London2Brighton and London2Cambridge, so similar, so different

Last July, I ran my first official ultra-marathon, the London2Cambridge challenge. This was a very special experience, with highs and lows, pain and joy. I loved it, and decided to do more, and try to beat my time of 16 h 07 min. I chose to do the London2Brighton challenge because it was organised by Action challenge the same company that organised L2C. Also, it comprised more hills (with 1420 m of ascent, 5 times more than the L2C) and one of my ambitions is to move towards more mountain running. As last year, I would run to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

During the L2C, I started too fast, doing the first half-marathon at an average pace of 6 min 10 sec per km, which at the time was not so much above my actual half-marathon pace. In addition, chatting with nice people, I forgot to drink, and ended up terribly dehydrated at the first main stop. I spent the past year to train, improving my times on 5K, 10K, 16K, half and full marathon. I also learned to drink little but often on long runs. I was decided to learn from experience.

I relocated to London on the previous day, with my wife and my son, who kindly offered to come and cheer me up at some of the major rest stops. The journey to London was pretty horrible. 1 h to reach London from Cambridge. And then 2 hours to move from the outskirts of London to the hotel in Twickenham. The temperature was scorching (the car thermometer once showed 38 deg C!!!)

We had dinner in a Ke Sushi, a very nice Japanese restaurant. I normally do not eat rice before a race because it slows down your bowels, but I think the food was pretty lean and healthy. The rice did its work though. From Friday evening to Saturday evening, I only had a moderate number 2 at the first rest stop. Pretty different from the London2Cambridge floods … (sorry if this is too much details. You should not read a blog about running if you are offended by mentions of bodily functions).

Wake up call set up at 4:15am. I actually woke up earlier, but totally rested despite the short night. I was out of the room before 5 am. The walk toward the start of the race at Old deer park in Richmond was refreshing and delightful. Earlier in the year, I suffered from diverticulitis. A similar pain had been niggling me for a few days and I was a bit anxious. But it disappeared shortly after the start.

The starting village was quite busy. 1608 people registered for the full challenge (1518 actually started). Not all of them started at 6:30am, but many runners doing the first half were there as well, and a few families too. I was way more relaxed than for the London2Cambridge, and quietly prepared my bags. I chose to fill my chest bottles, one with water and one with electrolytes, but to keep my camelback empty during the first part of the race, when it was on flat hard surfaces.

I entered the starting pen, and gently warmed-up. The format was very similar to the L2C: 3 main rest stops after 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 of the journey, and smaller ones in between. I therefore decided to tackle this challenge not as a 100K race, but as 8 successive 8 miles runs.

part1

The start was fairly brisk, and I ended up running this first leg at a 6 min 10 sec per km again, as last year! I noted immediately that the km marks were off. Indeed, according to my Garmin GPS watch, the km 1 sign came at 1.4 km. The course was following the river Thames until Kingston-Upon-Thames, going through pretty wealthy districts. The number of golf courses around this area is absolutely nuts! The sun was shining, but due to the early hours (start at 6:30am) the temperature was ideal. And of course being at river level, if was pretty flat.

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I spoke with a couple of runners, whose names I shamefully forgot. But the atmosphere was much less chatty than during the London2Cambridge. And it was probably a good thing. Each time I chatted, or I listened to music, I forgot to hydrate. I arrived at Green Lane Recreation Ground, first mid-point stop, at  07:45, 149/1521. I stopped very shortly at the stop, just eating a few fruit slices, drinking coffee, and having a wee. This is where I realised my wee was dark yellow. Hmm. Didn’t I decide to learn from my mistakes?

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The second leg of the race left the river banks and got us through the suburbs of London. The profile was more of less constantly climbing.

 

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On the graph it looks steep, but we are talking about an average slope of 1%. I started to walk on the steeper parts though, and my average pace moved towards the 7 min range. I knew I was enjoying the easy part of the race. I forced myself to drink regularly. I arrived in Oak Parks, the first main rest stop, at 09:17 (the position is meaningless because the timing system did not work for many participants). The temperature started to climb and at the rest stop, I decided to change from a regular bland short-sleeve t-shirt to my Alzheimer’s Research UK sleeve-less running. shirt. I had a coffee and ate fruit slices and potato chips, to help with loss of salt. I went to the loo and my pee was light orange … Well, at that point I was on dark ruby last year, so this was progress … Nevertheless, I filled my camelback and decided to drink as much as I could.

part3

The third part of the race would bring us in the countryside. We had to go through a railway station (complete with up and down stairs). It would also feature the first really steep slopes and the infamous stiles. We had more that  a dozen of them across the full course. We started to enjoy very nice natural surroundings such as the Farthing Downs, the downside being that we hit the first hills and a bit of wind. We also crossed the M25 and left London for good.

