The first ultra length run of the year is in the books.
It was a long day – the longest day running in terms of both time and distance for me – but a satisfying one in the end. The loops weren’t always easy and of course my feet hurt, but no one expects to run ultra-distances with feet that don’t hurt. Indeed, the hurt is all part of the experience and while it isn’t the reason I run ultras, it’s part of what I look forward to: the pain barrier that you push through to see what is on the other side of possible.
And, as I had time to rest between laps, I will even offer up a few contemporaneous thoughts, too, via the magic of audio…because who doesn’t want to hear the things that I thought were important as I ran circles around the city on a Saturday, right?
So here we go: Town and Tube 2017.
No surprise: I was thinking about the run well before I rolled out of bed.
During my taper week I tried to stay active even if I only ran about 12 kilometers total. I got in the habit of taking a long walk at lunch each day of about 6 kilometers total, wandering from the office down to the Confluence mall to grab something to eat and a cup of coffee. Making my way back to the office yesterday, I realized that – in 24 hours time – I would be about 50 kilometers into the Town and Tube, and recorded a few thoughts.
On the Day Before
I felt good the afternoon before, and I hoped the feeling would remain when I got out of bed the next morning.
I woke at 4:00am ready for the day ahead. I had slept as well as I could have hoped and the nerves and multiple watch alarms meant I was straight out of bed as soon as the vibrations started shaking my wrist. I made my way down to the lounge and started getting dressed as is normal for my morning runs. Today, though, I took a few precautions that I wouldn’t normally take. I used anti-chafing cream on my chest and also spread it on my feet and between my toes. I’m not sure why I do this because I never really have problems with blisters on my feet but, on the other hand, as I’ve done it every time I’ve run an ultra, perhaps that’s part of the reason I don’t get blisters. Anyway, it’s a tradition and it feels fine, so I stick with it.
Next up was to pack the Camelbak Ultra 10. I wrote yesterday about changing from the Ultra 10 to the Circuit during the day but, on reflection during my lunchtime stroll yesterday, it occurred to me that the more comfortable Ultra 10 might be the best to keep on me all day. Instead of Cécile bringing down the other Camelbak to replace it, she could instead just bring a bottle of water and some food to make up for what I had used, and I could repack the Ultra 10. A consistent load on my back should make things easier, too, as opposed to adjusting and readjusting a couple of different packs.
To start the day I filled the entire two-liter bladder with electrolyte mix and packed Babybel cheese and a couple of different types of olives into the pockets. I also added my iPhone, and the iPod shuffle. Between the two I should have enough music, radio, and podcasts to amuse me for most of the day, especially as I knew I would want to avoid having anything in my ears for part of the run.
Though it was a little chilly outside, I decided against wearing a jacket as it wasn’t that cold and I would soon heat up when I was running. I went with 3/4 tights, a technical t-shirt, arm warmers, and a skullcap. The latter two items I figured I could stow after the first couple of laps but I would be better overdressed than underdressed for the first couple of hours before the sun rose. I left the headlamp at home knowing that the paths and roads of the loop were well lit and that the tunnel – the ‘Tube’ of the ‘Town and Tube’ – would be illuminated better than most parts of Lyon at this time of the morning.
With everything prepared, I drank a bottle of electrolyte mix, had a cup of strong coffee, and about 15 minutes before the hour, headed downstairs to get myself in position, get the GPS locked on, and prepare myself to go. I had a few last minute thoughts about the day and I recorded them in the final couple of minutes before the start. As you can tell from the audio, I was feeling pretty damn ready to run as I prepared to start loop number one after a couple of days of not running. It was ‘go time’, and I was fired up.
Last Few Minutes
The first loop went easily enough. I was alone for the most part and there was no one really around on the path next to the river or in the tunnel, either. Getting back into the city, though, and there were a number of people enjoying what was left of their Friday Night/Saturday morning fun. Lots of people looking the worse for wear, a lot of broken bottles, and cars that didn’t seem to really care all that much for the rules of the road. Still, I managed to avoid them all and come into the final stretch running well.
