Friday, December 6, 2019

My first (and last?) 24h timed race: capping several cycles of running...

I have to say, for a 24h time race on a 1-mile circuit, the 24h de la Balme in France, near Annecy, provides an incredibly beautiful setting. Unfortunately, incessant rain the prior week and again three hours into the race meant that part of the track became "dangerously" muddy and slippery...

Image result for la balme de sillingy"

The race kicked off at 3pm on Saturday 2 November. Low-key race, with participants having to flip their own tour numbers (no electronic tracking), but more participants than I expected, possibly more than 30!
I ran at my intended pace for just over 9h, logging 67km. We were well into the night and it was pouring rain by that point, with muddy/slippery sections to the race that made me fear for my recently dislocated shoulder – so I stopped for the rest of the night. I caught a few intermittent hours of cold and fitful sleep on an army cot (I'd stupidly forgotten that you had to bring your own sleeping bag, or rather I'd ambitiously not even considered sleep) but since I had no car to drive home in and my wife couldn't pick me up till late morning, I started up again at 7.30am and ran another 3h for about 20km. 

My aim was to at least log 150km, if not reach 100-mile mark, but that had died at midnight. So I decided that I wanted to spend rest of day with the family. 

So...I didn't really get the 24h experience, but learned along the way that I have an easier time not stopping a) when stopping is complicated and not as easy as jumping in a car or train and heading home (as was the case at the Ultra Tour du Léman vs GUCR) and b) when i have a goal, a destination – the 24h circle run just seemed a bit pointless (which is probably why I will try it again). Also, I don't think I was ready to face four challenges at the same time: weather, sleep deprivation, physical and mental fatigue, and lack of sense of purpose. But I was pleased that I did go out again after stopping for 7 hours... 

Looking back at the positive, I realized that while my body was generally fatigued and not sure that the training has been very productive, even though I logged the hours (which means I need a long break), I was feeling pretty good so that overall my running in the past few years has definitely made me more capable of running rather than walking for a much longer period of time. Also, while there is definitely some lack of desire to reach the end of races – or a greater questioning during races as to why I am doing them – I was actually in a decent place mentally. I put down the mental fatigue to many months of training (if not several years now of continuous structure training) – so again, reason to take a long break! But also, probably, due to issues at work that have been draining psychologically...
Before doing it again, I'll need to figure out whether I want to confront the challenge of just plugging away for no particular purpose, no destination, etc. when the distance goal is out of reach... But a few weeks on, I have to say that I find it compelling. So I think that I won't be making a 24h race a major goal, but having this one so close to home, at a time in the year when there aren't any races (but also when I usually take down time), I may be tempted once again to give it a go...

Now (early December) I am easing back into non-structured (i.e. no watch) training and seeing how things go. I have registered for the Swisspeaks 100-mile mountain race next year, but that's in September. The jury is still out for Ultr'ardèche end May. I'm planning on starting some serious training for it in January and see how I feel by February/March and sign up (or not) accordingly. 
New job too in March - and that can go both ways! Last time I changed, I signed up for and completed the GUCR!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A short 2019 review before the final act

Well, hasn't been a remarkable year in terms of running, what with bagging the Annecy marathon i was supposed to in April and the Samoens Trail Tour in June (after learning that my friend Cyril would not be joining me, I think i just wasn't motivated to wake up early to do a trail run with a gaggle of participants whose enthusiasm I realized I would be unable to share - which underscored again that I don't want to do too many races, focus on low-key and no longer use shorter races as training for major goals), and then dislocating my left shoulder while on holiday early July (which did have at least the advantage of allowing me to spend part of the summer holidays with the kids, even if I couldn't actually do much). That sidelined what would have been my 3rd attempt at the 100-mile mountain distance at Swisspeaks early September... But I aim to register again next year!

And the Geneva marathon early May didn't go as planned, once again. Aiming for 3h30 but again slowed down half-way and just eased in at 3h51. While I fully concentrated on that race in training Feb-April, I think I went out too fast and still need to focus more on the mental as well as physical aspect of maintaining a pace deep into the race when it's becoming uncomfortable but not impossible.

After realizing that I would be unable to train and compete in Swisspeaks, and that mountain running while recovering from a dislocated shoulder wasn't the most tempting of propositions, I looked for something towards the end of the year - and fell upon a 24h timed race about an hour from Geneva, at La Balme. 20 euros to register, all going to charity, just my kind of atmosphere - and a format I've been wanting to try (without making it a priority) since my 12h time race in Villeneuve over two years ago. So here was an opportunity to give it a good go, with two-three months of specific training...

