Getting over with it … and scoring a PB

Generally, I plan my personal bests in advance. I choose a pace that will allow me to maintain a steady progression over the entire course. When I do not plan to do a PB, I don’t. October 22nd 2017 was different. For the second year in a row, I ran the Cambridge Town and Gown. In 2016 I did not score a personal best, in part because the race came just after the Abington 10K, where I did improve my time.

I did improve my 10K pace again at this year’s Abington 10K. And I also improved significantly my half marathon pace at the Perkins Great Eastern Run. So I did not intend to score a PB at the Town and Gown. Improving on last year’s time would have been enough for me. Plus, it turns out that my feeding and drinking on the days leading to the race were … suboptimal. So when I got up on Sunday, I did not look forward to the race. The weather leading to the start time was pretty grim, with grey skies and lots of wind (although no rain like last year). I basically did not want to be there. I wanted to go back home.

Once the 1533 starters assembled on the start line, the clouds moved away, and together with the 15 deg C, the conditions were pretty good. As usual with this race, the starting pens were confusing, this year without actual times, but people shouting in microphones “if you’re fast, come to the front”. So … no-one wanted to come to the front. But I did eventually. Not at the very front. But at the back of the first wave. BANG. We’re on our way, and fast. It was quite clear that I was too fast for the first km (4 min 37), and then the second (4 min 44) instead of the planned 4 min 50. The wise attitude would have been to slow down right? Nope (NB: I love the way each change of elevation is normalised on Fetcheveryone. Total ascent over the race was 55 m …)

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Because by then, I wanted to get over with it. I really did not enjoy it. It hurt a bit. It was very windy, and I do not like wind. etc. So what is the best way to get over with it? “The quicker I run the quicker I’m home”. So I plodded on. 4 min 44, 4 min 53, 4 min 51. By the 5 km, we had finished the western loop, and were back on Jesus Green, in sight of the arrival.

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The wind was in my face, and I started to get a stitch. But WTF, I came half-way, I cannot slow down now. After all, a 10K is now less that my slow runs. Twice a week I run 12K on the treadmill. 4 min 42, 4 min 44, 4 min 47. By then I was really struggling. Actually, the Town and Gown is the only race where I got stitches, the two years. The 9th km was the slowest, at 4 min 57. Then it was the “sprint” home. In my mind, I matched the Abington 10K, at 48 min. The final time was a real surprise. 46 min 43 sec. A massive 1 min 44 sec improvement. My overall position was 305, 246 of 768 males and 41 out of 147 males between 40 and 50.

All that because I did not like the race and wanted it to end quickly 🙂

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Perkins Great Eastern Run. When my body chose legs over neurons.

My 3rd experience of the Perkins Great Eastern Run – Peterborough’s half marathon – was as enjoyable as the first two instances. The weather was absolutely perfect. No wind, a cool temperature of around 13 deg C at the start, lots of sun. With over 5000 people registered, it was the largest PGER so far.

Based on my recent form, I was expecting a personal best, I just did not know how much would the improvement be. But in an optimistic mood, I joined the 1 h 50 starting pen, with the hope of clinging to the pacers once they overtook me (the pacers started at the back of the pen). My plan was to start conservatively, a pace a few seconds better than my previous best (5 min 27 per km at 2017 Silverstone half), then speed up during the second part. It took me 3 min 02 sec to reach the starting line, and by then I was pumped up. My pace was a bit fast, around 5 min 15 sec, but I felt really good, not forcing at all. So I threw all caution to the wind and decided to go on and see what would happen.

That was fast. Not super fast and not painful, but sufficiently fast as to require concentration to maintain the pace. From km 5/6 onward, each time I started to think about something else than the immediate run, I lost my rhythm, slowed down a bit and found harder to breathe. But with a bit of concentration, it was easy-peasy. I even found the energy to exchange jokes with the supporters (well, one joke. And not really good. A Darth-Vader based nerd joke). At the end, I think this was my most consistent race ever, as shown by the pace curve below.

