nose and mouth are just an awful mess. I was expecting this, I had seen, in 2010, swimmers of the double deca get out of the water and show up on the cycling track with pink bodies. But it's one thing to observe it, it's another to experience it. My right hand skin, also, is falling apart. This is from hitting, from time to time, the lines which separate swimmer lanes. Marc receives messages from France. People are wondering "where's the pleasure ?" in doing this. He answers we're a bit beyond that concept called "pleasure" (I can't remember the exact phrasing, but that was about it).
So there we go, Sunday night. Claire has got out of the water, but knowing she started at 10 pm the day before, that is, 9 hours before me, if I continue to swim at this pace, I can be virtually the first person out of the pool. But where has Kristian gone ? I will learn later that he stopped, he basically got sick swimming. Not so surprising, to combat this "water", a solid immune system as well as loads of luck were both required. Being in first place after the swim is unusual for me. Night comes. I reach kilometer 70. Only 6k left. I could think this is almost done. Only 6k, at my current pace, is 3 hours. I'm freezing. No, I'n frozen. Temperature goes down. I just realised my swimming suit is torn apart in the back, it has holes several inches long. So it's not surprising I'm getting cold. This pool is a trap, my mouth is on fire, literally. Someone gets me out of this mess, please. My left arm is falling apart too, hurts badly when pulling it in front of my body. I'm done. To fight that coldness, I picture myself running in the heat, sweating under an atrocious sun. And it works quite well, but only temporarily. For a short time lapse, I feel warm, but that mind trick has its limit, soon I'm back in the pool, it's cold. When will that sh*t end ?
Technically, I got it right and I can be happy. In one single week-end, I more than doubled my yearly swimming mileage. Since January 1st, I only swam 33 miles, all in all. Why such a light training ? Well, days only have 24 hours, I have also to train for cycling, running, I do have a full time job, a family, and a social life which I can hopefully qualify as "normal". So this leaves few opportunities to go to the pool. Then, face it, most problems when swimming long distances are not related to your swimming capabilities. It is more about fighting cold, chloring, boredom, that kind of things. Ironically, Kristian, who was the best swimmer among all of us, did not finish the swim, where he could have reasonably hoped to take a 10 hours lead. Conversely, Ferenc, who is everything but a swimmer, managed to get out of that liquid hell. 60 hours, but he did it. All in all, among 12 starters, this swim kicked 2 of us out, leaving only 10 racers on the bike. In terms of overall time, in ultra triathlons, the swim is not very significant, only when you try to beat records does it matter a bit. However, it generates intense fatigue, which you then have to deal with.
Marc informs me I have only 300 meters left. I can't believe it. I do two round trips in the pool. And tell my swimming partners I'm almost done. Then Marc informas me I have only 300 meters left. What the ... ? If that's a joke, it's a very bad one. I try to understand how I could get it wrong ? Did he say 500 ? Or did I dream this 200 ? But then, how could he tell me twice the same number ? I give up with trying to understand this. I swim. 300 meters. Out of here, I want to get out of here.
At last, I am out, after 40 hours and a bit more than 20 minutes. We are taken to the hotel, with Norbert, another racer from the simple deca. I decided to sleep in the hotel rather than in my tent near the track. I think I appreciate the value of a real, warm shower now. And sleep in a comfortable bed before tackling the bike. I can't remember if I asked Marc to set the alarm clock for 2:30 or 3:30 of sleep, but we did not linger. At about 3:30 am, we order a taxi which, for about 70 pesos, takes us to the entrance of the parc. That way we save a 15 minutes walk.
And now, the bike.
The plan was, like at the deca 9 years earlier to make "small snack breaks" every 2 hours. So with Marc, we start with this. The refreshment area is very well made, food is plenty and delicious. Marc works like mad, he prepares everything before I stop, so I do not even loose 10 seconds. We manage to get down to 10 minutes for a complete pit stop, all included: food, restroom, and side things such as taking on/off clothes or putting on cream, etc. But soon this goes back up to 15 minutes. I mean 15 minutes is really the time between my dropping off the bike, and being back on the track. Anything in between counts. Restroom is easily 3 minutes, a coffee served too hot is 2 minutes lost, etc. And all the art of the "perfect pit stop" is to balance between the actual break you get from racing, physically but also mentally, and the efficiency. You must both rest and and not loose one minute. At the end of the day, if you're too much in a hurry during a break, the break itself feels more like racing than the real race. It's a tradeoff.
Talking about restrooms... I often need to go there, I have diarrhea since the end of the swim. It's hard to identify the exact cause. Could be the limonade I drank by gallons before the race. Or it could also be the water of the pool, I tend to think that's the most plausible reason. Actually it does not matter where it comes from, the thing I need to do is: deal with it. I am so happy to have chosen, purposely, cycling bibs without any suspender, the kind of which I can just take off in 3 seconds while keeping my shirt on. It looks like an insignificant detail, but I saved hours by doing this, I did not have to touch any of my upper equipment. The price to pay is that there's a line of skin exposed to the sun between my shorts and my t-shirt. And there I get a bad sunburn. Minor inconvenience. I ask Marc to ask Jean-Paul, who is flying next Wednesday, to bring back those pills which are supposed to rebuild your intestinal flora. I need that. And forgot them when flying from France, a few days before. I just have to deal with a few days of unhappy guts.
Ferenc got out of the water. I watch him closely, because after Kristian quit, he's I think the strongest racer. Daniel, the Brazilian, gave me the overal feeling of not racing that hard, from what I have observed in the pool. Same for Ronny, the German. They are here to finish, but they don't have, from my quick observation at this stage, a craving for fast miles. Ferenc is another story. He calls himself Racemachine and fully deserves the title. He won a similar race in 2010. I suspect he'd like to win in 2019 too. And above all, I know he will never, ever, let it go. He is a very strong cyclist, has two finishes at RAAM under his belt, and countless ultra-triathlons. Only for now, he is just like me the day before, with canker sores all over the mouth. Everybody has been heavily impacted by this crazy swim. I could give details on how he or she lost a bit of tong or cheek. I was "only" 40 hours in there, so maybe it was easier for me than others. I think for me, I had traces and consequences of that swim for about a week on the bike, with the first 2 days being particularly bad.
