Sunday 31 December 2017

Godspeed 2017

Merry Xmas and happy new year!

This is my last post of the year. And what a running year! 2016 was punctuated with failed attempts to recover and climb my way up to the marathon distance again, but 2017 made up for it! A full year of training, more than 1000 km, multiple halfs (Potsdam, Grünewald), my first trail marathon (Schorfheide), and all that without a break, not a single injury, and new personal bests! Yeah me :)

I've never been that close to my goal. 42km... Only 8 more to go and I can close this blog and go back to my couch ;) There is no time to rest, I have big projects for next year, starting with the Eco-trail of Paris in March (45km), the long time dreamed 50km this summer (still looking for a race) and maybe the marathon du Médoc for this automn (running dressed and drinking wine!)

But for now, I'm spending the end of the year in South France. 15 degrees, sunny landscape, way too much to eat and drink, as usual. Santa's been very generous this year (or I've been a very good boy!) and brought me a new running backpack from Raidlight, the one I've been dreaming of for so long. I know I said I would buy it after running a 50k, I'm cheating a bit, but I'm sure it will help me reach my goal :)

I'm testing it on short 5ks around the house. Hard to run when your belly's always full! But so far it is amazing. 200g empty, a micrometric screw to tighten it, 2 flasks on the front, you just don't feel it at all. And it is made in France, in Saint Pierre de Chartreuse, where I spent all my summers and winters as a kid ♥ I'll write a review about it as soon as I have done a few long runs with it.

That's all for this year folks. As said, I had an amazing time training and I'm so proud of having nailed a trail marathon. 2018, here I come, bring on your dirty roads!

Saturday 25 November 2017

Grünewald half-marathon 2017

We all have a non-runner friend who keeps asking why in hell we pay that much money to torture ourselves during all those kilometers, swearing this is the last race but ending up at a starting line all over again? Usually that makes me smile, but not today, with two hours in front of me to think about all the great stuff I could have done with the 35€ entry fee 😓

(Un?)fortunately, I am not as fit as two months ago, so I subscribed to the half only. Thank God for that, the weather is terrible and it's pouring rain. I didn't sleep well and I cannot swallow a bite. I resist the urge to call it off and go back to bed! But today is the perfect occasion to test my equipment and score a new best time.

One hour of train, I manage to eat a sandwich and a banana. My coffee to go starts doing its job and I feel better already. I make a friend on my way, Ben, English, nice guy. We manage to find our way up to the event, through muddy trails. I am all wet, despite the umbrella.

I have never seen such a depressing starting line! No more than 50 runners are queuing under the rain to get their bib. A poor fella with a microphone is trying to motivate us, while playing cheap music we can barely hear. They give the start to the women half and marathon, 30 min before the men. Why aren't we allowed to run together? I don't bite (not before 30km!). Oh, they have a real gun with blanks to shoot the start, that's probably where all the budget went 😄

After changing and leaving my bag, I'm waiting for the start... under the toilets poarch! It's definitely the best day to test my rainy-run equipment: waterproof jacket and pants (that I just got from Decathlon yesterday), gaiters to prevent wet socks and my god old Speedcross which are hitting 500km. They finally call us to the starting line, short countdown and GO! Did they fire the gun, I didn't heard... Maybe they only had one bullet! 😆

We follow the wet trail on the first 5km, jumping above puddles of mud. Half and full marathoners started together, with no distinction (like a different colour on the bib). I'm overtaking some of them but impossible to know if they are in for the full experience! However, based on what I hear, most of them only for the half like me. I wonder how many just changed their mind on the starting line! Indeed, the marathon is actually running twice the 21km loop. Another reason I was not really motivated to do it.

We arrive on a very long bike lane flowing the highway. Asphalt, noisy cars and no supply point at the horizon, not really the first kilometers I was hoping for. I take over more runners, pace around 6:30. My goal today is to score a new PR and finish in less than 2h15. The rain intensifies. It's not unbearable, but forces to keep the head down. My tummy is growling. Hunger, but I feel some discomfort too. I am on vitamins this month and I have some digestion issues. Hopefully it won't bother me to much...

