27 weeks remaining, approx 51 miles and a battle to run through my first complete night
My week began with 2 laps of 5.4 miles, one each on Monday and Tuesday night. These were both at a reasonable pace without jeopardising any speed I’d need for over the weekend.
I took the rest of the weekdays off so I would be well rested for last night. Similar to how I had used “Fight Song” as a sort of mantra for the London 2 Brighton 100km race, I had decided to use a Bruce Springsteen song called “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” for persevering through the first time I’d attempt a complete night of running.
This was one of my favourite childhood songs and I always loved the defiant nature of the second and last verses. The idea that something more than money or relationships was that intrinsically important to him really resonated with me. I think the elements of battle within yourself and his acknowledgement of the difficulties he’d faced giving his life a purpose transcends the music and makes him relatable to most people.
The “edge of town” lyric in my opinion is about striving for something just out of reach or that you weren’t capable of before. I’ve always seen my ultra running as a progressive hobby and wanted to improve on what I’ve already completed.
The organiser for last night’s run Guillaume had posted a summary of his running endeavours in 2017 on Facebook a few weeks ago and pointed out that 2 of the 25 runners last year had finished the route. This did not exactly bolster my confidence! As extra motivation I used the fact that I’d ran twice in events he was involved with previously where my participation could be accurately summed up as making these events appear accessible. I don’t think of this as a bad thing and one of the main features I love about ultras is how accommodating it’s segment of the running community is. The first of these was the Last One Standing race where my running gait looks horrific on film and although I had managed 10 laps with a similar lack of economy in my running style, it was definitely a learning experience.
On a more positive note, I downed my last beer at a decent speed in the second event (Spring edition of the Beer Ultra). This was a 5km looped course with a 330ml bottle of beer at the start and then at the end of each of the 10 loops. They had helpfully alternated between clockwise and counterclockwise so we only really had to count to 5!!.
I think my three falls on the last lap didn’t exactly scream “dedicated runner”. It’s definitely a race I intend on returning to though, possibly with the dehydration challenge of a summer edition.
That will involve a cheerier, better lit course and more palatable weather. Now was my chance to be one of a select group who “toughed out” a challenging course in tempestuous conditions.
I had attempted to plan my meals for during the day so I would have optimised this chance. This consisted of croissant, hot chocolate and Oran juice for breakfast, McDonalds fish burger meal with sparkling water for lunch and 2 portions of couscous salad with a mocha as my last meal before.
The meeting point was a McDonalds near the Grand Arche in La Defense. It was quite amusing being with several Lycra clad runners, all wearing multiple running paraphernalia. This appeared to invite questioning from some of the locals and knowing minimal French I could only assume by their body language and tone of voice it was positive discussions!
It became apparent as the start loomed that I was the only international runner who had made it to the event. I quite enjoyed the attention some of the other runners gave me during the first few miles as Guillaume had asked them to make an effort to make me feel at home with an assurance I was a really nice guy. I didn’t do much in terms of conversation to prove this in any way during the race but made an effort to share my food with them.
The speed was my main concern in the build up to the race but I had taken my usual arrogant approach of not acknowledging any possibility I might fail so as to not waste energy on nerves. For the first 6 hours or so this was an ideal method to follow. I had a beer at half way and took on board olives, pretzels, salted cashews and some chilli chocolate which kept my energy levels up.
During this time we ran past several monuments that were visually breathtaking. Some of the other runners were nice enough to act as guides and point out what buildings were used for. The atmosphere of support from members of the local nightlife community was great too and this lasted for most of the night.
I started having major difficulties with my legs seizing up about half an hour after this and tried taking some effervescent tablets my Aunt Grace had given me beforehand. These helped for about another half an hour but I couldn’t seem to take on board enough energy to maintain my running speed or later on, any running motion whatsoever!
I checked with Guillaume and found there was about 15 miles to go. I tried every stunt I know to maintain something resembling running form, distracting my brain to think of anything else, singing the “Darkness on the Edge of Town lyrics” under my breath to summon some emotional energy and hanging on for dear life to the last runner in the pack. As a last resort I tried to section off the remaining miles and desperately tried to convince myself if I could get to the last 10 miles I would find a way to finish.
This was not to be and at 5:15am I had lost the rest of the pack. I rang Guillaume on Facebook messenger but it dialled out so I left a note that I had dropped, also thanking him and saying I would get the Metro home.
I arrived back at 6:45am and it was nearly daylight by that point. A quote that came back to me during the latter part of the race was from the Bad Boy Running podcast with Rhonda Marie Avery. She had been asked what advice she would give someone considering attempting the Barkley Marathons. As quite a measured response she said she’d
“need to know the reason they had for doing it. Also if they weren’t there to bite off more than they could chew why were they there?! “
Having managed about 38-40 miles in 7 hours 15 mins is considerably faster than I have done in training or any previous ultra events I’ve done. Possibly an added incentive for finishing the next 2 events I have planned for this year is I won’t have a cosy Metro system with maps to get me back to my accommodation. I must have only walked about a mile to the station then 0.3 miles from my nearest stop to where I’m staying. Being out on trails in Wales or somewhere along the Great Glen Way won’t be anywhere near as forgiving!!
After an appalling lack of sleep, I woke to find that only 4 people had finished the full distance. Unusually, I sort of respect Guillaume more for designing a race where the majority of the runners have failed to complete the course for its first 2 years.
In all honesty everything I’ve entered since the Last One Standing race (2 marathons, London 2 Brighton and a 2nd time at Grand Tour of Skiddaw), I’ve not really had much doubt that I’d finish based on cutoff times and the speed of my training in the buildup to them.
The last 3 months have been at a faster pace than I normally train for ultras at and this has shown in the effort I managed last night.
Although I like to believe I can allow finishes and DNF’s to weigh the same, I have learnt more about my current limits from last night than anything else in the past 2 years. This is brilliantly illustrated by the Lazarus Lake quote below