Τρίτη, 8 Νοεμβρίου 2011

My "no plan" 100miles mountain run: ROUT 2011

It has been 2 weeks already since my participation at Rodopi Ultra Trail (ROUT) 100miler. This is the first race in which I have applied (following my blog post a few weeks ago) a "no plan" approach. I started the race with no pacing plan and even further, just a quick look at the altitude profile and the space between support stations. This is a special race with lots of trails and sparse support stations: only 6 stations for 100 miles. Also it offers an experience of isolation, since there are only two village crossings and at the same time with only 63 participations it is guaranteed to lonely in the trails.

I arrived at the registration area just the day before the event (actually early afternoon). Set up my camping tent with my buddies at a very nice spot near the start line.  I tried to avoid any discussion about my plan (non existent) and details about the course. It was clear in my head that I would run only by feel. The race does not have any requirements regarding equipment and accessories. So it is a good opportunity to follow your instinct and go according to your own needs. So my pack included 1lt of water (when needed I could go up to 2.3lts), some sandwiches, bars and gels, as well as minimal clothing, a light wind-stopper jacket, a pair of gloves and a light wind stopper over-trouser. The weather forecast was very favorable for the whole duration of the event. I also packed my GPS and two headlights. Some more clothes and food was packed at my drop bag that I would have access at two spots during the run (69 and 123km).

At 06:00am Friday 63 runners were forming a small friendly group ready to start. A light breakfast was already in the belly and the weather even though cold, it was just fine given the early morning start. In my mind I have adopted a very simplistic approach: It was just one more long run at a very easy going pace. Did not know much about the altitude profile or the terrain, but... nothing could go wrong!

Started my run at a very relaxed pace. For the first few kms I was among a group of 8-10 runners leading just behind the leader who was already out of sight! A call to nature delayed me a bit, but after a couple of kms I was back in the group. The weather was really promising! My backpack contained only water, calories, two retractable running poles and a GPS. Around 3kgr in total. One more stop to get rid of my light wind stopper and then on the move again.

The feeling of the sun raising and the clear blue sky was very nice. It was not too hot or too cold. Around 12-14deg C. Hydration needs were normal, which was very important. After the first 10 kms I found myslef running alone for a while. I was going at my own pace feeling like I could go on for ever. And that is how I kept going. Around km 30 I caught up with a group of 3 runners, two of them familiar, Makis and Dimitris, along with a third rookie in ultra trail runs. We were running a bit like accordeon, opening and closing the distance from uphill to downhill or from check point to check point. I had this pleasant feeling and I did not care much about the pace or how much distance I have covered, or what was lying ahead. I had this pace of "going on for ever", and that was enough for me.

The route was magnificent, in dense vegetation, forests and on trails or forest roads. A couple of steep downhills were making me a bit more cautious not to overstress my quads, even though at one point it was really demanding and reminded me a lot of UTMB inclination. It was the long downhill of Oksia which challenged my quads for a while. But after that, everything was more gentle again. What is interesting is that I never got too anxious about what was coming up next. I had almost no clue. Dimitris was familiar with the route and from time to time he was revealing some details of what was ahead, but that was it. My mentality was, that I can take whatever comes! Weather was on our side. At some point I was running critical on water, but as long as I used my last drop of water, after 10 minutes we crossed a nice stream an was happy to refill my camel-back.

My approach was working fine. I had no ups or downs. Usually at km 80 I start feeling a bit discouraged, being half way through the run and feeling a bit tired makes you wonder how are you supposed to manage the 2nd half. This did not happen. My explanation resides to the fact that my "no plan" approach removed one complication from my run: I had nothing to compare with! There was no point that I would say that I am going a bit faster than the plan, or any point were my slow pace due to tiredness would make me think that I am falling behind my plan. This was a revelation to me. These thoughts are multiplying your emotions when in a race. So ... I did not have this effect!

Night came and we were at km 80. Our pace was spot on for sub 30 hours. But I tried to keep this kind of calculations out of my head. The guys (at that point we were reduced to 3 in total - the young fellow slowed down wisely), were a bit surprised at our pace since they had an estimation in their mind when they started and it was nowhere close to 30hrs! Anyway, we kept going. Night goes by faster than day! Senses are more alert and the last thing you think about is the time or the uphill that you meet. The only thing that I do not like about night time, is that I am missing some nice views!