Finally, at the end of the lane and after more than 7km, the first aid station appears. I'm ok but I pity the poor marathoners who won't have more support than this! Bananas, tea, dry fruits and some drinks. The water is too cold, the tea is too warm, I have to mix them. Everyone is overtaking me, barely stopping. Most runners don't take the time to refuel. I will finish before them in the end!
After following the highway, we are now following the road... And they call that a trail race! We run along the banks of Wansee. I catch up on the others and overtake them. The puddles of water and mud change us into jumping goats :) But so far I don't feel wet. Jacket and trousers are protecting me perfectly, for less than 50€, merci Decathlon 👌

I have been holding a good pace for some time and a quick estimation makes me realize that I could finish in 2h, if I manage to keep it. Unfortunately, that's when we reach the steep climb up to the Grünewald tower, highest point of the route. Lungs burning, striving to breathe, I keep a steady pace, while my heart flies to unknown territories. I try to keep it below 180 bpm but it's damn hard. The runners behind lose ground on me. Cardio, I got you babe! Training the skipping rope like a little girl finally pays off 😊

I reach the second aid station at the top. Water, tea, banana, and I'm on my way. I swallow a cliff bar I brought with me, that should hold my craving until the finish line. The route is getting down again, still following the road. I let gravity do its job and catch up on the delay accumulated while climbing up. My peace is still good and the 2h drive seems more reachable than ever. But my belly aches are giving me a hard time. They don't last long but are really painful. I try to massage it, play with my abdominal muscles to unlock the food stuck. I should be really careful what I eat the day before a race 😥

Finally, we are back on trail roads. The rain is less intense but the ground still like a swamp. My belly forces me to stop once or twice and runners overtake me. I catch them up again and find myself running along Ben. Quick talk, hill coming, I distance him. I lock myself to a 5:30 pace, heart still around 180bpm. Another few kilometers to hold tight and its over. I pray that my belly is thinking the same.

Finally, after a last bit of road, I enter the stadium and crosses the finish line, like I just did... 1h59 ago! Yeepeeee. I did it! Half in less than 2h! It's amazing, considering that I ran my first half in 1h50 three years ago and it was on flat concrete on a sunny day. I head to the finish aid station, the third one I found today (out of five advertised on their website, did I miss the other two?). Soup, sausage, bread and cake. I feel better already. Although it was raining all the way, I don't feel wet. My equipment did it's job. My shoes are covered with mud, but my socks are still dry. Thank God I bought the GTX version (waterproof). Time to visit the shower, change to dry clothes and head home.

To sum up, I can't say I really enjoyed the run itself. It was as expensive as my last marathon and I got way less for the price. Only three aid stations (again, did I miss the others?), nice people but too few volunteers. Men end woman running separately. Only a few kilometers of trail, mostly roads and highway. But on the other hand I am really proud of my post-injury PR, and it's nice to add a rainy muddy race to my experience. Bucket list: checked! 😁

Thursday 23 November 2017

Cold mornings, rainy afternoons and early nights

No doubt, automn is here in her colorful night gown of leaves flying around. Days get shorter, colder, it's raining every time you step outside and the rare sun makes everything quite depressing. Hard to find the motivation for a proper training!

As usual, having a goal helps me a lot: the Grünewald marathon is approaching and I want it on my 2017 palmares. Unfortunately, a storm hit the woods and made the route impracticable for the event to occur in October, it's been rescheduled at the end of November. It's getting hard to stay fit and ready. After a hard 21k and a better 25k, I'm getting close to the event and I realise I should not risk a bad cold or injury. I'll stick to the Halfmarathon for this time, trying to score a new post-PF best.

On the other side, I'm planning to use the winter to strengthen my upper body: push ups, chin ups, skipping rope at lunch break and running with weights. I will probably run twice a week only so I need to compensate. I'm also on a vitamins diet this month to survive the winter! It would be nice to find a nice trail running group for motivation too.

