After my DNF in September’s Ultra event (UTCAM145), I took the necessary two weeks off to recover, before jumping into a proper training cycle. What I needed is more likely a mental boost, than muscular recovery. This is another subject, but despite this so called failure, what I actually see more likely as a success, I feel like it was one of the most educating sport experiences to learn from. Last year I dropped out, cause my body failed on me, I had the mental edge, but had whole body cramps, meaning serious electrolyte imbalance. This time I am not sure where the problem came from, but I just could not handle mentally the booming headache I had. I visualised being in trouble many times and saying to myself, just breathe, deep nasal diaphragmatic breathing, until you feel better. I practiced this during training, it always worked, always. During the race I did not even try it. I was not present. I blame this on slight over racing, the night spent outdoors and many things. Surely mental strength, presence, physical fortitude and all race related are a result of correct periodization. Tripping on rocks and turning an ankle are not a coincidence, just unpreparedness. Your stomach is wrecked or you cannot handle humidity, cold or heat ? You are unprepared. There are no coincidences in races.

I chose a race to train for far down the calendar, 2,5 months away and another one to run in duo, 2 weeks after. I had the endurance so 14days of base building with some strength was sufficient, before entering the speed phase and the race specific runs. I spent many hours on the track, refining my stride and working on foot balance, but also did several interval sessions on rolling and wavy trails for core strength and quad muscle resistance. This resulted in perfect fitness, with loads of strength, some speed and still a lot of endurance.

The 35km D+700m race had a very technical terrain. Littered with rocks and roots, included 2 x 4km soft white sandy  beach and 2 climbs constituted from big steps. The biggest climb was not higher than 100m and the rest of the elevation gain came from the relentless 10 to 15meter climbs. 1 single aid-station, where I picked up water. I held the course record previously, but in horrendous conditions. This time there was no headwind, but we had some humidity built up on the trail, so it was slightly slippery. I had the confidence to go out first and burn my concurrents, slow down when needed and bring back the lava when necessary. I felt very strong on the single tracks, dirt roads and sand and pulled away many times. However the two runners chasing me came back on the bushy technical sections. Finally I gave in, to let them go, cause I knew that there will be a big sandy section at the end. I caught up, but could not hold the high heart rate after 30km spent playing tricks and I got left behind. I was still  pushing myself giving a big final effort on the 4km sand leading to the finish. I broke my own personal record by 6minutes on a slightly longer course. I did not win, but  had a 5min performance increase since last year.  I am satisfied and the training with the 2 weeks MAF taper payed off well.

trail-des-caps-acrotrail
Prerace photo with trail running friends in Cavalaire-sur-Mer – Merci Seb

Peaking is quiet an art and if maintenance is done properly with a correct diet, it can be maintained for longer than some of you would think. Up to 4 to 5 weeks actually. This doesn’t mean that you can push 100% of all the time during this period and break all your PRs. This is more likely important for very fit athletes cause if you could wiggle between let’s say 85% to 95% fitness and your 85% fitness is higher then the 100% fitness of the guy behind you, you can win. It might not be a course record or a PR, however one medal in the bank is one medal in the bank.

After this St Tropez trail race, I really started to cut back on volume, but was still jogging and running every day. No watch, no heart rate, only music. I do not ever train with music actually, but being out on the sun, moving well and listening to reggae songs felt natural, energising and revitalising. I also just kept to my routine, 4am wake up, high-fat coffee, driving lessons, self education and project building, 7am jogging, 8am bike commute, lunchtime jogging, 8pm bike commute. No radical changes. I experienced knee pain in both knees, tendonitis in left soleus, some back pain and some shoulder issues. Probably my stride broke down towards the end of that last race. This is why, focus was on the recovery. I completely eliminated all my issues with the use of  foam rolling, pilates, some strength training and a lot of inversion table use. I could start this team challenge fresh.

Taper and peaking actually work only on preparation-specific events. This next race had 1200m of elevation gain in 20km. 1/3 of the previous race distance with nearly double the elevation gain. I knew it will be a suffer-fest, but that much ? I  left my watch at home, cause if after 10km I looked at it, mentally I would have been a mess. Instead I just tried keeping up with Ben and listening to his shouting all the way: Come on, they catch up, come on, they are 35seconds back, push it now, don’t give up now !!! My dinner was a bit of rice, potato and a half of a porc rib around 18:00. Then 4am I had my coffee with 10g of spirulina and 5g of EAA and 1hour before the race 10g of EAA (Essential Amino Acids). My friend showed up with a pair of strings, one orange and one flashy green. Wtf ? So our outfit changed, instead of shorts we used skin-fit short tights and pulled  the strings over it. This changed a couple of things. No pockets, no gels, no nothing. I was already in a slight ketogenic state, but going all out from the get-go, I used up all my glycogen in like 25minutes. Redlining from the 1st minute. First checkpoint I got some water. 2nd checkpoint I wanted to get coke, to finish very strong. The volunteers were waiting us and asked what do we want, but nothing prepared, like no cups filled up. So we skipped it. No sugar, no water. Running on ketones and thoughts. I prefer starting around the 20 to 30th place for the first ten minutes of the race, then eat up the field. Diesel I am. We started with using up all the Nitro and finishing in a complete mess. I got into a deep hypoglycemia, hands tingling, face with 1000needles and pins, but could keep going without lowering the effort, this was a surprise. Finished first group with the strong Team Technica and another couple just 30seconds behind us.

To continue this success, I placed my next race to the beginning of March. I still have a lot of endurance left, so a 4-5weeks of base building will be enough, with 2 weeks of speed and 2 weeks of taper. Now, well deserved recovery and at least 2 weeks of fun, before back to structured training.