First day on the bike. I barely score 250 miles. 235 or something. This is bad. I should put at least 250 in. I was aiming at 280. Why 280? Because at least on paper, these miles are easy. Very few elevation, no obstacles, only a few turns, but nothing significant. Compared to RAAM, this is a joke. Nothing compared to the desert heat, the endless climbs, the poor roads, trucks, etc. But 250 per day, on hostile roads, is exactly what I did in 2018, on an average. And with this mileage, I failed, because you have to do even more than 255 per day, on an average, to finish RAAM. Long story made short, I'm too slow. I need to figure out a way to get 280, repeatedly, on this Mexican track, if I want to pretend finishing RAAM some day. But the reality is, I do 235. I could pull out the list of excuses: the pool, the diarrhea, the... the list goes on. It does not help, I'm not fast enough.
Next day, I am still way below 250 miles per day. So what are my excuses today ? Flat tire ! I had three flats, in just one morning. One in front, two on the back wheel. The front one I just rolled of a mid-size stone and it just exploded. The back ones were more the nasty small stone that slowly creeps into the tire. But I have some sort of "luck" with those flats. I do carry with me all the necessary gear to replace the tubes. So it's only 10 or 15 minutes lost, per flat, not more. OK right my bike is a little heavier with this, but I am fully autonomous and do not need to walk 3 miles to reach out for help. I started with 4 spare tubes, and that was 3 only in one morning. I'm getting worried. Beto, the race organiser, lends me 4 of them, we'll pay them later. Beto is "solution man". You have a problem, he has a solution. I think the only thing that could be better was Internet tracking as it was a bit complicated to follow the race remotely but to be fair, this is accessory. The fundamental thing that needs to work is: the race itself, the track, the food, the everything that happens within the event. Communication is important, but it's outside the event, it's not the event. Beto gets the rights things right. I also changed my rear tire, it did not look that old but two flats in a row made me suspicious. I will get another flat the next day, front tire this time. I finally find the small stone which was hidden there. Not deep enough to frankly make a flat as you mount it, but sneaky enough to just stay there and blow the tire when you hit a bump.
Nights are complicated. I would love to go to bed late enough to have few hours to ride in the morning, at night. But each time I crack down at the beginning of the night, and sleep quite early. I sleep 3 hours. Add to this some time to fill my stomach with food - it's super important to use sleeping hours, where you don't exercise, for digestion - and the time I need to wake up and bootstrap, I remain stopped for about 4 hours. On top of this night sleep I try to put, typically either at sunrise or sunset, or even in the middle of the afternoon when it's hot, some small breaks ranging from 15 to 50 minutes. The total of this should never be more than 1 hour. So all in all, I get 4 hours spent lying down, sleeping or trying to sleep, per day. Luckily enough, I'm typically very quick to fall asleep, even in my "normal" life. So there, being sleep deprived, it's even easier. 3 minutes and I snore. Marc is doing an awesome job, sometimes he does not even sleep in the tent but instead sleeps outside on his chair, to avoid disturbing my sleep, maybe.
Wednesday night, Jean-Paul, AKA Paulo, finally arrives. We're not going to sleep at 3 in the tent, and I don't want either of them to sleep outside, so we opt for the ultimate luxury: a night in the hotel. It's about a mile from the track, so not that far, but this is a race and I count everything. Beto had told us that at "any hour" we could ask for somebody to take us to the hotel. Then we'd be brought back to the track by the bus which transports all the racers from the "at your option: 20X, 10X, 5X, 3X, 2X one ironman per day" races. Well "any hour" might not have been 3:30 am in his mind. Whatever, somebody takes us at 3:30 am to the hotel. It was then truly "any time", as mentioned. I can take a shower, sleep 3 good hours, and next day I'm fresh on the track.
So Marc handles the stick of responsibility to Jean-Paul. It was time to do so, I think. He was really taking his role so seriously, I think in 5 days, he was done. Like, done. So now I got a fresh crew. Paulo, my father, who is getting on pace on this bright Thursday. I finally was able to take one of those magical pills that rebuilds intestinal flora. Really nothing super special, but I'd swear it's actually working. Not very glamour to mention that one's shit is transitioning from liquid to soft, but to be frank, that's so important during a race. Your stomach is basically the fuel burner, if it does not work, nothing will. More important than anything else, be it your muscles. I strongly believe once your digestive system is falling apart, everything goes down with it including, but not limited to, your mind. Take care of it. The rest are details.
Today Jean-Paul and Marc have one important thing to do: find a table, to anticipate the upcoming run. Indeed, we'll need one, as the refreshment area is a bit too far from the track. Not far when you're on a bike, because on the bike the various stops are usually organised around "real meals". But when running you need to be able to grasp small bits of food from time to time, wet your hat, drink small amounts of water, etc. Finally Beto (again!) solves the problem and brings us a table, which will save us a trip to Walmart. Finally, night comes and I say goodbye to Marc, who is going to do a little tourism in Mexico. As in "normal" tourism, and not being exhausted on the side of a track. He'll tell us later that sleeping in the next morning just felt so great.
So Paulo is in charge now. My rhythm remains the same, I stop every 3 hours, instead of the initial plan of 2. This is "centered" on 2 pm because 2 pm is pizza time. Every day pizzas are supposed to arrive at 1 pm. As they are usually a bit late, stopping at 2 pm makes it 100% sure I get some pizza. So this means I stop for a snack at 2 pm, 5 pm, 8 pm, 11 pm, 2 am if I manage to get there without falling asleep (rare) and then 5 am, 8 am, 11 am and... back to the 2 pm pizza. This organises my days. I can not drop beyond 10 minutes per pit stop, but 15 or maybe even 20 minutes, every 3 hours, remains acceptable. In practice, I'm one of the people who is most present on the track. Ferenc rides like mad, but in the end he stops a lot, so the 20h lead I had when getting out of the pool is not even fading. Indeed, I build up that lead. I finally managed to get slightly over 250 miles per day. Not quite the 280 miles I was dreaming of, but you got to be realistic. At this period, October 2019, I don't have what it takes to get 280 miles done per day, on a bike, and that's it, there's no debate. Not with 3h sleep per night. Maybe I could try to cut down on this. But I have yet more than 10 days of racing to complete. This is not the right time to get fully exhausted. Not to mention that on a regular basis, I almost fall asleep on the bike, and need to take express naps to get a clearer mind. So I stick to these 3 hours, let it be. After all, I still have the lead, I'm comforting that position, there's no obvious reason to take outrageous risks.
