The normal progression for a runner goes something like this: a 5K, a 10K, step up to a half marathon, work up to a marathon, and then maybe (if your brain is a little different to the rest…) start thinking about an ultramarathon.
In my own running history things went a little differently.
I started off racing a couple of 10K’s with at least a year between each. I stepped up to a half marathon then jumped straight into ultras. A series of six hour races, a twelve hour race, a twenty-four hour race, too. A 50K, a few 100Ks, and a few weeks back I ran my first +100 mile race at the Ultratour du Leman.
And then this morning I ran my first road marathon.
It’s a little out of the ordinary, a little atypical in terms of progression, but I have to say it is nice to finally have a marathon under my belt – and even better that the first one I have run is right here in Lyon at the Run in Lyon festival.
In the two weeks between the Ultratour du Leman and the Run in Lyon Marathon I ran exactly two times. The first was a Thursday morning and I kept it to five kilometers. The second was the day after, the Friday morning, and I ran a little longer.
And then I pulled up sore.
I don’t know what I did but whatever it was, it hurt. My left shin was painful even walking around and so, with the marathon on the near horizon, I took the next ten days off from running. I wasn’t worried about losing fitness – that’s not going to happen with more than 3000 kilometers of training in my legs this season – and all I wanted to do was arrive at the start line feeling good. The whole week off running didn’t mean a week free from movement, though, and it took all of the week to get back to a place where I felt comfortable walking around without pain.
Saturday morning – after a good night’s sleep – I felt about 95% of the way back to normal, and I knew that when I woke up on Sunday morning I would be good to go. It wouldn’t be perfect, mind you, but it would be pain-free to start the race. I fully expected to feel pain after the marathon was over but I figured I could get through four hours of running on a pain free leg. While I did go backwards and forwards over the decision during the week, I decided that if I could start pain-free then even moving back to “painful to walk” territory would only require a week or two off from running after the marathon was over. With the only race left on the horizon the Saintelyon in December, this shouldn’t affect my preparation at all: six good weeks of training and I would be good to go in Saint Etienne.
I was up early to get some coffee in and get dressed. One of the benefits of a road race like the Run in Lyon Marathon is that you have regular aid stations every 5K or so, and you don’t need to carry water. I could leave the Camelbak behind (indeed, they were banned this year as part of the anti-terrorism approach of the French government) and just concentrate on wearing what I needed to wear to get the job done.
Strangely enough, just after 6:00am I got a text message from the race organizers:
Une ligne de départ, 42.195km, 800 bénévoles, 32 999 runners et toi ! Get up ! Aujourd’hui, tu inscris ton nom dans la légende de Run In Lyon !
A starting line, 42.195km, 800 volunteers, 32 999 runners and you! Get up! Today you will write your name in Run in Lyon history!
As I had been up for an hour or so at this stage it was perhaps not the wake up text that the organizers might have been shooting for but it was nice to see a race embracing the technology to get people out of bed all the same.
Three-quarter running tights, a technical t-shirt, the Nike Terra Kiger 3’s that I had used to lap the Lac Leman a couple of weeks back, the same old socks from Decathlon that I have been using for years, a pair of sunglasses, and the iPod Shuffle loaded with a couple of podcasts (Ten Junk Miles and East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast) and The Hood Internet mixtapes.
I wandered downstairs about 7:45am, walked to the starting gates near the Place Bellecour to make my way into the right wave of runners, and settled in to watch a whole group of people taking the race for more seriously than me doing calisthenics to upbeat Europop in an effort to warm up. Isn’t that what the opening couple of kilometers are for? Anyway…
At 8:45am my wave moved up towards the starting line and – a few minutes of shuffling later – we were off.
The big worry for me was going to be how the leg held up after ten days of not running on it. I knew it would hurt eventually but I was not sure whether the pain would set in immediately or whether I would have a half hour or more of pain-free running. As it turned out, I had about three kilometers or about 15 minutes of mostly pain-free running before the leg started throbbing with each step.
The first couple of kilometers saw the crowds packed together pretty tightly and while I was taking it nice and easy, I was still passing people right along the length of the Saone. The 3:45 pacers were well ahead of me and I tried to keep them in sight but, in truth, I was happy just to be pushing along at a nice steady pace and I wasn’t too worried about running a time.
I passed Cécile at the St Vincent footbridge after a couple of kilometers and waved hello before dropping back into my rhythm and trying my best to find some other runners keeping the same pace as me. I didn’t succeed in this endeavor, mind you, but I did manage to keep the cadence up even as the pain started to bite.
My splits were nice and even through the first 10K out to the Pont Bocuse and I was happy with the heart rate I was maintaining, too. I wasn’t breathing hard, I was feeling OK, and besides the pain in my leg I was happy with how things were going.
- 10K Split: 48:33
- Average Pace: 4:51/kilometer
10K to 20K
Not long after the 10K point came the turnaround and we started heading back downriver on the left bank of the Saone. Things were starting to spread out a little by now and there was space to pass between other runners even if the race course was now reduced to a single traffic lane heading back to Lyon.
My leg was really starting to hurt now but it didn’t seem to be affecting my pace too much or my cadence. The pain was all in the lower half of my left leg and hadn’t seemed to affect my gait too much…but I sort of guessed that this would happen eventually.
We made our way back into Lyon and hit the tunnel beneath Croix Rousse. This was the point where the Half Marathon and Marathon courses diverged and because of this – and all of a sudden – there was plenty of room for me to run. The gaps between the marathoners were 20? 30, even 50 meters while, to the right hand side of the tunnel, the half marathoners were still quite bunched together. I took it nice and steady through the tunnel, kept turning over my legs on a nice rhythm, and kept ticking off the kilometer splits in line with what I had done in the first ten kilometers.