If you read the part above, you know what’s coming. Yes, I started cramping. Both calves. I just don’t know what is wrong with me. I always cramp at 25K. The only exception was the Manchester marathon. I genuinely drank regularly, and a volume considered suitable, that is more than 500 ml per hour.

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[June 2017 Update: A colleague and ultra-champion, Hervé Seitz, pointed to me that this amount was probably well under what I lost by sudation during such an event. He measured his own loss at more than twice that amount. And the guy knows what he is talking about, running the 100K in 7 hours.]

I tried to listen to music. It helped a bit, but the distraction caused me to twist ankles. I was not in a happy place. Nothing was going according to plan, and I was having lots of negative thoughts. I arrived at New Henhaw farm, the 41K mid-stop, at 11:49, pretty crest-fallen, 197/1497. At this stop I drank coffee … and gobbled lots of fruit slices, including 4 pieces of pineapple … Stupid!

part4

I left the rest stop with music on, trying to run and overcome the cramps. I felt OK, during about 100 m. And then I tumbled. That was a pretty decent fall, with ankle twisting, rolling on the ground, breaking patella straps etc. Fortunately, the ground was covered in grass and I did not injure myself. But I was a bit shaken, and I would spend the next km recovering. And then my belly started to ache. It would go on until the next stop. I think it was the pineapple slices and the orange wedges. They carry a lot of acid. I need to keep to melon and such. The coffee did not help either.

The terrain was undulating, but not unpleasant. Then came something pretty odd. I think I saw two successive km 44 signs. I passed Gatwick airport, and many air-planes flew just over my Profile4head. The most memorable was an Airbus A380 which was so big it looked very close. Towards what I thought was the end of the leg came a steep and long climb. We started to hear cheering, and comments in speakers. By that time, I was struggling and the sound was welcome. I imagined this was our half-way point. In fact, it was a racing circuit, on which a race was taking place at the time. I passed it, and still no rest stop in view. At some point, I met a sign “rest stop approaching”. Oh delight! I was uplifted. Wrongly. The sign was about a km ahead of the actual rest stop! At the end, the half-way point labelled “56K” showed up at 58.5K! I walked to the stop at Tulley’s Farm, quite exhausted and dispirited. It was 14:21, I was 193 of 1432.

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My wife and my son were waiting for me. It had been a lonely first half, and having someone to talk to after 7 hours of plodding on was nice. I did not feel good, pretty nauseous, and not sure I could absorb anything. But in the end, I had two helpings of pizza and pasta. Not all the food the organisers planned was ready though. This is one of the issues with the Action Challenge events. Because most people walk the course, the event organisers tend to cater for them first (which is totally understandable. While a few dozen runners trickle down over a period of a few hours, several hundreds walkers arrive roughly at the same time. When it comes to hot food, this is a pretty  big difference). This stop passed very differently from London2Cambridge’s half way. While I changed clothes then, this time I only changed my t-shirt. I did not tend to my feet at all, because they felt just fine. I also did not stop my Garmin watch to recharge it (OK, I actually forgot the connector, so not much choice there). So altogether, it was just a very long regular rest stop. After a while, my wife reminded me that I was actually running a race, and I should probably get going! I left under the applauses of various families, not understanding it was for me. I looked around to see if someone was coming, and not seeing anyone, I did not thank them. It took me a minute to understand what happened. Ultras  really belong to a different world when it comes to support.

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I quickly realised that I actually felt great, much better than before the stop. I had to wait for a bit before starting running seriously again, because of the food. But no bellyache, no nausea. And my legs and feet were OK.

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This part had a bit of ups and downs, and I decided the rule that would drive me for the rest of the race: Uphill, you walk. Downhill you run. Flat, it depends on the terrain. This rule helped me tremendously. First of all, mostly I did not have to think before deciding on the pace. Indeed, true flats were pretty rare. Second, because I walked almost as fast in uphill and flat, my average pace was actually much faster than just a walking pace. The issue with the fifth leg were the drivers. A significant part of the course was spent on single lane roads, with edges on both sides. On these roads, we encountered an endless flux of big 4×4 cars (not the dirty land-rover type, for real adventurers. I am talking big shiny expensive ones that never actually see a dirty track). They were driven at mad speeds by people who were stunned to find pedestrians on their personal race tracks. When we signalled them to slow down, we were horned and revved-up on.

The arrival to the mid-stop at Ardingly College was a relief. 16:35, 195/1282. It was a quick one. Just a cup of tea and a refill of my bottles. I decided to stop refilling the electrolyte one. I used pills that dissolve in water, cherry and lemon flavoured. I used them for more than a year now. But after sipping on them for 10 hours, I could not stand the taste any more.

