48h on a treadmill race report

Treadmill, why would you run on a treadmill?

And why not? After all, I already ran road races , tried triathlon, raced on a track/loop, enjoy trails , but treadmill, this I had never done. It's never too late to give it a try ;)

So I'm entering this unique event : 48 hours on a treadmill. Non-stop. Clock never stops. Thanks to Gérard Cain and Mickael Micaletti. 6 of us on the starting line :

All heavily loaded ultra profiles.

Preparation

Globally, I prepared the same way I do for any ultra. Lots of junk miles to build up then, 2 months before the race, a bit of specialization. Indeed, at the beginning of January, I took a member card at the gym just close to my office. So I could go there for lunch on a standard job day. At the beginning of February, I did to "long runs" on the treadmill (one of 6 hours, and one of 8 hours) where I repeated the beginning of my race and validated I wasn't getting bored too fast, for I suspected this could happen when running in the same place for a long time. The test was a success.

Concerning shoes, I did the same blunder than in last September, 10 days before the race I only have trail shoes at home (not really suited for the treadmill) and worn out road shoes (up to 1000 miles). So I bought new ones just last minute, only a week before the race. On D-day, they look brand new, they only have 20 miles logged. I know this is bad, but I couldn't put many miles on them in 3 days, especially just before a major race. On the other hand, I chose a good old pair of Saucony, and I'm used to wearing those, so there should be no surprise.

Strategy

.plan
My plan, which included sleep on the second night (which I didn do after all) and displays on the bottom left corner the ultimate advice from Wayne Kurtz "Stay on the bike!" (no matter what).

I soon found out that running at the very same speed on a treadmill for... too long, one gets bored, and worn out. I imagine in real conditions (eg not on a treadmill) on thinks one is jogging at 6 miles/hour but in fact sometimes one is running at 5.9 and sometomes at 6.1, so the road/track can climb up, descend, wind can change, in other words, the effort level varies. But here, if you ask 5.5 to the treadmill it will serve you 5.5 exactly, no more, no less, no variation.

So I introduced change. In Antibes in 2010 I had chosen 3 hours cycles, 2 hours ran and 1 hour walked. Here, I chose 2 hours cycles, composed like this:

Today's menu
This was a (supposed to be funny) menu I had prepared to put on the treadmill display, not to be encumbered by numbers when running. "Avance, bourrique!" (written on the plate in the middle) basically means "Move your big fat ass!".
  • half an hour slow
  • half an hour average
  • half an hour fast
  • half an hour walked (slower that anything else)

Globally, I anticipated a decrease in my average speed because, well, one gets tired after some time. So at the beginning I was planning 5.6 mph. And 5.0 at the end. Same thing for my walking speed, it was 4.3 at start and 3.7 at the end. What's more, I tried to avoid speeds around 4.5 mph, which is a typicall average speed but is hard to maintain. 4.5 is too fast for a walk, too slow for a jog. I prefer walking slower, running faster, and alternate to make a good average.

Race context

Briefing
Zen moment before the race. The painting behind me... is now in my living room ;)

I'll never be thankfull enough for race directors and all the people who helped them : we were received with all comfort and attention from Euro Fitness, and the race itself was IMHO very well set up. One might wish to tweak some things, for instance having better real-time informations about runners mileage and instant speed, but globally, everything was done so that it was really easy for us to pile up miles. I lacked nothing. This is also with the help of Valérie, my spouse, who crewed me during all these long hours. The Pro-Form treadmills where arranged in two lines of three treadmills. In front of me, Jean-Pierre and the other Christian. On my right Sharon. The two others (Olivier and William) where somewhat too far, I didn't really get a chance to talk with them during the race.

Ready, set, go

Let's go!
First steps on the treadmill. I had put the official shirt of my former running club (USA), but took it off soon after, my arm pits do not like gears without sleeves.