I'm starting organising next year's schedule. Not sure what it will be yet, just some ideas: finally joining the ultrarunners vip club with an eco trail 45k in March, Wings for Life in May and Marathon du Médoc in October. Hell yeah \\m//

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Back to training, new shoes and last minute news

It's been a month since I crossed the finish line of a marathon for the second time. I remember how hard it was too rebounce after the first one. You just want to rest, do nothing, and you get the well-known post-marathon blues. Not this time! My goal is still a 50k, I need to keep the engine running! Although I feel it is still on, autumn is here and the weather is getting worse. Cold rainy days ahead of us... I really need motivation and goals for the winter season. I feel I still have some gas in the tank and I'm craving for more reward. After all, when you finally saved enough to go to Disneyland, you don't spend the day in the gift shop! I still have time for a last ride of space mountain :)

A quick look at the race board, I find out that the Grünewald marathon is happening end of October. Perfect timing, I can build some mileage again while still tapering at least two weeks before. Let's get to work! After a week of rest, I resume my weekly routine of two 5-6k runs during the week and a long run on weekends: 10k first, 21k the week after and a long 35k last Saturday. From this on, I will decrease the mileage and taper the last two weeks to arrive rested and ready at the starting line.

I am a bit anxious resuming my running and I take it really easy. But my foot is ok, and apart from some tiredness in my legs, I feel fit. During the half and 35k especially, I am amazed at my level of fitness and my heart-rate. I run the half in 2:16 (10 faster than usual) and the 35k in 4h, which means that I will most probably finish the next marathon in less than 5h! More impressive, my heart-rate is very steady and average 150-160bpm. This is probably the result of my training, but the weather is also cooler and I'm now running with my super-light backpack and only 1L of water.

Apart from that, I also bought NEW SHOES for the upcoming winter: Salomon XA pro 3D (a must have for a 3D artist!). A bit more bad-ass than my Speedcross, they have the reputation of being good trekking/trail running shoes for short distances. I bought them at a very decent price and choose the GTX version (goretex, water repellent) to keep my feet dry. This is part of the upcoming training I am planning for the winter: run short (for weather reasons) but run more often. The idea is to run everywhere I need to go (providing I'm not alone or I'll lose all my friends!). 

I am also planning some skipping rope sessions for rainy/very cold days. I still target the Eco Trail de Paris next spring (or similar), where I'll officially become an ultra runner :)

Sunday 17 September 2017

Schorfheide-Lauf marathon 42km

This is The Moment, this is it! - Michael Jackson

Sunday 10th September 2017

7:00 - My head is cloudy, my belly ache, I have legs like jelly, as I stand up in the dark 😵. A quick breakfast, I force myself to swallow some eggs and cheese, so hunger strikes as late as possible. A thermos coffee and a sandwich packed for the car, my running gear is already waiting at the door. Time to hit the road!

8:45 - After a 1h drive on the highway and the last kilometre on a road probably older than me, I arrive in Altkückendorf, small village of Brandenburg, 60km North of Berlin. The marathon starts early so I am amongst the first ones there. They park us on a field so green it hurts driving on it. Fresh air, wet grass, deep forest fragrances around, it has been raining in the past few days but today will be sunny. I follow the path to the church, meeting point and start/finish line. I head to the tent to get my bib. No id needed, just my name, that they find immediately on a hand-written paper with no more than 40 names on it... 😲 Such a contrast with my two previous marathons (Berlin 2014 and 2016) and their 40.000 runners! I dress quickly and bring my stuff back to the car.

9:10 - Marathon meeting... In the church! Do I get a benediction included in the fee? 😁 Nope, not even a prayer. They show us the route and the few difficulties on the way: some segments have to be done twice, some go to a point where you have to turn back. I take a quick note of the supply points, spread every 5km. Good, no need to carry water, I just have my 75ml flash in hand and some cliff bars, nuts and flapjacks in my new super light decathlon backpack (200g). I know I shouldn't try new gear on race day but I really don't need the heavy bag, and I still wanna bring some food, as I don't know what I'll find on the route. I'm also carrying a light jacket that I'm wearing right now, since it's a chilly morning.

9:30 / 0km - Gathered on the starting line, all the marathoners are getting warm and ready. Yep, no more than 40 runners and half as many cheering us up. Everyone seems to know each others. Average age 40-60 years old, I feel so young! Last quick check: my watch is ready, backpack adjusted, shoes tightened, mobile... Wait, what?? First (and only) disappointment of the day, I really am in a God forsaken place, with no internet connection! Impossible to share any information, photo or live feed of my race. Nooooooo! 😱 Maybe it's a sign. I mean, this event is called "run for the mind", looks like Facebook isn't included! The thin crowd cheers us up and the herd moves forward. We are starting!

