Last week-end was Grenoble 24h race. Running laps around Parc Mistral, that sounds so stupid that just noone wants to believe it really happened... :-)
7am, I wake up early to watch the rugby game supposed to give me energy. Well, not really... Plus my Garmin battery strangely died during the night, emergency charge in the morning makes me late to the start, and there's no bed left in the hall. Well, I just won't sleep then!
10am, start for about a hundred runners from the speed loop. So far so good, I try not to get carried by the pace of faster runners. Quietly jogging, a bit surprised to see on my Garmin that I'm still way faster than 10km/h. After only 3 laps, THE question arises: can I really keep running laps like this for another 24h? And then I forget it and will never wonder again.
10 km after 1h, 18km after 2, I slow down progressively to 9 km/h, also counting stops at the CP to eat a little (main food over the week-end: a raisins and almonds mix) and mainly to drink: it's starting to get hot here. 30°C in the arvo. Fortunately they have set up two water basins with sponges so we could pour water over ourselves while running. I quickly get one sponge and won't leave it for the rest of the afternoon. I was soaked all arvo but never suffered from the heat, contrarily to others. But my knees start hurting, and I pour cold water on them too. I also start alternating walking on the concrete and running on the softer sandy ground. Seeing me stretching a bit too, a volunteer tells me about the massages given by physios in the hall. So to celebrate my marathon after 5h (while the head of the female race is at 65km already by then) I take a (first) massage break. Noone is queuing yet so in only 20mn I'm back on the track. Next targer is 77 km before sunset, then 100km before midnight. I'm not even thinking about these girls in the lead group, they're like "real" runners, pros, in another league.
To save my knees I keep alternating walking (along the avenue on the concrete) and running from the sandy track along Palais des Sports, then around the speed loop, through the finish area, and until the aid station beside the hall. Then when getting more tired I start walking the section on the concrete at the back of the speed loop too. Around 4pm Fabien and Aurelia come to support, Fabien runs one lap with me before going. Good timing to keep me going! Later I start chatting with Greg, the boxer. Soon after my battery dies and I have to run with the mobile charger. Around 8pm I reach 77 km and finally get the massage break I had been dreaming of for ages. This time there's some queue which I take advantage of to sit down, read my messages for the first time, give a call, and also put some Nok on my feet and change socks.
After about 40mn break I start again in the night, with my bike jersey on top of my shirt, it's not too cold yet. Target is 100km by midnight, not so far but I'm walking more and more and my feet start seriously hurting. Around 9pm Fabien is here again to walk the dog, runs a lap with me and goes again. I finally reach 100km at 20 past midnight. When I cross the line and my name displays on the screen with the 100 distance beside it, I clench a fist and say "100" out loud, super happy, before going straight to the physio. I'm quite tired now, remove my shoes, give another call. No luck, two girls who were massaging someone just before tell me they are done now and leave. I lay down on their table anyway while waiting, and drowse a bit. Then the teacher of the physio students (Jean-Max) arrives to give massages too, my turn comes earlier. He says he will be there until 3am. I also go to first aid to get some cold spray on my knees and feet and go again after almost an hour of break. It's 1.15 am. No more intermediary target anymore, just the final 150km target. Now wearing the polar fleece because of the contrast between the heated hall and the outside. A cup of tea to get me going, and a cup of mashed potatoes on the go. A group of students is partying on the steps of the Palais des Sports, with music and alcohol. But they are always nice to us, encouraging us, all the more me with my number 51 :-)
I had only done a few loops when I started talking with Yves who was walking too. But a few meters further he suggests quickly starting running again before getting sucked into the walking pace. So here we go together at 8-9 km/h for 5-6 laps, and me all amazed that I can still run after 100 km. After 6km I have to let him go and walk a bit to recover. Several times during the night when he passes me I try to run a few hundreds meters with him again. Then at 115 km, at almost 4am, I start completely cracking mentally and go back to the hall to get another massage, a bit disappointed to have done only 15km since the last one, but wanting to go before the physio leave. Fortunately Jean-Max is still there with his last student standing. I litterally crash in the waiting queue, remove my shoes, and give a call to Bernie. At this point I'm wondering if I shouldn't rather stop and sleep, but he asks if I could do 14 more km before explaining that this is the distance to catch first senior female, Maria Ilaria, who seems to have been sleeping for the last 3 h or so. But right then she appears in the hall, waking up and ready to go again. I still decide to get the massage to hopefully recover from the hell of the last few kms. Then cold spray again, polar fleece, and phone in my pocket this time.