I was trying to keep my pace down so that I could hold a steady sort of effort all day. When you are running this long you don’t want to lay down a fast first lap and then pay for it every lap after that. When it comes to a real race like the Saint Fons 12 Hour in April, I’ll want to control the pace I am running from the start and not let the early nerves push me too fast out of the gate. The same thinking was in play here and I did my best to keep things nice and even.
The one downside of the opening loop was that the calf strain I had been resting for the last couple of days came back and announced itself at about the fourth kilometer mark. I was in the middle of the tunnel when – yep, there it was – and I immediately wondered whether I would be able to finish the first loop, let alone the 100K I had planned. I concentrated on keeping my cadence high, my form smooth, and not stretching the calf all that much on the small descent and ascent that followed the tunnel. I really didn’t want my day to end after only half an hour and this calf strain had me worried for the next couple of hours.
Good News and Bad News after Loop One
Leaving for the second loop I was concerned about the calf strain and tried my best not to overload my leg. I went slow down the ramps onto the path next to the Saone, and I didn’t push it at all going up the ramps arriving at or leaving the tunnel, either. The goal was to run consistently, avoid pushing too hard, and see if I could continue getting through the day despite the niggle that just would go away.
The third and fourth loops passed nicely, too. The niggle in my calf remained but it wasn’t getting any worse. This was something I was happy about as it meant I was managing the injury well; indeed, it didn’t even really feel like an injury, just something I was aware of when I was heading up a ramp or down the ramp from the tunnel.
Slowly I could see the city beginning to wake up, too. The market besides the river was a little bigger and a little busier each time I passed and the early morning shoppers who are out and about looking to bag the best fruit and vegetables before the masses get out of bed were starting to arrive in greater numbers by the time I was running my third and fourth loops.
I was putting down fairly consistent times for the loops. Where the first one had been about 36 minutes, the second was 38 minutes, the third was 37 minutes, and the fourth was 35 minutes. That faster fourth loop I put down to chasing another runner while in the tunnel. It’s funny how just having someone ahead of you by a couple of hundred meters pushes you to run that little bit faster. I’ll have to try and be careful to avoid that at Saint Fons where, on the short one kilometer course, there is always someone just in front of you to chase down.
Four Loops Down
The next four loops remained fairly consistent but there was something a little strange about the distance. Where I had measured things out on Google Maps and on Strava at about 6.5km per loop, the actual loop I was running seemed to be closer to 7km. This was both good news and bad news. The good news was that I would be done with my 100km a little bit quicker than I had anticipated, probably by at least one loop and maybe two. The bad news was that I had been pacing myself for a 16 hour day and not a 14 hour day so perhaps I was going to end up screwing with the pacing a little too much, ramp it up a little too early, and find myself off-plan. Stay focused, Dylan, adapt and problem solve, I told myself. Ultrarunning, as I’ve mentioned before, is all about problem solving and, as far as problems go, finishing an hour or two earlier than you imagined you might is one of the better ones.
Cécile and Jamie came down to see me before I headed off on loop six. Cécile had to grab something from the post office and Jamie was as motivated as ever to do a little running with his Dad. I ran the first part of loop six with him before giving him a big hug and waving goodbye. It’s great to have support from your family when you are running these sorts of things and while I am sure it isn’t the most interesting sport for a spectator, I really hope Jamie is learning something about pushing on when things hurt, not giving up, and doing his best. Parenting by osmosis and example – that sort of thing.
By the end of the eighth loop where I thought I would be about half way through it was clear that I was well ahead of my schedule to hit 100K in the day. By the end of that eighth loop I had well over 50km banked and so I knew I wouldn’t be running a sixteenth loop, or maybe even a fifteenth loop. I was still feeling good and I was ready for the second half of the run.
