Life is an ultramarathon

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Tuesday, January 24 2012

Electronic music

For a couple of years I have somehow associated most long ultras with a specific music track, typically a "trendy" electronic music. Often not the music I would listen every day. Trips in Southeastern France might have influenced choices...

Amusingly, I still remember fairly well some of the titles, mainly on the first of each event type:

  • 2005: UTMB. Dancefloor FG summer 2005 album, and more particularly "What A Feeling" (Global Deejays), but also "The World Is Mine" (David Guetta Feat. JD Davis) and "I Will Be There" (Muttonheads).
  • 2008: Ironman France. Fun Club Vol. 2, Le Son Dancefloor, and more particularly "Hot Summer Night" (David Tavare), but also "Cry For You" (September) and "Sleeping Satellite" (Junior Caldera). Strangely enough, the album was actually released a month after the Ironman, but I must have heard it earlier on the radio.
  • 2010: TSQ (attempt). "I Gotta Feeling" (Black Eyes Peas).
  • 2011: TSQ (attempt). "I Gotta Feeling" (Black Eyes Peas).
  • 2012: TSQ (attempt). Potential candidate: "Louder" (DJ Fresh feat. Sian Evans).

Listening to these titles not only makes me feel good for what they are (after all, listening to music is associated with dopamine release), but also because they remind me of the feelings experienced during a race through some kind of Pavlovian association. This association is subtle, though, since I haven't actually listened to them during the ultras, but rather before, during visualisation-type training. Therefore this music might bring back equally the image I had of the ultra before running it and the ultra itself.

Now the question is: could I use the music during the run to boost myself? I know lots of people do, but mostly to combat boredom. I have tried it only once, towards the end of the second night of the UTMB 2007. The aim was to wake me up as I was struggling, but it was completely ineffective. All I could hear is extremely unpleasant noise, that stressed me out more than anything else. I dropped it after less than 10 minutes.

What's your view on that?

Ultra music

Saturday, June 12 2010

Running in Singapore...

... is tough! First, the city itself is not designed for that, with heavy traffic, frequent and lengthy waits at pedestrian crossings, and diversions due to ubiquitous road works. Once on the marina seafront path though, it was much quieter.

Nevertheless, quite a few people are running and cycling in Singapore. Usually wearing high-tech gear just like in London, and there is a surprisingly large number of racing/triathlon bikes out there. The bike shops usually don't feature many mountain-bikes (I suppose there are no mountains in Singapore, and very little nature left, if any). Instead, carbon-frame triathlon bikes are on display.

An event involving a number of traditional rowing boats was taking place in the marina, boosted by a very loud sound system featuring less traditional music (David Guetta ft Akon, Sexy Chicks).

A few other runners were about, following a relatively conservative pace, some carrying a towel for the sweat.

For the first five minutes, I felt like heat (30°C) and humidity (90%) were not such a big deal. I revised my judgement after 15 minutes, profusely sweating, and decided to slow down. Sometimes a refreshing breeze would help, but often the sun would come out with opposite effects. Things went harder and harder. After 30 minutes, my heart was racing despite having slowed down to a very conservative jog. 41 minutes were enough, time for a cold shower! That little jog opened an avenue of new challenging ideas :)

Back in London tomorrow.

Ultra hot

PS: I hope I didn't write anything too offensive for the Singapore authorities (not über-open), as I had to show my passport to get internet access at the airport. It's free though.

Saturday, April 17 2010


... that would have been my bib number on the Vienna Marathon tomorrow if Miss Iceland had stopped coughing. We told you smoking and running don't go along very well!

Not sure what is going to be reimbursed out of all that. Given that the organisers at Vienna are greedy enough to charge an extra 25 euros on top of the 54 euros registration fee to get a T-shirt (maybe the only big marathon in the world to do that), I guess the marathon entry fee won't be one of them!

Ultra volcanic

Monday, February 1 2010

"Barefoot running strikes back"

A few days ago, Mommas brought to my attention an article questioning the use of cushioned running shoes on BBC News. This was actually a summary of some research carried out at Harvard. The original article by Lieberman et al., entitled "Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners", is now published in the prestigious scientific magazine Nature. The authors recorded the ground reaction force of different groups of people, essentially some habitually shod, some never shod, and others habitually shod but running barefoot (eg. Vibram Five Finger users). The experiment confirmed that rear-foot strike, commonly adopted by modern shod runners, is only made bearable by the highly cushion shoe heels dissipating most of the ground force reaction impact. Barefoot runners will prefer mid- of fore-foot strikes, using their arches and ankles (through their calves) to avoid a hard landing, and potentially restoring the reaction force energy later through a spring-like effect.

