The Girl and I joined 60 other crazy runners for a 6 hour run around Tueholm Sø near Copenhagen yesterday. This was the frist time they have held this race, and I must admit I figured it would be only mildly competitive. As it turned out, it was quite competetive and the male winner set a new Danish Racord for the 6 hour run 82.5K (just shy of 52 miles).
My strategy was to run with the Girl for 60 to 90 minutes and then speed up. What would happen after that was uncertain, but I had a vague idea that I would run with her for a while every time I lapped her.
The Girl started out fast and settled in the top third of the field as first woman. Another woman was trying to keep up but fell back. The guys quickly spread out over the whole loop, but several women stayed close to each other. This certainly made the Girl go a little faster than usual. I probably didn't do a good job of holding her back. I was getting a little restless, seeing the top men drift away, and probably even encouraged her to go a little faster than she should have.
After 6 loops I took off. I handed my wind breaker to a guy at the aid station and turned my music on. The next hour and a half was great. The top two guys had already lapped us at this point and my goal was to run de-lap them as quickly as possible and maybe stick with the top guy (one lap behind him, of course). But the legs were so damn good I had a hard time holding back and blew right through the pack. I didn't know who was where in the race, except the top two, who had just lapped us, so it was a little confusing. I assume most of the top runners thought I was lapping them, when in fact I was just passing them.
When I got up to the top guy, I considered running with him, but I was going considerably faster than him at the time and ran past him. In retrospect, it was probably a little unsportsmanlike to pass a guy who was on his way to setting a national record and not tell him that he had already lapped me. I had taken off my warm-up pants and windbreaker and was in no way recognizable. On the other hand, it may have motivated him a little to have someone to chase.
As this point, I had lapped the Girl twice and had figured I would take it easy for a while with her and base my plan around how the top 2 guys were running. When I lapped her, she has a large gap on Maibritt and I actually thought she was starting to pull away for good. She wasn't in the mood to talk and told me to run on. This was probably a mistake, but I pressed on. I ran on, passing people going at various speeds, lapping some people and, probably, passing some people for the first time. After a while, I lapped the Girl again, and this time I was in need of slowing down. Again, she didn't want company.
So I devised a bonehead plan. I had a sense that I was about to catch the second-place guy and a sense that he was slowing down. This was not true; he was slowing down a little, compared to the top guy, but not compared to anyone else. I caught him, feeling pretty dead. This was at three hours. Only halfway!
We talked for a while. He was a nice guy; I immediately told him that I had dead legs and he told me that he felt the same way. Then again, he had just run a quadruple marathon the week before. What?!? Over a 100 miles, and he was doing this well? This sort of told me that he was not the kind of man to slow down dramatically over the next three hours. We ran together for maybe 20 minutes, chatting a little about the race. He basically told me I could draft as much as I pleased, which I did.
At 3.5 hours, I thought it wholly unrealistic to stick with the second-place guy. I really didn't know what to do. I stopped at the aid station and ate and drank as much as I could. Running on was not very appealing, not knowing who was coming from behind to catch me. If I had known how safe my third place was at the time - and I imagine I was over a lap ahead of the next guy - I may have pushed on.
Looking back, I think I had mentally dropped out of the race. I saw the Girl coming up towards me and walked backwards toward her. Remembering now how I felt when I walked against the current of the runners, ready to drop out, I am surprised at how good the rest of the run went.
My luck was that the Girl was also crashing. We ran together for a while; she was still in first place. At the aid station, she stopped and informed me that she was miserable and couldn't go on. We walked for a while and then jogged for a while and the 15-minute break this process offered me gave me a second wind. We ran together from then on. It felt like the Transalpine, with me encouraging her along. Only this time, it was "Come on, just 50 more minutes!" and not "come on, you can see the village down there!".
The last 10 minutes, she set me free and I ran the last bit surprisingly fast. Who knew I could have legs like that after almost 6 hours of running! I think I was going at sub-6 minute miles the last 2K.
At the end, my race was good enough for 66K and 7th place. What a strange race it was. If I had run the last, say, 90 minutes on my own, I could probably have gotten up to around 70K but not knowing where I was in the race made running alone very unappealing. Also, to be honest, running with the Girl was such a nice martyr-like copout.
The Girl ended in fourth. As is usually the case in ultras, the women all ran well in the end. The Girl even got passed by some of the lower-placed women, even though she ran almost the whole time. The truth is she started out way too fast. Her half-marathon was 1:45, ie. well below her marathon PR pace. Her marathon was around 3:43, close to her PR. She is not in peak shape, either, so the pace was way too optimistic.
All in all, the level was much higher than I had imagined. That the Girl could finish outside the top 3 in a race with just 13 women hadn't even crossed my mind. I had imagined a top 5, possibly top 3, for myself.
The Girl hated the race but I may want to race it next year. If I had been running with the leaders in the beginning, knowing who the top 5 was, I think I would have run the race very differently.