I realised that I was not in bad shape when another runner, who looked way fitter than I was, started to puke all over the place near the refill station. Why? Oh why? Man, you just ran 69 km, why not run a few meters away? Anyway, the poor man was indeed in bad shape. His wife and little daughter were trying to cheer him up. By the way, I do not think a 4 year old little girl can fully understand what is going on in that situation. Seeing her dad so sick was clearly distressing. How could she make the difference between a sport-induced sickness and a more severe ailment. I think it was frankly stupid of him. And since we are on the subject of bad behaviour, this was another event where fast runners just disregarded the environment and dumped their junk all over. During 100K, I travelled through litter made of gel wraps, sultana boxes etc. Shameful really.

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After a couple of minutes I left. This part was OK as far as running was going. By then I was in pretty good shape. However, it was one of the most dangerous racing track I experienced. During a while, we were running on a double lane road where car were going at 60-70 miles/hour. It was frankly frightening, in particular when they crossed while overtaking us. Action Challenge dutifully put “keep on the path” signs. What they called “path” was a 20 cm wide bit of the grassy edge that they roughly chopped off. Not only was it super narrow, it was also strongly slanted. I dare any human, of even any mountain goat, to be able to run on it. I was glad to travel this part in full daylight. I cannot imagine what it was for the walkers, going through it in the middle of the night.

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After this unpleasant part, we went back to paths, and the rest of the course was great. I met Miriam Klein (Finisher in 15h45) who also ran the London2Cambridge last year. I finally caught up with “hobbling man” (sorry, could not remember the name again). I had seen him from km 30 or so, fast walking but obviously in pain. I would catch him while running, but he would escape when we were walking (he was taller, OK?). We chatted for a while. He came from Leeds. Then I took off. I felt really guilty to let them, but we were still 25K from the finish. I could not start walking when not strictly necessary.

As for the L2C, we had to run around a church and through a cemetery. It seems to be a defining feature of those challenges. This one was in a village, and I suspect much less spooky at night than last year.  Near the next rest stop, I ran along the pub The Cock Inn in Wivelsfield Green. There was loud Irish music, some sort of party. Everyone outside started to cheer me and applause. Very nice.

I reached the last rest stop in Wivelsfied Green at 18:19, 183/1229, wayyyy earlier than planned. And … I did not calculate beforehand and did not ring my wife. As a result, she was just leaving Brighton when I finally thought “Hey! wouldn’t it be nice to tell them I’m early”. I could not wait for 30 minutes just to say hello and we cancelled. Not nice (from me and for them).

Last year, the 71K rest-stop featured burritos, and I was looking forward to them. No burritos this time. However, I had the best jacket potato ever. Perfectly cooked. So creamy! It was hard no to take another one …

part7

I left the stop, feeling a bit heavy because of the food. The jacket potato was great, but I should not have eaten a sausage too. The spirit was good though, and the walking fast. Profile7

By now, I knew my policy of running down/walking up was working well. I left just behind a runner called Peter Jay. We would keep overtaking each other in turn until the end (he won this “race” and finished 40 sec ahead of me). So, we spent 20 km together. We only talked once! And what a talk. Just after the stop, he was trying to put some crisp wrapping paper in his backpack and could not reach the pocket. I said “let me do that for you”. He answered “thanks”. After 80 kilometres and 11h30, you don’t feel like chatting much. Nevertheless, I felt no pain. And when the downhills came, I would run them happily. I think I then realised I could go on forever. Slowly, alternating walk and run, stopping here and there for food and toilets. The only barrier that I need to master now is the sleep. For that I need to move up to the 100 miles races.

As we headed towards the last stop, the barrier of the South Downs appeared, blocking the horizon like a giant tsunami of a catastrophe movie (try to imagine running from the right on the picture below, towards the hills on the left).

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We knew from the race profile and the past reports that the climb would be trying. I arrived at Plumpton College at 19:46, 175/1168. This was a pretty swift stop. A tea, a couple of fruit slices. I emptied my chest bottles and got rid of the electrolytes, that I was not using anyway. I wanted to be as light as possible to hit the slope. One can see the barrier clearly on the image below.

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Profile8The profile indeed is pretty scary. But in fact, it was nothing at all. Yes, we climbed 200 metres, but it was pretty short, and on a hard easy path. Nothing close to what I experiences at the Beaumes de Venise. Once I passed that last big climb I knew the way was mostly downward. The view from the top of the cliff was  breathtaking. Towards the north, one can see a gigantic plain, and we can almost imagine London in the distance. Towards the south, a landscape of gentle hills rolls until Brighton and the sea. The sun was shining, and it was absolutely beautiful. And I felt great! So I started running.

The organisers added a small stop just a few kilometres from the arrival, with gels and water. No hot drinks or fresh fruits so  I did not stop.