Although most conclusions are already known to people showing interest in barefoot running, it is nice to see that a very high-profile rigorously scientific article eventually points out that:
The incidence of [repetitive stress] injuries has remained considerable for 30 years despite technological advancements that provide more cushioning and motion control in shoes designed for heel-toe running.
Ultra Nature.

Tuesday, December 1 2009

Pit stops

Trivial subjet today as I'm rather busy at the moment. Analysis of the finishing year and plans for the next one to be posted soon.

As you know, hydration is fundamental during long races. I've had a few problems with that, latest one during the PTL. That's why most marathon runners drink a lot before their race. Because what goes in must go out, you can typically see runners peeing everywhere, for example in the sea and on the palm trees in Nice. This mostly happens before the race and during the first 5km. Most runners I've talked to mentioned they've indeed stopped once.

Things are different for me though, as I took 4 or 5 pit stops during the marathon, despite going twice in the 15 minutes before the race! That's one or two minutes wasted on my PB :) . I'm not 100% sure why is that, but the answer might come from the sweat. Indeed I've been told several times that I wasn't sweating much as I ran along with friends. My body has probably adapted to waste less water that way during ultramarathons. Could that explain the need to pass more water when I do actually hydrate correctly on shorter races?

What about you, how many pit stops in an average marathon? :)

Ultra leaks.

Monday, October 5 2009

Running in Kyoto

I always feel a bit apprehensive when going for a run for the first time in a foreign country, as it might not necessarily be well received. With Japan ranking very high in ultramarathon (especially in 24 hours races, but they also managed to put 3 runners in the UTMB's top 8 this year!), I was hoping it wouldn't be too bad. And indeed, quite a few people are running in the streets and along the river.

A path follows the Kamo River for about 10km, offering a great opportunity to run a nearly car-free 23km this afternoon. Maps along the path show you how many bridges are left to go and what's the distance to the next one. Great for time splits! Bonus: there is a water point about half-way on the stretch.

The path actually lies in the river bed, as the banks are actually designed to be flooded at times. Otherwise, the water level is relatively low, with lots of aquatic vegetation popping out of the water, and making it a great hunting place for herons. They are everywhere! A few fords also allow to cross the river without climbing up the bridges.

It's a shame I didn't have time to go to the nearby mountains. Looks like there are quite a few opportunities there too...

As I had low blood sugar and was fairly dehydrated on my return, I bought the first sweet drink I could find, which appended to be a lemonade. Or at least a can with a drawing of a lemon and the word "LEMON" printed. After drinking it in a few seconds, I tried to figure out how many calories I had drank, just to realise that the only other English word on the can was "Alc. 6%"... Great, I don't know if you've ever drunk alcohol when dehydrated, but the head doesn't like that too much...

Ultra most eastern run so far

Wednesday, April 22 2009

(Nearly) the end of a four-year ultramarathon

I've just submitted my PhD thesis this afternoon. The viva is still to come.

As suggested by the title of this blog, life sometimes is an ultramarathon, and the last four years certainly were. Just like at the Hardmoors, it all started very gently, looking around at the countryside, enjoying the sunset, without much pressure. Then the night came and I needed to keep more focused. I still progressed well, but I lost the path a few times, although I think I've never been too far off. There were times when I thought about giving up, and there were amazing moments. And there was the final push, feeling painfully slow, when I thought I saw the finish line so many times before I actually stepped across it.

Thanks to you all of you who pushed me towards the finish line.

Hopefully, I should now resume to more frequent blog entries... and training!

Ultramarathon research

Saturday, December 6 2008

70.03 mL/Kg/min

This is the V02max reading I got from the sensor after a bit of noise removal. In other words, the amount of oxygen that each kilo of my body can metabolise in a minute (in millilitres). This is about 5 litres per minute in total. That's a bit higher than I expected, but I'm not sure how accurate this is as we're still novice in using this system, and the output was a bit noisy.