9:45 / 2km - After running two times around the village and crossing the starting line again, cheered by our supporters, we head back south and immediately into the forest. As usual, I start easy and stay at the back of the pack. I'm a diesel, I need time to warm up! That's where I meet Carmen. She's planning a 6h run, I estimate a 5h for myself, so I decide to stick with her until the first supply point. We discuss a bit, she's really nice, and quite healthy for her age. 60 years old and running her 18th marathon, respect! 😲

10:15 / 6km - First aid station: water, coke and chocolate (yummy). I leave Carmen behind and lock to my steady pace, around 6:40-7:00. Suddenly, I am all alone, with birds and black slugs as rare travel companions. Lost in the woods, it's frightening. 😶 I resist the urge to put on my earbuds with loud music. Let's enjoy the​ silence, so rare to find nowadays. As I venture deeper into the woods, the trees get higher, the route muddier, swamps pop up here and there. The air is refreshing. I hear my wife's voice telling me it is healthy to run in the forest after rainy days, because the air is rich in minerals. I sure am up for 5h of that!

11:00 / 13km - After some looping around in the forest, I reach the second aid station with quite a nice buffet: chocolate, bananas, cereal bars, fruit bars, coke, iso drink and water... When you think that the overpriced Berlin marathon barely offers more than apples and bananas... The volunteers are super nice and helpful. Most of them are families. I even meet a young mom showing the way, along with her kid, same age as mine, playing in a little tent. Later, an 8 years old girl will run a few hundreds meters with me. Cute! 😄 I continue along this long path that you need to run in both directions. The route is really muddy and I progress carefully. I meet some runners going in the other direction. Good, I'm not that far behind! I reach the dead-end and next aid station, where the next two runners are resting. They are a bit surprised to see me, as I am much younger and should therefore be far in front of them. We have a quick chat, 60 years old from Aachen, we have the same shoes, GO TEAM SALOMON! 🙌

11:45 / 18km - Leaving the grandpas behind, I travel  to the next aid station and refuel. I stick to water and add an electrolyte tablet to it, to compensate for the loss of magnesium, potassium and sodium (salt). They proved to be really helpful during my long runs, delay muscle cramps and speed up recovery. I hit the road again. 🏃 I'm not alone, as this segment is covered by the half marathon and the 10k too. Looks like they just started! I'm facing a wall of participants running in the other direction. If not for their green bib (mine is red), I would think I'm heading in the wrong direction! Many of them applaud me and I get a few thumbs up and a "respect!". I feel like a star. 😊 Just a few years ago, I too was looking up at marathoners with wonder and respect in my eyes! Following the ref flags, I'm leaving the main trail and find myself on a lovely path, bordered by high pine trees. I almost feel like home, in the immensity of the Landes forests in south France. 😍 Suddenly, I'm out of the woods and I follow an endless bike lane, crossing a few of them. Lovely area, I am breathless... or maybe just getting tired...

12:00 / 21km - Here comes the half, along a small aid station. No more soup, first come first served, oh well! 😢 I dig in my backpack for some jacks and nuts while refuelling on water. Friendly volunteers as always, father and son, we have a quick talk, that I have to end, so I don't lose my rythme. While resuming my run, I hit the 21st kilometre. A quick look at my watch, 2h30 to cover half of the route. Perfecto! I'm on tracks for a 5h marathon as planned. So far, no pain in my foot, just the usual numbing that is more psychological than really physical. My heartbeat has been pretty steady, around 150bpm. I already noticed the effect of running in the woods during my training. Thanks to the high levels of oxygen probably, my heartbeat drops lower than when running in the city. The path snakes between high trees and swamps, before finding a way out. The sun goes my face and warm up my heart. I feel better already, I must be running on solar energy 🌞

