After my other ultras I’ve written about what I got right and what I got wrong and can improve. No surprise, then, that I’m reflecting on the Saintelyon race from yesterday and looking again at what I did well and what I didn’t do quite so well. In this post I’ll highlight the things that I think I got right, starting with something that I had trouble with earlier in the year.

Downhill Running

At the Ultra Boucle de la Sarra I ran the steep downhills poorly. Not only did it end up being very painful as my toes slammed against the end of my shoe with every downhill step, it also led to burning quadricep muscles, a near inability to walk downstairs for a couple of days, and two black toenails that would eventually fall off. I knew I had to do better on downhills and it is something I concentrated on practicing when I could.

A couple of weeks before the Saintelyon the Lyon Running Club run took the group up and over Fourviere before descending down again. On that descent I let it all out and led the group downhill, running lightly and feeling ‘in the zone’. I wasn’t using my heels to slow me down but instead running on the mid and forefoot, leaning forward, and keeping my cadence up. The result was a smooth and fast descent, no burning quads, and no sore toes.

At the Saintelyon I couldn’t run a lot of the downhills but the ones I did run I ran really well. As long as I could find a little room and see where I was going, I was running the downhills well. The day after the race and my feet are not really sore, my toenails are fine, and my quads aren’t any more sore than the rest of my legs after running an ultra. It took me a few months but I think I have nailed this downhill running caper.

Nutrition and Hydration

Unlike others, I went into the Saintelyon with enough food and drink to make my way all along the course. The aid stations were added bonuses for me as everything I needed was in my hydration pack. Sure, it meant I was carrying more than others, but it also meant I could breeze through the aid stations fast.

Take the opening aid station at the 16km point. By the time I got there I had been running for an hour and forty-two minutes. I knew from experience that I would run better if I ate at about the 45 minute mark, and then again an hour later. At my pace, if I didn’t bring my own food then I would be missing at least one ‘feed’ and would be lining up with the others at the aid station to (a) see what was on offer, (b) figure out what I wanted and needed, and (c) eat it. Instead, I just ran on through. I didn’t stop at an aid station until I got to the 52km point where I grabbed a cup of warm tea, and I had another cup of tea at the next (and final) aid station, too. This was for warming me up more than anything else as I had plenty of water in my Camelbak.

I never felt hungry, I never felt thirsty, I didn’t under or over hydrate, and I didn’t come home with calories in my pack that didn’t get eaten. Nailed it.

Closing Out the Race and Pacing

It’s hard to talk about a pattern but based on the 100km de la Somme and the Saintelyon, I am getting better at closing out races hard and fast. Being able to string a couple of fast kilometers together in the last few hours is a feat more of mental toughness than running skill and I am glad that, once again, I was able to find the energy to push hard in the last quarter of the race.

Besides the mental component, I think a big part of this is getting the pacing right. I didn’t go out too hard, I didn’t get suckered in to chasing people down, I kept my heart rate under control, and only when I knew I could sustain the effort to the end did I really open it up and push harder than I could sustain for an hour.

Power Hiking

I usually run hills but I knew enough to avoid running hills that were too long, too steep, or too crowded to make the extra exertion worthwhile. As a result, I power hiked most of the steeper hills and I did it well. I kept a steady rhythm, kept my heart rate under control, and didn’t stop moving: relentless forward progress FTW!

Indeed, moving up hills was a place I passed a lot of people, even when I was multitasking by eating as I went. My impression is that I passed a lot more people on the uphills hiking than I did on the downhills or flats running. It’s a little strange as I have practiced running hills but not really hiking hills, but perhaps it paid off in a tangential way? Whatever the reason, I was happy with the way I tackled the climbs and it’s good to know I’ve got the capacity to move steadily over rocky climbs without blowing up.

Clothing and Gear

The organisers recommended three layers of clothing and taking some food for the long section where the aid station only offered liquid refreshments.

Instead, I wore two layers up top (t-shirt and jacket) and took enough food to get me through the whole race – and it worked as I expected it would.

The Camelbak Ultra 10 hydration pack worked perfectly well and is a lot more comfortable than the already-comfortable Camelbak Circuit I used before. The Petzl headlamp lit the way with ease and never went close to running out of battery.

And for the shoes? Well the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3’s once again proved they can do everything from flat roads to technical trails – LOVE these shoes!

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Coming up tomorrow: what I got wrong and where I can improve…

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