The weather was fine. Temperature was close to zero, but it did not matter as long as we kept moving. Warm soups at the few aid stations were more than welcomed (caution... not too hot!). We were moving at a constant pace and before we realized it, we were at the end of the loop (the route consists of a tail and a loop - the tail is the part that we go out and then we do it again when we return towards the finish). A fellow runner, Christos, was catching up with us from station to station, but our fast walking pace at some parts was too much for him since he as shorter than the three of us.

The early morning sun found us at the last major station before the finish line: Prasinada! We were consistent for a sub 30hrs finish. Legs were ok, no low point feeling for me and we were exchanging motivation bursts with the guys trying to speed up a bit. After we passed the 130th km mark, I did not care much about anything. I knew that I had a very pleasant run with friends. The last 30km could not change that and I was confident that the finish line was in sight.

Well... this race has a special finish! Consists of a steep uphill starting at km 146, just 20km before the finish! This is a quad killer! Imagine a total of 1000m of climb (incline of 16%) while you are already at the 148 km in the race... We started going up all happy and psyched about our imminent sub-30hrs finish. Half way to the top of this uphill, even though we kept eating consistently, our legs were totally burned! No bad feeling or frustration, since the finish line was very close... But legs were really struggling to keep pushing upwards. A sort flat and downhill break, made us laugh at the sight of the three of us, not being able to run the downhill trail! And then it was again all the way up! By that time we have totally forgot the 30hours goal. just 12 kms before the finish and yet feeling our legs heavy as anchors.

We got to the top. As I said, there were no hard feelings in me. Just some heavy and empty quads. I knew that there were 7kms left of a slightly uphill route but normally, completely runnable. We have agreed to finish all together. We were position 4-5-6 in the ranking. I was suggesting some running intervals every now and then, trying to find some nice motivational excuses for the guys. Always in races like this one, I start feeling the finish line anxiety in the last few kms. I had it now as well, but we were a team the three of us and we would go together. A great team it was!

Just crossed the finish line. Me in the middle.

We crossed the finish line all together, running and happy, at 31hrs 42min and ranking 4th all three of us (yes... we are organizers' ranking nightmare). I must admit that this was the endurance run with the less low points I have ever done! Following my analysis of the no plan approach I would say that I need some more ultra running events to finalize my opinion. One thing though is clear: Planning creates one more complication in our mind. It is up to us to make good use of it or not. But it is certain that a plan will amplify your feelings when you realize that you are deviating from it. My next ultra running event, will be without plan as well. I enjoyed ROUT a lot!

I fell asleep during the massage session after the finish. Legs were just fine the very next day. Three days after was able to go out and run again, but managed to constrain myself. My annual 4 weeks "off" period has started.

38 finished the 100miler out of the 63 who started. The event is one of these casual, no-fireworks ultras but also with a sufficient and well planned organization. I ate some sandwiches of banana-bread with peanut butter and honey, 4 sesame bars, 5 nature valley bars, 10 gels (I found very efficient the High5 4:1), some salty crackers and several dozens of sugar jelly beans. Drunk about 10 liters of water and another 2 liters of isotonic.

Yes... I did carry all my garbage packaging all the way back to Athens. 
Here you can get an idea of the remains!
Jelly beans frenzy.

Saturday evening, I packed my tent and moved to the nearby city of Kavala to sleep at a friends house and spend some time in the sea-side city. Sunday evening was back in Athens and the whole stream of news about the crisis was all over the place. At least we got some peace of mind, a nice winter jacket with our name embroidered on it, and a long lasting experience up on the trails of Rodopi.

A big thank you to the organizers. Race details: www.rout.gr

2 σχόλια:

  1. Thanks for sharing Leo... its really nice to read how ones mind set was during this tough ultra... Congrats on your race and performance...

  2. Your "No PLAN" helpded you to reach the finish line in the 4th place with other "two tough guys".

    For 2012 will follow the same approach?