The first 8 hours where just like training. I did a little more miles than planned (2 I think) because with Valérie it was easier to eat and drink. When training, I had to leave my treadmill every 2 hours to go and open my locker to get new foods and beverages, for instance. Everything went fine. At this stage, I could spot Olivier who made a very fast start. I know him and suspected he wouldn't go very far like this. First he was informed just the day before that he would participate in the race. Second, since the first hour, one can tell he's tired from his face, when he usually looks rather cool. Sharon has the nicest stride of us 6, no doubt about this. And William is having stomach problems, he's sick, it's really hard for him, he can't perform at his right level. Christian Fatton and Jean-Pierre run easy, they're ahead of me.

They went that way!
A typicall example of what fans and crew could see for... 48h.

I just let things go, running my race.

After 8 hours, I'm having trouble following my schedule. So I adjust it. I raise some speeds up, and lower some other sections, taking care that the global average speed remains equivalent. In reality, Valérie does all the calculations for me. She went to sleep in the early evening so that she can be up during the hardest part of the night, at about 3 am, when everyone is longing to take a nap.

First thursday

Thursday is *the* complete day we'll have to run. I'm still moving steady. It's funny to see that on the graphics made with hourly data I look like the most regular runner with constant moving forward, when in fact I often change my page. I'm still sometimes running over 6.2 mph, which is not that common at this stage of the race.

Dust
My shoes where new at start (only worn for 20 miles before). Is it because of that or because of my low stride that there's so much dust on the back? Nice way to catch footprints.

I'm now well engaged into the race, and I'm waiting for the night with patience and dedication. Night which should, I expect, be the hardest part. The second night is always hard. Especially when you don't sleep. Olivier lost his lead, I'm at about the same mileage than Jean-Pierre, Christian Fatton is way ahead. I just wait, keep going, following the plan. Curiously, my fast sections are the ones I enjoy most, I then allow myself to use my earphones and enter some sort of out-of-this-world state, endorphins powered, I run, fly, I feel great. During the walking sessions I exchange jokes with Jean-Pierre.

Salsa lesson

Well, I say "salsa lession" but in fact it wasn't salsa, was some other dance and/or music, something spelled with a "Z". Who cares. Between 7 pm and 9 pm, it's thursday night fever, loud and entertaining music, girls dancing, bit big party at Eurofitness, and I love it! I learnt afterwards that some other runners didn't appreciate that so much, but as far as I'm concerned, I found it great, and I was even waiting, longing for that. The mayor of Evreux even came to run a treadmill with us. But he also did take a shower and put clean clothes on, while we were still running like brainless hamsters.

I got Manu Conraux on the phone. I ask him for pieces of advice for the 2nd night, which is coming real soon. He tells me I should "keep going" and also that it will probably be a "hard time". Oh yeah, great!

It's really hot now, with all those people in the room, I got a fan directed on me, which propels fresh air on my body. Other runners do the same thing. Thierry and Hélène came and see me. They replace Valérie so that she can take a nap and be strong during the rest of the night. This is something magic in this sport, we meet really great people.

In the desert

I handled this night OK I think. Christian Fatton is exhausted. I see him slow down shortly after the 24h mark. I judge he's somewhere below 5 mph, magic is gone, his body is taking over his mind. We cheer him up, but he's stalled. Nobody can do the impossible. I'm slowy filling the gap, mile after mile. Then he goes to sleep. I stay alone with Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre won't sleep. Then I won't either. And then I leave. My head leaves.

