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Monday, October 4, 2010

24 Heures d'Arcueil.

"How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?" True and resounding words from Tyler Durden. Of course I use this quote from a non violent perspective but what do we really know about ourselves unless we go into battle? We all have a fight to face and the only way to do it is to strip off the gloves and face it down. Running 104 miles (4 marathons) in 24 hours was my own personal crusade and last Saturday-Sunday I learned more lessons than a lifetime has taught me. Here is how it all went down at last Saturdays 24hrs d'Arcueil......

(group photo, forty of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet)

My cousin Johann stopped by to pick me up at 8 am and as I waved goodbye to Alicia and Dylan from the pavement I wondered what lay ahead. I had barely slept in weeks due to Pearls nocturnal restlessness and the fact that I live in a building where my neighbours motto is "ignorance is bliss" only exacerbates the fatigue. That aside I was still harbouring some physical doubts as my recent marching up steep trail inclines with gusto had been replaced by a slumberous gait I was having difficulty becoming accustomed to. My body was not feeling that esprit de corps that felt so natural during the late summer months.
But what the hey? I signed up for it so it was all or nothing.
Upon arrival at the stadium I was very pleased to meet Mireille and Phillipe who were the organisers of the event and finally putting faces to the names was like meeting old friends. The total number of runners was to be 40 and tents were erected in rows to fit between 4-6 runners in each one, basically a space with a table and chair where we could store the mountain of energy gels, food, drinks and spare clothing necessary for an event of this magnitude. I just sat around with Johann chilling and sipping water whilst speaking to some of the athletes in the neighbouring tents. It struck me immediately that there were some novices (me for one) and some well-weathered hardcore 24hr racers. Holy guacamole, I had never felt as out of my depth in my life. The final half hour passed before I had time to realise that the start beckoned, it was time to face the clock.
The banter and jovial atmosphere at the start line was very different to the calm concentration I have witnessed at other events. It was almost like a self congratulatory ambiance of having made it to the start of a 24hr race, I felt privileged to be amongst these people and their encouragement over the next 1440 minutes would define my weekend.

(at 50km's and feeling strong)

It started predictably cautious and slow paced, who wants to burn themselves out early on anyway? I did not have a watch as my Garmin died a week before and I was only listening to my body clock. The first thing that struck me was the fact that the monotony of it was way beyond anything I had perceived, in one sense I was wishing the clock at the finish to tick faster so I would have less time on this human hamster-wheel, but in other ways I was covering ground whilst time moved slowly. Oh boy, this was my thinking after only two hours. I kept my pace the same and by averaging 9km's per hour was pretty happy that my goal could be achieved. It was clear even at this early stage who the major contenders were and I could only marvel at their rhythmic leg turnover and they lapped me as if I were going forward in reverse. Still, patience is the one thing you need and I was prepared to wait it out.

I decided after five hours on the run around to pull out the Ipod and get some tunes going, in retrospect it was a bad idea as my friend Graeme had advised me to save the tunes for times of struggle. Also the tempo of the rock music I had picked (Muse, Pearl Jam, Tool, Deftones etc) was pretty high beat and once I got it cranked up I could feel my step come alive, I was starting to cruise at the 50km mark and knew in the back of my mind I had too far to go before upping my lap speed. But continue to run with abandon I did for the next few hours and once I hit the 80km mark after about nine hours on the trot it all started to come undone.

Now just to tangentially sideline here its vital to let you know one fact. If you want to cover 100 miles one must have all nutritional needs completely dialed, locked in, set in stone and nailed to the f**cking wall an so on. This means ingesting a few hundred calories an hour.There are amazing gels and bars and drinks that will give you all you need but there is no real substitute for wholesome and natural fodder. And here in lay the start of my biggest problem, my lack of caloric intake was bankrupting my body and quickly consigned my effort to a quarter of what it had previously been operating at. I had hit the wall in spectacular fashion and any attempt to pass anything by my lips was met with doubled-over retching. Water became impossible to hold down, every gulp erupting back up like some Vesuvius-type-geyser. And so, hunched over the edge of the track spewing and gagging until I could feel the colour drain from my face, I resigned myself to the fact that my race was pretty much over.