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But passing by this mini-rest killed my legs. I knew I was close. We started following one of the major roads going to Brighton. The night was falling, and my spirits too. I was following one of the Action Challenge employees who was attaching glow-sticks to the hedges lining the path. And I could not catch her. My legs were tired and I told myself I had nothing left. Then, as I was about to cross the road in Woodingdean, a man overtook me. He was running with his son, who was pacing him. That reminded me of my daughter Marie, who paced me during the last part of the L2C. I started to run and latched myself on them. Actually, it turned out I still had something left in me after all!

I arrived at the Brighton racecourse at 21:48, after 15 h 18 min and 29 sec of race,
166 of 1170 finishers, 141st male . The total length was closer to 103K than 100. I felt very good and the arrival was a stark contrast with the 56K stop. The comparison of the paces at the L2C and L2B show a striking similarities, with just a general improvement due to training, and the fact that I bonked later in the L2B.

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A big difference was the level of injuries. After the L2C, I could not walk properly during days. I had monstrous blisters, my quads were dead and my ankles hurt. It took me a long time to start running decent distances again. After the L2B I lost toenails as well, but that was it. I only had two small blisters on my heels and my legs felt OK. I was running after a week.

I therefore think I can push myself more. I signed for the Thames Path Challenge. This 100K follows the river Thames and is thus very flat. I will try to get under 15h, and who knows, perhaps 14:30. Then I need to do at least one very long ultra. I think about  the Ultra-Marin, 177 km around the Golfe du Morbihan, my family´s original homeplace.

Guess Nono’s time

Last year, I ran the London 2 Cambridge 100K race for Alzheimer’s Research UK. The course was pretty flat and I finished in 16h07 (64 over 499 finishers). Therefore, this year, I decided to run the more hilly London 2 Brighton race!

The race will take place on May 27th. I will also run it in support of ARUK. I self-fund my race, therefore NONE of your donation is going to my registration. ALL of it is going to ARUK. I kept the previous donation page alive.
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/nicolas-le-novere

In order to make things more interesting, I decided to create a little game called “Guess Nono’s time”. People with the closest guess to my finishing time will get prices!!! When you make a donation, please specify the finish time you envision for me. To make things even more interesting, your donation will affect the results. Each GBP will give you 10 sec. So if I finish in 15h and you guessed 15h30 but gave ARUK 30 quids, your effective guess will be 15h25. Someone who would have guessed 15:27 but gave only 1 GBP will loose to you!

Possible prices for the best guessers (not limiting)

  • A blog post dedicated to you, full of praise
  • A registration in a race of your choice (up to half-marathon)
  • One of my favourite books on running

Possible prices for the worst guessers (not limiting)

  • A blog post dedicated to you, full of spite
  • the socks I ran the London 2 Brighton in
  • An autographed picture of me

Reminder: my finish time last year was 16:07. Here is some data to help you guess my finishing time:

positives:

  • I am fitter than last year, and run twice as much per month
  • Over the past year, I improved my personal bests on 5K, 10K, half and full marathons
  • I learned from last year’s mistakes, in particular regarding pace and hydration
  • If I slow down, I will convince myself that Marine Le Pen is chasing me

negatives:

  • The London 2 Brighton presents a positive climb FIVE times larger than the London 2 Cambridge
  • I will not have my daughter to pace me for the last third
  • The race is at the end of May instead of beginning of July, and I hate running cold
  • Running southward is actually getting me closer to Marine Le Pen

To have a more detailed description of my London 2 Cambridge 2016, see: https://runnonorun.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/my-firt-100k-the-london-2-cambridge-challenge/

Finishing time guessed so far:

15:39

Crying on the finish line

I ran my first marathon. Yes, yes, I know. I participated to two other marathons last year (the Shakespeare marathon and the Beachy Head marathon). However, in both cases, my calves badly cramped after midpoint and I walked a significant portion of the distance. Not this time. This time, I ran 42 km, at an average pace of 6 min a km. That is an average speed of 10 km per hour (I know you can compute that on your own. It just feels good to write it down). My final time was 4 hours 14 min and 23 sec. This is 32 min better than my previous personal best at the Shakespeare marathon.

This was a week-end of firsts, since the previous day I attended my first Premier League game with my son, Manchester United versus West Bromwich at the Old Trafford stadium. The atmosphere was very good, but the result disappointing (0-0). For dinner, we went to a Lebanese restauran, where I had chicken, vegetables and potatoes. We stayed at the Innside hotel, very nice, which was a partner of the race. One of the advantages of the hotel was a direct and quick Metrolink to the race start. Another was a breakfast from 6am on a Sunday. And since the hotel was packed with runners, it was well attended.

I arrived at the Old Trafford cricket ground 90 min before the start, among the first runners there. Because of the time of the day, I faced a clothing conundrum. It was pretty chilly to say the least (around 4 deg C). But the weather forecast told me the sun would get out and we should hit 9-10 by the end of the race. Initially I thought to leave with a sleeveless shirt. But the idea of being stranded in the countryside at km 30 on a chilly morning scared me a bit. Remember, I thought the race would be similar to my former marathons, with a mix of running and walking. On the contrary, as soon as the sun was getting out, I was warming fast. At the end, I decided to keep my long sleeve shirt above the sleeveless one and dump it if I needed too.

