Ultra Lesson 3: just keep on running
The heat is killing me. Will my water be enough till the finish? I feel like I were on another planet, somewhere on mars or on the moon. The desert has a very bright, deep horizon, but the heat makes it narrow, it presses on your senses. You feel like you were in a tunnel.
I have around 40km behind me today. We started at 5:30 in the morning. It was dark. Running with headlights at the beginning. We know the sun rises around 6:10 and from 7am it starts to get hotter with every minute.
We agreed with Jack to go with 6min/km speed the first half of the marathon till the dunes start. The first part is a flat sandy road, good to run. He stays on my heels.
The three top runners are up and away from the very beginning. Then Lorenzo and the ambitious Cristian pass me and then Antonella. I could go with her pace, but again I know it is a marathon distance and the second 21km are dunes. And dunes are much, much harder than just sandy road. So I keep going my pace, which is good enough to get rid of all the competition, except of Martin, and Jack, who reminds me not to speed up. We slowly but surely lose sight contact with Antonella.
It is a good run. I feel fresh. I even eat a power bar at km 10. The food station comes around 19km. Just before it I force a banana into me. We refill water very quickly, I take some pieces of water melon and we are up and away. I rush Jack not to stand and drink at the station. Why lose time? We can drink while running. Martin gets lost here. He needs much longer than we do or maybe he needs several moments of rest. There are 2km left before the dunes start.
If there is anything I regret I didn’t do that day it is I didn’t take the picture of Jack before the dunes. The high speed, the long distance and the merciless heat has worn him out. He literally looks like on mescaline, like the guy on mescaline in the movie Fear and Loathing in Lasvegas: sweaty, red, open mouth, grasping for air, some uncontrollable movements. Later he tells me, he was constantly running with 100% of his maximal pulse rate during these first 21km.
Then the dunes come. The first ascend, there are several to come. Jack gives up and starts walking. I continue up the hill, deep in sand in a slower running pace. Soon enough I catch up on Cristian. He is pretty wasted. The dunes have killed him. No chance to follow me. When I arrive at the second water station, Antonella is just leaving it. I get only some pieces of water melon and pineapple, no refilling. I try to follow her, hoping I am better in the dunes, but again, with every minute the distance is getting bigger and bigger. But also the distance behind me is growing.
The heat gets even worse as well as my condition. The sun makes me feel like I were on another planet. This strange narrow feeling in spite of being on a lonely desert with broad view and horizon. I wear long sleeve and a cap with a flap, but it doesn’t help any more. After km 30 I try to eat something. Get a power gel out, rip it open. But the thought of eating it make my hair stand up already and my stomach contract. I feel like vomiting by mere thinking of eating this gel. No use eating it. Even if I manage to eat it, I will throw it up sooner or later. I hold the bag for several minutes and then throw it away as soon as I realize how futile it is.
Will I manage the full 42km in this crazy heat? Will I menage to run it all or will I have to walk at the end? I meet the organizers, they tell me 7km to go. No way I will give up. It is still the dune, but now it is slightly down the hill. I will make it.
I can’t see anybody in front of me. There is at least 1-2km to the next turn. Maybe 3km to the finish. I am on rank 6 at the moment. No chance I can improve. Looking back I see somebody in a 1km distance. He can’t catch me any more, even if I walk now. Why this torture? I could slow down, I could walk, this wouldn’t change anything. Shall I?
I decide to keep my pace at least until the moment I can see the finish. Since it is pretty flat I should see it hopefully from 1km before the end, maybe earlier. I can see something from a distance, close to the turn. It looks like a finish line but it isn’t. Coming closer I realize it is the organizers’ car with its broad shadow giving roof. But why is it standing? Now it moves. Coming in my direction. Behind it appears Antonella, walking slowly.
What happened, what is going on? The car comes to me. I shout from the distance: “How far to go?”. They: “Are you ok?” I again: “How far?”. They say 1km. I say, I am tired, by I feel good. Now even better seeing the chance to catch on Antonella.
I run up to her. “Are you ok? Do you need water, energy?”. She: “I am sick. I had to vomit. I think it was the pineapple.” I: “Shall I help you to the finish line.” She: “No, I will make it. Thank you. Don’t wait for me, just go”. I think it wasn’t the pineapple, it was the sunstroke.
So I run and finish the marathon stage on the amazing rank 5. Only the holy three and Lorenzo came before me. Of course Antonella is better than me, but sometimes being better is just not enough to beat somebody. I am tired to death. There is a mattress under a sunshade in the finish area. I lie down for several minutes with legs up on a chair to let the blood flow out of them. I drink some coke, which I do only after the heaviest runs.
This was probably the hardest run, up to now. Certainly the hardest marathon.
What I learned from this stage?
Just keep on running, never give up, never slow down. Don’t diminish your efforts even if it seems not to matter, even if it looks like it won’t change anything. Shit happens. And it can happen to you as well as to your competitors. There are outer circumstances which can appear. You never know. They are not in anybody’s control. And if they do, a new chance, new opportunity to win may come. You want to be best prepared for it.
I am lying in an air-conditioned room, after the pool and shower, regenerating from this deadly marathon. Jack finally comes in. “Massacre”, he goes. “It was a massacre. Do you know what temperature it was?”. I: “No, but it was really hot, I think, over 30 for sure.”. He: “I asked the doctor at the finish line. He measured it in the shade. It was 49 degrees celsius in the shade! But there was no shade when we were running, there was only sun. I don’t want to think how hot it was in the sun. It should be 70, maybe 80 degrees. But it is impossible. We would be cooked alive since proteins coagulate at 70 degrees.”
It had to be really hot, for the pulse meter of one of the competitors temporarily stopped working because it overheated.
Jack got so dehydrated, his legs got swollen so much, he didn’t fit into his shoes any more and could neither run nor walk, but couldn’t walk barefoot since he would have got burned. The sand’s temperature was 80 degrees. Then his arms and hands got swollen so extreme, that he couldn’t close his hands.
The competitor second to finish got a circulation system collapse. And one participant had to give up at km 40. Practically every runner suffered from some minor ailments.
So it seems this wasn’t the easiest run. Only me and the winner were running the entire distance.
After the shower Jack says: “You will never guess, where I got rubbed today.” I know he wasn’t talking about the blisters. This is normal, nothing to talk about. Event blisters under your toenails aren’t worth mentioning. You lose some toenails after every ultra marathon. “I think I know what you mean, I wondered today what was this burning under my sack. Now I know.”. He: “You got it!”