A little over a month ago I ran my first ultra-marathon, a 60k race between two cities of Romania: Giurgiu and Bucuresti. It was the last part of a bigger race, involving more than 1000 km of biking and running, over a period of 11 days. All in all, it was a very challenging and rich experience and you can read all about it here.
Actually, it was so interesting that I wanted to repeat it. The last race of the season was a marathon (which I also ran and you can read its story here) but no more ultra marathon races available soon. So, since I decided I want to finish the year with a bang, the only option was to run my own 60k as part of my regular training.
Because it may get tough if you run such a distance all by yourself, I decided to make it an open event and invite whoever might be interested. I picked the place, a big park in the northern area of Bucharest, called Herastrau, made a rough schedule of the laps and posted it on Facebook, as an event. In a few days, 28 people said they will be there. Not all of them participated, in the end, but I was really surprised to see that a total of 12 people took part in this, only to support a fellow runner. But more on that below.
The Preparation: Nutrition Plan And Race Scenario
After I recovered from the marathon, which took a couple of days, I decided I won’t make any long run until this 60k. There were less than three weeks between the marathon and this race, so there wasn’t enough time. I trained lightly, with a few recovery runs, then two speed runs between 10k and 15k and that was it. 3 days before the ultra I didn’t run at all, focusing on resting and doubling my yoga time in the morning.
As for the nutrition plan, I packed around the half of the stuff I took at the first 60k. Interestingly enough, I used less than 20% of it. The entire race was carried with only one energy gel, one protein bar, 3 biscuits, 1 liter of isotonic water and a light meal consisting of vegetables soup and some pasta. That was it.
If you wonder how I carried with me the soup and the pasta, well, the answer is: I didn’t carried them. I asked my girlfriend to meet me somewhere after the first half of the race in the park and bring the food with her. And that’s exactly what she did. I kinda liked this. A lot. 🙂
The initial race plan was to make 10 laps of the park. Each lap had 6k, as far as I knew. But I discovered that a lap had more than 7k, which kinda changed the initial plan. To make a long story short, I ended up with only 8 laps and a bit of street running to make it up to the entire 60k.
I woke up at 5:30 (that’s half an hour after my regular waking time). The night before I put everything I needed for the race on the couch: from the small backpack with food, up to the running gear. I do this every time I run, by the way, I put everything I need in a very specific order, from the night before, in such a way that I could get dressed even in the dark. Sometimes I even do that. My girlfriend jokes about this a lot, asking me if I did my “OCD stuff”.
After the initial refresh and a glass of water, I did my yoga session for about 20 minutes. It’s mainly sun salutation combined with warrior and some twisting. I practice yoga for a few years now, and, since I started to run, I discovered it acts as a very good warm up. I ate a banana and a little bit of tapioca with honey and sesame seeds.
I put all the food in the backpack, took my gear and at 6:30 I was out. The weather forecast was surprisingly warm for this time of the year, with clear sky and a max temp up to 10 degrees Celsius. But when I got out, at 6:30 AM it was 2 degrees Celsius. I had only two layers on me: a technical teeshirt and a long sleeve blouse. When you run, the temperature you feel raises with around 10 degrees, so I geared up for a minimum of 12 degrees temperature.
I fired my GPS watch and started to run. From my place to the park there are 4.5 km. I knew that because I run a lot in that park. But this morning, for some reason, the watch was very slow on loading satellites.
It took around 2 km until the watch finally found the satellites and started to record my race. I got in the park at exactly 7 AM and I had only 2.5 km recorded. It was very dark and I could barely glimpse a few silhouettes standing at the meeting point. There were 5 men already there, waiting. I knew all of them, although I wasn’t very close or friend with them, but we met at various running events or coaching programs. We greeted in low voices. Somehow, we seemed to be very careful with our gestures, nothing more than we need. After a short technical meeting (meaning I told them what the goal is, where are we going to run and how fast) we started to run silently.
The first 3 laps were absolutely magic. We spoke a bit during the first lap, to break the ice, but then we just ran. Silently, at a comfortable 6:10/km pace. We were all experienced runners, with at least one marathon in our shoes (some with a few ultra-marathons) and so the steps were heard like a gentle, but firm, touch on silk, in a monotonous, almost hypnotizing, rhythm: spleatch, spleatch, spleatch, spleatch.
At the end of the first lap, the sun rose. And it soon became obvious the weather forecast was right: it looked like a wonderful day.
As we ran in the park we met other runners we already knew and we greeted each other. At times, it felt like the park was just a huge backyard where neighbors and friends were meeting. In the second part of the race, this feeling became even more powerful, as time went by and I was getting more and more familiar with the smallest details of the running course.
Some runners from our group even joined other runners for half of a lap or more. It was like: “hey, can I run with you guys?”, “hell, yes, come on!”. And then, after they were running with the others, they were joining the big group again.
Starting with the second lap more an more runners were joining. But there were also runners splitting, so the group was pretty much the same size: 5-6 people.
Somewhere after the 4th lap (km 30) I started to feel a little bit of a pain. I started to have difficulties keeping the pace and the pulse was steady around 165 bpm. A big part of my thoughts were centered around calculations. There is a time in every race when you start thinking: how long do I still have to run? How fast should I run? And then you start watching your time every two minutes and calculate everything in your head only to realize it was wrong and then start over.
The 5th lap was kinda difficult. I was waiting for the food and I was concerned I wouldn’t make it on time to the meeting point. It turned out I was there a bit too early and I had to wait like 10 minutes. The good news was the wait was well worth it: the soup (warm and tasty) was incredibly good and then the pasta was just what I needed.
After I ate I started to run immediately (I had some energy boost and I felt very confident) but I soon realized it would have been better to wait at least a few minutes. Didn’t have stomach problems, but an overall feeling of being bloated and a bit of heavy breathing. After the 6th lap I was at around 44km and that was the moment I knew I will finish.
The physical part was not very good, I had strong pain in both my feet and I had to stop and walk a bit every 1-2 km. But at that point I knew I’m going to finish even if I’d have to crawl.
Between the km 35 and 50 a few other people came and joined me, mostly girls, this time. That was a very nice change in energy, after the testosterone boost I had in the morning. We chatted a lot during running and the weather kept putting sunshine on the course. The last 10 km were really fun, very nice atmosphere and tons of endorphins. I still had some pains and breathing problems, but I wasn’t so concerned about them anymore.
After I finished the 8th lap I still had 1.5 km to go until 60. Technically, I was already at the finish, because in the morning I ran 2 km without being recorded, but I didn’t like the idea of stopping the race at 58.5 km on the watch. It just didn’t feel right. So I ran the last 1.5 km on the streets, on my way home.
An interesting thing happened at km 59.5: my watch gave me a warning: “low battery” that I never saw before. I realized I was running for more than 7 and a half hours. Believe it or not, that warning on my watch gave me more boost than any energizing gel. The thought that my watch could die before recording the last 500 meters was so terrifying that I literally sprinted.
And then, for the rest of my way home, like 3.5 km, I walked briskly, using this walk as my unwarming session.
Once home I recovered with a warm cocktail of water, cinnamon, turmeric and ginger (it helps reduce inflammation). I ate another portion of soup and pasta and then slept for the next two hours.
After I woke up (it was already dark outside) I went through the regular body check: no blisters, no black toe nails, no articular problems. A bit of nipple chafing and a few friction lesions on the back, but nothing serious. All in all, a very positive outcome if you ponder that I just finished a 60 km race.
Overall, I felt tired and very, very happy although my legs were hurting big time, but that wasn’t something completely unexpected.
And that was that. 🙂