Jean-Paul has reorganised the tent. I had a small tent, one place, just in case. It happens that between my cloths bags, and all the various pieces of crap one carries in those races, sleeping at two in the tent provided by the race would have been a little tricky. So Jean-Paul decided to set up the small mini tent, and there I sleep. There's nothing in it, just a thin yoga mattress, my sleeping bag, my phone to use as an alarm clock, a headlight, some basic clothes to be able to wake up and pee, and that's it. All the rest, the cycling shoes, clothes, shoes, everything, is in the other tent with him. This way he can prepare everything, I just have to ask "next day, I want that kind of socks, t-shirt, etc." It mike look like a detail, but I'm saving lots of time by doing this. The drawback is that he sleeps even less than me as he falls asleep after packing things and wakes up earlier to get them ready. So he only has 2:30 of sleep when I get 3:00. At some point I need to force him into sleeping at other times within the day, when I can just handle myself alone during 2 or 3 hours. Else, the pace is absolutely not maintainable for him. Also, he must last 11 days, this is quite a long streak, and possibly very frustrating as he will not see either the start or the finish.
Now, after all those laps around Parc Metropolitan in Leon, I can tell you one thing: I know it. Let me try and describe that course. Getting out of the base camp, there's a one mile straight line, with on its right the embankment that maintains the lake, and on its right a parking lot, the main entrance of the park, then more parking lots, a blue factory with blue pipes which is related to the lake water, a small forest with barbecues and many squirrels, and at the end a short but steep climb, turning right, that forces you to change gears. Nothing bad, maybe only 15 feet elevation, but enough to get me stand up on my pedals. Some riders just hammer their way through it. I don't. Pride is not a good driver. Then there's a small downhill with a very poor pavement, and some pot holes. This is the only "bad" place, the rest of the course is perfectly even. In the morning and in the evening, some sort of big turkeys walk slowly through that area. They move so slow that it would really take some dedication to actually hit one. Just after is the danger zone, with a pedal car rental, ice cream reseller, and a short but noticeable series of turns around that secondary entrance of the parc. Officially this is limited to 20 km/h. But this speed limit is respected "the Mexican way" I'd say. This means you can go fast, nothing is going to happen, but you'd better watch out, and priority is given to slow vehicles. Personally, I always cruise slowly through that area, it is where I get a small relative rest.
Then, getting out of this, there's a left turn where you literally do not see anything. I'm always scared to hit somebody coming the other way. Then there is another turn on the right, but its shape is tricky, must be parabolic or something, what I mean is that the more you engage in the turn, the harder it turns. This is misleading and it is super easy to get into it too fast, and then need to ride on the left side of the road. Which, is dangerous, as the circulation is both ways and cyclists might come in front of you. Because, yes, all around the parc, there's this cycling road, about the width of a standard car, and a similar walking/running road. Both are opened in both ways, clockwise and counterclockwise. And sometimes they are together, sometimes separated. Ah, and also, it's not clear whether roller skaters should use the cycling or running lanes. Looks complicated ? Forget it.
But let's keep moving. Getting out of this famous right curve, there is a big zone where pedestrians and bikes get together. It's very wide and also a slight, gentle downhill. This is a very good place to speed up. Also the coldest part of the course, right in the middle of the tress, and always humid. Then the course alternates between straight portions and gentle turns, and you get into a place where sometimes, sheeps can be spotted. It does not happen very often, mostly in the morning and evening, but when it happens, well, you wait for the sheeps to cross the road. The lake is always very near on the right, and this is basically a swamp. Now this zone ends with a series of left-right turns quite recognisable, followed by a very gentle uphill and a "complicated" crossroads which, if I am correct, is a third entry of the parc. This is where all the starts for the various popular races are given. Then the rest of the course is a gentle downhill, and on the right there are many places to organise barbecues, just on the side of the lake. The view is superb, especially at sunset, with the hilly city and its lights in the background. You could make postcards of this. At the very end of this section, it almost look like you're near a water sport resort, again a pedal car and standard bikes rental, a lighthouse, and of course, there you can buy ice creams as well. This is where the "one ironman per day" races start is given. They swim in the lake, not in a pool.
Now a final push on the right, and then a good old frank downhill brings us back to the finish line, which can be crossed at 25 mph with almost no effort. This, in itself, is a bit dangerous as there are always people there, crossing the area, walking around, and also runners doing the deca, who are done with the bike, but not with the race. A smoky smell of danger. Welcome to Mexico.
Speaking of danger, the park is very dense, almost crowded, in the morning and the evening. Mostly people exercising before or after their day job, as I imagine. Maybe also they have this habit because during the day, even in October, it's a bit hot if the sun decides to show up. And it is, generally, showing up. But here we're on Saturday. And Saturday is jogging day, or cycling day, whatever it is, but there are so many people. If I am correct, this Parc Metropolitan is pretty much the only reasonable option to exercise, in a city of 2 or 3 million souls. No surprise it's a bit packed. But wait, after Saturday, there is Sunday. Beto had warned us, it's full packed on Sunday. To get around that problem (Beto *always* has a solution) he offers us to ride in an alternate place, just for us. This does not really makes sense to me, why aren't we riding there all the time if it is a better place that Parc Metropolitan? A car transfer is planned, it's tricky to find out at what time this is supposed to happen. Jean-Paul and me do not figure that out, I'm a little upset but it's not that easy to get precise infos. So at the end of the day, we "can go there whenever we want" but "we are not forced to, we can stay here". I try to think. My strength is: I stay on the bike no matter what. If I get myself into a car, I loose my edge, I waste time. I can picture Ferenc benefiting from this as he rides fast but needs breaks. I decide to wait for the last moment to get to that alternate course. And finally I stay here. I want to see how the parc looks, when it's crowded. It will be yet another funny thing I have seen in my life. Riding on a desert dedicated loop would not be a new experience.
