Sunday, October 31, 2010

Copenhagen 6 Hour - Report

This race is really well-organized, by some of the nicest people I have met in Danish running. I would recommend it to anyone thinking about venturing into the ultra distances.

The only minor complaint is that they have a marathon at the same time. I'm not sure why they do this; I think the two races combined capped at 150 runners, with just 30 or so runners going for the marathon. I wonder if they couldn't just have filled the race with 6-hour runners.

At the start, it's confusing that you don't know who's in the marathon and who's in the 6-hour race. I was just going to run my own race but, on the other hand, it's impossible not to look around to see how you are doing. I started slowly, trying to use the first couple of laps to warm up. After two laps, I steadily moved up through the field, always playing this little game in my mind to see if I was going too fast: whenever I was passing someone, I tried to stay behind them, and if I started to feel like I had to consciously slow down, I would pass. My game plan was to never run slower than "cruising pace", and I was sticking with this plan.

At a point, maybe around 40 minutes in, I found a guy, whose pace matched mine. We would yo-yo a little, especially around the aid station, but we ran together until two hours. This was Charlie George, who, despite his name, is Danish and runs for Hellas in Roskilde. We exchanged resumes, his including a 1:17 half marathon this spring, which at 51 earned him the M50 national championship for that distance. Incidentally, he beat our teammate, Per, in that race. He had never run an ultra before.

We talked about pacing, and we obviously had similar strategies: if it feels good, don't slow down. We got through 20K in 1:30 and kept this pace till 2 hours. I mentioned that we were exactly on 50-mile pace, and there was no way in the world that I could run 50 miles in 6 hours. He concurred, but on we ran.

Then at two hours, my plan called for walking breaks. I was starting to feel sore, but not sore to a point where I would usually consider taking walking breaks. It was hard to let my companion drift away, and it felt like the race was moving on without me. From two to four hours, I walked 4-5 minutes every two laps. This was brisk walking, of course, but it felt miserable as 15-20 runners would pass me during every walking break.

But here's the thing: once I started running again, I would quickly re-pass the people, who had passed me. My cruising pace was holding up nicely. I was watching one guy in particular, who I had just lapped before the walking breaks began. For the entire two hours (from 2 to 4 hours), I passed and was re-passed by this same guy, which I took to mean that I holding my place decently in the pack.

A 4 hours, I turned on my iPod. I kept using the walking breaks up until 5 hours, but they were a little less regimented. The music made me really emotional. I had looked forward to this moment, hoping to rekindle the tearful runner's high from the Brocken Marathon three weeks ago. The recipe calls for exhaustion and good music but, I have realized, an important ingredient is that I have to go low on calories and, just before I bonk, eat a lot. And it came: that wonderful, drugged sense of floating effortlessly. Most people walked intermittently at this point, looking dead tired. The lake and the fall colors in the sun looked so peaceful. It sounds sappy, but it felt like everyone was running together.

My well-orchestrated high lasted 10-15 minutes. I had saved my music and gone low on calories for this, so I was hoping for a little more. But it was well worth it.

Then the race began to suck. I was starting to cramp, which always seems to be my limiting factor. I was nauseated and just sick of running. One thing that got me going a little was that Charlie George lapped me; immediately afterwards, he stopped to get something to eat and drink and looked pretty dead. I sensed that I would be able to pass him if I kept my current pace.

The last half hour, I was joined by Helle, of mountaineering and cancer-survivorship research fame. This was wonderful, and I now realize why pacing in ultras is such a big deal. We stopped taking walking breaks, except waling up a little hill. Thanks, Helle!

At the very end, we got passed by Jakob Lindberg, and this was the only time I got passed the entire race, outside my walking breaks! Jakob notwithstanding, I think this fact made all the difference. Even as I was slowing down, I continued to feel fast, because whenever I ran, I kept passing other runners.

I ended up running just over 73K, which is more than I was hoping for. It's a minor breakthrough, as I see it. And this just three weeks after Brocken, which was another good race.

I ended up passing Charlie and opened a 1K gap on him, but otherwise I kept my place through the last few hours. I didn't know what that place was, but it turned out to be 5th. The winner, Ole Stougaard, ran over 80K and told me after the race that it was his first ultra. He is a retired elite triathlete, who "runs to stay in shape". Dang. A 50 miler in less that 6 hours in his first ultra...

The weird thing about these short-lap races is that you see the same people over and over again. But the ones you don't see are the ones who run your pace. Kim Hammerich, who runs on the national ultra team, stayed ahead of me, but on the same lap, the entire race! I saw him at the start, and then forgot he was even in the race. In the end, he was 900 meters ahead of me I asked Kim why he wasn't farther ahead of me; it turns out he ran a 100K last weekend, and is running another 100K next week.

I was trying to suppress 10 different cramps, while trying to understand how he can possibly run so much. I don't even run 100 kilometers a week, during my heaviest weeks, and he runs ultras three weekends in a row. I will begin to think about being able to run again next weekend, by the time he probably wins another ultra.

The Girl did well and got 63K. Her race was insanely close, with just a few hundred meters separating 3rd to 5th. Just as I could pretend to almost beat someone on the national team, the Girl almost beat May-Britt Hansen. May-Britt was coming back from a shoulder injury and ran the race to get some miles in. After the race, the Girl did less well. She threw up several times and looked like she was about to pass out. I should mention that once we got back to the car, I cramped up so hard that she had to drive, so I wasn't faring much better.

I'm sure we'll do it again next year...


May-Britt Hansen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
May-Britt Hansen said...

We all have ups and downs through a 6 hours race, and we all have to find our own way of coping.

About this 'beat the national team runners'-thing I have to point out, that while Kim is running the 100 km Team (which are the really fast runners), I´m running the 24 Hours Team (which allows you to be a slower runner), and 6H is not my favorite distance, so I´m not that hard to beat, and I am every year! I just do them for the training and for the fun of it :-)

I hope to see you both next year. Maybe in April for the 100 KM, where you can run the national championship? ;-)

SteveQ said...

Just discovered I moved up a spot in my 2003 Twin Cities Marathon. The winner used EPO.,7120,s6-243-521--13729-7-1X2X3X4X5X6X7X8-9,00.html

Now, if I can just get 1500 others that beat me that sorry day, I might get an award yet!
The newcomers always seem to do well and the guys that don't fall apart training high mileage win often. It only gets worse in the masters category.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rasmus. You're so welcome. It was a pleasure to run with you. I gueass my only chance to catch up with you ever :-)
Congrats with the result.

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