Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
“Nothing in life that’s easy is worth doing because there’s no satisfaction in it… I’d rather lose to someone way better than me than beat someone who wasn’t.”
— Pam Reed, Ultrarunner
As you can imagine, a 24hr race leaves one plenty of time alone with nothing but one’s own thoughts for company. The mind wanders. I started to think about “how nice it would be if the race could just finished now.. 10 hrs is a long enough for anyone to race, isn’t it?” These were the toughest hours, where you begin to question your reasons for carrying on and on. I would have this internal dialogue with myself many times over the course of the night. The voice tests your mental resolve far more than your physical state at this time, and it whispers “you’ve done well coming this far, it isn’t the end of the world if you go no further.” I shoved it to the back of my mind and refocused on staying in the moment. One’s grip on reality is fragile at best at these times. This is where you better have a good “Why?” because the competition at this time is entirely with yourself.
My body was now also doing strange things – in direct contrast to the start of the race, my heart rate range had now dropped worryingly low in the small hours of the night. I rarely touched 150bpm even on the hill, and would fall as low as 115bpm on the easy stretches of track. My body/brain connection had now done a complete U-turn – coupling a low heart rate with a higher perceived exertion.
Many soloists had opted for a sleep break at this time, but these were the best hours to make progress up the leaderboard if one could just stay on track and keep grinding the laps out.
We eventually passed 12 hrs of racing (4am) – the halfway mark; my spirits were raised, and I allowed myself a little cheer as I crossed the start/finish line to complete the lap beyond half distance. I gave myself a mid-race evaluation and knew that up until that point I had skated a good race, stuck to the plan for the most part, and still had energy to go on for a lot longer yet. I didn’t beat myself up too much over the fast stint on the lead-line, or my elevated heart rate for the first few hours. Racing is racing, as I like to say; it’s impossible to control everything, and sometimes when you commit to something you have to stick with it and tough it out. Besides, it had got me to this point, a couple of laps up on where I would otherwise have been.
On Trail Runner Nation Jimmy Dean Freeman had said “In the first half of the race, don’t be an idiot; in the second half don’t be a wimp.” This had become a mantra. Part A of the plan had been successfully adhered to, now for part B.
The London Teams would, without fail, yell “Go Vano!” each time I passed their box (as they had been doing since the get go) on my way to clocking off another lap – if only I could let them know them how much this willed me on each time. And, of course, plenty of them would shout their encouragement as they whizzed past my line (usually on the hill climb). The camaraderie amongst the London skaters really is second to none.
As a solo, you have very little idea of how everyone else is faring; I was aware that Richard & Markus were holding a podium position in the Duo category, and that overnight I had been steadily climbing higher up the solo division as I had envisaged. I told myself that no matter how tired I am and how much it was hurting, there are millions of people who would swap places with me in a heartbeat. “Remember, you signed up for this – no one made you do it.” All these things and more I would tell myself. It’s always the darkest hour before Dawn, and now was not the time to be a wimp.
Some time around 5am, through my bloodshot eyes and dried up contact lenses, I begun to make out the faintest hint of a morning skyline – daybreak was around the corner at last. Watching the sunrise unfold over the next hour and the changing palette of grey, green, purple, orange, yellow, and eventually the blue of daylight, is always enough to breathe new life into even the most exhausted limbs. And just as well, because, although we were well into the 2nd half by now, there was still a long way to go and those limbs still had a lot of racing to do.
Now we would see different race strategies begin to play out. If you had paced wisely, you would hopefully have enough left in the tank to reel in those soloists who had set out too fast, while trying to defend from those refreshed from an overnight break. It’s cat and mouse, nip and tuck, and over the next few hours we would find out who nailed their strategy and who would come up short.
The morning hours are tough! Sleep deprivation is now a very big factor. Some fresh coffee on a quick mini-break helps. I hooked myself onto whatever pacelines I could find, but by now all the soloists were in pretty rough condition and the lines no longer had the same fluidity they did the previous day.
We rolled on. And on. It was forecst to be the hottest day of the year so far, so I was half-expecting carnage in the last quarter of the race.
10am – we reach the three quarter mark and I take stock. I was inching up on my 2014 total distance with plenty of the race left. I was on target for some very good numbers if only I could keep it going. Therein lies the rub – keeping it going.
I stopped and allowed myself a short celebratory rest at, what I calculated from GPS data, was lap 92… 1 lap further than my official distance last year (OK, 2014 was rain-hampered, but still). My goals and perhaps some records were now within sight, and the good news was that there was almost 5 hrs still to go. The bad news was.. there was almost 5hrs still to go. The last stretch of the race is always physically the most demanding, but boistered by the miles already logged, the mind carries you through. “This is where it happens” I said to myself.
An assessment of my physical state revealed that… I was tired. No real surprises there. I had also begun to slowly develop a cramp in my right hamstring, so I took a couple of minutes to stretch it out. My whole day could still be derailed with a sudden attack of cramp at the wrong time. I was also aware that I had begun to pronate quite noticeably on my left foot, and when I tried to get back onto my center/outside edge I found that a blister prevented me from doing so. I marvel at how smart the human bodies is that it will subtly adjust our form in order to protects itself from acute damage. “There’s nothing I can do about it now, and it’s not that bad that it’ll stop me.” I told myself, and continued to press on.