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However, sustaining such a pace for a long time caused my body to have to choose between giving oxygen to my muscles or to my brain. Being pragmatic, my body chose the legs. From km 12 onward, my mind started to drift, and I even caught myself falling asleep for a couple of seconds. I tried to do maths to keep me alert (calculation of pace, distances etc.) but I quickly gave up. I was fried, so I just let go and enjoyed the endorphins. My final time was 1 h 49 min 33 sec, a 4 min improvement.

Total: 1167/4183, 28% ahead
Total men: 1009/2430, 41% ahead
Men 40-49: 379/864, 44% ahead

This confirms that I belong to the most competitive category for this distance. The timing of the race is very precise, with two checkpoints. So I was able to see that over the first half, I overtook 95 runners and 111 overtook me. On the contrary, over the second half, I overtook 83 runners and 60 overtook me. Which goes with the fact that my race was more consistent. While some other runners crashes in the last part, as myself did in former half marathon, I kept a consistent pace. Now I need to bring that consistency to longer distances.

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On milestones

On October 1st I ran the Abington 10K  for the second time. Last year’s was my personal best, at 50 min 07 sec. Since then, I trained quite a bit, and improved quite a bit on the distance (on the treadmill), so naturally, I hoped to get a new PB. I did. By quite a margin. I finished in 48 min 27 sec, 126 of 357 runners and 36 of 72 males between 40 and 49. It was raining before the race, but stopped just in time for the start. The temperature was nice, around 17 deg C, with no wind. Ideal conditions. I had a very consistent race, well paced.

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I started a bit slow because of the crowd, but quickly took up the pace I planned before the race.

1) 1km – 5:08/km, 11.7/12.46kmph
2) 1km – 4:51/km, 12.37/12.7kmph
3) 1km – 4:58/km, 12.06/12.63kmph
4) 1km – 4:49/km, 12.45/12.8kmph
5) 1km – 4:53/km, 12.29/13.91kmph
6) 1km – 4:46/km, 12.6/13.23kmph
7) 1km – 4:54/km, 12.26/13.03kmph
8) 1km – 4:49/km, 12.46/13kmph
9) 1km – 4:59/km, 12.05/12.77kmph

So … I broke the 50 min frontier on the 10K. Now what? Because that is the problem. I tend to be motivated by stupid round numbers. At the moment, I eye the 4 min for a km, 1 h 50 for the half and of course the 4 h for the marathon.  But for the 10K? I will most probably never reach the 40 min. Even 45 is a pretty high stake.

I guess I need to find new types of goals. A natural one is the relative position in the age category. But I do not want to compare myself to others,  I want to compete against myself (although I won’t lie by saying I was not tickled while finishing 4th of 17 runners in my category for the Shelford Fun Run. Getting a piece of bling that is not a “finisher” medal have its appeal).  Perhaps I need to run the 10K for fun. After all, if I run, it is because I like that. I could be one of those runners who talk to everyone, encourage everyone. “Well done mate”, “almost there”, “awesome run”, “keep going”. When I encounter this bunch, I want to answer things like “yeah, you just overtook me so fast I got a cold, I feel awesome. Also I know I only ran 2K and 8K remain. That is 80%. I went to school, I know. And by the way, if you talk so much, you probably have heaps of reserves. Which mean you’re just cruising and you are a lazy ba…rd my friend “. But in fact, I invariably feel a new boost of energy (well, anger is a powerful way of finding new reserves you thought exhausted).

Next week-end is my 3rd Peterborough half. Another story.

 

Jamais deux sans trois

Having improved my time by almost an hour between the London2Cambridge and London2Brighton, it occurred to me that I could do even better on a course that was flat, in contrast to a hilly trail. Therefore, I registered to the Thames Path Challenge, a 100K race on tow paths along river Thames, also starting from London. It had to be a flat hard surface right?

The number of registered participants being way higher than for the previous two races, I decided to get my pack the day before. That was a good decision since the starting station was completely packed the next morning. After collecting the mandatory bits and bobs, I went to my hotel, located at 30 min walk. I had booked the Premier Inn Wandworth, which as usual provided me with a perfect bed. I lied down quite early, and – sign that those events are no longer a worry for me – I succeeded to sleep almost 6 hours.

I left at 5:30. While many people in the hotel took a taxi to the start, I walked. It was a nice warm-up, but I arrived with none too much time to get ready, drop my half-way bag and enjoy the mandatory toilet stop. We then started at 6:45 from Bishop park, and headed westward, towards Reading.