12:30 / 25km - I follow a long route bordering the forest on my left. Apple trees show me the way, as well as a few volunteers lost here and there and happy to show another runner the way. A shadow appears far I front of me, hobbling around. Woman, 40 y.o., stone in the shoe. I catch up on her quickly. She doesn't seem very happy when I overtake her and she will try to keep up for a few kilometres. But as said I'm a diesel. When I find my cruising tempo I stick to it until the end of the night 🚚

13:00 / 29km - New aid station, Gertrude still behind  me, they tell us that a segment of the route is redirected for safety issue (safety in deep Brandenburg countryside? 😜). But the firemen do a great job at redirecting us. I finally reach the immense Wolletzsee lake. It is sparkling under a shy sun and reflecting the cloudy sky. Gertrude gives up on me and I find myself alone again. But not for long, as I catch up two runners fighting against the wall. I chat a bit with the first one but quickly overtake him, for he smells like an Irish-pub back alley (me too, probably 😷).

13:30 / 34km - We reach the far East of the lake and another main station with lovely old volunteers that just want to hear about south France all day long... It's getting harder and harder to restart the engine! But it's a straight line to the finish one now. Well, they do warn me that the path gets a bit hilly again, but I'm sure they are messing around with me! 😅

14:00 / 38km - As it turns out, they were not joking! After running along some houses and following the lake shore, I find myself in the forest again. And it goes up! All the way up! My heartbeat goes berserk over 170bpm and I'm forcing myself to walk while eating a cliff bar. The result is immediate and the beat drops below 160. I'm alone again, stinky guy is not catching up. I'm thinking about Francois and Kilian who finished the UTMB a week ago. By the end of the race, I will have climbed 416m of elevation... Not the Everest but still 416m more than the Berlin marathon 🗻 At the top, I reach one of the last aid station, poor grandma lost in the middle of nowhere. I refuel on water and steal some salty bezels. I try to chew on one and drop the other. Impossible to swallow anything, I feel nauseous and I resist the urge to throw up the power bar 😣. I need to keep some calories inside! Eating is not the problem, I can survive the last 4km, but I need to keep drinking. I swallow little sips of water, they don't come out, perfect!

14:15 / 40km - Last aid station. The grandpa is happy to see me but this time I just cannot stop or I'm afraid I won't restart. I wave to him and get out of the woods, under a warm caressing sun. Still 2km to cover. A quick look at my watch tells me that I won't finish in less than 5h. Oh well, at last I will finish! In the distance, I can hear the moderator's voice discussing with the finishers. The cheering crew is still there, waiting for me 😥

14:31 / 42km - I cover the last two kilometres, fighting against the wall. I enter the village, the streets are empty and quiet, everyone is at the church! One last turn and I stand in front of the finish line. Everyone cheers me as I crosses it. Congratulations from the moderator, who asks me tons of questions while handing me my certificate: 5h01min! I joke that it's the volunteers fault, that are way too nice and it's hard to keep it short at every aid station! 😋 I leave them and walk a bit to relax my legs and cover the missing distance. Indeed my watch shows 41,5km and I need an extra 700m to the actual marathon distance, that I will eventually reach after 5:11 on the road.

15:00 - Sitting at a table, I'm digging into the soup and sipping my root beer 🍺. The sun warms up my broken body, the grass is still wet under my barefoot. Delicious moment, where I still can't realize I just ran a marathon. It's been more than two year since this evil injury (plantar fascitis) stroke my foot, and after many unsuccessful attempts, more injuries, general discouragement and soooooo many hours of training, I'm back! Today, not only did I run a marathon for the second time, but I also ran for the longest time of my life, I did my first official trail race and I beat all my training times. Yeah me! I would lift my arms if I had the strength! 🙌

15:30 - The last runners cross the line one by one. Team grandpas SALOMON joins me at the table for a chat. Carmen finishes last, shortly after 6h, and we congratulate each others. We discuss about the race, everyone had a great time. I finish my soup. Time to hit the shower and drive back home. My legs hurt but it's a sweet pain, the pain of success! 🏆

Sunday 17th September

It's been a week after crossing the finish line. I recovered quickly, like after my 34k and 37k. I felt really tired after the race and spent the rest of the day refueling, mostly on water, proteins and carbs. I didn't take a nap but I went to bed early with some fever 😴. I was cold and my darling covered me with all blankets she could find. I woke up in the middle of the night completely wet. I had sweat all my fever out and I felt better. I drank a lot during that night and woke up fresh and rested to go to work (and brag about my run!).

