The 100km de la Somme was a race that had been on my radar for a few months. It wasn’t something that I was going to commit to a long time in advance for a few reasons, not least of all because I was not sure that I would have the fitness to get through it after the Thames Path run I had planned for September. If I pulled up injured in September or had a bad run in England, I would not be right for the 100K in Amiens so I waited until only a couple of weeks before to get things in gear for the race.
In the end, it turned out to be a wonderful race, a great experience, and I think it is easily the best ultra experience I have had so far. Certainly it is the longest I’ve run and, while I didn’t win as I did at the CIEC 6 Hour, I felt a greater sense of accomplishment coming into the finishing chute in Amiens than I did there.
The week before I had rested and I only ran once on the Wednesday evening with the Lyon Running Club. I knew that there was nothing that I could do in the final few days before the race to add to my fitness so I just wanted to reassure myself that everything was working, nothing was hurting, and that I was ready to go. The Wednesday night run worked out well so I was good to go for the weekend.
Cécile and I packed on Thursday night and then, Friday afternoon, caught the TGV to Paris and then connected to Amiens. There were a few hassles with the trains as the TGV was late leaving Lyon and we missed the connection in Paris, but we managed to get to Amiens only about 20 minutes later than we had planned.
Cécile’s brother Antoine lives in Amiens and met us at the station. We went straight out to the check in for the race, I picked up my number, and then headed back to Antoine’s apartment where we would spend the night. I wanted to get into bed early so Antoine and Cécile went out to a restaurant with their parents who were in town, while I prepared my gear for the next day and had a bowl of pasta before hitting the sack.
I had set the alarm for 4:45am and I ended up waking at 4:30am and started getting ready shortly afterwards. I actually got some good sleep despite being in unfamiliar surroundings and after a trip to the bathroom, application of anti-chafing cream everywhere I could think of – no butt chafe this time around! – and getting dressed I was ready to go.
It was about a 20 minute walk to the starting line and I got there in plenty of time. The night before I had been psyching myself up for the race by watching Unbreakable for what must be the tenth time and I recalled Geoff Roes saying he ate about 700-800 calories before he started his winning Western States race. If it’s good enough for him, I figured it would be good enough for me so I got in about 700 calories in the hour before the race. This turned out to be a good idea and it’s something I’ll do again in the future because I really felt great, and the typical fourth hour low didn’t arrive this time around.
At about 6:15am I joined the 342 other starters heading down to the start line from the gymnasium where we had been keeping warm. It was cool but not super cold, and there was no rain. Other runners were saying that last year there was a lot of wind and even some cold rain but it seemed that today the weather would be fine all day. I was wearing light gloves, some arm warmers, and a ‘snood’ from my first ultra in Ploeren last December to keep my neck warm and it was perfect. I would shed these over the course of the race and stow them in the Camelbak which I wore without the water bag to carry some calories, my phone and iPod, and my sunglasses, too.
In short course we were all ready to go and then – almost without warning – the gun went off and we were on our way. No music, no countdown, no announcer telling everyone to get ready – just a starting gun and an ‘off’.
My first 100K was underway.
0 to 10K
The first 10km of the race were a loop through the city of Amiens on roads. The most important thing for me was to keep my pace under control so that I didn’t blow up too early. I was content to see the leaders shoot out of the gate and let them go: not only would I not be able to keep up with them for the 100K, I think I would have struggled to keep up with them for the first 10K!
I was passed by a lot of people and I imagine that, by the time I got through the first 10K, I was back in the last quarter of the field. I was running 5:50 or 6:00 kilometers and staying relaxed even though I had told myself before the start that 5:30 was going to be a good pace for the first hour. Even if I was a little slower than I had planned, I consoled myself with the thought that the three minutes I had ‘lost’ in the first 10K would be easily made up if I ran one extra kilometer later instead of power walking it.
At the end of the 10K loop we passed through the start/finish which was crowded with people on bicycles who would act as pacers/followers for the runners throughout the race. I didn’t have a bike following me and I am not sure it would have been good anyway. I am not one to talk a lot during a run and I would probably feel awkward having someone next to me for a whole day but never really talking to them.
I closed out the first 10K in 59:55, right on 6:00 pace and ready to lift things up a bit in the next section as we headed out of town and onto the trails along the river Somme.
10K to 40K
Almost immediately after passing through the start/finish at the 10K mark I started to lift the tempo a little. I was still concentrating on keeping things steady and not stressing the heart rate too much and too early, but I was happy to lift things up into 5:30 split territory.
I started passing people almost immediately through this section and couldn’t help but think that some of them must’ve gone out too fast in the opening 10K and were already paying for it. Around the 20K point I passed a group and one guy joked to his buddies, “Don’t worry, we’ll pass him again later.” I laughed and said he probably would, and he asked for my number so he could remember for when he caught me. I called it out and said I was Australian so he could spot me, and we briefly talked about kangaroos (as you do…) before I left them behind.
