The build up
It’s January 2016. I’m on the couch with my laptop making my race schedule for this year. Suddenly Trail des Fantômes caught my attention. Would this be the year that I’d run my first ultra? It’s in 7 months. It all seemed feasible, so I adjusted my calendar accordingly. My plan: I would race once per month and increase the distance every time.
Racing calendar 2016
- January 31st - Meerdaalwoud Trail - 26k
- February 21st - Charlepoeng Trail - 28k
- April 24th - Koning van Spanje - 37k
- May 21st - Trail des Trappistes - 39k
Those races went well. My results improved and I got faster.
On the Koning van Spanje trail I tripped and fell which resulted in some bruises and scratches on my face. But the major damage was in my hips. I didn’t notice it but apparently some things got shifted and I adjusted my stride which led to an issue in my right glute and hamstring. I thought it was some stiffness and I would fix it with some workouts.
By the time I had to run the Trail des Trappistes my hamstring problems worsened but nevertheless I had to run those 40k to prepare for Fantômes. I finished my longest run so far in under 4hrs. Goal achieved but the damage was done.
June was meant to be a volume month but instead I was resting, cycling and regularly visiting my doctor and/or physio. Running was out of the picture. In my head I was making new plans and even thinking about DNS.
Maybe I would get fit by the start of July and do Festival Trail de Semois 55k as a test. But that didn’t work out as planned either. The glute / piriformis / hamstring issue wasn’t totally gone. Bummer! Back to the doctor’s office for a traumeel injection.
The second half of July I was on vacation in Croatia where I could train in the heat and add some much needed vert. The first week went well, but in the second week my hamstring disagreed. So back to the doctor and the physio when I got home. You can imagine I had some serious doubts about my upcoming race and I constantly floated between “I will do it”, “Hell no, I forfait and pick another race” and “I’ll pick a shorter distance”.
I planned this meticulously. We, my wife and daughter and my in-laws, would arrive on friday, two days before the race. So I could rest properly and do some shake out runs. On saturday I planned a reconnaissance training. I would inspect the first 6k and the last 6k of the race. Although 12k seems a bit too much the day before the race, you’re supposed to taper, it actually was the perfect thing I could do. It was going to be a heavy race and I had to take it slow from the start on if I wanted a shot on finishing this. The last 6k include the famous Mur de Maboge (wall of Maboge). A steep climb on some rough terrain. If you aren’t mentally prepared for this, it could break you, especially because it is in the last 6k of your race. By doing this reconnaissance I was prepared.
Later that day we scouted the aid station at 40k where my dropbag would be waiting and “my crew” would be to cheer me up if I needed it. for the rest I was resting an preparing my kit for the race. I was as nervous as hell. I’m a relative quiet guy but that day I didn’t say very much. My mind was constantly busy with mostly negative thoughts. Especially because of the weather they predicted. Ten days before the race they predicted rain and temperatures around 17°C which was in my advantage. I thrive in wet and cold conditions, heat is something, with getting older, I can’t handle as well. Now they predict a lot of sun and temperatures around 25°C.
The start is at 7:00 in the morning. It seemed everybody had the same idea of starting slow. If you passed someone, you could here them thinking: “He’s going too fast, he will regret that”. I ended up in the rear of the midpack and after the first climb(s) I moved up a few places, but on a steady slow pace. After the first hour we’ve passed the 7k mark. So it would take another 2 hours to reach the first aid station at 20k. The volunteers there were amazing. Helping you with your pack and constantly motivating all the participants. I moved on and notified my crew that I had just passed the first marker and my ETA at the dropbag location would be somewhere around 1 PM and that I’m feeling fine.
The hours went by and it was getting warmer but I kept my pace low and thanks to my new poles (Black Diamond carbon z-poles) I could save a lot of strength in my legs in the climbs but I was remarkably faster than the runners without poles. The trails between the 20k and the 40k mark had more “flat” sections because we ran along the banks of the Ourthe but they were a lot more technical. A lot of rocks and very slippery tree roots. I finally made it to the second aid station where my crew and drop bag were waiting for me. Making it there was already a small victory for me because I’ve never ran further than 39.9k and this station was at 43k. Yay!
Changed my shoes, new socks, a fresh t-shirt and continued the race. Every step was one step closer to finishing. Upto 50k we were still running on the banks of the Ourthe but the last 15k we still had some 800m of vert to conquer, including the Mur de Maboge. At the 60k mark you had the last aid station. I refilled my bottles and attacked the famous Mur. Here’s where we joined the courses of the other races so it was lot more crowdy. I grabbed my poles and powerhiked with everything I’ve got left. At the top it’s only 5k to finish. Stashed away my poles and started running. Legs were still fine and powerful so I could run a 4:30 pace. Catching up with some other 65k runners we started to congratulate each other. 500 meters before the finish line we had to cross the Ourthe one more time and than it was in a straight line to the finish. The cheering and the applause of the spectators was an awesome feeling. I almost got goosebumps, even in this heat.
My finish time: 10:27:44 for a 68th position overall of 158 entries.
During my reconnaissance runs on the days before the race I noticed that my average speed would be somewhere around 7km/h. So it would take me three hours to each aid station. My kit contained of 3 500ml soft flasks (2 with Tailwind and 1 with water), 2 gels and some Clif Bar energy bars. This was my strategy:
- Start with a flask with Tailwind and this has to be empty after one hour.
- The second flask with Tailwind for the next hour with a energy gel at 1h20mins. Rince it down with some plain water.
- The third hour: drink what ever is left of Tailwind and the plain water. Don’t forget that energy gel at 2h30 ~ 2h40
- At the aid stations: refilling my flasks, I had zip lock bags with Tailwind powder, and eating some bananas. I stay away from oranges or any other things they offer at those stations because I’ve had some bad experiences with them. I also downed some cups of water or energy drink. I grabbed some new energy gels from the station and threw away the empty ones.
During the entire run I never had any stomach issues nor was I hungry. I was very clear in my head and never dizzy so that was a clue I was taking in enough calories but not too much to upset my stomach. They always say you have to be prepared to adjust your race strategy because your race won’t go as planned. Luckily for me it all worked out perfectly. I even felt better at the end of the race than at the end of some of my shorter races making this Trail des Fantômes one of my best race experiences ever. I will be back in 2017 for the 100k.
Thank you …
Thanks to my family for their support and perfect crewing. Thanks to my (twitter) friends for their support and cheering. Thanks to Sportevents for this awesome race. See you next year.