Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saintélyon 2007: cold and tough, but back on trail!

4 weeks without running, such a long time off the trails. So much time wondering about how to best heal after the Helen Klein Classic, while maintaining my shape for this last race. I know I'm too impatient when it comes to injury healing. It's just tough to miss one of my passions...
This could have been my 3rd DNS (Did Not Start) of the year after missing the San Francisco half marathon in February, for what I thought to be a metatarsal stress fracture, and last week's Run Wild 10K. Apart from my running buddy Bob who knows only I could make the right decision, nobody was comfortable with me getting in this last race of my 2007 season. Even I wasn't, thinking lining up was the best recipe for disaster and for my potential first DNF (Did Not Finish). Yet I wanted to see what my calf was up to after 4 weeks of rest, plus it was tough to miss such an opportunity to finally run my first ultra in France.

I was in Paris for business anyway, and had all the logistics setup to visit my good friends in Lyons this weekend, the Gallots, and my godson, Matthieu. At least I would use my TGV tickets and spend the weekend with them even if I was not taking the start. It was also an opportunity to meet again with Karine (Herry) and her husband and coach, Bruno (Tomozyk), after meeting at Western States in June then during our training week on the UTMB (Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc) course in July. Karine was invited by race management with the whole VIP package. But, like me, Karine wasn't much excited about this season closing race because she has also had a calf issue for the past two weeks, a contracture, something new for her after 10 years of running. She had just terminated a mesotherapy treatment with the last injection on Thursday.

Before leaving for Lyons on Saturday, I went for a jog in Paris on Friday night to test the calf. 10 easy kilometers (6 miles) in 54', on my favorite Parisian course along Parc Montsouris, down the street where my parents live. Could still feel the calf pain from time to time, so I was still wondering about running the next day when I got to bed, past midnight. For this race starting at midnight, the jet lag played well here, getting more than 11 hours of sleep and waking up at noon. Caught the 3pm TGV and arrived at 5pm in Lyons for some quiet time with Fred and the boys. Back to the train station by 8pm to get on the commuting train which arrived at 9:12 in Saint Etienne, fully loaded with runners. Perfect timing to get the bib before 10pm. From 11 I was waiting for Karine and Bruno but they only shown up 15' before the start, Karine enjoying some last minute sleep in her 5-star hotel room. We sneaked in the first rows behind the starting line, with the head of the 4,400-runner pack much covered by the regional medias. We listened to U2's "Light up my way", a perfect introduction to this night run and last invite to check our headlights. And here off we were, for a rolling course (distance scale in km, to be divided by 1.6 for miles, and altitude in meters, to be multiplied by 3 to get feet).
I ran the first 500m with Karine and picked a slightly faster pace in the hills as we were going through the suburbs of Saint Etienne. Before the race I had applied some heating ointment on the calf, before strapping it. After km3, I felt a violent burning all around the leg and thought that was some sort of allergy or reaction between the ointment and the latex. The burning was painful although it brought some sort of re comforting heat in such cold temperatures (36F at the start and going down to 32F during the night). Thankfully the burning stopped after 3-4 kilometers and I was then wondering which skin damage I will find when unstrapping after the race.

I was pleased to see Bruno and get some of his encouragements at the first aid station by mile 10. Needless to say, there was almost nobody on the course to cheer us up in the middle of such a cold night and on such a remote course. Following one of the ultra running 101 rules, I decided not to try anything new today. Given the food served is really different in France from the one we have in the US, that meant I had to rely more on my own supplies such as GU2O and GU. Also that I won't try to drink the hot tea, and was left with only cold water when my body had surely enough intake of cold air and fluids. Some Coke was served which I used, as well as dark chocolate tablets and bananas. The rest was mostly dried fruits (raisins, apricots, plums) and gingerbread. No potatoes, no chips, no gel, no energy bars. I thanked and cheered the volunteers, telling them I came all the way from California and they said: "at least one who is nice with us!" As I was asking if the others had really been mean to them, they admitted that it wasn't the case, but few were expressing much recognition...

We had 4 kilometers before passing the highest point of the course at 2,500ft. But the altitude isn't what makes this race tough, it's the constant switch from down to uphills, adding up to 4,000 of vertical gain, and forcing to always restart the engine. That's one reason knowing the course well can really help. Anyway, from km25 I started feeling the feared calf pain on the uphills and thought that was quite early in the race and night. I decided to ease up a bit and walk from to time, yet keeping a close look at the average pace and keeping it below 6mn/km, or 10km/h by maintaining a good pace in the downhills.

