A tale in two parts
What is it like to run 100 kilometers? I do not think I know yet. Logically: sure. I know that I ran 100 kilometers and that I am extremely happy with how it all went.
But have I understood it?
Everytime it comes up, the logical side of me has to quickly look up the facts before I know that yes, I did do that thing. It was twice as long as I had ever ran before. I managed to chop the thoughts up and make them seem less intimidating than they do to most people, but that also means I handled it by never really grasping the whole as one thing. The largest pieces I have a somewhat solid hold of are two times fifty kilometers. Lejonbragden 2014 was very much a race of two distinct halves for me. The first half I was running a race much like any other. The second I was finding and maintaining a real long-distance balance, steadily gnawing away at the distance.
I think the best way I can describe the whole is this: I tried to always run in a way which felt right in the moment.
My two main worries leading up to the race were sunburn and chafing. Sunburn was the smaller worry; I invested in a cap, brought a bottle of sunscreen and felt safe about that problem. During some of my longer runs in the autumn and winter I had developed some rather uncomfortable inner thigh chafing. The runs never being more than about a third of Lejonbragden, I was a bit concerned how it would feel. To counter this, I prepared with new tights and a decent dose of vaseline. I was not too worried about my feet as I had good luck with taping and band aids in 2013.
My preparations had pretty much been my regular schedule - every other day - with a conscious attempt to make the weekend runs longer. I got more 30 to 35 kilometer runs in than ever before, and my longest run was around 43 kilometers. I felt comfortable with my long distance ability, but as the race drew closer I naturally (?) wished I had done at least a few 50+ kilometer runs to get more of a feel for the wear. I had done as much and as intense preparation as I felt like, so I was determined to be satisfied with it.
One piece of advice I got was to not hold back too much in the beginning, as by 70 or so kilometers I would be just as tired in any case. I tried to follow that line pretty closely, always running at a pace I felt good about. In the beginning, it also feels good to gnaw all those kilometers away as quickly as possible, to even begin to bring the goal into view. Another piece of advice I got was that running 100 kilometers is very much like running 50. It felt very reassuring to hear before the race, and it rings very true to me now.
We gathered by the starting line just before 7 in the morning. May 3rd had started cold and clear, only a few degrees above freezing in the deeper shadows. The day remained cool throughout - perfect for me - with a little bit of wind but also very sunny. The cap and sunscreen made all the difference in the world when it came to the sun. I never felt as if I was on the way to overheating or burning my skin.
Like I said in the beginning, race was very clearly split in two parts. The first half I ran much like last year, only with more food and drinks. The heaviest part of the race - the whole race, not just the first half - was between 30 and 40 kilometers, also very much the same as during past years. After going to the bathroom for the first time at 30 kilometers I started getting threatening signals from my left knee. Not actual pain, but the dull numbness preceeding it. Fortunately it eased off a lot when I walked a bit after the next water station. The next ten kilometers went a lot slower, and somewhere around here the second part of the race began. I would guess that it was the real - or more real - ultra running part, not that I have much qualification to say such a thing. Qualified or not, this was the run of slowly but surely gnawing off kilometers one at a time, feeling safe that I would be able to finish and safe about my energy and discomfort levels. The only question was how long it would take, and that fortunately only mattered less the farther I got. The last 30 kilometers went by surprisingly quickly, and suddenly I was seeing parts of the course for the very last time and feeling quite at ease with the world.
Support and spirit along the track was just as good as in past years. We runners cheered each other on, and the organizers and volunteers did as great a job as always despite being fewer than before. I reported some of the guiding arrows and lines being unclear after a lap and a half. The next time I reached that area, a car loaded with fresh chalk caught up with me to confirm the unclear area. Before I was finished with the lap, that section and any other which could be considered even remotely tricky was covered in bright, clear arrows.
I did much better mentally than last year. Either the dips were just shallower, or I managed to keep them at bay much better. Even during the time my knee felt worst I never got into "grumpy energyless not giving a shit just wanting to quit"-mode where all motivational thoughts are easily dismissed as idealistic fairy talk.
