Last weekend I attended the 220km Ultrabalaton, probably the longest point to point continuous running event in Europe (except for Spartathlon, of course). It was my second participation in this event, if you want to read more about my first experience, here’s the detailed report. This year I didn’t finish it, I stopped at km 130. What follows is the story of my first DNF (did not finish, in runners lingo).
This year I changed the approach on training, and followed the MAF formula (just google it if you’re curious, there’s plenty of information available). To keep it short, I trained at a lower heart rate for longer periods of time. In theory (and also in practice, as I learned) this approach trains the body to consume more fat than sugar in prolonged effort. That part worked really well and I’m very happy with the result. Another point was to attend longer than 24 hours races, in order to build endurance (I already wrote about my first 48 hours race). Also, I didn’t do any 100km+ races this year, the longest training was 50km, I guess.
I did a lot of research about blisters and changed my shoes and socks a few times until I found a combination which seemed to work well. It did work well in my training environment, but not during the race. More on that a little bit later.
Another part of the preparation was to keep only 3 drop-off bags, not 5 like last year (I didn’t use them all, last year) and placed them in some strategic points. The “most strategic” decision was about my headlamp: to put it at km 78, or at km 128? I decided to put it at km 128, counting on the fact that I would be there at around 10PM. Which I wasn’t, of course 🙂
The weather forecast for the race day was 28 degrees. A bit hot, but not extremely hot. On the field, though, it was very, very hot.
We started at 5:30 AM in the morning, without too many bells and whistles.
The first 20km, Raluca, my girlfriend (and supporter for this race) biked with me. It was practically a stroll. I didn’t really feel like I was running, but more like having fun.
The next 20 km, until I reached the first marathon, were also quite relaxing. The first marathon took me roughly 5 hours. It was half past ten and the heat started to creep in.
The next marathon, until the first big checkpoint, was ran in scorching heat. In the air it was between 34-38 degrees (we were running a lot in the sun, on plain, open fields) and at the feet level it was probably 40 degrees.
That’s where I started to feel that my socks and shoes combination was not a very good fit. I started to have blisters under the toes of both my feet.
I finished the second marathon after 5 hours and 45 minutes, at 16:15. Changed shoes and socks and started to run again, trying to make it on time for the next big checkpoint, which was just 6 minutes before midnight.
The delay caused by the heat was roughly 2 hours. That meant that half of the third marathon was in the dark (my headlamp was at the third checkpoint).
Although I had he same experience last year, this time it felt much more intense. Basically, you run in pitch dark, barely seeing where to put the next step (sometimes you don’t see even that, and hope it will be on ground) and every once in a while you glimpse a light in front (from another runner) or from the back. That was the good part, where we ran on the small alleys near the lake. Because there were also portions when we ran along public roads, and the lights of the cars were blinding me.
Eventually, at 23:10 I reached the third big checkpoint. Turned out that there was a bit of confusion about where is the actual checkpoint, so I was a bit early. I felt so relieved that I decided to spend 10 minutes at one of the massage tables. The blisters were hurting a lot.
After the massage I started to run again, knowing that I have one hour and 20 minutes to reach the next checkpoint, which was only 6 km away. I reached it with 30 minutes before the time limit. To my surprise, a lady from the organizers team came to me and asked for my number, telling me that I was out, because I didn’t make it on time. I was completely baffled, because I knew I was on time. I gave her the race number, but then I checked my phone. Luckily, Raluca just sent me an hour ago a screenshot with all the cutoff times, from the organizers website. The screenshot was supporting my claims, so I went to the lady again and told her there is a mistake. Eventually, they believed me and corrected their time sheets too (probably other runners were stopped before the actual time limit too). They gave me my number back and a 5 minutes time bonus (although we were talking for more than 20 minutes).
I took a bag and started to look after my blisters. Which, unfortunately, looked exactly like one year ago, only 40 km later. Meaning last year I had the same level of damage at km 170, not at km 130.
Then I realized I was on a 40 minutes delay. The next checkpoint was really tight.
I put my shoes on again and started to run, but then I realized it won’t work. Even if would have made it on time to the next checkpoint, my blisters were going to get worse and worse. I had 90 more kilometers ahead. Last year I ran with bad blisters 70 km and it was brutal.
And that’s the pivotal point of the whole race. I decided to stop. (Maybe the whole checkpoint time confusion thing was just the way the Universe was telling me it’s time to stop in order to avoid more damage).
It was a very, very, very tough decision because all other systems were in perfect order. I didn’t have any muscle or joint problems, and although I had covered already 130km, I could easily sustain a 6:00 / 6:30 min per kilometer pace without even feeling that I run.
But the main goal of the race was to finish it without damage. As hard as it was to leave it while I could still move (or crawl) I decided to get out of it, on my own call.
Came back to the organizers and told them I was out. In an hour, a car came and took us from there to the starting point. Although we were at only 90 kilometers away, the trip took 4 hours, because the car had to stop in many locations, to pick other runners who were taken away.
It’s a little over 24 hours since I decided to get out and I feel great, apart from the blisters, but they are starting to heal already. I am not tired, my muscle are not sore, my body is not swollen, it’s like I didn’t even run.
There were many things that worked during this race (and I’m talking about running improvements, like endurance, better body adjustment, and so on) but, obviously, the blister thing is not working yet and it made me leave the race before the end. There are still some things I didn’t do about it, like trying to get some personalized cushion supports, so I guess it’s time to start doing that.
I would like to end this report with a very nice story, not directly related to the race.
This year we stayed at a friend’s house in Balaton (partly because I couldn’t find any free rooms in any hotel near the race, partly because last year I promised I would stay at his house, but never did, so this year I kept my promise). Our hosts were unbelievably supportive and they treated us like family.
The day after the race they were having some friends visiting. One of them was also a runner, and, after breakfast, he went outside for his regular 10km. In 2 hours we got back, covered in sweat, smiling, and with a medal around his neck.
“You know, there’s still some running going on”, he told us, smiling.
Apart from the individual running competition, there were still smaller competitions organized around the start area.
“So, I joined this group, he continued, and ran with them for a few km. Then I got at the finish line, and crossed the finish line with them. Just to have fun, you know? But then they gave me this medal. Just like that. They thought I was with the other runners”.
And we laughed for like 10 minutes.
And at the end of these 10 minute, Karol, that’s the name of our host’s friends, took his medal out and gave it to me:
“You ran 130km, you deserve it”.
And that’s how I got a medal from this edition of Ultrabalaton, although I didn’t finish the race. 🙂
P.S. Please don’t get fooled about the title of this blog post. Although it says “the story of my first DNF”, it doesn’t mean I intend to have more DNFs. 🙂
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