I’m writing this post from my hotel room near the shores of Lac Leman in Geneva. The Milano-San Remo is on the television in the background (being Switzerland, the commentary is in excited Italian) having just finished an Italian-inspired picnic lunch on my bed of salami and hard cheese. I should be feeling pretty good but, after the run this morning, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
The goal this morning was to get in a long, steady ultra distance journeyrun from Geneva to Lausanne. In the end, I pulled up short at Allaman about 25 kilometers before I wanted to finish and with a sore right knee. I wasn’t particularly tired, I wasn’t particularly hungry or thirsty, but I was hesitant of continuing on a knee that wasn’t feeling right so, shortly after the 40 kilometer mark rolled past on my watch, I clicked stop on the Garmin, made for the conveniently located train station, and started the short trip back to Geneva.
The day started early for me as I had to make my way up to Geneva to start the run. I had bought a cheap ticket on the SNCF bus service, OuiBus, and this meant being at Perrache at 6:40am, which in turn meant getting out of bed at 5:00am. No big difference to normal for me, then, though I still somehow didn’t manage to get through my morning coffee before heading for the station and trying to figure out where the bus would leave from. I found my way with about 8 minutes to spare, found my seat, and settled in to the two-hour voyage up to one of my favorite cities in the world.
On the trip “up the hill”, so to speak, I kept myself busy watching a couple of episodes of Seinfeld on my phone and reading Still Not Bionic, the latest offering by British ultrarunner Ira Rainey. I had read his previous book, Fat Man to Green Man, a few weeks back and this one is just as engaging. Indeed, I tweeted at Rainey to let him know I was enjoying the book and we swapped a couple of tweets about the training run I had in plan for today and the race I am ultimately preparing for in September, the Ultratour du Leman.
After arriving in Geneva I dropped my bag at the hotel, used their bathroom to make final preparations for the run, then headed out the door to the Rue de Lausanne where – as soon as the GPS and heart rate monitor confirmed they were connected to the relevant satellites and bodily organs, I set off in the direction of Lausanne.
I had two minds about the route that I wanted to follow to make my way along the lake to the headquarters of the Olympic movement about 65 kilometers away. There was option one – Route 1 – the main road which has wide cycling lanes along the major part of the road, usually pedestrian pathways, too, and is, in fact, the route for the Ultratour du Leman I’ll be running in September. The alternative was to take the marked cycling Route 46 which tracked the lake a little more loosely but avoided the busier Route 1 traffic by detouring through vineyards and using narrower, local roads. Not being able to make up my mind, I decided a combination of the two would be best.
Leaving Geneva the two routes are the same, anyway, and as I would out of the city I passed some famous sites (the turn off for the United Nations there on the left, the World Trade Organization there on the right) and quickly fell into a rhythm. I was trying to keep my heart rate down, set a nice even pace, and I was planning on running for about 10 kilometers before slowing to take on food. The goal, as in my last ultra distance training run, was to sit at my ‘all day pace’ and try and knock out 10 or 11km each hour. This is what I am hoping to do at Saint Fons in four weeks time and being able to do it in training, if over a shorter time and distance, would give me confidence for the longer, 12 hour race to come.
After a few kilometers the Route 46 cycling path pulled off to the left and I followed along. I knew the roads nearby Geneva were heavy with traffic and, even in the mid-morning, it was not going to be a lot of fun sharing the space with the cars. What’s more, the light rain that was falling did not inspire me to keep running alongside the traffic. I made the decision to, at least for the newt few kilometers, head off onto Route 46 and get a couple of hills in on the way.
It wasn’t much of a hill but, in the next couple of kilometers, I moved away from sea level (well, lake level) and into the slopes above the lake where the vineyards sit and some nice, small villages are located. I passed schools, bakeries, people out walking their dogs, and more expensive cars parked in front of perfectly maintained houses than would be typical for being five or ten kilometers out of Lyon.
I passed above the village of Versoix, then through the town of Mies, and eventually decided to head back for the lake by taking a right turn to Coppet. Between Versoix and Mies I had taken my first short walking break while I took on my first calories of the run and the day. The night before I had measured out some black Greek olives into 100 gram bags that would give me a nice burst of salt and calories (348 calories, to be exact about these things). After getting the olives down and taking a long draw on the Camelbak, I started running again and was happy at my ability to keep things moving back at “all day pace” after the short walking break. The 11th kilometer ticked over in almost an hour flat (1:00:04) so I was keeping nice speed, despite the couple of small hills in this first hour.
