Friday, March 9, 2012

My first ultra-marathon!

On my 35th birthday on February 28, I fulfilled my goal of running 35 miles, which I completed in 5 hours 41 minutes and 35 seconds. This makes it my first ultra-marathon, although it was not an official one and I ran it solo, except for the precious help of my wife Marion, who provided me with fresh supply of water and banana twice, and checked a third time whether I was coming out of the forest still on my feet!

Before the run, to choose my pace, I had done the following reasoning: since I had run my first marathon in Honolulu at an average speed of ~10.5 km/h, and my second marathon in Paris at a significantly faster average speed of ~11.5 km/h, and I had felt good at that speed until the end, I thought that I should be able to sustain 10.5 km/h over 35 miles. So I started at that pace, and after 45 minutes I was running effortlessly and feeling good so I even increased my pace a bit. But after two hours of running, I suddenly started to feel tired, and I realized I could not sustain such a pace for over 3 other hours. My speed significantly dropped during the next two hours, which were quite grueling. When I met Marion for the second time, I had run 45 km in 4 hours and ~20 minutes, and I was feeling exhausted. I stopped for a few minutes to drink and eat half a banana, and then I started running again to finish what I thought would be the hardest part of the run. I had to run in the unevenly snow-covered coastal footpath through the forest. I asked Marion to meet me at the end of the footpath to check that I had made it out of the forest, since I was really not sure I could. At first my legs felt very heavy, but as I started concentrating on where to put my feet so that they would not sink too deep in the snow, my energy suddenly came back, my legs felt light and dynamic again, and I was soon running as easily and fast as during the first two hours. I was having a "second souffle"! When I saw Marion at the exit of the forest, I told her I was fine again and she could wait for me at our friend Dany's house, where I had planned to finish my run in his spa! In fact, I felt good until I hit a hill a couple of miles before the end, which killed me again. But the finish stretch was a gently downward sloping road, so I arrived at my destination in relatively good shape.

My average speed was ~9.9 km/h, less than I had expected before the run, but not that bad either, especially given the fact that my path was always snow-covered, even if mostly with only a thin layer, which still reduce adherence, and with some passages in deeper snow, like the forest footpath. The lesson I learned is that when running such long distances, I should really adopt a very easy pace, especially during the first two hours!

The spa after the run was fantastic, not only when I was relaxing in it, but for the first few days after my run as well: I barely had some muscle soreness, which did not prevent me from walking normally and going down the stairs without having to do it backwards, as was the case after my previous two marathons! The only pain I had was the tendons of my right knee, which I had twisted a bit the day before the race while playing in the snow with my children, and the left side of my left foot, inside the foot. But all pain got away within one week. I am eager to start running again! Perhaps this week-end I'll do a very easy 30-minute jog to get back to it smoothly, and next week I'll start a new training program to run a trail marathon near Montpellier ( on May 20 during my up-coming holidays in France. The new limit to push is not the distance this time, but the elevation gain: +1913 m.