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The starting pace was fairly brisk, with an average of 6 min 04 per km (to be compared to an average of 6 min 01 over the whole Manchester marathon, but this time with a backpack and 2 litres of liquid). This first leg was frankly enjoyable. I felt great, well rested. The weather was perfect. Plenty of sunshine but pretty cool (visible-breath cool). And we ran along nice places such as the Kew gardens.

However, it was immediately clear that river Thames had got out of its bed the previous night. As a result, the stone paths were covered in mud and super slippery. In fact, some of the race course had to be modified because of the flooding. This muddy problem would increase as we went through the race.

The first stop stood where the London2Brighton started, and the next 10K would be shared between the two courses. This mid-point station was packed with mountains of pastries. But as much as I drooled over them, I was wise enough not to succumb to the temptation. A tea, a banana, a toilet stop, and I was on my way after 6 min. 14K at an average pace of 6 min 21 for the next leg, still going strong. This is when I spotted James Bishop, a member and moderator of our Facebook Action Challenge Event Participants Forum. I would keep meeting him at the following few rest stations. James unfortunately got injured and had to drop out at km 55. It was nice to meet him in person though.

After 10K, we left the London2Brighton course to join a large path that went along Hampton Court Palace gardens, a way I knew well from the Harry Hawkes 10 miler. At the rest stop, I started to eat more fruit, melon mostly, and crisps for the salt. Stop of 7 min. After this stop my pace dropped a bit, 7:03 on average, but I was still running. We encountered our first real narrow trails. The problems started after the mid-stop at km 37, where I stayed 5 min. My old friends the calf cramps came to visit me again. Following the advices of Herve Seitz (the winner of the past two Millau’s 100K), I had increased my liquid intake. And my urine was more on the side of yellow than orange. So I do not think dehydration was the main issue here. But I started to walk a bit. Then run a bit. Then walk. You get the gist. It was so easy to let go. After all, I had excuses, I had cramps! I really have to work on the mental side between km 30 to 50. But this is when I met Jane Roome, also from the Action Challenge FB group. She gave me the motivation for running again. We exchanged experiences of past races, talked about our daughters (hers is about to start her studies at the University of East Anglia while mine will start her 3rd year there). I would keep meeting Jane until km 88. At the end, I did the 13K leading to the half-way point at 8 min 16 sec, which was slower than before, but still faster than my optimistic predictions.

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As usual with those Action Challenge events, the half-way point offered a choice of hot food. Too much choice. In addition to the customary pasta, I took half a jacket potato. It came with a bean and tomato sauce. The first bite told me that it was very spicy. Huh huh. I should chuck the whole lot, right? Nope, I ate all of it, until the last scoop. It took me 30K for my tummy to settle 😦

I changed clothes, and got ready to go. My half-way bag contained a pair of trail shoes. I tried them on, then decided to keep running with my road shoes. That was an ill-advised choice since the 2nd half of the race was largely on very muddy fields. I was on my way after 30 min. On the way to the next mid-point stop at 63K, we ran in Windsor, not far from the castle. As usual after the half-way point, my pace increased a bit, to 7:43 per km. It started to rain a couple of kilometers from the stop.

6 min stop, during which I decided to attach my phone to my portable battery … which I forgot in my half-way bag. This did not matter anyway, since my headset’s battery was empty, and therefore I could not listen to music. Doh! I was so distraught by all this that I forgot to fill my bottles and camelback, just before the longest leg of the race 😦

The following 15K were in a mix of woods, paths and trails, quite lovely. We ran along
Oakley court  famous for being Frank N Furter’s castle in the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie. It was difficult at time. Rain started to fall hard, and I had to put my rain jacket on. Towards the end I ran completely out of water, albeit only for 2 km. The average pace for this bit was still a good 8:09 per km.

At 78K, I enjoyed pizza while waiting for my daughter who was joining me for the last quarter of the race. I really enjoy when she does that. It is so much easier to run with someone when fatigue hits hard and when sunset is coming. I was quite tired by then, as witnessed by my average page of 9:06 per km, the slowest of the race. After the last stop at 88K, Marie put some music on her phone, and we ran together at the sound of her running play-list. I apologise to all runners we startled and villagers we woke up … After a little while, I put my headlamp, and we plodded on, running, and for the last kms, power-hiking.