So this Sunday morning is, in terms of people density, above all we've seen yet. Typically, there is a race in the morning, this one was the "ping t-shirts race" I think. All the runners wear the same colored t-shirt. But Sunday afternoon is the real, true, unmatched thing. I compared this afternoon to a Mario-Kart game. In the sense it had nothing to do with a race, but more of an obstacle game. But thinking of it, if I really wanted to compare it with a video game, it might rather be one of those shoot'em up where you pilot a spacecraft and try to dodge ennemies coming from above. So what are those ennemies and projectiles I'm facing now? There is of course the standard, default, easy one, the cyclist which is just here for a speed run. Some of them run in line, but the most interesting ones run by pairs, so they take up a bit more space on the road. One one the side, and the other right in the middle of the road, on the white line. When you cross them, all you have to do is keep your right, and this is fine. If you fail to do that, bang! Hopefully most of them are experienced cyclists and while this is scary, the risk is minimal, they know what they're doing. Risk is more palpable with roller skaters. Especially when they actually are trying to literally *learn* how to roller-skate. Right in the middle of those cyclists riding at 22 mph. This is, unexpected. But you also get people trying to learn how to ride a bicycle. Why not? Everybody has been a beginner some day, hey? Some of them still have those little wheels on the side of the rear wheel. You get 3 years old kids, but also teenagers who apparently discover a bike for the first time in their whole life. All of this, together in the same place.
But things got really serious when the blue pedal cars got out. That was, a thing. Heavy gear. Especially when they cross each other or worse, when they pass each other. Just picture yourself with 8 days racing under your belt, you are sleep deprived, you ride at about 20 mph and you get into this joyful crowd of people having a fun Sunday afternoon, with the whole family. I'm deadly scared to just fall or hit somebody. I thought I had seen it all with the blue pedal cars, but no. There's still a final boss to beat. At the very end of the afternoon, coming in front of me, a kid is passing two other people, with pedals rotating at 150 rpm, giving it all. So this is not the first time I cross 3 people at a time. No, what is remarkable is that he is passing full grown adults, but he is aged maximum 4 years and a half, and he rides a tricycle. Mother of God. This is so extreme that it becomes funny. After all, those people are at home, it's their parc, and I am the intruder. And to some extent, I participate to this glorious diversity, because in the middle of walkers, cyclists in lycra, roller skaters, pedal cars, and all the rest, there's a little Frenchy who desperately tries to finish is 2000 miles and change on a bike. Frankly, I love those Mexicans with their good music, food and their astonishing capacity to avoid the crash at the very last second. All that along with a great smile. I'm sorry for all the US Americans reading this text, but in terms of sympathy, Mexicans beat you 1 - 0 any day.
The end of the afternoon is saddened by an ugly storm. Rain just marks the end of the barbecues, period. Most people just head home, and there's a super long queue of cars to get out of the parc. That being said, it only required 15 minutes of rain for them to decide the party was over. Same thing in Ireland, everyone would have kept eating and boozing outside. Different worlds. So now the parc is almost empty. I still get a couple scary events. First, a guy on a mountain bike, who is literally looking at the sky. At the very last moment his eyes drop down and he notices me. A fraction of second later, that was a 100.00% hurting crash. Then the second one is entirely my fault. I was starting a new lap and tweaking my speed tracker by pushing some stupid button when I just looked at the road again and found out I was driving left. The guy in front of me saw me and dodged. I can gratefully thank him. Damn, it would be so stupid to crash now...
Because, to be honest, things are going well for me. I finally managed to stabilise my daily mileage slightly above 250 miles. My guts are functioning "as expected" again, and the pool is just a far memory, this has long been forgotten now. I slowly increase the gap between me and Ferenc, he rides fast but he also has his load of problems I imagine, and he stops for longer periods. I start thinking I can finish the bike in less than 10 days without much trouble, maybe even 9, or at least tackle that number. The time limit is 28 days so at my rhythm, I have a solid margin. But you have to know I have family vacation planned in Mexico, before the prize ceremony. Details do not matter but the general idea is: I need to finish within 21 days, otherwise I have to exchange and maybe could even loose plane tickets, hotel reservations. Long story made short, I need to hurry up.
I observe the other racers, and most specifically those from the deca, and some things I can not explain. Like, why are number 18 and 20 passing me super fast, with 3 or even 6 mph more than my current speed, and why, knowing that they started the bike pretty much at the same time I did, they are still not done with their about 1120 miles, when I have 1500 miles scored already? It makes no sense. How to they handle that? Do they have 8 hours sleep nights? Or spend time at the camp? Mystery. As a good old diesel profile, I don't go fast, my laps are mostly about 17 or 18 minutes. Between 15 and 16 mph on an average. Not impressive, but efficient.
With time, I start to feel the effects of all those miles. I almost panic as I realise that, progressively, my head is lowering down. Could it be that dreadedShermer's neck? This strange pathology targets long distance cyclists. It does not hurt, but your head falls down. At this stage, nothing bad for me, only some doubts... So in doubt indeed, I do some laps with my head right up, and hands on top on the handlebar. Using aerobars make you ride faster but it's harder on the neck. I did not have those bars at RAAM, fearing to fall asleep on them. That was a mistake. Being awake is not that related. And let's face it, well installed in that aero position, elbows in place, it saves your hand and the gain in term of speed is obvious. I feel great on that bike. Of course my butt hurts, but after 5 or 6 days of saddle, this is no big surprise. That must be one of my strengths, at some point I feel like I could ride and ride, almost forever. Of course in practice I need to stop to fill up my body, and it's usually a relief to stop for a while. But I never experienced that bike horror that some riders seem to report.