In addition to the slope, the difficulty quickly came with quite some mud making some of the trails very slippery, and getting our shoes wet. The abundant mud was the results of bad weather and rain over the past weeks, not something I'm familiar with given our lack of rain so far in North California. But at least it wasn't raining tonight. We could actually see the rising moon and some stars, between the clouds. As for the mud, I first heard about it on the train for Saint Etienne, from local runners experience with this race and course, way too late to reconsider my selection of shoes. I had brought a pair of Brooks Trance from the US. Not the best in the mud but a reasonable choice and great cushioning to preserve my calf from the pounding of 20 miles of asphalt.

The rest of the race was about the same: more downhills and uphills, freezing temperatures, pain, almost no spectators in the middle of the night, passing some runners and getting passed by others, great volunteers at the aid station, and the joy of seeing Bruno from time to time, 6 times in total if I recall. 2/3rd in the race he told me Karine was not in top shape, about 6 minutes behind me, and kidding me about the fact she was getting back on me.

Bruno was at the aid station at the bottom of the last hill of the course at Sainte Foix lès Lyon and give me helpful encouragements for this tough 1.5-mile stretch, and 8 miles to go. An interesting part, with the slope being very hard first and getting slightly easier, yet it was challenging to resume running that far in the race. I was running great in the subsequent last downhill, where some had obviously issues with their quads. Lyons was still sleeping at 6am, in a humid fog and the street empty as I reached the river for the last 7 kilometers. Glad to get to the finish line where the speaker announced my name and was welcomed by Matthieu. I waited for Karine to come in as I was expecting her to close the short gap Bruno had told me about. She came in 8 minutes later, to place 4th woman and 2nd in her age group. Such a great performance for a champion with an injury! A picture of Karine and I taken by Matthieu, at the finish line:
As for me, a finish time of 6:44:52, good enough for a "Silver Saintélyon" award (to be self-printed on the web). 170th overall, 63rd in the M40-49 age group. Not too bad with the injury, but rankings showing how much more competitive ultra is in France compared to the US.

In addition to my own personal experience related here, this race was the opportunity to confirm some of my findings about ultra running in France. For the interest of time I'll do another post on this topic, to compare the French and American approach to it and their own development.

See you on the web later, in a week or so, farther and faster...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Merci de ce compte-rendu si vivant de ta course, peniblement suivie sur internet a 9000km! Et BRAVO!
Agnes

Fred said...

Bravo pour cette belle performance. Tu as mis le même temps (à 10 minutes près) que l'équipe de Judo de Ménival. Mais eux, ils étaient 4...

willgotthardt said...

Well done...good stuff Jean, looking forward to your thoughts on the comparative US/French approach, very interesting (4,400 entrants!?!?).

Have a nice holiday season. Hope your calf heals up as well.

Will G.

Anonymous said...

impressionnant Jean le récit de ta course bien que je ne comprenne pas ts les détails ... il semble qu'à qques heures du départ tu n'étais pas sur de courir (par manque d'entrainement?); beau résultat donc ds ces conditions...
Bon retour à SF et bonne fin d'année à ts les 5.
Bises Sophie
PS 2008 sera-t-elle l'année du blog en français?...

NoNo l'escargot - www.kikourou.net said...

Bravo pour ce beau récit, même dans la langue de Shakespeare, ça le fait !
J'y étais (en relais à 4) et j'y retournerai (en duo ou en solo !) pour connaître l'autre partie du parcours ;-))

debizej said...

Salut,

très bon Compte rendu. J'y étais aussi... Je pensais que le niveau aux états unis était plus relevé qu'en France...

J'aimerai bien venir de l'autre coté de l'Atlantique de nouveau pour un 100miles. J'y ai deja couru le marathon de new york cette année en 2h58 et ce fut vraiment super.

Content de suivre ton blog. tu pourra trouver mon CR ici mais les CR de dizaines d'autre coureurs:
http://www.kikourou.net/recits/recit-2581-saintelyon-2006-par-debizej.html


Jérome

Jean Pommier said...

NoNo, pas facile d'écrire Shakespeare, merci de t'être accroché dans cette lecture en anglais!

Jérôme, pour la comparaison US/France, c'est surtout le nombre qui diffère. Je pense que la tête et la queue de la courbe de Gauss se valent, mais comme il y a 10 fois plus de participants, il y a plus de bons en France, à mon avis. Probablement aussi plus de coureurs élites qui sont déjà passés de la route au trail/ultra, en France qu'aux US.

Jean.