Now it is just a few days away, and we shall see. In the mean time, my foot has been hurting again but it appears not to be the sesamoid inflammation or stress fracture. Could be the whole chain of my right leg, up to (or down from) the sciatic nerve in my lower back, because the whole thing feels tight (but not enough to provide any excuses for a poor show at the 24h race!). I think my body got slightly out of whack when I started training back in August with my shoulder still strapped tight... But it all went well at my only longish race this season at the LG Trail, from the top of the Jura to Geneva (I hope to do a race report soon, an interesting and quite beautiful race actually - and it was fun doing it with someone who was doing their first ultra).

So for the 24h race:
- 180km = Spartathlon qualifier = dream dimension
- 160km = realm of the possible if the body holds up
- 150km = a distance I would still be ok with, depending on how much I fight for it and sort of a minimum distance if I want a mental qualifier for the Ultr'ardèche next year.

But quite honestly, the morale has been great despite the setbacks this year; I realize I want to be in this for the long haul. So while I intend to go into this to experience a serious mental challenge (i can only discover what it's like to run in circles for 24h if i actually stay out there for the full 24h and keep the intended pace as long as possible) and therefore really "hang in there", if the body (foot/sciatica,...) flares up, I'll be happy with whatever distance I manage.
Basically, it will just be good to get one big ultra under my belt before the year ends. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

UTMB: Money, Money, Money

I avoid the UTMB for several reasons, notably the crowds (how can anyone really profess to enjoy the running mountain trails - and then participate in an event where you are literally fighting for space?), but I think that what tops the list is that the organization is so transparently in it for the money and not first and foremost to provide runners with an experience.

The latest change in its qualifying system is the perfect example. The post "The ever-changing feeding of the UTMB points machine" on Ultra168 explains this well with an opinion that I share 100%.

I admire anyone who takes on the nerve-wracking, time consuming, and money-draining task of putting on a race for me to enjoy, and I don't expect them to do it purely out of the goodness of their heart. Obviously race directors are entitled to make money from a race, even find ways to make a living out of organizing events. But the foundation for doing so should come from a place of love for the sport and a desire to share that indefinable experience that is ultra running - not maximizing profits.

A good example is a race director like Mark Cockbain who organizes races evidently to provide new experiences for ultra runners. Or, from what I understand, the Centurion Running events. Even the oft-maligned Marathon des Sables is born of Patrick Bauer's desire to share the incredible adventure he had in the 1980s - and his passion for the desert and sharing this experience is still palpable, regardless of the "commercial" aspect that characterizes it (and actually always has).

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Annecy Marathon - DNS

Ah, well, I've been feeling rather off about the Annecy marathon for a while. Something about driving down there on Saturday to get the race bib, then up early and drive there on Sunday morning... And while it's only 1h away, for some reason the idea of time away from the family was getting to me. I really have a hard time going away for a race - a mix of not missing a tennis game with my son or his football/soccer match, or ping-pong with my teenage daughter who is already willing to spend more time with her parents and brother than I would have expected, and the solitude of it reinforces the rather egocentric aspect of training for and competing in ultramarathons... It's like I just want to "save up" those away moments for the really big races... On top of it, I'd just been away for the weekend on a ski touring event with Cyril, and mid-June there's a trail run with Cyril, another mid-August with Anthony and possibly again end September with Cyril (even though all of these are more like "boys weekend away" so that's fun) - not to mention the big race of the year at Swiss Peaks.

So, when I got hit by the flu last Friday, which knocked me out till yesterday Tuesday, and was offered a waiver for the registration fee at the local tennis club if I signed up for a club doubles tournament this Saturday (Geez, I just realized how "middle-aged" that sounds even though I haven't actually been a member of a tennis club or competed in a tournament since 1996! - but I'm 48 in August so what the hell, I am middle age!), I decided I'd bag the Annecy marathon coming up in a few days - and focus on the Geneva marathon for a PB instead, especially since Cyril won't be running it so I'll be on my own anyway... A few more weeks of training and trying to lose a few pounds are certainly welcome too!

While it may look like I'm over-thinking this, it's actually been a rather "follow the emotions" process. I sensed that I was trying too hard to get motivated to run a "fast" (all things relative) marathon in Annecy, while the prospect of doing so in Geneva seems easier to contemplate.