A bit later, as the bike is almost finished and I have "only a couple hundred miles to go", I feel a new type of pain in my right Achille's tendon. Damn. At first I try to minimize and ignore, but this pain is real. Not a big deal yet, but there's something. The good news is that I have time to thing about it. It's totally out of question to start running with a half-performing Achille's. That would be the worst move, ever. So I try to listen to my body, and understand what's happening there. And then I get an idea. It might just be that my right foot is "pronating" inwards, the inner of the sole (the part close to the bike frame) being lower than the outer. After all, I bought these shoes 8 years ago in 2011, they must have thousands and thousands of miles, I should not be surprise that they show sign of weariness. That good old pair of Sidis. I decide to stop. I ask Jean-Paul to get some stuff from the fridge to ice the tendon. Once this is done, he puts some medical tape on the inner part of the show, so that the sole is thicker in that part. Only a fraction of an inch. This looks perfect. I put my shoes back on and ride again. All in all, this has cost me about 25 minutes maybe. I added a regular stop with food etc. so I might have been "not moving" for almost 40 minutes but I had to stop anyway. And it works. After 3 hours, I feel the pain fading away. After 6 hours, it's gone. Just gone. Maybe it would have gone away without me doing anything. Maybe. But I took no risks.
As the end of the bike approaches, my fear of falling because of sleepiness increases. I could as well just hit somebody because of no-luck-that-day. Both can happen. I indeed view one racer of the simple deca, from Taiwan, fall just in front of me, absolutely exhausted. Hopefully, he was moving slowly and was wearing 3 warm jackets because he was more or less expecting that fall, and had plan on this outfit to soften the shock. On my side, I had slowed down as well, because his wobbly trajectory was suspicious. So it was easy to avoid him. In another style, Konstantinos, who was literally killing it on the "20X one ironman per day", has an accident, on day 15 or something. Broken collarbone, and then, as a consequence, DNF. This is so sad, he had everything it takes to beat records, he was not showing one sign of fatigue, hammering his way through each Ironman at an incredible speed. But then you fall and the game is over. So for these last days on the bike, I am just scared of making a bad move. I continue to respect my 3 hours of nightly sleep, even if the temptation of cutting that down is strong. I also do those quick power naps when I feel that I'm loosing my mind. This buys me 1 or 2 hours of almost-perfect attention.
This is why when I'm finally done with the bike, it's a relief. Not because I finally managed, after all, to get under 9 days. Not either because the gap with Ferenc has slightly increased and now amounts to about a day and a half. Just, I survived. I dodged all those balls, and now I only have to run, and running is my thing. Nothing bad should happen now.
I dropped the bike at the beginning of the night, I could go to sleep, but I am still fully awake and do not want to change my routine. So I opt for a quick transition, about 45 minutes, and start running at about 11 pm. I note this time in a corner of my head, it will be interesting to track my mileage everyday at 11 pm. I now discover the running course. Just a forth and back straight line, along the embankment, just below the lake. 1055 meters one way, 1055 the other way. Rince, repeat. 400 times. I'm so happy to run that I forget the first U-turn, other racers need to yell me to stop and come back! I score laps for an hour or two, then go to sleep. We'll see that thing tomorrow.
So the good news is that I run rather well. OK it's not a great jumpy aerial stride, but that's good enough. Ferenc still has hundreds of miles to go on the bike, I just have to move steadily forward, and I should stay clear. This leaves a good opportunity to consider that world record which is, maybe, not that far. I "just" have to cover those 524 miles in 7 days and a half. It is not impossible, I would just need to do 71 miles per day. At the end of a regular 6 days running, even very tired, it's a distance I can reasonably do. But to make 71 miles on an average, you need to be able to do 75 or even 80 miles in burst mode. So well, my head is full of numbers, my legs feel almost great, I have no serious injury, my stomach is just so fine, I did not fall from my bike so hey, let's hope for the best!
I really hesitate on which pattern to adopt, I know I want to alternate walking and running, as I usually do, but I do not know how much walking vs how much running. I do a few tries and settle on a "30 minutes walk then 60 minutes" run pattern. This is nice because I did not train walking that much lately, so it's wise to bet on more running. Besides, an hour of running is short enough to avoid injuries, which I fear on this course.
The course, let's talk about it. I already said it, it's just a straight line. Go, then go back. It's more or less the same thing as the first bike kilometer, to repeat endlessly. But, important detail, it's a little sloppy. As in, when you start, it slightly falls on the left side, and when you come back the other, it slightly falls on the now opposite right side. Trailers and mountaineers, you are free to find this ridiculous, I'm indeed nitpicking. But do not understimate the nuisance power of such an unbalance in the course. I ask Jean-Paul to tell Valérie, who is soon going to fly from France, to buy in any sport shoes shop something I could use. Two models come to my mind, Mizuno Wave Inspire, and another from Addidas of whom I forgot the name as I write this report, but back in the time, it sounded obvious. I came with only two pair of shoes, one already quite used, and now that I realise what the course is, I know it's not going to be enough. I also "order" some cushioning and anti-pronation control soles. I think those could prove useful.
So now I have almost a complete day to run, alone, on the track. Well, alone, no. There are always the casual Mexican runners from the park, who are here every morning, every evening. And also the runners from the "simple" deca, some of which are even done with the running, completely. And most of the double deca racers are still on the bike so I can see them pass me at every lap they make. In the same spirit, I also see all the racers of the "one ironman per day" formula. All this might seem complex, and it is. Some people run, some bike, at some point one knows more or less once own tribe but it's complicated to figure out exactly who does what. Concerning the race I am doing, I have an advance of a day and a half over Ferenc, so I can reasonably count on one complete day in the lead, with me running and him still on the bike.
My pattern of one hour of running for half an hour of walking works out rather well. But I need to add a small pause within the day. This might not be explicitly planned, but I need it when I feel I'm busted. Ideally it can ease off some noticeably hot and sunny afternoon. But generally speaking, the sun does not bother us too much. The nasty weather related thingy would rather be the rain. I am very, but really, so very happy to *not* be on the bike any more. Day after day I watched the others get under the rain. They change gear, put on more stuff, but nothing helps, when you're soaked wet, you're soaked wet. I'm wet too, but since I'm running I do not care that much. Not as much as on a bike.
In terms of tactic, I try to concentrate on "grabbing that world record" which, at the beginning of the run, still looked like a realistic option. But soon, after a first day at 71 miles indeed, I realise the maximum I can do is about 65 miles. It might seem "not that much". I mean, come on, 65 miles per day. You just do 3.6 mph for 18 jours, and you're done. That leaves 6 hours to rest, sleep, eat, etc. So in theory this is perfectly true. In practice, shoes on, after more than 10 days of effort, the perspective changes. First, 3.6 mph supposes you move at 4.3 mph. Because you need to stop and pee, grab a piece of cake, drink a glass, tie your laces, you also loose some minor time on U-turns, etc. Then 4.3 mph is a pretty fast walking pace, especially when tired, let alone exhausted. Just try it, after 10 days of effort, I guarantee easy things get hard.
