After feeling pretty good at the Saint-Fons 6 Hour and with a chance to fit in another ultramarathon before the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra in May, I signed up for the CIEC 6 Hour with a positive state of mind but no specific goals in mind. Unlike Saint-Fons where I was chasing a 60km total – and where I hit that target – at CIEC I was aiming to get in a long run, stay comfortable, and enjoy the run.
Honestly, I knew that if I kept moving the whole time I would likely finish with somewhere between 50km and 60km. I didn’t know much about the course other than it was longer than Saint-Fons (2km instead of 1km) and included both asphalt and trail sections. I figured that if I went out at the 5:00 minute pace I liked at Saint-Fons, held that for the first three hours, I could add some walking and knock off the marathon in four hours. The final two hours could either be walked in for a 54-ish distance or run/walked for something closer to 60km.
On asphalt or hard packed trail I think that something closer to 60km would be a good target but, knowing that it has been wet and not knowing how the trail sections might look, I decided that anything about 55km would be a good day out.
Nutrition and Hydration
The Saint-Fons strategy worked for me so I decided to go with the same sort of thing. As the race is basically unsupported in terms of in-race nutrition, I went with the same candy and soft gummies for eating. I can buy these in 500gm tubs and one tub should last the whole race.
In terms of hydration I decided to go with the handheld bottle. A 2km loop should take about 10-12 minutes to run at ultra pace so if I ran with it for a lap and then put it down for a lap I would be on a reasonable hydration schedule. It would depend on the heat on the day, of course, as I still think I was a little dehydrated at Saint-Fons, but 10-12 minutes is a reasonable time period between drinks.
The one big change from Saint-Fons was that I had Cécile with me handing up bottles, refilling them for me, and handing out the food when I needed it. This meant I barely stopped moving the entire six hours – Strava counted less than 40 seconds of standing still – which meant the chance to make up for the weather and mud with more movement.
The weather for the day turned out rainy. Pretty consistently throughout the entire race it was forecast to be raining and, indeed, it was. It wasn’t always heavy but it was always there and while it didn’t impact me too much in terms of comfort, it did impact the ground. From the start the terrain was muddy, slippery, and without trail shoes I would have fallen many times. I didn’t fall in the race but this was more balance and paying attention to where I put my feet. This required a lot more mental effort than the previous ultras I have run and probably made things a little harder overall.
The start was given at 11am and quickly three people moved ahead of me. I would come to know them by their shirt colors: Orange, Green, and Grey. I wanted to go out at 5:00 pace and I managed to keep things about right as I pulled in Green and Grey, and then after about a kilometer I pulled up behind Orange who was running about 5:15 pace (or so I guessed).
I had walked the course on arrival with Cécile and I knew the muddy sections would be horrible to run through. I preferred to choose my own line through the mud the first couple of times and I couldn’t do that with someone running just in front of me. I spent a little energy, overtook Orange, and then settled back in with him behind me as we turned the corner and hit the first slippery section. We passed through this section without slowing down, and then made a hard right angled turn over uneven ground that was really horrible to move through. Orange was still behind me but I was concentrating more on getting my footing right and choosing the right lines in the mud.
Next came the really bad mud. This stuff was unavoidable in that there was no line to the left or right that could be taken to avoid the 20cm deep piles of slushy, slippery mud. I decided the best thing to do was to go right through the middle, aim for the footprints of the runner who passed before me, and take shorter steps to keep my balance. When I cleared this section there was another turn to the left and I glanced behind me to see that Orange was gone. I don’t know if he tried to navigate the deep mud in a different way or whether he fell in the mud, but he was gone.
As I completed the first of the little-bit-more-than 2km long laps I had a lead on the field. Orange was back a little way and Green and Grey were running together not far behind him. I was running at the pace I had set out to run but I was somehow in first place.
The last time I was in first place in an ultra was in Ploeren back in December and I let it go straight to my head then. I ran too hard, too fast, and didn’t hydrate or eat correctly. Pretty soon my first place position was gone and I was feeling horrible. I didn’t want to make this mistake again and so I breathed in, breathed out, concentrated on my pace, and ran my own race.
