Wednesday, October 14, 2015

100km Millau: What I like about ultras

The 100km Millau - the oldest such race in Europe, dating back to 1972 - was almost like an on-going live breakdown of what goes through my mind in an ultra and what I love about it, probably because I did it with a friend who was doing his first ultra. In fact, this was his first footrace in five years, and before that it had just been a few marathons and some half-ironman triathlons.
The race itself is peculiar in the sense that three-quarters of the runners are accompanied by a friend or family member on a bike. When I read about this, I thought that it would be quite annoying, but actually it gave the race a real festive atmosphere, like that of a local 5k run spread out over 100km. And after having spent the past few years on trails, it was a great way to return to road running.
Out of roughly 2000 competitors, about 1800 were doing the full distance, while a few were "only" completing the marathon, which comprised the first loop of the event. The most scenic part too, as we headed east towards the Tarn gorges through old medieval towns... Then we returned to Millau and passed into the sports center to time out the marathon before heading off south for the next 58km out-and-back section.
Jérôme and I finished the marathon in 4h30mn, slower than we'd hoped, but still ok time for a 12h finish - provided we didn't slow down too much. However, I was quite sure that would happen. My recent Ironman as well as the speed training I'd finally (if somewhat haphazardly) integrated into my training certainly helped me keep up a certain amount of intensity, but I knew it wasn't sufficient. I was still hoping to run (jog) the whole thing, but I'd started feeling my legs at mile 10, and I would have been happy that day just to end at the marathon... And here was the first thing I hate to love about ultras: the need to forget the distance, definitely not extrapolate how you might feel later based on how you feel now, just concentrate on enjoying the present moment and finding the resources to keep up the pace - and that's the thrill, realizing that you do have those resources, and probably will find more when needed later...
The marathon loop had been hillier than expected, but the majority of the elevation (3000 feet) on this anything-but-flat road race was about to come. So Jérôme and I looped through the sports center in Millau and headed out towards Sainte Affrique. Things were much more urban now, even though the roads were shut to traffic, and I could almost imagine myself at the Spartathlon that was taking place that same weekend... Hmm. Almost.