I started to run on the treadmill at 12km/h, then increased the speed by 2km/h every 2 minutes and stopped at 18km/h. In this kind of test, you're supposed to reach a plateau in the measured V02, and that is your actual V02max. I didn't reach such a plateau and was stopped by difficulty to breathe in the mask. This is somehow a known effect: The Great VO2 max Myth.

VO2 mask

This is quite an interesting and fun measurement to take, but I've got the feeling that the results aren't of the highest reliability. It seems highly dependent on your mood of the day and how keen you are to push it. Let alone the 5 calibration stages involving a specific gas mix, a 3 liter syringe and breathing in tempo with fast beeps.

Ultra measure.

Thursday, November 20 2008

Dublin Marathon pictures

A short selection featuring our sexy Cancer Research UK vests and my exclusive Hardmoors 110 Buff. Note that it was sunny. Also note how happy I was on the finish line...

Dublin Marathon   Dublin Marathon
Dublin Marathon   Dublin Marathon
Click on the pictures to enlarge

Ultra happy end of season

Thursday, October 16 2008

Team Sláinte Dublin Marathon Challenge - second call

In case you missed the first announcement, I'll be running the Dublin Marathon as part of Team Sláinte in just 10 days, along with Andy, Dan, Dave, Pete and Rachel. I'm not fully recovered from the Hardmoors yet, but I'm much better now.

We are raising funds for Cancer Research UK and are hoping to reach an optimistic target of £3000. Many thanks to the 50 of you that helped us to reach the half-way point, but there's still a long way to go! Please consider donating, at least to reward us for going out the park in such ... nice coloured vests :) . I've got to say we didn't go unnoticed!

Team Sláinte fundraising page

Team Slainte
Click to enlarge

Many thanks.

Ultra sky blue running vests.

Tuesday, September 2 2008

Team Sláinte Dublin Marathon Challenge

Frequent readers know that I'll try to run the Dublin Marathon at the end of October. I'll actually be running with Team Sláinte (sláinte means "cheers" in Irish), along with 5 other runners.
Half of the team will run his first marathon. It might look like a small business for me compared to the Hardmoors, but indeed, it will take place only a month after the Hardmoors! So it may end up quite tough for me too.

Not being allowed to drink fresh Guiness in its own native city before the race, we will need your support. We'll run for Cancer Research UK in order to help to fund research into a problem affecting many millions of people worldwide. We've set our target fairly high, with a £3000 objective. Please pay Team Sláinte web page a visit and consider donating!

Team members:

Team Slainte - Andy

Team Slainte - Dan

Team Slainte - Dave

Team Slainte - Julien

Team Slainte - Pete

Team Slainte - Rachel

Many Thanks

Ultra high fundraising target.

Wednesday, June 13 2007

Mental preparation

Ultrafondus, the French ultrarunners association, running a monthly paper and a website, started a survey on ultrarunners mental preparation. After replying to this survey, I compiled and translated some of the questions.
  • What is mental preparation?
    Mostly 3 things: The capacity of prior projection into the race, the relaxation just before the race and the lucidity during.
  • What is the proportion of mental preparation in a performance objective?
    It's quite hard to estimate, because mental preparation can be done at any time, in the office, in the tube, before sleeping... I would say roughly about 50%. I guess this proportion increases when the objective comes close.
  • Do you do a specific mental training?
    No, training comes by itself. It's often an advantage, but sometimes a problem as it may not happen (see question on improvement).
  • What kind of training do you do precisely?
    Mostly imaginary conditioning. As an easy start, I simply imagine the route using maps and elevation profiles, as well as pictures and videos. Then I add the hardest possible conditions. For the UTMB for example, I imagined the snow, wind, hail, cold, mud, as well personal conditions such as cramps and hypoglycemia. Reports and stories about the 2003 edition help ... I try to visualise that as precisely as possible, up to a point I can actually feel the same as during the race. I try to see how I could deal with it. Actually it's fairly tiring. It gives the impression that these conditions are known and helps to make them less alarming.
    I also try to convince myself of a couple of strategical points beforehand, for example not to suddenly withdraw, but at least try to walk for a few hours and decide afterwards.
  • What could help you to develop mental skills?
    Maybe a team mental training could help, just as for the physical bit.
  • What techniques do you mostly use during the race?
    When it's not going so well, think about something else, look at the landscape, try to cheer up with simple things such as a glass of water. Try to listen to your body in a positive way to make the pain(s) less ... painful.
    When it's going well, focus on the stride while trying to keep optimistic. Or look at the landscape anyway :)
  • How did you get your mental skills?
    I didn't really mean it. Hiking in harsh conditions, fear of the UTMB, internet forums...
  • What mental skill would you need while racing?
    The lucidity in hard times.
  • What is your best mental skill?
    The race previsualisation.
  • What mental skill do you need to improve the most?
    It seems that my mental preparation is mostly linked to a sort of fear of the race. The mental preparation then comes by itself, as it helps to demystify the objective and I feel better afterwards. So no fear means no preparation... And then I'm in trouble when I don't take an ultra seriously enough. For example, once a race has been run and then known (eg. UTMB 2005), it will look a priori easy the next year. Follows a natural laziness. I should then force myself to work on mental preparation depending on the objective and not on the fear of this objective.
  • What is the advantage of a mentally performant runner compared to others?
    In ultramarathons, there are often harder moments, not to say always. The numerous overtaking runners then make your mental drop quite badly. The tiredness helping, it's quite easy to withdraw at the next water station. A mentally performant runner will ignore the DNF sirens and will simply slow down a bit until it gets better. Probably less stress as well, and therefore a better sleep before the race.
Ultra survey.

