This was a run that was probably a couple of months in the making.
Originally I had planned a 50K training run for the first weekend of November. Attempting to mimic the conditions of the Ploeren 24H race I had planned for the start of December with its midnight start, I set out in the middle of the night to run 50K…and failed. I managed around 30K before succumbing to tiredness and soreness – but managed to go into the Ploeren 24H with a good level of fitness nonetheless. In between that failed attempt and the race I threw in a mountain marathon – 42.2km, half of it up the side of a 1500m/4500ft mountain peak, and half coming back down – and felt great, and then knocked over my first 50K in Ploeren on 6 December.
That was a race, though, and not a training run. In a normal week finding the 5 hours a 50K could be expected to take me would be hard with the demands of family life, personal life, and general chores that cannot get done during the week waiting to be completed. This weekend was a little different, however, as Jamie headed up to the snowfields with his mum yesterday evening and Cécile has stayed on in Picardie for a few more days with her family. In effect, this left me all alone for a Sunday morning with not a lot to do except run…and so run I did.
Preparing to run for 5 hours is a little different to heading out the door for an hour or two. Unlike my runs in Picardie the last couple of days, I needed to think about fluids and calories for the run I had set myself. Knowing that I was heading out on trails for the majority of the time I would be running, and with limited access to stores if I really ran out of essentials and panicked, I made sure I was well stocked for the hours ahead. The Camelbak Circuit hydration pack would hold enough water to last the entire run, and pockets on the front allowed me to pack away portions of easy to digest food like soft candies and gummy bears. I knew I wouldn’t be able to replace all the calories I would burn running, but I was not planning on going all out and trying to beat my 50K time so I knew I would be OK with what I was carrying.
The other thing to consider in a run this long is clothing and equipment. The temperature at 7:30am would not be the same as the temperature in the early afternoon when I was finishing up, so layers were the way to go. I went with a single technical t-shirt under a wind and waterproof jacket, with some arm warmers for at least the first couple of hours. I considered gloves but decided against them as I knew they would only really be useful in the first few kilometres. Three-quarter tights, a running cap, and sunglasses – stored in the Camelbak for the first couple of hours but likely useful later – completed my gear choice.
I also had the ubiquitous iPod Shuffle with a couple of episodes of Hardcore History and one of The Hood Internet’s Mixtapes in case I grew tired of reliving World War One. It’s light, it’s simple to use without looking at the minimal buttons, and provided it is ‘locked’ when in use, it won’t jump when bumped or accidentally pressed. It weighs basically nothing, keeps a charge for hours, and is bombproof. It’s the perfect audio device for running, in my humble opinion.
The first couple of kilometres went entirely to plan and I was happy with the pace I was running. In my mind I was hoping to knock over a couple of hours of 5m00s kilometres which should get me to the turn around point at the bridge beyond the Grand Parc de Miribel Jonage. This would mean bringing up the 5km mark after about 25 minutes and, indeed, this is about what I managed. On longer runs I tend to drink about every 5km so this is when I first took a draw on the Camelbak’s tube. And it was also about this time that I entered the fog.
The fog wasn’t heavy at this point but it was low on the Rhone and I had visibility of about 100 metres or so. It kept the temperature down and helped me concentrate on the trail as, after all, what else could I look at but the trail? Passing the villages of Neyron and Miribel the fog got a little thicker, but it didn’t really slow me down. As it happened, my second 5km segment was slightly faster than the first 5km, but nothing to really have me worried that I was going out too fast. I brought up the 10km in 50m05s and this meant I was right on schedule. As ever in long distance running, things have a way of evening out over the longer term.
From about this point, though, things got a little strange in terms of the trail. The development and industry near to the Rhone river meant some detours around farmland, market gardners, and what looked like a quarry or cement works. I didn’t stop moving forward, but I was trying my best to keep the river close to my right knowing that if I moved too far away I was likely to find myself lost.
At 15km I took my first walking break to fish the food out of my pocket and take on some water and calories. I had three ‘portions’ to work through and had decided to take on calories at 15km, 30km, and 40km so as to keep my energy levels topped up. I took a couple of mouthfuls, and transferred the rest to my jacket pocket where I could reach in and take them easily enough over the next few kilometres.
Just after the 22km mark I left the trail and headed towards the D61 departmental road for my only real road running of the day. There were few cars and a wide shoulder so I had no issues, and after crossing the bridge I dropped down the staircase to start my trip back to Lyon on the other side of the Grand Parc and the Rhone.
Just after the turnaround my Garmin reminded me that I had now run 25km and, as I looked at the screen, I realised that I had done this 25km in 2 hours. I immediately did the math: 25K in 2 hours is 50K in 4 hours. My PB for the 50K was closer to 4:20 so I realised now I was going fast – way faster than I thought I could or aimed to when I left home.
It was also here I realised that my marathon PB of 3:36 was not only within reach, but well within reach. At this pace I would knock it over by at least 10 minutes – and I wasn’t even feeling tired at the pace I was running. I didn’t want to push too hard and hit any sort of wall, but I also made the decision at that point that if I could maintain the pace then I would.
The trail heading back towards Lyon was far busier than the trail heading out, but I suspect this was a combination of it being a little later in the morning and the rolling nature of the trail itself which made for a nice change to the basically flat route out. I passed a couple of runners heading the same direction as me and was passed by a runner simply flying at what I imagine were 4m00s kilometres. I didn’t feel even the slightest desire to chase him down, and concentrated instead on maintaining my pace.
Between the 30km and 40km points I was feeling good. I had taken on more calories on schedule, was drinking on schedule, and by the time I hit 40km I knew I was maintaining my pace with ease. I glanced at my watch as I knocked over the 42.2km and was happy to see a PB of about 20 minutes.
But at that point – as if the 42.2km point was somehow more than a psychological barrier in running – I began to feel not so good. Tiredness was setting in and the familiar trail (by now I was back on the exterior of Lyon) wasn’t inspiring me. The next 4km were the least enjoyable of all. I didn’t stop running (though I considered walking for 500m and then running for 500m as a means of taking a small break) and my kilometre splits didn’t suffer, but they were far harder to bring up and I was genuinely surprised to look down and see them tick off at the same 4m30s-4m40s pace I had been holding for the last 30km.
Somehow, though, at about 46km I started feeling better again and the tiredness – while not disappearing – moved further back in my mind. At about the 48km mark I pulled off the trail next to the Rhone and ran on a parallel track instead. The trail there is essentially the same but it’s more regular and I didn’t feel like twisting an ankle when I was in the final few minutes of my run. At the Parc de la Tete D’Or I pulled up to the road level proper and then crossed the Pont de Lattre, dropped under the entrance to the Croix-Rousse tunnel, and clicked stop about 100m after the 50km point came up on the watch.
What I was hoping to be a nice, five-hour run around the Grand Parc on uncrowded trails had evolved into a sub-four-hour 50K personal best, with a marathon PB along the way, too. Strava would also report a personal best for 30K (2:17:57) and a Course Record for a segment along the trail, too.
A truly epic 50K to close out 2015.
Time: 3:55:08 (50K PB, 3:15:53 Marathon PB)
Image by Jessica Gardner