I have slowed down quite a bit, walking speed is around 5-6 but running speed is barely at 7-8 km/h. I also start to suffer quite a bit from what I think is a periostitis on my right shinbone, but then it makes me forget about my knees. I still pass Maria Ilaria two times in a row, encourages her the second time, and then don't see her anymore. So next time I pass her italian friend I ask him (in Italian ^^) about her, and understand she's sleeping but ok. Hope ! :-) So I go twice as hard to try to catch up the 14 laps advance that she has, and give hourly calls to Bernie to check the results from the Web. At 7am I'm only 2 km behind but she's still sleeping. Or rather was. Because that's right when I see her again. But at 8am I am now 1 km ahead ! I'm so happy, I tell Daniel the speaker about it next time I pass the line, who answers me that he's gonna check. Which he does, and next time I pass the line he announces me in the mic as the leading senior female :-D I pass the line with raised arms, under the encouragements of the Tamil Nadu association who is supporting me. I now feel great and go hard. One volunteers notices that I was wobbling a few hours ago and now running like crazy :-) In answer I tell him that's because I'm first. I tell about everyone actually :-) . I run again with Yves at some point, and mention my hurting ankle, rhetorically asking if it's worth stopping for a massage, but we agree that being that far, it's not worth bothering anymore. I don't have any minute to lose anyway, with Maria Ilaria just behind. After passing her again, I thought I was 2 laps early, but I then hear in the mic that she is only one km behind. Need to fight...!
Around 8.20am, as I was walking on the concrete by the avenue, she suddenly passes me running. Knowing that next time she passes me she takes the lead, I decide to keep up with her and start running as well. Speed : 8.5 km/h. I follow her for a few dozens meters but my ankle really hurts too much, and I have to resign myself to let her go along Palais des Sports. A few minutes later I can see her on the speed loop, it feels like she just left me in the wind and gained half a lap on me in just seconds. As a consequence, felt down big time, convinced it was over for me, I could never reach 150 km anymore, and in addition I was going to lose the first place just before the finish. I completely crack mentally and call Bernie to my help, telling him I just wanted to lay down on the next bench and sleep till 10". Of course he disagrees and pushes me to keep going. After a while I get angry and hang up. Then I keep shuffling around a few laps, miming how exhausted I am to my supporters. Mickael also comes back (he had come the day before to support and photograph his team and his girlfriend Stéphanie who then had to abandon on injury. So he was doing laps in reverse, a lot of them, with a word of encouragement for us each time). He walks with me for a bit, encouraging me again while I complain about my ankle. Later, as Maria Ilaria still hadn't reappeared behind me, I start worrying that if she has to pass me at some point, I'd rather it not being at the last minute of the 24h... Then I start thinking that she might not pass me at all, after all. And with hope back, I resume speed walking, since I really can't run anymore with the current state of my right ankle. But despite being only walking, I'm still bordering on 8km/h. All the more when Maria Ilaria finally appears behind me, just behind, less than 50m, on the track along Palais des Sports. Right away my reflex is to run off, it's precisely my favourite section, the little downhill on the sandy track. I won't run very far but enough to put some distance between us. From this moment, I keep looking behind to check if she's approaching, and I see the distance growing until I completely lose sight of her. Even then I keep focused and push as hard as I can, checking my speed all the time.