I started to move to the starting pens around 1 h before the start. It was a long walk since I was starting right at the back (due to my previous marathon time), hence far from the athlete village, but that kept me reasonably warm. There were quite a few runners, 15000 registered and close to 9000 finished. The number of people actually starting were between both figures. That meant quite a crowd. To be honest, I did not fell so great at the start. My gut was playing tricks, and I had small pains in various articulations. The start itself was a bit chaotic, with successive movements and sudden stops. I decided to stay behind the 4 h 30 pacer. At that time, I just wanted to beat my previous time of 4 h 46. It took me 18 min to reach the start line.

I tried to start slow, well below my easy pace, in order to warm up. But it was soon clear that I was in the wrong group of runners. This forced me to continuously zigzag or climb on kerbs to overtake. After 1 K, I finally reached my easy pace (around 5 min 50 per km) and kept at it for the next 20 km.

Pace

Despite going to the toilet several times before the start, I still felt the need of a wee. There were 5 toilets at each of the 11 water stations. At 5 K, long lines were already forming at the portaloos, and being in town, I did not want to jump behind a tree somewhere. So I pushed back the decision to the 10 K water station. By then I felt better, and eventually the feeling abated. That happened before. I don’t know if it is psychological, or if my body reabsorbs water when dehydrating.

Water was an important aspect of this race. In my previous marathons and ultras, my calves cramped after 25 km, and one reason was certainly that I did not drink enough. The Manchester marathon provided water bottles every 4 km, and energy gels every other water stations. I dutifully drank a complete bottle each time, slowly sipping it so that it would be empty by the time I reached the next station. And that worked. My legs hurt in the second part of the race but I never cramped.  Actually something funny happened at some point. They did not feel mine. At 10 K, I had removed my long sleeve shirt, and knotted it around my waist (I put it back around km 35). It was flapping against the back of my legs, but around km 20, I kept touching it because I thought it was gone. I felt it flapping against something. But I could not associated this something with my legs …

The first half of the race was positively lovely. The weather was fantastic, the crowd was cheering, there was music. And I was feeling great. I chatted with a few people on the way. I talked about Africa, France and the UK with a Nigerian runner during a while. There were plenty of interesting runners. I saw a real life Raspunzel, whose hair, fixed in four long braids, reached to her calves. I overtook The Flash, but could not reach Superman. The last runner was running the marathon backward. Yep, he was slowly running (not walking) the wrong way round, without a mirror (but with a helmet …)

course

From km 14 to 26, the Manchester marathon is an out and back. This was a first for me. Crossing the lead runners was amazing. These guys are machines. So fast!  But crossing the back of the pack was also inspiring. These people are the deserving ones. I saw several runners with visual impairment, led by dedicated helpers. Also many of the back runners are really suffering and they most often do that for charities.

At half-way, I started to slow down, as can be seen on the pace chart. This was gradual until km 34. This is where I can save time in the future. Just by extending the length of time I run at my easy pace, I can probably gain between 6 and 10 min. I did not really hit the wall. I never experienced it, because in the past cramps were stopping me way before, but I knew it was coming. Manchester marathon’s crowd is fantastic and we were continuously offered snacks. From km 18 I started to grabs, jelly beans, Haribos etc. And I finally saw the wall. It is a human wall. You are running OK. Everyone is running around you. And suddenly, at about 20 miles, you are running in a fairly dense crowd of walkers. This last for a couple of miles, and then it is back to runners again. This was strange.

I hit my low point at km 34. And it was a purely mental event. My body did not let go, I did not start to ache. By that point I was very very slow. And I just stopped running. Then the crowd saved me again. A guy started to walk on the pavement, parallel to me, and shouting encouragments “come on, you can do it” etc. So I picked up the running again. I must have walked no more than a few dozen meters.

But I was very slow. I was running at 7 min per km, which is a bit more than a fast walking pace. Then at 38K, I was overtaken by the 4:15 pacer, and she told me to stick with her. I picked up the pace and followed her pack for a few hundreds meters. However, I could not keep her pace by then. But this was encouraging. My previous marathon best was 4:46, and my aim for the day was 4:30. And here I was, a few km from the finish line, only now being overtaken by the 4:15 pacer. So I kept on running, and looking at my watch told me I could actually make it. The pacer was a bit fast and if I could just keep her back flag in my line of sigh, who knows?

The finish was a looooong straight line. We could see it from a km away. I forced myself to not look, because each time I did, the size of the finish portal did not change, which was dispiriting.