Tuesday, May 22 2007

Back to running, cycling and swimming

All three today :)

Following some weird chest pressure after the 3 Forts Marathon, I've stopped running for 2 weeks. I've started again this morning with a gentle run around Hyde Park under the sun. I'll see how I feel with increasing distances.

A while ago, I've bought a road bike in order to train for long distance training whilst keeping my knees shock-free. I've never used it much, because in London it's a bit of a pain... Lately I found the solution: take the train at the nearest station (West Brompton) to get out of London quickly. On Sunday morning I took the train to Milton, a small village South of Guildford and did a nice 66km ride on small countryside roads near the North Downs. I know some of you will say that for such a short distance, there's no real need to take a bike... Although it's mostly flat, there were many short but steep ascents on the way. Also some of these small lanes have big holes that you'd better avoid while bombing down on a road bike...

After 6 months off, I eventually managed to get motivated enough for a short swim this afternoon.

As I cycled in this morning, I can say I've done a triathlon today...

Ultra gentle restart.

Thursday, February 8 2007

Running in the snow :)

As expected, it was snowing this morning (1 to 3cm on the ground). I love the gentle cushionning provided by the fresh snow. London is great for that: pavements are not gritted, even on the bridges, so the snow stays longer. For the first time in years I wore a long-sleeves T-shirt on a short distance run. They're usually reserved for negative temperature or ultras. This therefore was worth a post...

Also, as forecasted by Fred, the transportation seems to be in a real mess this morning. 3/5 airports closed, lots of delays and cancelations on the trains. Many schools are closed and radio stations advise to drive only if really necessary...
Let's face it guys, London's latitude is about 51°30' (ie. closer to the North Pole than the Equator), and we're the 8th February (ie. in the middle of the winter), snow falls are to be expected. Signal failures and broken down trains should follow their usual rate...

Ultra discovery.

Tuesday, September 12 2006

Man v Bus: 3-0

You may have heard of the Man versus Horse Marathon held every year in Llanwrtyd Wells. This is a race where runners compete with horse riders, and now with cyclists as well. In 2004, for the first time a runner beat the horse. Of course, the race is designed in such a way that the man has a chance.

This morning, I decided to run to the College as a gentle start after my injury. During the first half of the route, where I follow the bus' route, I managed to take over on 3 buses :) . And the proper traffic jams are actually located a bit further! It was funny to see the drivers in their cars, accelerating nervously after each traffic light for 30m before seeing me disappearing further away. Again, London is designed in such a way that runners have a (fairly big) chance against cars.

45 minutes on foot, 40 by bus, 24 running, how long cycling ?

More about the Man versus Horse Marathon: Ultra ?

Friday, May 26 2006

Swimming session...

This morning, the Ethos swimming pool was not only quite empty (of people, not water :) ), but for the first time I've seen more girls than blokes: 3 girls but only Theo and me :) . It's good to go with Theo though, because I swim harder, doing more Mommas' style exercices such as 10x 50m start every minute, 100m 4 strokes, etc ...

Ultra useless post.

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