As it happens, I didn’t get caught by that group again and, indeed, only two people who passed me at any point after the 10K point ended up in front of me at the end. I passed a lot of people late in the course but was quite happy with the pacing at this point. The 30 kilometers between the 10K mark and the 40K point went smoothly, I ate something quickly at every aid station, and I kept drinking (water, electrolyte drink, and the odd cup of Coke) throughout.
I was feeling good throughout this section and putting together consistent splits. The only times I slowed down were where I was taking on food and drink at aid stations and, of the 30 kilometers between the 10K and 40K mark, I laid down 27 splits between 5:20 and 5:40. That’s good, strong running for me and probably the best 30 kilometer section I’d run in an ultra to that point.
The 20K came up in 1:55, the half marathon in 2:01, the 30K in 2:51, and the 40K in 3:46.
And then the painful part began.
40K to 62K
With the first loop in town and then a 13km loop along the way out, the turnaround point would be at about the 62km point. From there it would be a straight shot back into Amiens and I knew that, in reality, the race would really start from the turnaround.
The first few kilometers after the 40K mark went well. I brought up the marathon (42.2km) in 3:59 which I was happy with, especially as I remember that a couple of weeks ago on the Thames Path the marathon distance came up in about 4:15. I knew that part of the reason was that I was running more and not taking a walk break every ten kilometers as I did on the Thames Path, but the other part was that I was just feeling good on the run. With 343 starters there was always someone around and I ran near, next to, behind, or within sight of people the whole day. This kept me motivated, even if I didn’t really talk to people all that much.
The 50K came up in 4:47 which, at 1:01, was my slowest ten kilometer split so far. I was walking a little more at times but, when I was running, I was keeping my pace up and enjoying the run. The 12 kilometers to the turnaround point, though, was the worst part of the race for me.
I slowed down a lot, walked a lot, and got passed by a bunch of people. It was also the point where the first of the 5-person-team relay runners who had started the 100K at 9am started to some through and the leaders of the 100K race started to pass me going the other way. It was encouraging to see people running so strong but I was feeling tired and low getting passed by people so regularly through this section.
In truth, I knew that there would be a time like this in the race. It came a little later than it normally does in the race and I put this down to taking in good calories before the race. However, having done enough of these sorts of races now, I knew I could get through it if I just concentrated on getting the calories in, drinking water, and staying positive.
The 60K came up in 6:04 for a 1:17 10 kilometer split. Ouch, that was worse than the previous 10 kilometer split and I was feeling it. If I wanted to finish in 11.5 hours, I would have to pick it up.
At the turnaround point I grabbed some water, added an electrolyte tab, took on some calories including some warm Babybel cheese that was kinda nice. I had a Twix, I had a cup of Coke, and then I sent Cécile, my parents, and Clinton a Glympse notification so that they could track my final forty kilometers online.
I was at 62K, I had less than 40K to go, and it was time to get moving.
62K to 75K
It might have been time to get going but I was still in a walk/run pattern. I was passed by a few more people when I was walking but, when I started running again, I’d leapfrog them back. My walking pace was about 8:00 per kilometer and so, when running at 6:00 pace, I was only slightly slower. I wasn’t lollygagging when I was walking, I was trying to keep up the pace as best as I could, and I was hoping for my second wind to arrive.
The 70K came up in 7:16 which, at 1:12, was faster than the 10 kilometers before, and probably a good sign I was coming back into form. I was keeping an eye out for the 75K mark having only set a personal best of 8:29 for that distance on the Thames Path a few weeks before. When the 75K came up in 7:51 I reminded myself that I was on a good day even if I hadn’t felt great from the 50K mark.
Coming into the 75K point I put together a couple of sub-6:00 pace kilometers and I thought to myself, “OK, I’m going to give this a push.” I was ready to run into unknown territory here – every step forward was further than I had ever run before – and getting ready to close out the race.
If I got my act together, I would break 11 hours and achieve most everything I wanted out of the race. Time to suck it up and embrace the ultra experience.
75K to 90K
I started with the idea that I would run three or four kilometers and then walk one to get the heart rate back under control. I got into gear, got into pace, and then – damn – that was a 5:25 split.
Then I ran a 5:21.
And then a 5:13 and a 5:12.
Crikey – I was feeling good and closing out this race with strong legs. These were my fastest splits of the race so far and I was 75K into a 100K race. Hot damn, this is good pace!
I walked the next kilometer and then started running again. I was aware of pain in my left ankle when I started to run each time and I knew that it would hurt a lot after the ultra was over. However, if I stopped to care for it now, I would probably break the rhythm that I was setting and I didn’t want to do that.