Final time 4:14:23. Completely unexpected. I walked back to the old cricket ground to get my finisher bag, and I started crying. I was not sad or in pain. I was not even elated. I was happy sure, but not filled with unbearable joy. So why was I crying? I have no idea. But it was a good moment though. The sun was shining, and they offered us a pint of alcohol-free Erdinger beer. It was so good.

And I think I gave it all. Last year, I knew I did not. 2 days after the Shakespeare marathon, I beat my 5 miles time on the treadmill. I tried to do it again this time. I lasted 2 K before I had to slow down (arguably my 8 K pace is now way faster than last year). I tried again after 4 days. I could only run 7 K at the planned pace.

I am now in the mountain for a week of snowboarding so no running (or not so much. I brought my kit to practice slopes, but I do not think I will have time or energy). Next target is the London 2 Brighton on May 27.

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When everything goes according to plan

After the debacle of the St Valentine 30K, the 2017 edition of the Silverstone half-marathon was an important event for my running in general and as a milestone towards the London2Brigthon. Last year’s edition was great, with a fantastic atmosphere, nice weather, and personal best for my daughter and I. One does not change a winning formula and this year’s edition was was not very different,  with a similar course, similar village, similar aid stations etc.

SilverstoneHalf2017-course

The first difference was the weather. While Saturday was quite nice, we traveled to the site under heavy rain. It progressively abated, but the last hour, waiting for the start was still quite chilly and wet. We started to wonder if coming back to run 21K on a circuit devoid of protections against elements was a good idea (after all, one reason why Silverstone is a great F1 circuit is that one can see almost the entire track from several of the grand-stands, which in turn means no obstacle against wind). We therefore decided to put on several layers of clothing.

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The rain stopped just at the start of the race, and it felt a bit warm initially. However, we appreciated the protection towards the end, when soaked in sweat we had to face a few gusts of wind.

When it came to running, I had a plan. My average pace at the 2016 Great Eastern Run, my previous PB, was 5:27 per km. My daughter’s PB was about 3 min off, and I decided to trick her into a new one. I therefore proposed to run between 5:25 and 5:30 until 13-14K and then see how we would feel. The plan was accepted and we followed it. We tried to be strict about it, catching up after the slowing down at the aid stations. As you can see on the trace below, we succeeded perfectly. I think this was the most consistent race I ran so far. Until 7-8K, we were both fine, then my daughter started to suffer a bit because of lack of training. But age prevailed and she soldiered on. The running crowd was quite large, about 6700 runners. As a result, we had to overtake often, which was tiring. As with cars, in order to overtake without problem, one needs to accelerate above our normal pace, to slow down afterward, while watching around to avoid collision.

My turn to struggle arrived at km 15. However, the atmosphere in Silverstone is great, with motivational music on different points of the course, and a fantastic crowd of supporters. If anything, it was hard not to get carried away by their enthusiasm and run too fast.

Pace

One good aspect of the race, which turned to be a problem, is the hydration. Aid stations are frequent, and alternatively offer small bottles of water or large bottles of Lucozade. We initially took only one bottle at each aid station, to share until the next one. However, the water bottles were too small, and the Lucozade too sweet, which made me very thirsty. At the end, we decided to only take water, and to take one bottle each.

At 18K, we knew we would get a good time, probably a PB. We were tired but nowhere close to bonking. And we started to accelerate. This is when we overtook huge swats of runners, who were where I was in previous half-marathons, suffering from tiredness and pain, after a race sub-optimally managed. The last km, we gave everything, and I am very happy to see that we were actually able to increase our pace significantly. We still had juice in the tank and this is encouraging for the forthcoming marathons and ultras.

This was a great event, with a nice medal, and a nice goodie bag, including a comfy t-shirt, various drinks and food, plus products such as antiperspirant, suncream, cream to help with muscle soreness etc. and a great atmosphere. Even the sun came out at the end. We will be back!

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Sometimes it hurts more

Usually, I enjoy running and I try to post reasonably cheerful blog entries. The main reason is simple: running makes me happy. Even when things do not go as planned, such as my timed-out experience at the Beaumes-de-Venise trail, I enjoy the run (sometimes retrospectively 😉 )  Not this time …

I finished the year 2016 on a high. October and November saw personal best on 10 km, 10 miles and half-marathon. Therefore, optimistically, for the first half of 2017 I built a program of increasingly long races, 30K in February and half-marathon in March, Marathon in April, and 100K in May. However, I struggled to run long distances in training. I clocked 167 km in January, my second heaviest month ever. However, this was due to 24 runs, the longest being only 18k. Then disaster struck. 10 days before the St Valentine 30K, I was floored by a diverticulitis.  I spent two days at the hospital. I was sent back home 1 week before the race, with antibiotics, and still some abdominal pain.