(hitting my stride with two hours left)

I spent the next two hours trying to make it to the 100km mark, I have previously covered 100km in twelve hours but when I limped, crawled and wobbled, (stinking of vomit) past the start/finish at two am and after fifteen hours on the move, I wanted to die. I cursed myself for the mistakes I had made, for going ahead with this foolish endeavour knowing deep down I was not ready for it, my mind was a powder keg of raw emotion and I went straight to my lap counter and said "Je suis finis". Done and dusted at two in the morning, my body broken. This searing, punishing feeling of defeat permeating every fibre of me. I pulled out my sleeping bag beside the track and wrapped up warm as the other brave souls ploughed on. My plan? get up and get the hell out of there at first light.

What transpired after six hours of sleep over rode any negativity and it showed me why quitting is a concept I have no desire to become acquainted with.

(the last half hour, two minute laps in full flight)

(an impression of my, ahem, puking, minus the dramatic music, alcohol and chiseled jaw-line)

And so, after twitching, shivering and continuing to be sick inside my sleeping bag I emerged from my cocoon at eight am feeling slightly stiff and guilty. The guilt coming from that fact that as I lay passed out the majority of the runners braved the night and steadily added distance to their tally. In my pub crawling days I was always the first one to say to my friends "sleeping is cheating". The need to atone for my rest fired me up and I still had two and a half hours left (after drinking some water, changing my clothes and eating a few slices of ham) and thought I might as well give it lash. The next two hours were so joyous and pure that the runners high took on new meaning. I found my legs on auto-pilot for about and hour and realistically thought that if I can't make four marathons I might just scrape three! I saw my buddy Sandy hobbling along and was in awe of the fact that he was not quitting and had not slept at all, his resilience gave me a boost and in him I knew I had found a kindred spirit. We chatted briefly and decided that with a half an hour to go we would team up and relentlessly push ourselves to the edge. And that's exactly what we did. A voice came over the loudhailer and proclaimed that ten minutes remained, Sandy blew past me so fast I wasn't sure my voice could travel fast enough to catch him and ask him to wait up. But he was teasing me and when I did catch him we banded together and stride for stride started belting the shit out of our lap times. I think that we probably knocked 5-7 seconds off each lap until we were cruising 1:50 a lap. When I asked Sandy how he was doing it his response was "It's automatic at this stage". The gun was fired for the last minute and I was galloping so hard that I could feel my insides getting ready for an encore. Luckily I held it down long enough to cross the line with Sandy's hand in mine (video:Sandy Simoneau)

I think it would have been easy for me to look at the negatives and where I went wrong but I finished faster than I ever imagined and covered 125.6 km's. It may have been well below my projected goal but for a first pop at this discipline I am happy enough. I am happy because I had to rethink my attitude and re-wire my thought process in order to climb a wall that there seemed to be no way over. No amount of quotes or inspiring anecdotes can get you over that slump, you just have to bite the bit and push through the pain until it becomes a familiar agony. I still aim to break a hundred miles but I am just not sure that on a 400 metre track is the way to do it. I salute Michael who was a deserved winner and it must be noted that when I was at my lowest he actually stopped at midnight (in second place, seven km's behind the leader) and placed a hand on my back to see if I needed help. He could have chased down the front runner but instead was there to help a fellow competitor. Chapeau. To the organisers I thank you profusely for the atmosphere of kindness that made it more than just a race. I am hoping I will see you all again before too long. Congratulations to Michael BIARD for the win with 203.2 km's and the female winner Samia TIFEST for her amazing race of 181.8 km's. The weather on Saturday was extremely wet and windy and kudos to all who gave it their best.

The words "See you round the bend" don't quite cover it this time ;)



  1. Just amazing Mally, you did great. Don (Tullamore)

  2. ok so this was exactly years ago. A track, yipes, no way baby. I love reading every bit of it.


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Running for Pearl

This blog is dedicated to my daughter Pearl who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in August 2009. My goal is to raise funds and awareness by doing what I love....Running.