24h - Rennes 2016

A 24h running race is based on a very simple concept: a ~1km long circuit, a timer which starts at 10:00 am, a chip on the shoe, to automatically count the laps. That's all. And at 10:00 am the day after, you read the mileage counter. On April 9 and 10, I was in Rennes, with 67 folks. Christian, my husband, had put his coach clothes. It was a contestor fewer before me :D - nice. Physically, I was OK. Well trained. Just one little thing: I wanted to blast my previous PR of 143km ( 2 years ago, in Saint-Fons.) Nice: I have been so many times my husband support crew, I know some cheerful guys. I haven't have a look on the runners list, so I am just discovering that there are:

Pitter patter
Comfortable and runable clothes: checked.
  • The remarkable Patrick Pierre: you can recognise him to his white beard and his paralysed leg. But if you already know him you knows many dad's jokes also, and you know that his strongest skill is to always have a partner to have fun and move forward;
  • Philippe Emonière: the guy who never slows down. OK, he doesn't start very fast. But I keeps the pace! His biggest vice: he stopped to organise the Arcueil 24h, before I've started to run long distances :(;
  • Bob Miorin: I called my training plan based on his name. It's "The Bob Miorin running with honour plan". He gave me the advice to be careful not dragging my feet on the floor even when I was tired. I tried obey and actually: all my energy is to move forward, nothing is transformed into a tangential opposite force yet;
  • Jacques Moutier: I walked my first lap with him in Saint-Fons. Yes, I *walk* the first lap. I run after;
  • And also the *big* Françoise Perchoc. She scared me a lot in Royans, on the 48h race, was she able to take me the third place? I heavily know that she is strong and steady. Fine! I won't be able to rest, the girls race will be fun.

There is also, I knew that before, Wilfrid Lancelle, who is Christian's colleague. I wishes to reach 100km. Christian is here for us two, in the support zone.

In the pack
The pack, along the football field. With Françoise Perchoc, foreground left. When I saw she's big, she obviously a big runner.

I start by immerse myself in the place. Not any circuit lap, I'll do when the timer starts. But the refreshment zone: it's OK, large marquees with individual spots and a collective zone with numbers in squares for our own cups. The marquees are strongly attached, they have gutters. Mmm, I can imagine the weather the forward... It scares my a little: I wanted to shoot the clouds in Royans last year (hopefully I had no gun.) OK but this time, I decided to be calmer and stronger than the rain. So let's see who will win, damn rain.

I've had some difficulties to define my race strategy. My first goal was to improve my 143km PR, set in Saint-Fons. But I must to be careful to not exhaust myself in the first hours. I decided eventually to stay almost on the same pace than on previous races. But I won't count my laps, I will count the time. So: each half an hour will start with 5min walking, then 25min running. And so? I hope the weight I lost and the speed I won will provide some kilometres more. I will also try not to force myself into a strict kilometres plan, just "Do the best I can." So let's go!

The refreshment area
The return trip in front of the refreshment area. Cons: a tight U-turn. Pros: you see your support team twice each lap, you give back your cup, it's easier to access to the restroom...

First hours are a pure pleasure. Rennes course is very nice. I like to run around the football field (it is fenced :) ), along the skate park and a the speed ring. You are not alone, we see other people who come to play sports. My pace is excellent. I have a mental print, 450m after the chip bips, where I start to run again. Then I run during three and half laps. Then there is a bip which allows me to walk again. I get the marathon in 5h. Perfect.

I meet Christine David. She looks like athletic, honed. But never rely on a first look. And I don't know the important runners names. We talk about races commentators. She says: "At Brive, one of them promised me that if I would run 200km, he would carry me." I am... well... surprised. "And then?" I ask. Christine: "He did it!" OK. So she has already run 200km in 24h. For a women: it means that you are in the first 7% worldwide bests. Last year in France, only one woman reached the 200. So Christine is older, she is no longer at her top level, but sure I can learn much from her! I am sure that she will show me that she is not here to stroll. I am so lucky to run with such a girl. During all the race she was a pacer, a support, a contestant. To sum up: a delight.

