Friday, 30 March 2012


It's all well and good to do a massive event.  Yours may be a Half-Marathon or even a full distance one.  I've done several of each and thought I had a good handle on how to get back on an even keel.  And then I did the 80k Eco-Trail de Paris.

In the same way that it turned out I was unprepared for the event itself, I was also not ready for the recovery process.  I'll probably say this a few times in the coming weeks:  An 80k trail is not "just" two Marathons.  It's something more.  I still have enormous respect for people who run a marathon (I jog them) but it pales by comparison with what's required for an ultra.

And I wasn't ready for it.

I'm not suggesting that there's anything superhuman or even extraordinary required.  More that I really didn't anticipate the scale of the problem.  Let's start from the moment I crossed the finish line:

As I said I previously, when I finished, I just stood there.  Quite literally, I was just standing still, utterly bemused.  It's pretty much that I'd been running for so long that, once I could stop, I had no idea what to do next.  One of the marshals came to see if I was OK and I snapped out of the fugue.  I grabbed my Finisher shirt (The Precious) and headed off to the refreshment table.  As I was one of the last to arrive, the selection was limited:  Beer or Cola.  I'd quaffed a fair bit of Cola already (lots of easy-to-consume sugar) on the way round so I really didn't want another.  Grabbed a beer.  Oops.

It hit me like a truck and I had to sit down for 10 minutes or so.  My diminished mental state meant that I couldn't quite understand why so I'm sitting there totally woozy and sipping away at the beer that's knocking me over.

Eventually, after about 20 minutes, I recovered enough to know I should eat.  Soon.  So I headed for the lifts.  I am on the first stage of the Eiffel Tower, you know?  So I get there and it's full.  The staff member pointed at the stairs and said: "You must go up so that you can go down."  I thought this was hilarious and told him (in perfect French, obviously) "That's all I've been doing for the last 12 hours.  Why stop now?" and off I went up the last stairs of the day. 

The organisation for the event had been excellent to this point so I was a little let down that there was no one to point me at the refreshment area.  Included in the entry fee was a buffet dinner held in the same place where I had registered the day before.  Intellectually, I knew this but it was all now a total mystery to me. 

Eventually, I found the food tent, stashed my kit on an empty chair and, clutching The Precious) went to queue for some food.  It was quite busy and I stood in line for 10 minutes.  Just as I neared the head of the queue, I was hit by a bout of nausea forcing me to go and sit down again.  About 10 minutes later, I was recovered enough to make a second attempt but once again nausea overtook me before I got to the front of the line.  This time, I was more like 20 minutes getting over it and knew I had to eat very soon.

Fortunately, the queue abated for a moment and I seized the opportunity to, er, hobble over and gather some food.  As I was filling my plate, a man sitting next to my bag went into a grand mal epileptic seizure.  I am ashamed to say that I just stood there and looked.  I really believe that under more normal circumstances, I would have gone to assist but I just stood there unable to process what was going on only a few yards away.  The Red Cross people were on the scene in less than 30 seconds and had matters under control but I can't understand my own lack of reaction, even though I was fatigued.

Once the poor chap was taken away for treatment, I calmly returned to filling my tray and sat down again just as a third wave of nausea hit.  I really had to force myself to eat a little food but the growing realisation of having stood idly by was really hitting home just then.

And so, my metabolism crashed.  I became very, very cold but couldn't face another crumb.  Just the thought made me think I would be sick.  I put on every item of clothing I had and staggered out of the tent to recover the bag of kit I left at the start.  Again, a bit dazed, I couldn't find the shuttle bus so I walked to the stadium where our bags were waiting.  Only 500 metres or so but that's a long way after the day I'd just had.

The gymnasium where the bags were was fabulously, deliciously warm and, once I had recovered mine, I headed for the showers.  As I was oh-so-gently extracting feet from socks, one of the people their asked me why I hadn't got the medics to see to "that".  "That" turned out to be a deep cut on my knee that had bled down my leg and into my shoes.  I never even noticed it but it must have been from when I had my somersault fall just after sunset.

Well, it cleaned up OK and the shower was gloriously warm and refreshing.  I got dry, dressed and set off for the hotel.  As I walked, my head cleared and I really started to think about the guy in the food tent.  I was thoroughly depressed by the time I got back to my room but I did manage to eat a little more food.

At this point, my brain went into (a sugar fuelled?) overdrive and I was wide awake until almost 5am.  I spent the time making a few notes on my computer and generally replaying parts of the race in my mind. 

Finally, I tried to sleep.  This proved frustrating as, although I was exhausted, I just could not find a way to lie down that didn't hurt.  Lying  this way:  Hips hurt.  Move to stop that, knees sore.  Move again, back pain.  And so it went.  Eventually, I started to nap but by 8am I just had to get up.  I had a leisurely (and light ) breakfast, packed and headed for the train back to Brussels.

Next challenge:  The stairs to the Metro. I was surprised to find that I didn't ache too badly.  Sure, I had a little joint pain but nothing too bad.  What took me unawares was that after climbing a single flight of stairs, I was forced to rest.  I was totally out of breath and bereft of energy.  I took the rest of the journey back very slowly and, though I didn't sleep on any part of the trip, took it easy.

That night, I went to bed early but also awoke early.  A pattern that would repeat for the rest of the week.  Muscular recovery was quick but my joints are still tender even a week later.  This is a LOT better than I had feared.  I even went for a gentle jog on Tuesday and Thursday.

Energy levels remain low but there seems to be no major damage done.  It could all have been so very different if I really had fallen badly, though. 

Main lesson learned is not to have anything alcoholic after a big run like this.  I am sure that much of my mood and appetite problems were caused by that one beer.  Here's hoping I have the presence of mind to remember that the next time.

The other lesson I learned is that an effort like this is too much for me to deal with solo.  I am blessed with a fantastic family and I shouldn't be afraid to depend on them, even for such selfish pursuits.  If there's a next time, I will be going in the company of those who know what's best for me, even when I forget it myself.