The following two days, I simply took it easy, walking slowly (not sprinting after the train!), eating and drinking properly and going to bed early. I massaged my whole body with my form roller, focusing on the calves, lower back and buttocks (trigger points), as well as the quadriceps. 💪 As usual it really helped, after three days all muscle pain was forgotten. It's been one week now, my muscles still feel a bit tired but also striving for new adventures. I shall resume my training next week, so I am fit to run another marathon before the end of the year.

Overall this race is an amazing success. 🏃 It's not the 50k I had planned for this year but I've never been that close to my goal. My foot is better than ever and I'm starting to consider it healed completely. My fast recovery also proves that my training is paying off and I am slowly reaching my goal: running marathons as long runs, while training for greater distances. After two cloudy years, the sun is shining again on my runner's life 😎

Monday 14 August 2017

The big dirty 37k

Pretty amazing race today, as I'm heading out for the last and longest run of my training before the M-Day.

According to most training plans, it's not wise to run more than 32k when preparing for a marathon. In the end, you are not better prepared and you take more risks of getting injured. I agree with that, but only if you see the marathon as the ultimate goal, a race where you'll give all you have before resting for a few weeks.

In my case, I want the marathon to be just another step on my way to the ultra, and I consider it a long run... Just a bit longer and harder than usual! I intend to keep on running and prepare for a 50k, after a reasonable amount of rest. I am therefore pushing the distance, as I have done until now, following a stepped progression. It's a big step after my 30k and 34k, let's see how it goes.

It's a sunny and windy Sunday, I feel rested and ready. I prepared a nice route that shall bring me up to and along the lake, a variation of my 34k. The path through the forest is delightful. I'm completely alone. Good pace and steady heart rate below 150bpm. I reached the lake after an easy 18k. This time I didn't forget the extra tree shirt, really enjoyable to slip in a fresh one while the other dries on the backpack.

I know the lake banks pretty well, peaceful place full of young couples lazing around and old people sunbathing naked... Better keep your eyes on the trail! The sand makes my progression a bit trickier. I resist the urge to dive into the fresh water. Maybe next time if I don't forget the towel!

Damn it, it's Sunday, stores are closed... I do a break at the train station to buy overpriced water from the machines. Once filled up, I'm heading home. 21k, still 16 to go! My legs start hurting. As said before, my foot seems completely healed, but my calves are not happy! I loose myself in new areas. 
I hit the wall as usual around 30k. I am more than convinced that it's a nutrition issue. At the end of the race, I will have burned more than 2500 calories (enough to fuel a woman's body for a full day). I NEED to catch-up and refuel my body on the go. The 28-32k segment is intense and painful. I do a long stop, forcing myself to eat and drink. 

I feel better already and I cover the last 5k slowly, heartbeat now stuck at 170bpm, which means that I am now running on carbs. This is not good, as my carbs levels are probably dangerously low and my brain feed on them only. If I push the distance without refuelling, I will end up with cramps and my body will refuse to go any further.

I arrive at the train station after a bit more than 37km and 4:40 on the road. Not only is this run the second longest in distance of my life, but it's also the longest in time, as I did 4:17 at my first marathon. I'm exhausted but I'm sure that I could cover the remaining 5k. But that's for the big day in 4 weeks! Because now it's resting time. Bring on the taper madness :)

A few thought I had on the way, to improve my runs:

  • My backpack is way too heavy. It's not really made for running and it's about 3kg once I fill it up with 1,5L of water, food and spare clothing. I'm carrying too much weight around and I have sore shoulder muscles at the end. I'm planning to ask Santa for a super light running backpack. 
  • I'm still working on the ideal (and cheap) drink. I added electrolytes lately but I feel that proteins are a must too.
  • As said, I need to bring real food and high-calories snacks on the road: peanut butter sandwich, avocado, potatoes in olive oil, or the like. Two power bars and a banana surely are not enough to refuel on the way.
  • Finally, I feel that my calves are the first thing to give up on me. I need to train them everyday, skipping rope should help. I'll try it after my vacation.