Françoise and me
Françoise and me because I love to have a piece of walk/run with all of them: her, her smile, her steady pace.

Another girl is impressive: Anne Fournier. She dead runs so fast! She's the first woman. But Christian says me that she won't keep the pace all the 24 hours. He thinks I can pass her. Ahah, so funny. I don't think so. She has a running body, she is like a competition woman. And I think she goes ahead. No worry, I am in third position (female) and, incredible, in the first half (scratch) as soon as the first night. Need to strengthen that stuff.

Rain? Yes, there was some. And I won it. First, it was only showers (if you like bicycle and "only showers" stories, I recommand you my husband's London-Edimbourg-London report). So not many rainy consecutive hours. Second, I had good rain clothes, best than the previous time: a really rainproof vest, a cap with peak, to avoid to use the hood. OK I look like an American redneck but my glasses are protected and I don't hear the hood scraping. So I keep my happiness. I count the showers. I laugh when the commentator annonces that the rain has stopped, I add: "It's just some water falling from the sky." I am still smiling, I know I am stronger than the weather, at this time. Let's continue.

Patrick and Philippe
Patrick and Philippe. Beware of them. They pile up kilometers more than you can pile dishes.

Waouh, Valérie is fast! I surprise myself. I knew I had improved my base speed. But I worried a little. I have had no long runs in my workout. But at the moment, the kilometres are going by, I have just run my best 100km, in less than 13h30. A little sad that Christian is not here to share this step with me: he is supporting Wilfrid in the gymnasium. I don't understand what's the matter with Wilfrid? I saw the rescue services around him. Why? I can't wait for an explanation and for my support crew. I will continue without and it is not a big issue. The volunteers are so helpful. They give my soups, coffees and smiles. It's OK. Moreover, with the tumbler, it's very easy. I take mine in the refreshment zone, I spend 100m to drink it and I can let it on the table in front of the zone, after a U-turn. So it is "magically" back in the refreshment zone at next lap. Much more ecological than Paris Marathon, which is so proud of it "sustainable development" tag and wastes thousands of water bottles.

With Christine
With Christine, when I've just discovered that, well, I'm actually running with an important person!

So the night has started for a while when I achieve my 100km. I have to continue to go ahead. During 3 hours, my pace is still OK. I think it is exactly "doing my best." I run one lap over two, and I walk the other. I managed to do with some issues, along them the ones I had on my previous race. There is a restroom along the track. I go in with my little hygiene case and I neatly clean myself each time. I don't put myself under pressure when restoring, just to get 1min which may be so mentally expensive. I am still unfazed.

Anne Fournier
Meanwhile... Anne is wearing out the tarmac.

Around 3:00am, it starts to be rougher. The night is clear. OK, means that it is not raining. On the other hand, it is colder and colder. Everything is frosted. I put more and more clothes one over the other. I am too tired to run and my clothes are so abundant that it makes it difficult. Never mind, I have to go ahead. Each hour, I allow myself a little break in the cloakroom. Just to heat a little. The support crews are covered with so plenty of fabrics and blankets! Runners: not all. Some are tough guys. Other not... and they are resting more time than me in the gymnasium. Hopefully there is also a 12h race, from 10:00pm to 10:00am. We would be so few people without them.

Wilfrid has a technical damage :(

Christine is exhausted. I am lucky not to feel to tired this time. I drank some coffees only to help my digestive transit. Anne has yet stopped several times. But we also ran some lap together, Christine, Anne and me. Anne is a 3000m steeple specialist, so not exactly like a 24h race. 24h running is just a special leisure. So she started too fast, just to feel the speed. She knew she couldn't keep this pace during all the race. But she doesn't want to run a perfect race, since the most important for her is to avoid any injury. Knowing that she didn't managed her whole race reassures me. And she is so positive. Actually, what I don't understand is: "What am I doing here, in the first three females? When the other two are such great runners?" They are very different but none of them is a gossip who does her jogging at lunchtime like me. The more I go around with them, the more I want her to get lovely distances. And actually, I also want to get a lovely distance, matching theirs.