So I see Ferenc start running on my second day running. He looks in great shape. Freaking impressive. He runs... like mad. Well no, he must just be running at 6 mph or so, but at our level of fatigue, this is remarkable. I tell myself he will probably slow down later, I almost have a 100 miles lead, that's about a day and a half, I just have to do my thing. I still feel the record which is escaping. Shit, how can I go faster ? Not easy. In the evening I just collapse because of sleepiness and it's super, hyper hard, to do anything past 11 pm. Ideally I should try and keep exercising until 1 or 2 am. But this is not manageable, when night comes I take a great blow, and then I am worth nothing. Jean-Paul is getting tired too, he's always on the breach, trying to help. Sometimes I think he should sleep more, so as to be more efficient when awake. I can manage a few extra hours alone.
Our organisation starts being pretty efficient. A little table is installed just on the side of the track, and to sleep and change clothes I just have to walk to the tent which is 100 feet away. On the small table I have snacks and can live on that for an hour or two. Crackers, some fruits, and a few bottles with at least one of a sugary drink (coke, or any soda) and another of plain water. Jean-Paul had the bright idea to bring a cooler box here, which is very convenient because it protects gear from the rain. I can put there a few dry and warm clothes, as well as my earphones.
The clock keeps ticking, and this is another week-end. Again, races around the park, and a quite messy morning. But all in all, this is cool, I like this kind of busy life. These runners are really only running the 4 miles and change of a single lap. But what's more important here, is that week-end means: Valérie and the girls are arriving from France! But this will be for tomorrow, tomorrow it's still just Jean-Paul and me. Weather forecast announces bad weather for the afternoon. How bad? Bad, Jean-Paul says. Rain in the end of the afternoon, then the whole night. Deal with it. And indeed, it rains.
I'm almost totally down and depressed when Jean-Paul calls me "hey, come here, there's something funny out there". I'm doubtful. I mean, this world record is fading away, we're having rain and rain and rain, and you know what, after about 15 days of racing, I think I want that thing to just be over, be alone, do my thing, and stop exercising, soaked wet, to pursue a goal that makes no sense. So what's funny then? And there I see him. It's our Taiwanese athlete, registered on the simple deca. He's wearing his complete swimming suit, the one in thick 5mm neoprene. Only he's on the running part. On top of this, it took him long enough to put it on, so now while the track is wet, the rain stopped for a while so there he is, all in black, on that concrete floor, and it's not raining any more. OK right, that's funny. I think I love that kind of race or event specifically for these brief instants of absolute total nonsense. Things you did not expect just... happen. And you meet wonderful people. Because, beyond the fact he has a special way to choose his outfits, that kind is impressive. Possibly the toughest, most motivated person I have seen, ever. For those of you who have already raced an ultra, you might think you've already seen that type of people, walking like a zombie through the night. But possibly, you've seen nothing compared to him. At some point, Beto forces that racer to wear a flashy jacket and a bike helmet. While running. Why is that ? Well, the jacket is just so that the other people on the track, cyclists for example, can see him and avoid him, because well, let's say he's not walking in a perfect straight line, but more like your ordinary late Saturday night boozer. The helmet to protect himself if he falls, it's indeed not so obvious he has enough energy and lucidity to keep vertical long enough. And he's walking. 3 mph. 2 mph. 1 mph. Still walking. At some point, Dr Obvious would point he would gain from sleeping a bit, getting proper rest, then fight again. But that's not his style. He was to be gritty, and not let it go. He wants his deca finish badly. Guess what, he will have it. I had never seen such a stubborn and dedicated person. Record to beat.
The other person I noticed was Lia Sterciuc, she was also registered on the "simple" deca. Her target is "just" to finish within the time limit. On paper, that looks perfectly doable, almost easy only as the running goes on she figures out that... oh dear, this is not gonna work! And she regrets. She regrets all the precious hours she lost at the beginning of the race, taking a little nap, eating something, because an hour more or less does not seem to be meaningful in the beginning. Only now, nearing the end, she does the math and things gets tough, she basically does not have enough time to finish. But she's a dedicated and tough person, and in the end, you know what: she will finish her deca-ironman. Champion.
This night from Saturday to Sunday was really a tough one. I'm not fully sure but I think this is the one when I woke up to start running at 2 am. And then seeing the rain start again, when back to sleep for an hour. I did that only once during the whole race. Just give up and go back to bed after having already slept 3 hours. But this time it was just... too much. Rain, rain, rain. F*cking stupid rain. In Mexico, no kidding? Beto had told us "in Leon, October, the weather is usually nice, expect 80f degrees and sun". Yeah right I'm soaked wet from top to toes, it's pitch dark, and nowhere near 80 degres F. But anyway, enough complaining, daylight is back again, and my family is going to join me. Jean-Paul still needs to get the water out of the tent. Yes, during the night, his tent filled up with water. There was a tiny hole at the bottom and now his tent is just a small pool, one or two inches deep in some places. Luckily enough most of the clothes are on top of an inflatable mattress so our gear stayed mostly dry. It takes him two hours to clean up this mess. Touch work. Anybody wants to be my crew ?
So really, when Valérie and my daughters arrive, it's a real relief, for both of us. We send Jean-Paul to the hotel, with a strict mission to accomplish: get a complete night rest, and take a giant (and delicious) breakfast in the hotel.
Last week I dreamt of my daughters and father circling around the lake in one of those fancy blue pedal cars. It's exactly 4 places so that fitted so well, grandfather and kids all having fun in the sun... only there's no sun, so it does not sound like you want to ride anything. Compared to last week, the park is a desert. It's a pity, because this joyful animated park is a pleasure to watch and walk in. Anyway, that's life, we have no control on next week's weather, so deal with it. The good news is that the worst days are behind us, most of the following days there will be a gentle sun, which is cool because my kids are almost always outside. It makes me feel so great to see them. They are doing their school homework. Even some Spanish homework, which they can get reviewed by Beto himself. Freakin' cool. Adèle, the elder one, rides a bike around the like, following the official bike course, just for fun. She's so right to do so, it's a beautiful course. And Lise is fond of those squirrels who hide in the woods and also within the embankment.