Next running section: 5:18, 5:16 and 5:16 over three kilometers.
I was passing a lot of people with this late-in-the-race burst, but I was feeling good. My heart rate was staying under 160 beats per minute which is where I wanted it to be, and even the pain in my ankle was bearable. This is how I wanted to close out a race!
The 80K came up in 8:21 for a 1:05 ten kilometer split, and the next ten kilometers to the 90K point came up in 9:20 which meant – for the first time since that great 30 kilometer section between 10K and 40K, I had pulled a sub-60 minute ten kilometer split.
The 11 hour target was now almost certainly attainable, and I was doing the math on a sub-10:30 finish time. I figured that, as long as things didn’t entirely fall apart in the final ten kilometers, I would finish under 10:30.
Let’s do this thing!
90K to 100K
The final 10K began at an aid station where I tried to confirm whether this was the last station before the end. I was told it was so I took on some food, walked away with a handful of gingerbread and fruit cake, and a bottle refilled with water to which I added an electrolyte tab. I knew that, even with only ten kilometers to go, eating and drinking was going to be important if I didn’t want to blow up in the last few kilometers.
Over the next couple of kilometers I ran but didn’t quite touch the sub-5:30 splits as I had in the 75K to 90K section of the course. I was still managing 5:45 splits, though, and even with a walking break in the last ten kilometers, I was on time to make the finish under 10:30.
I ran between the 97K and 98K point in 5:43 and then, confident I would make the 10:30 finish, I walked between 98K and 99K. I had stowed my headphones and music away as I wanted to savor the final few kilometers and take in the whole finish line experience. With 1600 meters to go I was caught by a couple of guys that I had been leapfrogging for the last few kilometers and one of the guys mentioned that it was almost quicker to walk than to run. This was enough to get me to start running and I quickly left the pair behind and started on the task of closing out the last mile of the race.
The hundredth kilometer came up in 5:29 and the final 600 meters were at 5:00 pace – yes, the crowd and the noise at the finish was very motivating indeed! In the final couple of hundred meters I spotted Cécile on the side cheering me on, I pushed on for the final hundred meters, and then crossed the line after a ten kilometer split of 1:06 in an official time of 10:26:29.
I was done, and so pleased with the result:
- 10:26:29 race time
- 27th senior male
- 129th overall
I got my medal on crossing the line, got the timing chip cut off my shoe, and sat down for the first time since 6:15am. Cécile searched out a post-race meal of a ham sandwich, some water to which we added an electrolyte tab, and what was left of the candy I had left with in the morning. I drank some Coke, a lot of water, and enjoyed the post-finish noise and presentations on the stage. The winning time was 7:04 but, frankly, I was feeling pretty damn proud of my own performance even if I was three hours behind the new French 100K champion.
My left ankle was swollen and painful and I loosened my shoe a little and then slid the shoe off. Yep, this was painful now and it was going to be more painful later. I could walk on it OK but it wasn’t going to be enjoyable for a couple of days at least. Cécile was helping me process all the stuff going on, checking I was warm, and generally keeping me fed and hydrated.
I felt good, better even than after the couple of 6-hour ultras I ran earlier in the year. It might have been the longest ultra I have run but I think I managed the food and drink well. I was a little worried that I was dehydrated as I had only stopped to use the bathroom once at about the 40km point. I was drinking a lot of fluid but I just didn’t feel the need to urinate. Maybe this is just a personal thing as lots of other people were stopping regularly. Anyway, it is something to keep an eye on in the future.
We made our way back to Antoine’s place, iced my ankle for an hour, and ordered a post-race pizza. Cécile and I watched a film – Purge: Election Year – and then hit the sack ahead of return trip to Lyon the next morning. I was now an 100K finisher (a cent bornard in French) and I was damn proud.
For the data nerds…
- 10K – 0:59 (0:59)
- 20K – 1:55 (0:56)
- 30K – 2:51 (0:56)
- 40K – 3:46 (0:55)
- 50K – 4:47 (1:01)
- 60K – 6:04 (1:17)
- 70K – 7:16 (1:12)
- 80K – 8:21 (1:05)
- 90K – 9:20 (0:59)
- 100K – 10:26 (1:06)
Fastest kilometer splits:
- 5:12 (79K)
- 5:13 (78K)
- 5:16 (82K)
- 5:16 (83K)
- 5:18 (81K)
- 5:20 (20K)
- 5:21 (77K)
- 5:21 (21K)
- 5:22 (90K)
- 5:22 (26K)
- 10K – 0:59
- Half Marathon – 2:01
- Marathon – 3:59
- 50K – 4:47
- 75K – 7:51 (new personal best by 38 minutes)
- 50 mile – 8:24 (personal best)
- 100K – 10:26 (personal best)