I meet Greg the boxer-runner again who had disappeared all night to sleep on hurting knees, and is now back to finish the race. I also pass Arnaud, one of the youngest runners (1988) who I had talked with at the pre-race pasta party; he comments that I'm like a pro, still committed all-out till the end, so I explain him that I'm chased by the second senior. And I get a feel of what it is to be one of these pros who can lead a race: it's tough work :-) Yves keeps passing me from time to time, on the tracks to his 210km goal, and still pushing me to my 150km one, still possible he says. Mickael is also encouraging me, as well as Maryse (the wife of Stephane the 2009 UTMB runner I talked to at the pasta-party too, whose distance goal when asked was to do "24 hours"). I also talk to several girls, Sylvie who will be 3rd senior female with 102 km, Josiane... Everybody is friendly. It's almost 10 now and I'm counting minutes till I'm finally allowed to stop. 15 mn before we are given wooden sticks with our bib number to mark our final position for measurement. I will still have time to run two laps with it, the volunteer at the corner of palais des sports telling me goodbye asking me if it was my last lap, I told him maybe one more, and indeed was back, The 150km mark is getting closer but I'll be too short on time. Anyway at this point the only thing that matters to me is to stay first senior female. In the meantime the first male passes the 240km mark. When I reach the speed loop for the last time, Daniel the speaker encourages Maria Pierre, the first female overall (she's veteran) who is about to pass 200km: "Go Maria, 700 more metres in 3 minutes 30 !!". (she will end up with 200 km and 18 m, but unhappy because she was aiming at 212).
I pass the line a last time, the excitement grows, I'd like to sprint in front of all the people who now crowd there. But instead I have to walk, walk around the tiers/bleachers of the speed loop, back behind them towards aid station. The final countdown starts "10...9...8...7...", I turn left towards the avenue, "5...4...3..." the volunteer at the corner calls me with open arms, I so want to run, I try, run 3 steps, back to walking "2...1...0 !" It's over! I drop my marking stick on the ground and crash beside it stretched out, I won't go a single metre further anyway.
I could have stayed there for a while, wasnt it for the two volunteers from the near aid station who come to pick me up and help me to a chair there. And there I break down in tears, of both exhaustion and joy. I won! :-D Some volunteers worry and ask if I'm ok, they bring me water, offer to bring me food. That's when I realise that I had been so focused on my race for the last 2h that I hadn't stopped at the food station and hadn't eaten or drunk anything since daylight. I stay collapsed on my chair for quite a while, until Piero the organiser supports me to the physio (can't walk anymore...). Jean-Max is still here, he spent all night there! He takes care of my muscles (and did great because they weren't even sore the next day). Then sends me to first aid where they ice both my ankles. I lay down like this on a bed there talking with the rescuers until Fabien arrives again for the prize giving ceremony. Climbing the podium is a challenge for several runners : Maria Pierre had to be carried to the top step, and Sylvie helped me up and down mine too.
Then is the post-race buffet, smart idea to organise a standing buffet ^^ But Martine and all the Tamil Nadu association take care of me, bring me a chair and a plate ^^ Later Fabien comes back with his car and crutches, great idea! He has to wake me up to leave the almost empty already hall. I say good bye to Piero and the organisers before shuffling to the parking on the crutches. I would have had a hard time walking home indeed... Thanks Fabien! But my lift is still broken since 2 weeks, so had to walk up the 6 floors, tough... After the shower, I hurt too much to even be able to sleep, for a few days. But still too happy about my race.
So thanks to Piero and all organisers, thanks to all the volunteers at the food station or on the course who always had a word of encouragement, thanks Daniel for the animation during 24h, thanks Jean-Max and his physio students for the massages, thanks to all other runners and in particular those who I got a chance to talk with, thanks to all the people who came to encourage other runners but still had nice words for me, thanks to Martine and the association "Enfants du Tamil Nadu", thanks to Fabien for the visits and the two laps run with me, thanks Bernie for the support and live info over the phone, thanks to all who supported me.
And now, rest time!