The twentieth kilometer came up just before the entry into the Parc de la Tete D’Or and I took the opportunity to grab some water a little gingerbread from the aid station there. Sadly, the only thing on offer at the aid stations to drink was water. No sports drink, Gatorade, Powerade, or Coke. It seems that road running RD’s take a different attitude to aid station fare than the average ultra RD. Oh well, my leg was very painful now and I prepared for the loop around the park and then back along the Rhone and the second half of the race.
- 20K Split: 1:36:49 (10K: 48:14)
- Average Pace: 4:50/kilometer (10K: 4:49/kilometer)
20K to 30K
The pain here? Pretty unbearable.
The loop through the park and then out the other side was around five kilometers long. I grabbed some more water and some tasty salty biscuits at the 25K aid station and then turned through the Cite Internationale and headed downriver along the Rhone towards Gerland. The first part of this section was on the road but we quickly joined the berges and ran the familiar route down from the Parc de la Tete D’Or towards the Parc de Gerland.
I was keeping things even still and was quite pleased to be clicking over the kilometer splits in pretty consistent shape. if it wasn’t for the pain in my leg I would be enjoying this long run on a Sunday morning but, as the pain bit deeper, I knew it was affecting my form and my gait. Not only was there pain in my lower left leg, there was also the occasional shooting pain in my right groin. I knew I wasn’t stretching that muscle by running too fast and that the reason it was hurting was because I was unconsciously trying to compensate for the pain that shot through my leg with every step I took with my left foot.
It was nice running along the river and there were plenty of people out cheering on the runners. It also looked like there were a couple of companies that had booked out the bars, restaurants, and boats moored along the river for their runners and everyone seemed in good spirits as we passed. By this time I was spotting half marathon runners making their way back home and cheering on those of us still pushing through the marathon distance – a little bit of running solidarity is nice to see!
- 30K Split: 2:24:40 (10K: 47:50)
- Average Pace: 4:49/kilometer (10K: 4:46/kilometer)
30K to Finish
Not long after passing through the 30K point I realized that the pain in my lower left leg was not so strong now. A cause for celebration? Nope – the opposite. In fact, my left leg – upper, lower, and the foot, too – had become numb and my right leg, compensating for the pain and numbness, was getting sore, too. My groin was starting to feel the sharp pain that had been intermittent before more regularly, and I knew I was going to pull up very sore when the race was done.
But I also knew I was going to finish – if I can get through a 100 mile race I can get through a marathon, right?
The numbness and the groin pain were becoming difficult to bear and, as my watch rolled over to the 33.5K mark, I decided to slow to a walk and see if that addressed any of the issues. It helped, a little anyway, and after 500 meters of walking I started up running again. This lasted another 1.5K before I again slowed to a walk – a fast walk, mind you – and recognized that I might be doing myself some real damage here. I passed through the Stage de Gerland (a nice bonus: I had thought we would run around and not through the old OL home stadium), through Gerland itself, and then onto the Pont Raymond Barre at a fast walk. I knew I was kissing goodbye to a sub-3:30 finish but I reminded myself that (a) I wasn’t here to run a time, (b) even a sub-3:30 would still be 15 minutes outside my best time for the distance, and (c) I was within 10K of finishing this thing off having started in the 3:45 corral, and I was pretty sure I would be in before the clock ticked over to 3:45 anyway.
I power walked about four kilometers and then, with a couple of kilometers to go, I decided that – fuck it – I should run this thing in even if I can’t walk at the end. I lifted my feet, started moving faster, and then started to run again. I kept the same nice rhythm I had started the day with and got my kilometer split down within a handful of seconds of 5:00 pace again. The final kilometer along the Saone before the turn to the finish line was great fun and I saw what looked to me to be the last of the 10K runners starting just as I was finishing things off. I crossed the line still keeping a nice pace, clicked stop on the Garmin, and collected my finishers t-shirt and medal.
First road marathon? Done.
- Finishing Time: 3:42:02 (12.2K: 1:17:22)
- Average Pace: 5:15/kilometer (12.2K: 6:20/kilometer)
I shuffled along with a bunch of other finishers as we made our way up the side of the Place Bellecour, then back down again, and then across to the food, drink, and first aid area. The organizers had a couple of dozen massage tables set up and a line of marathon runners waiting patiently for their turn to be rubbed down. I didn’t bother waiting – I’m not a big fan of the anonymous post-race massage, especially after only four hours of effort – and instead grabbed a bottle of water, a pre-packed salad I planned on donating directly to Cécile, and headed out of the pack to find Cécile and head home.
All in all this was a nice morning out and, despite the pain that my left leg is giving me right now, I am happy I did the run. I think I am going to take a couple of weeks off to let whatever is wrong with the leg heal itself and then, after that, start preparing for the Saintelyon and the last ultra race of the year.
Final thought: a couple of days ago I mentioned in a blog post that I was very close to passing my annual mileage goal of 3000K. With the 42.3K that I ran this morning I did, indeed, break on through that barrier and my annual mileage stands at 3002K, and still counting. It’s been a great year so far, I’ve achieved basically everything that I have set out to achieve, and I’m even starting to think about the goals for next year. Indeed, I even took the first step towards hitting those 2018 goals this afternoon when I signed up for the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra 24 Hour race this afternoon – I’m going back to the hill, back to the stairs, and back to see whether this tall and heavy ultrarunner can teach himself how to climb well enough to make things interesting.
And I can’t hardly wait!