I decided to run nevertheless. It was one of the coldest week-end of this winter. Just a couple of degrees above 0 when I arrived in Stamford. The organisation of the event was very good. We benefited from an entire sport centre, with a large gymnasium for pack collection, advertisement booths, display of the maps etc., toilets, changing rooms (with showers), and a cafe serving food and drinks. 15 min before the start, we moved towards the starting line and warmed up. It was snowing! Because of that, I put multiple layers of clothing: an inner bamboo long sleeves shirt, a looser long sleeves shirt, and a windbreaker. Plus a scarf, a hat, and two pairs of gloves. You think it was too much to run? You are right.

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I was very warm when we started. While trying to remove one pair of gloves I lost one of my running gloves, and thus was stuck with my big snow gloves. To be honest, I appreciated my clothing later in the race, when I slowed down and the wind picked up a bit. The start was OK and during 5 miles I felt good. Then I started to think about the next water stops, and this was not a good sign so early in the race. I expected a flat course since we were in north Cambridgeshire. Wrong. It was going up and down continuously.

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So, I was OK but it was not my most enjoyable race, as my face tells around km 10 (I am not sure I wanted to kill the photograph then, but he probably thought so).

Many runners had water bladders and that surprised me a bit since it was a road race (we always see a few, but this is a small minority). I understood quickly … The water stations, every 5K,  offered cups of water containing roughly 100 to 150 ml. This was at best 1/3 of what I needed.

The punishment came after km 15. I started to cramp. Both calves. It was initially intermittent, and I could shake it off by slowing down a bit. After km 20-22, the frequency of cramping increased. I was not the only one. A few runners had to stop.

valentine30k2017By km 25 I was forced to walk a significant amount of time. I was cold, in pain, and miserable. Look at this picture, taken after the water station of km 20 I think. To be compared with the image taken at km 84 during the London 2 Cambridge 2016 (the one with my daughter).

To add insult to injury, the race finished by a lap on a field. So while my Hoka One One were perfectly suited for the first 29 km on road, I finished sliding and mudding myself. And you thought there was only one insult? Nope. It was also one of those races without finisher medals (a nice t-shirt thought). And to top everything, runners arriving as a couple got a box of Maltesers (it was the St Valentine race …) while old farts running on their own just got the regular goodie bag with a banana and cereal bar.

My aim was 3 hours and 7 minutes. I finished in 3 hours, 15 minutes and 49 seconds. I was 529 of 589 finishers.  But where it hurts was that I finished 55 of 57 runners in my gender/age class  … I cheer myself up thinking that I was 55 of 57 males my age who actually ran a 30K instead of drinking beer at the pub watching darts (Did you think I was about to say football? We are in the UK).

The winner was Aaron Scott in 1 h 39 min and 56 sec (he also won the 2016 edition). The first veteran over 45 arrived in 1 hour 53 min and 13 sec.

Exploring the world with running shoes … or not so much

I record all my runs on a website called fetcheveryone . One of the features offered by the site is a map of everywhere you ran. The world is divided in hexagons (I do not how many). I so far explored 8528 hexagons.

Here are maps at different scales representing what I ran. I will hopefully repost them every year to see the progression (if the site survives that is. This is not a website created by a trademark of running gears, but something developed by one developer, who used to be paid by a company but now will mostly be supported by voluntary donations).
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Around the place I live, I explored a lot of the available hexagons. I covered almost 100% of my village. It should not be difficult to fill 7 of the remaining ones. 3 of them will probably stay out of reach since they represent the ground around the privately-owned Sawston Hall

The local map shows that on Sundays I am mostly limited by the distance I can run from home and back. And I also tend to run on the same courses. (I have 4, 8, 10, 14, 22K courses).

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The regional level shows the races I traveled to on the day (plus a big piece of London2Cambridge of course).region

The national map shows everywhere I recorded a run in the UK. And it is pretty much

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limited to south-east, London and East Anglia. I really need to go see places. I am amazed how clear are the details of the two marathons of Stratford Upon Avon and Eastbourne, as well as the Roman-Road/Fleam dyke run. That shows past 30K, we are really covering ground.

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The European map shows that I ran only in the UK and a bit in metropolitan France (in 8 locations. Strasbourg, Paris and Velles are barely visible).

 

 

 

 

 

Finally the World map adds Guadeloupe (so 9 locations in France in fact) and the US.
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So … resolution for 2017, fill more hexagons! Run in more diverse places.

Recap on 2016, looking forwards to 2017

A year of running

2016 was an important year for my running, probably the most important there was and there will be. Among other, there were my first marathon, first trail, first ultra, and first marshalling! I also improved a few personal bests. All that was supported by an increase of mileage. A last run on December 31 brought me just over 1500 km. I ran at least 100 km every single month of the year. This is a good progression over 2015.

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Running more developed my stamina and improved my pace over long distances.