So in the middle of a very pleasant "taper" (I do not get taper tantrums for sure), it's now back to the grind!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Patrouille des Aiguilles Rouges: a nice change of pace

After pounding the pavement for several months, pretty much since November, working on my speed as the Annecy marathon approaches (and with some success it would seem), I teamed up with my good friend Cyril for a ski touring race, something I haven't done since the Patrouille des Glaciers (PdG) in 2002.

My skis and bindings haven't changed either. But while they were the ski equivalent of showing up at a rally with a vintage Mini Cooper, they held up nicely, even on the tough downhill on the high altitude crusty snow. Much better than the PdG was the fact that this was low-key, 3rd edition, with about a quarter of the number of participants.

Tough race, though, with a 11km pretty much all uphill (a few up and downs just to get us to take our skins off and put on again), from Arolla at 2000m to the (Faux) Col de Darbonnaire at 3,300m, for an approximate total elevation gain of 1,600m - and with a climb so steep (with skis on the backpack) that I kept feeling like I was about to topple over backwards!

Since I'd only been ski touring once this season and about once in the five years preceding, it was slow going. I didn't really take a break in my marathon training, so I went into it with accumulated fatigue - but there was also the fact that it works on different muscles and of course the altitude, as well as the 8kg backpack with pickaxe, rope, shovel... Excuses, excuses!

We got turned back at Darbonnaire along with a half-dozen other stragglers, but we still had a 6-7km descent back to La Gouille in the valley, and totaled almost 5h on our feet, so I feel like we pretty much completed the race!

Either way, it was a great way to replace the longest long run three weeks out from the marathon - and the weather was absolutely perfect and of course the Valais mountains superb...

Monday, February 4, 2019

Finally some semblance of speed

I decided a while ago, after many years of poo-pooing GPS watches and such things as intervals and fartleks (which sounds to me what happens on an ultra when you’re not digesting your food anymore), to focus a bit more on speed – figured it couldn’t hurt and suddenly it sounded like a good way to spice things up instead of just going out for a plod.

Well, that was in 2015. After one session of sprints and one hill reps, I tore my left calf muscle during a kick boxing “tryout class”. Didn’t dare go near speedwork until late fall. I did a bit for a few weeks and posted a decent time at a local five-mile race, and continued in 2016 but it was very inconsistent and I really had no idea what I was doing. I figured it out (more or less) when I asked a coach to draft a training plan for me in 2017 for the GUCR and was really hoping to put that into practice in the fall when I started ramping up for a new season, but then again had to suspend it to sesamoiditis, which put me out of commission until early 2018, but actually continued bothering me up until recently, which meant that any speedtraining was haphazard at best – and therefore probably ineffective.

But finally, after taking my usual break from running in October and slowly easing back into it in November, I spent December and January implementing a speed-focused plan that included sprints (30” – 45”), hills (alternating every week with sprints), longer intervals (1’30” to 4’) – these were the toughest, but ultimately also I think the most effective – and lactate threshold runs (3x 8-16mn at 80-85% of maximum aerobic speed)…

End January, I did a 8km time trial at 10k pace (was supposed to be 10k but I had to cut my lunch break short) and shaved off almost a minute, which I thought was pretty good considering I was doing it in the blistering cold on a lunch break… And that seemed confirmed by a treadmill test of my “maximum aerobic speed”, posting 16km/h up from 15.1km/h end November - which, on paper at least, puts a 10h30 100k race within reach. But I think more than the numbers, it felt easier maintaining a higher pace for longer, which is ultimately what I am looking for.

So I feel like I’ve built a good base going into marathon training, as I chase a sub-3h30-3h25 in Annecy end April (I originally hope for a BQ but a) those sneaks have upped the qualifying time by 5mn, and b) I figured I’ll take it one step at a time. I think now that a 3h25 is definitely realistic, and I will specifically train at that pace (which I did not do last year!), and based on how it goes aim for sub 3h20 next year… Learning patience in my middle age…

And another thing I realized. Yesterday was my first real “marathon long run” in ages – brought back sensatory memories of runs of yore… For the past 10 years, I’ve basically been either doing long hikes instead of long “runs” in preparing for mountain ultras, or doing long slogs plodding along comfortably for hours when preparing for road ultras – but what I haven’t been doing is a long run at a decent pace So yesterday, my 1h50 run with 30mn at marathon pace and the rest trying to sustain a manageable pace but not an ultra shuffle brought back "happy" memories of the long runs I used to do when first training for marathons and that required an ice bath followed by a hot bath followed by a short nap… Good thing the kids are older and for the most part nobody notices if I'm off doing my thing (running or napping) for a few hours.

It was quite nice, I like whatever makes running feel new again! And I think it will be very profitable…