The sun had now risen to its zenith and was turning the track into a cinderblock. Scorchio. It was scheduled to hit 32 degrees in the afternoon. Good, I tell myself, trying to turn a negative into a positive – I put my acclimation hours in, what about you? The lap times began to fall off even more (well, maybe not Powerslide’s so much, but everyone else’s) as we all baked in the merciless heat, but if it was hurting me, I was sure that it was certainly hurting everyone else much worse.
I’m unsure exactly when I passed the 100 laps mark, but once I had cleared that hurdle I gave myself a mental pat on the back – primary goal achieved. “Put your head down and keep going laddie, there’s a few hours left” I said to myself.
I hadn’t stopped much at all – It was ridiculous how little I had stopped. I doubted anyone had stopped less than myself up until this stage. Plenty of others were faster than me, but I was the one who had just kept moving all the time… and I resolved to carry on and just keeping moving… 14-15min laps were more than fine at this stage.
On each lap, a few of the soloists in the paceline would peel off at the water stop to collect a bottle of water, taking a few lugs on it before neatly handing it off to the skater behind. That way, the water would get passed down the line and everyone was able to take a few sips to refresh. Genius. I took the chance whenever I could to douse the back of my neck with water, as well as soak my long sleeves which I had donned overnight – the wet sleeves create a cooling effect that help to cool the whole body (another hot-weather tip from TRN!). The heat was scorching by lunchtime, but with just a few hours of the race left, I was staying out there and getting the job done.
I ran into Jason who, like me, has been going pretty much non-stop all race. We agreed to skate out the rest of the race together, poetically finishing as we had started. Of course, we inevitably linked up with a few other straggling soloists over the next couple of laps and continue to crawl around at a glacial 14-15 minutes per lap. Nobody was in good shape at this stage. The soloist in front of me looked like a drunk jellyfish – his upper body wobbling all over the place. I marveled at how he stayed upright, never mind carried on skating, while doubting that my own form was that much better.
Into the last couple of hours… physically by now I was a complete wreck, but mentally I was in a great place. The hill… let’s talk about the hill for a moment. The hill IS what makes this race so tough. A strip of tarmac half a mile long – which takes 2 minutes to fly up when you are fresh – becomes a death march that crushes your spirit and spits it out when you are tired. There is nothing you can do except waddle up at less than walking pace, knowing that you look completely and utterly ridiculous while doing so. The thing with the hill is that you still have to work and can’t take it easy otherwise you’ll just end up rolling down backwards. As the day progresses and the lines get more exhausted and discombobulated, it’s easier to clatter skaters with others in your line. Still, there are tricks you can do – stepping out of the paceline altogether is not a bad idea, and you must continually use your arms to drive your legs and keep them turning over.
I crossed the start/finish line to enter the final hour of the 15:03pm. Towards the end you can do mental calculations and decide if you want to push to fit in an extra lap, or conserve energy and bank what you already have. I was left me with 57 minutes, and decided that I could only manage 3 in that time. 4 laps would necessitate 4 consecutive 14 minute laps, and that was just a little bit faster than I was able or willing to do at that point. The British Record of 117 was out of reach, but I was definitely on course to break my 110 lap stretch goal, and maybe even 113. At that point I wasn’t really sure of my total lapcount or how close I was to any of these stretch targets – a lap either way could be the difference!
At last, as the clock ticked down, I completed my penultimate lap, and took the chance to applaud all the teams and crew sitting on the pit wall and in the stands as I skate past them one last time by my own. I was left with one last climb of the hill… strangely it felt easier than the last 40 times. At the top I met with the other London skaters in the shade provided by Dunlop Bridge; regrouping with all those who wanted to do the finishing honours. We posed for a picture from the fabulous WoofSnap (who took by far the best pictures of the weekend from of all the official photographers – we are so lucky to have him!), before skating out the rest of the lap and – at last – crossing the line as a group of London Skaters linked arm in arm. At last, it was over.
I savoured the moment. Mission accomplished! These are the moments you remember with crystal clarity many years from now.
The months of training, hard work, and sacrifice had been worth it. I had set my sights higher than I had any right to, and in the process surprised even myself.
In the final shakedown I completed 113 laps (472.9km) and finished 8th in the male solo category, steadily climbing my way higher and higher up the leaderboard through the night. Amazingly, given all the variables, I had equalled George’s effort from 2010!! Perhaps with a perfectly executed race (or had I known that I was heading for 113) I might have put in a last-hour spurt and got an extra lap in, but if you ask anybody who’s ever done a solo at Le Mans, they will tell you they left plenty of time and laps out there somewhere. That’s the nature of ultra distance races; you can always improve. Richard & Marcus consolidated their podium in the Duo – a fantastic effort on minimal training.
The standard in the solo division has gone up incredibly in the last few years – the male winner (not Phillippe – not sure what happened, but he retired early on.. maybe skating in my paceline me broke him.. hehe) set a new record 141 laps, and the female winner (the Great Hilde), set an astonishing new record of 135 laps. Think about that for a moment – many full team of 10 don’t reach that many laps. The competition is astonishingly tough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
All in all, a vintage year. Le Mans always delivers. See you next year?!