After Coppet I continued along Route 1. The roads had wide pathways next to them for pedestrians and I crossed a couple of other runners out enjoying a run in the early morning rain. At one point I crossed a woman who was running accompanied by a friend who was on a bicycle chatting away with her. This reminded me that, in the Ultratour du Leman, I have the right to have a person accompanying me for the loop of the entire lake. I’m not sure who would want to spend that much time with me at such low speeds, nor whether I am comfortable with having someone there next to me the whole time, but it is something to consider in the lead up to the race: do I want a partner to complete the race with me or not?
After Coppet the next village was Founex. Between there and Nyon I would take my second feeding break where, instead of olives, this time I took on three mini Babybel cheeses. These are high in fat, low in carbohydrates, and less calorie dense than the olives (three cheeses are about 183 calories or about half of the 100 grams of olives). They go down easy and, due to the industrial nature of their production, they survive for hours in a hydration pack pocket without much impact on taste or consistency. The 22nd kilometer clicked over just before the two hour mark (1:59:49) so I was on good track and good time.
By the way, I’m convinced at this point that, for the Saint Fons 12 Hour race, this 11 kilometer per hour pace is what I’ll be aiming for in the opening hours. It’s slower than the speed I went out in the 6 Hour race last year but I know now it is sustainable and, as I inevitably slow, it won’t be from burning off all that sugar getting in 12 kilometer hours in the first few turns of the clock. Though this training run turned out to be disappointing, at least I can be sure now that holding this pace works well for me over the longer distances I am aimling for – 11km/hr for as long as I can hold it, then 10km/hr after that. That’s the pacing plan for Saint Fons right there.
The next hour passed without incident. I had packed away my rain hat after two hours and the light rain was refreshing more than annoying. I passed through the villages of Prangin and Gland, then as I was approaching the village of Dully the 30th kilometer rolled over and I slowed to a fast walk again to take on more delicious olives. The walking, by the way, is something I have been working on and I tend to walk a kilometer at about 8:00 to 8:30 pace. This is good to know going into a timed ultra like Saint Fons as I can plan ahead for walking laps and still have a good idea of my timing overall.
In any case, when I finished with my food and just before I started to run again, I opened the hydration pack and dropped a couple of electrolyte tabs into the liter or so of water that remained. This done, I closed everything up, put the pack back on my back and – what was that? My right knee felt painful. Why? I hadn’t twisted it, done anything silly, or even done anything besides stop, put some tabs into my water, and prepared to get going again. Somehow, though, I had a sore knee and I wasn’t sure what to do next.
I decided that the best thing to do would be to walk a little more so I continued on at a slower pace and without stressing the knee. I could still feel the knee – that is, I was conscious of the pain – but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it was hurt. I kept up a good pace walking fast and steadily, but the knee had me worried. I’m four weeks out from Saint Fons, after all, and I really don’t need to carry an injury into that race.
At the end of the third hour I had between 32 and 33 kilometers banked for the morning so I was still on track but this knee had me worried. I committed to running and walking a little more until I got to a town with a train station where I would decide what to do next. Eventually, at the 40 kilometer mark and after a little more up and downhill running, I turned off Route 46 onto Route 1, then turned off again to the village of Allaman where I made the final decision to cut the run short. The slow pace of running and walking in the last hour meant I finished this 40K in only just under 4 hours, however, considering the pain I was feeling in my knee, I would take this. My run was over, I bought a ticket on the train back from Allaman instead of from Lausanne, and headed towards Geneva.
So what now?
I had planned to run further today and I didn’t. I had planned to get in an ultra distance run…and I didn’t. I had planned a 150K week and now – with only one day left in the week – I am sitting on 110K, and the final 40K looks pretty unlikely.
I think the best I can do is to rest the knee, try the knee out tomorrow with a shorter, friendlier, sightseeing run in Geneva in the morning, and make sure I don’t get worse before the Saint Fons race. Every once in a while you have a disappointing run and, for me, that run was today. I know that without the pain I could have continued on to Lausanne, and I know that if it was a race that was finishing in Lausanne today I could have run through the pain and finished.
But I also know that by cutting it short I am giving myself a better chance at running well tomorrow, and in four weeks. It’s not the decision I wanted to be making nor the train station I was hoping to return from to Geneva, but it is what it is and I think it is the smart move on my part. In this case on and on this day, I chose not to fight but to live to fight another day.