I arrived after 14 h and 9 min, which was 1 h 9 min better than the London2Brighton, and 1 h 58 min better than the London2Cambridge. Of the 1103 starters, 811 finished the 100K. I was 73rd overall, 61st male.

After the customary burger and chicken, my wife and son picked us up and we went to our hotel in Marlow. My knees were killing me. I slept very little if any that night. In the morning I was really scared that I busted my knees and would not be running again. But the pain subsided progressively during the day. Now I think that in fact the power hiking caused that pain because I was hitting the path heels first. I ran again on the Wednesday, 4 days after the race, a gently 6K on the treadmill. The next Sunday, I raced in the Shelford Fun Run, and beat my record, arriving 39/329, 4/17 in my age category. So I’m OK.

Now, which one should I do next?

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Bassingbourn half. Sometimes it is OK not to listen to your body

One of the most repeated advices in the long distance running world is “listen to your body”. And it is generally a very good advice. The long distance runner is in … for long distances. Training for a 100K takes me several months. Running while unwell and getting injured might jeopardize half a year of training. However, sometimes your body is only living in the instant, and it is up to your brain to project yourself in the future (just to be clear: I am a neuroscientist, and I am absolutely, completely, opposed to the mind/body dualism. When I mention “body” and “mind”, I actually refer to two different parts of the neural system!)

I have run the Bass Belle 10 miler for a couple of years (2016, 2015), and this is a race I enjoy very much. The organisers also put up a half-marathon, and I decided to test it as well. However, comes to the day, I was unwell. I woke up with abdominal cramps and grade 7 stools. After spending a significant amount of time in my favourite room of the house (I have a library there, with lots of novels, comics and a few magazines. Could spend the day in it really. And my family generally feel I do), I took an Imodium and decided to have a go. The drive to Bassingbourn takes about 30 minutes from home, and by then, I almost decided to give up. First stop once arrived was … the portaloo. Still grade 7 😦 I hit the changing rooms, put my running gear on, and went for a warm up run. I was not feeling great to say the least. 15 min before the start, I decided to go for a portaloo stop again. A bit nerve wracking because the queue was huuuge. But I made it in time and …. grade 6! OK, well you take encouragment where and when you can, right? So I decided to run after all, but without a time target. Just finishing without brown legs would be my objective.

I moved to the starting line and positioned myself in the 2 hour finish slot. My thinking was that if the need came, I could have a quick stop in the bushes and still make it. This was a great decision. My biggest mistake in all races is to start too fast. Here, I was completely surrounded by slightly slower runners, who forced me to pace myself. A special thank to the Fairlands Valley Spartans. Those ladies ran as a flock, and spread over the entire width of the path. As a result, we could not pass them during the first kilometres. And that was good. After the first kilometre, we had to run 2K on trail.

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It was flat but trail nevertheless, with lots of grass. That meant we had to go slower otherwise we would kill our legs. Being blocked behind the Spartans, I was forced to be reasonable. In addition those ladies ran at a very consistent pace which helped a lot. I finally overtook them on the path, and took off (the group of Spartans I was following finished between 2h01 and 2h11, a good time, showing that they kept the consistent pace all the way. Well done ladies). By then, the bellyache had gone, and it never came back. I guess the Imodium had time to act.

The weather was lovely, as was the countryside. The course was relatively flat, with gentle undulations. There were a few slopes, but never more than a few percent.

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I had a fantastic time. I felt great the whole race, and it never really hurt. I sped up progressively during the entire race and I finished in 1 h 56 min 25 sec. This was my third best time (after the Great Eastern Run 2016 and the Silverstone Half 2017) and I was chuffed. 2 hours before, I was considering not even starting the race.

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A banana (always a good idea), a shower (facilities at the Bassingbourn races are great), a burger (bad idea. It did not go down well) and back home.

I will definitively run this race again.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

south
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.

part8

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.

part9

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.

profile-L2C

profile-L2B

 

 

Medal

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