After the end of the first hour I was right on track. I had 12.5km banked which was about the pace I ran at Saint-Fons. I thought I would be able to keep that up for the next couple of hours and hoped that this would set up a good day running laps at CIEC.
The second hour was also pretty consistent and I was eating and hydrating well. I was deliberately taking on more water and electrolytes than at Saint-Fons and it was helping. I think I will keep this up for the next ultra as it really seems to make the second half of the race easier. After two hours I had 25km or so banked, and the third hour was also good, though I took my first walking break during that hour.
I decided that, as in Saint-Fons, I would try and take regular walking breaks to refresh and make it easier to eat. I worked on a walk one kilometer/run three kilometers rhythm that seemed to fit my pace and conditioning. Even with the first of the walking breaks I finished the third hour with a little more than 36.6km banked and right on my pace.
The fourth hour in Saint-Fons was hard and I knew it would be hard here, too. I kept up the walking/running pattern which meant I was covering less ground in the hour but still feeling pretty good. I didn’t really know where the Orange, Green, and Grey runners were in relation to me and some of the runners chose to change clothes which made keeping track of them difficult. By the end of hour four I had added another 10km to my total and was a touch over 46km completed.
At Saint-Fons I finished 45km in the first four hours and so I realized around this point that I was on a good run. Being ahead of the Saint-Fons schedule meant I was not only shooting for a personal best at the six hour distance but that I also had a good chance of keeping the lead I had built since the first lap. I didn’t lose my head, though, and kept up the walk/run routine throughout the hour to finish hour five with about 55km run.
It all came down to the final hour, then. 55km completed in six hours was my goal going into the race and I had that banked with an hour to go. I evaluated my condition and thought for a second about whether I would be able to hit the 63.3km that I had run in Saint-Fons and which was my personal best for the six hour distance. I decided to give it a go but not to burn myself out doing so. Be calm, be steady, and watch where you put your feet in the mud.
With about ten minutes to go I realized I had the distance in the bag. I needed only one more kilometer in the final ten minutes which I knew I could do walking. I was going to set a new record and I still had a reasonable idea that I was in first place. With about 10 minutes to go I passed through the start/finish for what I thought would be the final time, grabbed a handful of food and some water and decided to walk it in.
And it was then I looked ahead of me and there – 200m in front – was Orange. He was jogging and not walking and I figured that, with 10 minutes to go, there was a chance he could finish this lap and start on another. The rules of the race allow you to count any lap you complete as long as you start the lap with time remaining. I didn’t know how far Orange was behind me or if they were even in front somehow and so I made a quick decision to run, catch Orange, and make sure I crossed the line ahead of him.
My thinking was that, If we both made it under the six hour cutoff then we could both complete another lap and finish in the same relative position we had now. However, if I walked in this last lap and he somehow managed to finish under the six hour cutoff then he would gain 2km on me. Yes, I was racing to win, and so I threw caution to the wall and picked up the pace.
I had been averaging 6 and 7 minute kilometers with the walking included. Now I doubled down and hit sub 5:00 pace for the first time in a couple of hours. I even laid down a 4:40 kilometer to catch and pass Orange and then, as I approached the start/finish, I glanced at my watch and saw I would make the cutoff by 40 seconds. I plowed on, heard the six hour race siren finish, and then jogged in the final lap. Orange didn’t make it and I ran the lap alone.
I finished the final lap in about 12 minutes at an easy jog and hit stop on the watch at 6:11:48. I had run 66.7km in the race and my time at six hours was 64.7km – more than a kilometer further than my previous best.
I won the race – my first ever ultramarathon victory and the first anything I had won in sports since I was a teenager – and you couldn’t stop me smiling as I got the trophy, stood on the podium, and people cheered. A great day out for me and a good sign I am improving at this ultramarathon game.
Distance: 66.7km (1st place)