I do think that I did better in positive thinking too, but I think the main thing was averting serious dips by eating and drinking really well. For the majority of the race I think I downed six cups of various drinks per ten kilometers- mainly cola, sports drinks and water - split evenly between the three stations along the course. I think I drank too little last year and was determined not to repeat that mistake. My body gave this effort clear thumbs up by requesting three visits to the bathroom - all for peeing. Did I mention my stomach is fantastically good about taking everything I throw down my throat and digesting it without complaint. I am deeply thankful for that, more so as I have never done anything to build or maintain that skill.
Another great focus of mine for a long time was that I should finish still feeling as good as possible. That was something I first thought of when I ran the Göteborgsvarvet half marathon last year. It was a warm and sunny day. I had ran Lejonbragden only a few weeks before and quickly realized things were not going as I wanted. Eventually I realized that instead of being grumpy I should show that I had learned something from Lejonbragden and listen to my body. That the way I could show my experience was to finish in good shape, rather than childishly pushing myself for no good reason. So I did, and I reached the goal feeling physically well and just a healthy bit shaken mentally. Thinking along those lines was a great help during the second part of the race.
Other things I did a great deal of was observing my steps, breathing and of course breaking the course down in positive ways. I do not have any theoretical basis, but I try to pay attention to how I place my feet, hold myself and how I move. Sometimes I realize that I can move in a smoother or softer way without spending more energy, or place my feet a bit more right below my center of gravity, or take slightly shorter or longer steps. Little details in short, sometimes immediately helpful, sometimes as a mental trick to distract. Breathing is much the same. I know how I breathe when I get too tired, and trying to breath in a "lighter" way seems to work for me. Finally, all the breaking down in chunks and stages. First it was the the ten kilometer laps and passing the finish line every five kilometers. Toward the second half and especially the last third, the next water or food station - every 2,5 kilometers - was usually in focus. There were also of course the milestones of finishing half the race, the first and last marathon distance, the first and last half marathon and the first and last 30 kilometers. During the second half I also started counting down how many more times I would be seeing each part of the course.
No wonder it is hard to grasp the entirety afterward when I spent the whole race tricking myself out of thinking about it.
Right before starting the last 10 kilometers I caught up with the ever-inspiring Zingo Andersen. He had another lap to go and seemed to be enjoying every step. He cheered me on by saying that the last lap always is the best. Perhaps it was. The last lap gave me a great feeling of … closure? I kept thinking that I was seeing each section of the track for the last time in one long, calm goodbye. The last turn of this corner, last time up that hill, last cup of water at that stop. There was no rush of adrenaline, nor any hurry to get it over with. Calm like movie credits fading into the sunset.
Calm does not exclude emotion though. I got a real lump in my throat after being cheered on at 85 kilometers, and I was truly happy to receive a medal upon reaching the goal. This is the first year Lejonbragden has medals, and I did not at all expect it to feel as important to me as it did.
Afterward and aches
Continuing the theme of 100 being like 50, my blisters and bruises were very much the same as last year. The new tights and vaseline prevented any and all ailments in their area. I did gather a statistically significant collection of blisters on my feet - more than last year - but none were of the hurts-to-walk-type. The main feeling in the days afterward was stiffness in my legs, exactly like last year. Standing up, sitting down, turning in bed and so on was all pretty … uncomfortable. I did not take the stairs up to the office on Monday morning, and my left knee - which warned during the race - was quite stiff and a little bit swollen. It definitely did not want to move too quickly, but it also did not really hurt. In all, I felt good - better than I deserved probably - although I watched in amazement as people bounced up and down stairs, carrying suitacases and generally buzzing around as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
Lejonbragden 2014 was a fantastic experience. I am incredibly happy about my first 100 kilometer run, and I feel absolutely no rush to do anything similar again any time soon. I feel as if I have passed some stage in my running. I have yet to find out both which stage that was, and which stage comes next.
I am not even sure what it is like to run 100 kilometers.
But I am in no hurry.