Now we're in a garage. I'm having some trouble finding the bathrooms when I stop for a pee. Valérie wrote down what I said, and translated, it gives something like "let's face it, I get lost since we moved to this new gym". I'm having a hard time finding out which treadmill is mine when I come back, I almost step on Sharon's, who's gone to sleep. It takes a long time for me to find the big hudge green "Start" button. I have to use my brain not to press the red "Stop" instead. This is typically when, during a trail race, I wouldn't take any more risk and decide to take a nap along the trail. But here I don't care, there's no real risk. Hopefully, I never fall from the treadmill, no problem, no nothing. A miracle. Or maybe, the mere habit of running saved me from doing a blunder. I run mechanically. By the way, great thanks to Jean-Pierre who very quickly found out I was hallucinating and adviced Valérie to follow me everywhere I went. This was a bright idea. On can tell from this Jean-Pierre is a really experienced guy, used to see runners screwing up.

By the end of the night, I finally offer myself 5 minutes lying down, I'm just becoming crazy. This is a good move, when I "wake up" my brain feel better. I wasn't really asleep, I just let things go for a few minutes. Now the counterpart is that I'm cold, and my legs are hard, hard, aouch', this hurts. I quickly step back on my treadmill. Now ahead towards the morning, the sun, life, and the finish line!

Fight

Just in front of me this morning, Jean-Pierre and Christian. Jean-Pierre is chasing, just behind Christian. He might get the 2nd place, after all. But Christian keeps running strong, and finds hidden forces to maintain, and even increase, the gap between them. Both of them are really giving it all, it's nice to watch. And it's motivating as well.

Since last night, and knowing I didn't really sleep, I'm trying to find wether I can catch the world record. Is it still within range? The problem is that even the slightest increase in average speed costs me a lot. I can manage to move at 4.4 mph, stops (rare...) included, but I'd need to move over 8 mph. So there's only a big fat "half-a-mile-an-hour" to gain, but at this state, it represents a lot. But anyway I can still grab the 390k mark (242 miles).

Last hours
As we were reaching the end of the race, I took off my "menu" and allowed myself to view my speed and mileage. Here, there's a little 10.6 km/h (about 6.6 miles per hour) on its way. Not that bad after more than 40h.

At km 360 (224 miles), as I get the first "intermediate prime" (thanks Techni Chauf!) I feel tired. Valérie reminds me "so what the hell did Manu (Conraux) tell you to do now? Take a rest or try and do your best?". Thanks Valérie, thanks Manu. This is one solid team one can count on. So I placed to strong hours of steady runs at paces well over 6 mph, between 3 pm and 5 pm. Then I'm ahead of my initial target, but I'exhausted. Before those last 4 hours, there was no beginning, no end, only bare running. But now, as the (virtual) finish line is at hand, minutes seem to last an eternity. My brain is full of garbage, I just pile up miles and stack them into rows, each row corresponding to an hour, so they are like little blocks I put in a virtual library. I try and find the equivalent between the duration of the songs I'm listening to and the miles themselves, is there any relation between them? And if I run faster, will the songs take up more or less place on the SD card there are stored on? For the last 8 hours, I took away my "menu" and now I can view the real treadmill display. It's all blue and hypnotizing. I think I'm (finally) getting nuts.

Done
OK, it's over now. I'm back to real life.

And well, even the best things come to an end, some musician friends of mine came and see me (thankts POD!), I see Christian Fatton running his final sprint. I'm happy with a smooth increase of my speed (up to 7.5 mph) to go and get the 395k mark (245 miles). And that's it, the treadmill stops. Valérie did press the button. I hurry up and sit down on my chair.

Good.

Final word

If I had to do it again? I'd do it!

Something to be noted, and because it's rare: I ate very few solid food on this race. Much less than usual. On the other hand I drank and drank gallons of energy drink (pineapple-exotic flavor from Vit'effort). I was drinking almost a full bottle (the kind of bottle one puts on a bike or carry in a backpack) every half an hour, so knowing there are 96 half hours in the race, that should represent something between 10 and 15 gallons.

Thanks to all those who made this possible, and congratulations to Tony Mangan for placing this beautiful 405k mark (more than 251 miles), a record which will make us dream for some more time.

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Copyright © 2012 Christian Mauduit. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
Updated on Sun Mar 04 2012.