A Marathon to Go
The ninth loop I ran at a nice and consistent pace again, finishing it up in 36 minutes. By now I was starting to have to duck and weave through the pedestrian traffic in town and, increasingly, on the river bank, too. A beautiful warm day like this brings people out to the streets and whether they are shopping or sightseeing, they are in the way of runners!
My legs were starting to get a little heavier and I was feeling more tired as I moved around the loop. Nothing was hurting in terms of biting pain or anything like that, but I was starting to feel fatigued. The hydration pack was a little heavy on my shoulders and while it didn’t bounce around, I knew it was not always perfectly positioned as it went from almost empty to full-to-the-brim. Yes, it’s adjustable, but getting it dialed in each time you change the amount of liquid you are carrying is a little bit of a pain and I could feel the pain in my shoulders a little.
On the tenth loop it was getting very warm and I decided that, instead of waiting for the end of the loop to eat, I would take advantage of the cool air in the tunnel to walk and eat. This would end up being my habit for the remaining loops of the run: I would run along the river and into the tunnel until I clicked over onto a new kilometer on my watch, and then walk two kilometers while eating, drinking, and enjoying the cooler air. It didn’t really slow me down all that much, in fact, as my running pace of 5:30 was only about 2:30 to 3:00 faster than my walking pace. As I was doing 36 minute laps running, getting back to the start/finish in 42 or 43 minutes was no big deal, and I felt more relaxed because of it.
Walking Break in the Tunnel
The final loops of the run resembled the tenth loop. I ran along the river up to the tunnel, then ran into the tunnel, too. After that it was a couple of kilometers of walking fast, then closing out the loop in 42 or 43 minutes. The pedestrians next to the river and in the city were starting to drive me a little crazy. I was dodging people, running against traffic where I had to, and stopping sharply when there was just no room to move forward. All part of the fun when running in a big city, right?
My legs were feeling more tired now but I still had the strength to run at a good pace. My 5:30 pace seems to be about my “all day” pace and I think I will use it as my target pace for the Saint Fons 12 Hour in a few weeks time. It’s not super fast nor is it super slow and if I can get through the first half of the race there at this sort of pace, then I think I have a good chance to record the sort of result I am hoping for.
Closing out the thirteenth loop, it was clear that I would only need to run one more to bring up the 100K for the day. I was ready to run, I was feeling as good as I could feel, but it was getting dark and cold again. The sun officially set around 6:15pm and so I knew that, while I wouldn’t be running in the dark, it would be far colder than it had been for the last couple of hours. Indeed, running along the river for the last couple of laps was almost as easy as it had been in the morning. The families and groups of friends that had been crowding the paths had all retreated to their warm homes, leaving the path to the runners, walkers, and evening exercise crews once again.
I had one lap to go and I was ready to bring it home.
One Loop to Go
The last loop was about the same as the couple before it. It was colder now and perhaps that explained why I sped up a little on this final loop. Funnily enough, the fastest kilometer split of the entire day was my 99th kilometer where I laid down a 4:45 split – how’s that for being able to close out an ultra? I also ran a 5:15 98th kilometer but, following these two fast splits, I dropped into my walking pattern in the tunnel once again, and enjoyed the last bit of food as I pushed through the final few kilometers to the end of the loop.
If I am honest, I knew from a few hours before that I would be able to close this one out and, as the loop had no really significant challenges in terms of terrain or elevation, I was not really worried about not being able to finish once I started putting in nice, solid loops. However, watching the watch click over from double-digit distance to triple-digit distance is something I’ve only seen once before when running and it still felt great. Banking a 100K run this early in the season is a very good feeling.
I closed out the loop at Jacobins, clicked stop on the Garmin, and then made my way home to Cécile. I wanted a shower, I wanted to get warm – the cold was really biting by this point – and I wanted to get out of the shoes I had been wearing for nearly fourteen hours. I made my way upstairs to the apartment, got washed and warm, and then we headed out to dinner at a Korean restaurant we like nearby. The long day running was over, I was feeling great, but I was already thinking ahead to the Saint Fons 12 Hour and the next ultra challenge of the year.