"Run for three days they said. It will be fun they said"
Well, it was fun. But not all the time and not in the way I thought it would be. It was more of a hard lesson about something I already knew but chose to ignore. Loop courses kill me, they do. This time I thought I’d fight off the bad thoughts with the idea that this was good training for UTMB. Either way it was good training, and I won (YAY!), but nothing ever turns out exactly the way you plan, right?
Running the 48-hour race last year at 3 Days at the Fair, I decided to try something else this year. The three day ultra race held in Sussex County Fairgrounds has a number of distances to compete in — you can choose anything from marathons (a new starting every day, and in the last day two), 50 k, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours. Many of the shorter races have several starts, which means lots of fresh runners on the course — something you really enjoy when you’ve been running for a long time. Since I only have one big goal this year — The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) late August, the slightly odd race Quadzilla seemed to be the best training for that. The Quadzilla meant running all of the four marathons, starting at 9AM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning, to finish off with the last one at 9PM on Saturday evening.
To make the most of my marathons, I had an idea of running within a heart-rate zone of 150-160 bpm. I stuck to plan for the first 30 k, but a hundred or so toilet breaks turned my head around. And just like that I decided to quit my plan and go for having fun instead. Not minding the time or the pace, eating and drinking, chatting with people and just running, was fun for a while, but it also made every lap take longer. And suddenly, this marathon which I had thought would be a piece of cake, turned out to be a real struggle. It wasn’t over after 4 hours! Not even after 4 and a half! Maybe it would never end? I complained to Johnny and he told me to run the last lap as fast as I could, just to show myself that I could run fast, but that was probably the worst thing he could’ve said at the time. I had stopped competing and didn't want any more challenges! In the most childish way, I protested by going even more slowly...
The next marathon went by almost the same way, the weather was even hotter and the rain they’d promised didn’t show up. At least I hade slept well in the tent during the night, only waking up every three hours to check on Johnny, who was running the 72-hour race. He was running much better at night than during the hot day and after my second marathon, we started to understand that he was about to get really affected by the heat and the sun. He had got badly sunburned the first day, despite lots of sunscreen.
Some of the other Quadzilla runners had asked the race directors to start their third marathon earlier in the morning, to be able to run a few more hours without the sun. I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea and it would also mean that I’d get more recovery before my last marathon. To try something else, Johnny made me go for a new energy plan this time. I usually never run on sugar from the beginning of a race, but these marathons were here for me to learn from, so why not? I ran beautifully on coke, banana and ClifBars for three hours, but then I couldn’t take any more sugar, felt dizzy and nauseous.
My fourth marathon started in rain and was the most difficult one of them all. My legs felt fine, and the first few laps went well, but then I started to doubt that I would ever finish. It’s beyond me how 42 k can feel so much longer than a 100 miles. Johnny had started feeling better, and after being out for almost a whole day, he had started running again. My pace was a great pace for the both of us, but despite the company, this marathon took like forever. Somehow I finished, still in the lead and made first place!
Hard lessons are always good to learn, and I think that my most valuable was the one that I shouldn't, under any circumstances, run lap courses. And also, that nothing is easy, not even a marathon ;-)