And by the way, did I mention the spraying machine ? No, I don't think so. That spraying machine is a small truck which goes around the park every night, and just bombs everything with insecticide. After all, this is to be expeted, we're near a lake, this is a swamp area, it's warm, there are lots of mosquitos and other flying insects. But the product they are spraying is... cough cough... strong! They do this at a time there's normally nobody around. Only we racers are out potentially 24/24. So when the truck passes, all the campground enjoys the spray, it goes into that plate of food you left for next lap, just on the side of the track. And when it passes you, your lungs can feel something is not right. Beto asks them to stop doing it near the campground. Thanks for this, because honestly, while I think most of us racing that kind of "thing" are rather solid, resistant human beings, we get limits.
Now I need to talk about the girls too. Not my kids, but the 5 daring women who registered on this race along with 7 males. It's rare to have almost the same number of racers in both genders. So who are they ? Laura Knoblach, winner, 24 years. Yes, you read correctly, 24 years. And not only has she won the race, but she also beat the female world record. With a smile. But there is a trick, she always smiles. Each time I would cross her path, she'd be smiling. And I bet she does the same with everybody. I rarely crossed someone more positive. At some point I see her walking on the side of the road, in the dirt. I ask here why is that ? Apparently it was to enjoy the trees shade and also avoid the concrete pavement of the main track. I explain and show her that should she want to go the trail route, she'd better tackle the embankment rocks directly. I too, can have fool's ideas!
The second women to finish is Shanda Hill. She's from Canada. Shanda is... a good old brute. I mean, a very sympathetic, veggie and enjoyable brute, but a brute nonetheless. She does not score miles, she crushes them. Please do not stand in her way, this is a bad idea. If she was to be a brand, I'd shoot for Caterpillar. I think she lost some time on stupid issues, for instance at some point she realised that some of the painkillers she was taking - I can understand a reason to use that, yes, it hurts - had annoying side effects such as: making you sleepy. Which is the worse thing ever that can happen on a multiday race. I really think she could have been closer to Laura and even beat her, be it for that kind of small details. She did an awesome race anyway, I'm amazed.
The third is Claire Smith, from the UK. As reserved as the two others one are extraverts. I have seen Claire walking, running, night and day. Any time in the night, under the rain, I could be sure to spot her somewhere around the track. We've spent quite some time, almost alone on the course in the darkness. She did a very strong swim, then a quite good bike, and I think during the run she was very dedicated, but simply just fast enough. The two other ones were hard to catch up with any way. Awesome job.
The fourth one is Georgeta Gruescu. American, too. Georgeta had a race quite similar to Lia's race. She started at a reasonable pace, then figured out she was running out of time, and had to bite that bullet and finish, no matter what. She does not have the typical runner body frame, but nevermind, she did all those laps on the track, with hurting feet and all, and she just... did it. I spent quite some laps walking with her. She finishes in about 28 days, just around the time limit. Hats off.
The fifth lady who started that crazy race was Suraya Oliver. Suraya is nothing near a newcomer, she has extensive experience in racing ultra-triathlons. Only this time, she got kicked out of the race during the swim. Was it really a swim, or a survival test? From what I understood, she got badly cold. Bad things happen, it can happen to anybody.
And since I'm talking about people, let me mention the guys to. I start with Ferenc, I think I already talked about him a bit, since he's really the one I observe as from the beginning, I knew I should keep an eye on his mileage. This guy is a racing legend, his swim is as bad as you could imagine, but as soon as he climbs on the bike... wooosh! This is not uncommon is ultra-triathletes, but Ferenc also performs particularly well when running. I think I was lucky to compete with Ferenc aged 50+. The 40 years old Ferenc was pretty much impossible to follow I think. His face is memorable, with deep blue eyes, and also, don't be mistaken, he has a great sense of humor. I wish I knew him better.
If you had asked a random person, before the race "who do you think is gonna win", I bet they would have chosen Daniel de Oliveira, the Brazilian. He is the archetype of the sports guy. Muscles, tanned, put him on a magazine cover, it fits. He did a good race, but I think he's been a bit optimistic regarding the run. Running after 10 days is hard. You get slow, real slow. Especially when you have to carry all that mass of muscles, like him.
In contrast, I think nobody would have bet a dime on Al Manning, USA. He ends up in 4th place among males. Al is not that young. I think he used to be as young as I am, but that was some time ago. He did an extremely good job, took no extra risks, did not waste time. I chatted a bit with him while walking, and keep very good memories of that. Don't miss an opportunity to meet him.
And then there is Ronny Rossler, from Germany. Ronny feels like a fairy tale character dropped into the middle of that crazy race. He has - if I am correct - dedicated his complete 2019 years to... triathlon. Did lots of Ironman around the world, and among all his crazy races there is the craziest of all, the double deca in Mexico. This is life, some people have dreams, Ronny does not only have dreams, he makes them reality. At some point I have heard people around the course call him "the lazy German" because Ronny is not here to win or compete or anything. He's there to enjoy the experience. He did pile up many impressive miles, but at the end, he was missing time to actually finish all the run. I hope he enjoyed that journey.
And Giorgio ! Giorgio Alessi is, with Ferenc, one of the very rare persons to have completed a double deca already, in 2010. He knows what that sh*t is about. Oh yeah he knows. He's the nicest person in the world. I had already quickly chatted with him in Monterrey, so we knew each other a bit. The truth is, I'd love to spend a complete afternoon with Giorgio, somewhere in Sicilia - Giorgio is Italian - without having to pile up miles and race and suffer and all that crap. Giorgio is one of the most surprising and deep character I've met in years of racing. Sadly enough, feet problems will prevent him from finishing within the time limit. I would have loved him to be a double double-deca finisher.
And finally, there's Kristian Kristiansen, who fell sick during the swim, and then changed to race the "10X one ironman per day" formula. So I see him almost every day on the track, but he's doing another race. It's really impressive to see him pass me at lightning speed, and every afternoon he does a complete marathon while I barely do 20 miles. But then, races are different, he sleeps in a hotel every night while I'm moving around more than 20 hours per day.