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Over 10K, I gained around ~5 min in 2016, after gaining ~10 min in 2015 (my best being the Abington 10K in October). An important  difference is the use of negative splits: I run the first 5 km slower than the second one. I also do not stop for drinks anymore. The thing is that my frontier between short and long runs is now 11/12 km (which corresponds to 1 h of running). As a consequence, I now frequently run 10 km at the gym on the treadmill during the week. I will not pretend it is always easy, but when I encounter problems, they are not related to stamina (but rather injuries, legs tired from other runs, stomach issues etc.)

On longer distances, I also improved by around 5 min the 10 miles (Bass Belle 10 miler in November) and the half-marathon (Great eastern run in October). The main progress here is that I no longer reach a wall around 15K, which caused my pace to collapse. I still feel tiredness and loss of morale around 18K, but I learned to run through it.

Of course, 2016 was the year when I went over the half-marathon distance in a race. I ran the Shakespeare marathon in April. I finished in 4h46, which was within my aim (less than 5h), but I was disappointed for not pushing myself enough at the end (proof being my PB on 8K two days afterwards!). At least it removed the fear of long distances. 42K is nothing to be afraid of, neither is 100K, and of course that was the goal of this race (not to see Prince Charles and Dame Judy Dench, although that was an appreciated add-on): to prepare myself for the main event of the year.

Then came my first ultra-marathon with the London2Cambridge challenge. This was a proper adventure, with highs and lows, pain and recovery, 16 h on paths and trails across the British countryside. It was painful, no doubt, and it took me more than a month to recover. But it also confirmed that this was the kind of running I preferred, out there, discovering landscape, far from tarmac and crowds.

The last piece of the puzzle was to run in hills, because the most beautiful ultra-trails are hilly, often in mountains. The Trail des Beaumes de Venise in September was another adventure. I liked most of it, but I discovered that climbing hard was not easy for me. I am not built for it, and am far too overweight. As a result, I was timed-out and did not run the full 30K (NB: due to the harsh conditions and the low number of finishers, the race has been canceled in 2017). But I am not going to give up on that, and to make sure I could finish a long race in hills, I ran the Beachy Head Marathon in October. Let’s be clear, I am not comparing the two events. The positive climb of the BHM is half the one of TBV, spread over 1.5 the distance. No comparisons (there are no cliff to climb with ropes!!!).

Beside the races, I followed a regular training program in the gym, that permitted to increase my speed and build my resistance to slopes.

In addition to the running, I started to Marshal at the Wimpole Estate Parkrun. This help me discover another aspect of running races, where our aim is to encourage and support everyone rather than trying to compete with others.

What is coming up in 2017?

Hopefully, 2017 will be full of interesting races, following beautiful courses ran in bright sunshine, in witch I will score PB after PB … However, this will only become true if I improve a few things along the way.

I already registered for a few races:

  • February: St Valentine 30K in Stamford. Goal is 3 h (6 min per km, which is 30 sec slower than my current half-marathon pace)
  • March: Adidas Silverstone half-marathon. Goal is to maintain a sub 1 h 55. Nothing more. That would still be 6 min better than last year on this course.
  • April: ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon. Goal is to reach 4:15 (6:05 per km). This is pretty ambitious. But anything lower than 4:30 and I will be happy.
  • May: London2Brighton challenge. Goal is to finish, if possible in less than 15 h. This is a tall order, since the course is way more hilly than the London2Cambridge. But I will hopefully make less mistakes this years.
  • Finally I preregistered to one of the UTMB races, the OCC. It is an heavily oversubscribed race, and the current prediction is a 2/5 chance to get lucky in the draw.

Depending on the result of the OCC draw I may register for another ultra in the summer. I did not register for anything after the summer. I toy with the idea of running the Beachy Head Marathon again. Depending on my state, I will focus on small races or try to do longer less popular races.  I will also run small local races such as villages fun and run, but they will be part of my training.

To support this program I will have to improve my training. First of all, I need to increase my mileage. Something along the lines of 40K per week would be good. This will require me to run when I do not feel like to. I will have to introduce variety in my runs. At the moment, I mostly do two runs a week in the gym and a long one at the week-end (when I do not have a race). In the gym, I either run to progressively improve my speed at all distances (I have a formula and tables, perhaps a future blog post), or slow runs with varying slopes (between 1 and 4%). I need to do more Tempo runs (3K at 8K pace, 1K at easy pace, repeat) and interval (1K at 5K pace, 3K at easy pace, repeat). I like repeats runs too (400m at 1K pace, 200m at easy pace, repeat 3 times, longer rest, repeat the lot), although they are more meant to build to short distance running. I also need to do more hill training, with steeper slopes on the treadmill and use stairs.

I also need to improve my life style. My weight has plateaued for more than a year. I need to ditch around 5 Kg before the L2B. To do that, I need to eat less and drink far less alcohol. A side effect will be a better sleep, also crucial for running. Ahhh new year resolutions …

Happy 2017 everyone!