And when I talk about that with my friends, the question that comes up most often is: "What do you think about when running 80 km?!"
If you were asking yourself the same question, let me help you understand what goes through my head when doing this kind of race.
KM 0-10 - DEPARTURE-EXCITEMENT
"Great, I've been waiting for this! I'm going slowly, I'm letting others pass me, I'm following the pace I've set for myself and everything is going to be fine."
"The real race starts at the 50th-kilometer mark, there's no point in pushing now!"
KM 10-20 - FIRST REFUELING POINT
"Already? My goodness, it goes by quickly! With the adrenaline, that first hour of running went by itself! I'm going a little faster than expected, but it's exhilarating to overtake runners. It's good for morale".
I fill up my water bottle, eat some chips, and leave right away.
KM 20-30 - THE HONEYMOON
"Life is beautiful! I already ran for about 20 km and I can barely feel it! All those hours spent running on Mount Royal are now bearing fruit."
I meet ultra-athletes who tell me about their favorite races, their training sessions, their nutritional advice. Nicolas, with whom I've been running since km 5, told me a sentence that stuck in my mind:
"Here are 2 important tips to follow during an ultramarathon: start slowly, and immediately after the start, slow down".
The rare moments when I don't talk, I imagine race scenarios where I'm in front of the best runners in the world and nothing can happen to me!
KM 30-40 - "IT’S GOOD TO BE IN THE WOODS"
"Well, we're not going to lie to each other, I'm starting to feel them, there, all those kilometers. I regularly do 15 to 25 kilometers for training, but after 3 hours of effort and 30 kilometers, it becomes less comfortable."
This is probably why: it's the moment when the body starts to exhaust its most easily accessible energy reserve: glycogen (sugar) and has to start drawing on lipids (fats) to keep going. It is this phenomenon that is at the origin of what is called the "marathon wall" or the feeling of emptiness that runners may experience around the 30th km.
Despite this, I still feel great, the trails are beautiful and I have breathtaking views of the Hautes-Gorges National Park. I maintain my conservative pace to make sure I finish the race and I continue to pass runners, it feels good!
KM 40-50 - "YIKES, I’M JUST HALFWAY!"
"Yeah, I just ran a marathon! 42 km done... But still 38 to go... Almost a marathon and more than 1,000 m of elevation gain to climb.
"I have been feeling my legs heavier for several kilometers now, that jumping over some roots has become more difficult. In short, physically my body does feel tired. Moreover, I just choked on pretzels which made me drink all my water and the next refreshment point is in 7 km or about 45 min... Not an ideal situation!"
KM 50-60: "OKAY LET’S JUST STOP, WHY AM I DOING THIS ANYWAYS?"
For the first time, I am forced to walk for a few minutes. I am just at km 60 and I sometimes wonder if I will be able to put my right foot in front of my left one more time.
Several times I wonder "what I am doing here, why I am doing this to myself". At times I feel that going on for another 20 km is simply impossible.
I tell myself that the goal is to get to the next refreshment point, I think about the soup that will be served to me, the coffee, it warms me up and motivates me.
When this goal seems unattainable, I think of the sign for the next km and tell myself that at that moment I will eat an energy bar. And when it seems too hard, I think about breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.
It's also the moment when psychologically, fatigue is felt. I go through radical mood swings: for 5 minutes I feel great, everything is fine, and for the next 5 minutes I have tears coming up in my eyes and feel extremely weak.
KM 60-70: "IT HURTS TOO MUCH"
The small pains have become very intense. I begin to feel cramps everywhere on my body. The kilometers seem endless. Also, this section of the race has the most climbs.
I take the time to stop for 10 minutes at the refreshment station. To eat well, drink well, rest a little, talk with the volunteers, and I leave walking with a sweet drink in my reusable glass.
For these 10 kilometers, I repeat to myself: "Breathe, move forward, breathe, move forward, breathe, move forward".
I think of nothing. From time to time, I take the time to listen to the pain that has become constant and ask myself if it’s worrisome and if I should stop. I wonder if something is going to tear, if my body is going to let go somehow. I walk for 2 minutes and then, when I'm feeling pretty much fine, I go back to a very slow running pace.
KM 70-80: "BEING THAT CLOSE TO THE END, BETTER TO GIVE EVERYTHING I GOT"
After the 70-km mark, I remember thinking to myself that "now that I've reached that point, abandonment is no longer an option. No matter what happens, I will find a way to finish the race."
This positive vision transcends me!
I start to accelerate, telling myself that no matter what happens, I will finish. If a big pain comes up, I will finish, even if I have to end up walking on my hands.
I'm surprised at how much energy I can muster, I'm moving fast, faster than I've ever run today. I pass several runners who are walking, sitting, or lying on the side of the path.
"I'm going to finish the race, that's for sure!" I'm euphoric and can't stop smiling.
That's it! I can see the finish line, my loved ones. "I've done it!"
This sense of accomplishment is inexplicable. The feeling of being able to do more, of being able to achieve anything by training hard and persevering. Today I ran 80 km, but 80 is just a number. For me, this is rather the concrete proof that I am capable of accomplishing things that seemed impossible to me.
And the good news is that I'm not the only one! What I experienced that day, others can experience as well. Anyone can experience a similar story, on different scales.
It's good to surpass yourself! After an intense effort like the one I just told you about, I make sure to put all the chances on my side to optimize my recovery: a good meal, good hydration, and above all: lots of sleep!
If you want to learn more about recovery, feel free to read my article entitled How to Speed up Your Muscle Soreness Recovery After Strenuous Activity?