It's on the run, starting about day 15th I think, that I seriously started to loose weight. Like, loose weight. I dunno how much I lost, maybe 10 pounds, I did no measure either before or after, but what I'm 100% sure is that people were telling me on the track: Christian, you're getting thinner and thinner. Indeed, I can just view it with my bare eyes. Arms, belly, legs, everything shrinks. All of this along with a relentless sense of fatigue. I can't say it hurts that bad. Of course it hurts, my legs hurt, etc. But it is not that impressive compared to other races. To some extent, this is very similar to what I experienced at the Transpyrenea , something must happen in your body after 2 weeks of effort, and this is happening now. Very logically, I'm also super hyper hungry. I can eat, I am hungry 20 minutes after. Looks like my stomach is a pit. I only have to stop when physically, it is full and I can't put more into it. Especially when running, you can not hang around with a full belly, as digestion is impaired by running.
One more day. And one more day again. Each one is a little different. Some nights it rains more than others, some afternoons are very hot and other mild. Generally it's the same pattern, nights are cold and wet, and I wish they are over soon. Mornings are cool and enjoyable, afternoons get tricky between 1 pm and 5 pm and sometimes I need to walk to avoid myself getting melted by the sun, and then it's yet another sad evening, even rainy sometimes. I use mornings to observe all these local Mexican people training around the park. I watch them. This lady is stretching. She takes care of her body. We are on different planets. I think a doctor would rightfully claim that she is doing the right thing, and I should stop my silliness. In normal times, in my "civil" life, I am not so different from all those people. I would too, do a gentle an hour jog, then drink a couple glasses of water, and switch to something else. The lady chats with a friend. They laugh. Running is a beautiful sport. Hey Christian stop dreaming, finish your lap, this is not the right time for a wandering mind. Wait for your turn, and some day, you too, will be able to enjoy that kind of simple pleasure.
I think I tempted almost anything to get that 71 miles per day average, which was necessary to tackle the world record. But nothing helps, it does not work. Ferenc, on his side, is very constant and I think he's about 63 miles per day or something (exactly 100k I suspect). So I get a few extra miles compared to him as I can do 65 miles per day. My first place seem to be acquired now, unless I do a big blunder, I win the race. Until the very end I thought I could tackle the record - rule #1, never give up! - but on the last day I realize I should increase my pace by 50%. Which can, technically, happen if you're in the middle of a crazy race with people chasing each other all around. But there, I'm almost alone, the track is often desert, and it's just plain too hard to take risks and power up to reach the required speed. Yes, I am unable to go above a 3 mph average. That's life. Give it a try, and you'll find out that even maintaining such apparently ridiculous pace can become a challenge.
Last day, I know I am going to finish today, more precisely, this evening. I have been rather constant in term of pace, almost metronomic. Every day, with a small 5% variation, I did the same mileage. I just need to keep up the current work, and this is going to be done. I am well below the 21 days limit I had to catch my plane, and to be fair, the most significant source of motivation to push forward is that I want that thing to just be over. At some point I try to follow Kristian, who is finishing is daily marathon. He is too fast. Night comes. I tell myself this is almost done, just about an hour to go, because I have 4 laps, about 5 miles, left. So I do an ultimate pit stop, and while I am drinking, Valérie explains me that I only have 2 laps left. Wut? Where did they go? There's no such thing as a free lap! Apparently the tracking system was set to 2.1km per lap but the real value should have been 2.11k per lap. But it was correctly set to 400 laps so if you look at the distance only you're done when it displays 840, and not 844. The counting, tracking is correct, only the distance reporting is wrong and as it is what we were looking at, we got off by two laps. You did not understand anything to that technical explanation? Neither did I. But at that time I know one thing: I just have 2 laps left, not 4. This changes everything. No need for a real stop with food and all. I just finish my glass, get up, and run.
I did these last 2 laps "full speed ahead" and interestingly enough, it almost sounds easy. Well when I'm saying "full speed ahead" we're talking about something like 6 or 7 mph. Not a violent explosive sprint. I note my lap times, I want to remember those. It could be useful some day, as in "OK, even after 19 days, I can do this". I did one lap with my daughter Adèle, and the other one alone. This is conform to the race rules, you can not have a pacer for more than 1 lap in a row.
I now cross the finish line, and it takes me 2 minutes to open that tricky bottle of Champagne. Holy crap, this is done. 47 miles swimming, 2237 on a bike, and 524 on my feet, I did it. Now I can take a good night sleep. In a bed. In a hotel. With clean soft white sheets. And you know what? Not even a blister. Not one. Just an immense general fatigue, and a feeling of being only 30% of my real normal self, but other than that, everything's fine. I could almost think I did not give it fair try, and if I had really pushed it forward I could... This is just such a wrong thinking, it's easy, afterwards, to think you could have done better. But remember your feelings when it was so hard, at night, with the rain, with the pain, with the everything.
I've been super happy, during the following days, to come back and see the runners still on the track. We also did some quick tourism in Leon which, you might not know, is the "shoe capital". You have an incredible choice of stuff to put on your feet. I feel a bit sorry for my friends who love and defend and protect animals but yes, I committed the unforgivable, I bought a pair of crocodile boots. Then finally, before the prize ceremony, we went to Yucatan, visit Maya temples, be the regular tourists. Mexico is a beautiful country, I should come back there in less extreme conditions. It's sad to know Parque Metropolitan so well, and so few about the rest.
So this Double Deca, if I had to change anything? Not one thing, please serve me the same! And I want to give a great "thank you" to Beto Villa and all his team, for making this... "thing" happen.
Insane. Totally, absolutely, lovely insane.
If you want to know more, I've been invited to podcasts and interviews after the race, but disclaimer, most of the content is in French:
- Podcast Ultratalk #58 by Arnaud Manzanini, this podcast series generally talks about ultra cycling.
- Podcast Oufff' Portrait #17, this podcast series usually talks about trails, but they are open minded so I gave them a quick visit.
- Podcast W2ST #2, podcast series talking about sport, what is unusual.
- Article on 2124story.fr, they are interested int he Paris Olympics, 2024 and beyond.