(French song lyrics): The night is cold/ It is wild/ The night is beautiful/ According to its hostages

Finally, the morning is coming. The sky is pink. But what I want is that the temperature rises, that I could remove some clothes, that I feel I have some energy again to run. So, the night was clear but the morning isn't. The heat will wait. OK if I can achieve 5km each hour, I can pass my 150km goal. But I don't want to barely get it. I am exhausted now. Running is using all my energy, but walking hurts me more, from the soles of the feet up into my legs. I need to go ahead. I want to insure a margin. I think only of that margin, that 150km mark. The pressure is growing. And I crack. I sit down in our crew zone and I cry.

Three girls
The morning - three girls moving forward

Sometimes you live a wonderful sporting event. I is one of them. Anne is resting a few meters away, she has already removed her running clothes. She doesn't want to run the finish. But she sees my distress and she only says: "Come on Valérie, we go together." We go back on the track. I am once again in the race. We walk pretty fast. Eventually, I even ran.

Final sprint
A large and aerial stride. Mmmm, actually: the best I can currently provide.

Finish time in a 24h is a special moment. For the last half an hour, I gave everything: so it was a troublesome stride and a 6.5km/h speed. Spectators encourage you (I think no one among them was conscious that I was a 2nd female, 19 over 68 at scratch, so not just a desperate girl). And also I am encouraging me. It's my secret. I am saying myself: "Go on, girl. Go on. You're OK. Let's go. Continue. Go on girl." I grumble. And I go on. Banger! It's the last minute. I hurry up (perhaps 7km/h?) "Go on girl. Go on. You OK." Second banger. It is finished. I put my bib down on the track. I rest on the fence. And I realize that I am continuing to says "Go on girl. Let's go. Yes. Go on." I need to force myself to stop twice. As soon as I distract, I start the litany again, like a broken record.

On the podium. I am the second female and I can't believe it: Christine and Anne are two exceptional runner. I am a little confused, but so proud to share the podium with them.

To sum up: it is not exactly my best race. It was obvious that I went ahead mostly to achieve my goal. Without the 150km mark, I would have longer rest times during the night, I would have been slower on the track. But I managed to fix some issues: food, cold, rain, frictions, negative thoughts. So:

Au final, je n'ai pas tout à fait réussi à faire simplement ma meilleure course. J'ai bien vu que j'avançais à l'objectif. Sans mon envie d'atteindre les 150 km, mes pauses auraient été plus longues, ma vitesse moindre. Mais je surmonte de plus en plus de problèmes connexes : l'alimentation, le froid, la pluie, les frottements, les pensées négatives. Au final :

- 154 km, 11 more than Saint-Fons; - Want to go back on a 100km road race, to attest my performance; - And well, I went back on the weighting scale: if I want to mark at 100miles, it would be better to loose some kg.

Just to says, my half marathons times:

  • HM 1 : 2h30
  • HM 2 : 2h40
  • HM 3 : 2h50
  • HM 4 : 3h10
  • HM 5 : 3h30
  • HM 6 : 4h
  • HM 7 : 4h15
  • HM 8 (if I forecast beyond 24h) : 3h45

At least, 24h is much more than this report. Beautiful moments, hard ones, laugh, emotion. Stars in the eyes during days and days after. A big thank you to all the competitors, to the organisers, to the volunteers, to the support crews and to the crêpes with sausage, which all make this event so magical.

If you are interested in more long races reports, I recommand you Christian's website. It's is mostly in English, even if his report of this race as a crew member is only in French (but there are other photos).

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Updated on Mon Aug 17 2020.