I could finally breathe a sigh of relief when I sat on the train on my way to Skövde yesterday morning. I wondered why I put myself through this agony of entering races that are days away, and then worrying about all the things that might go wrong before that. And things could have gone wrong. My throat had been acting up and it was like a whole bucket of gravel was stuck in it. Was I well enough to run this? I had slept a total of 10 hours the last two nights, partly because of our brain-dead neighbour having a party on Thursday night and partly because I was anxious that something would happen and I'd miss the race.
For those of you that have never heard of a 6-hour race, here's the gist of it: you run around a loop as many times as you can within 6 hours. The Skövde loop was 1200 metres long. When these 6 hours have passed, you hear a signal that means that you have to stop where you are. Then someone comes around with a special measuring tool that calculates how far you are from the start, and adds that to the total.
|The race centre was still pretty empty when I got there|
I arrived at the race centre a couple of hours before the race was to start. All my negative thoughts disappeared. I picked up my bib number and chips, relaxed and let myself observe all these ultra people around me. There were people of all ages, but I do believe there was a majority of the over-50s. Experienced ultra runners that have done this for donkey's years. I read a little to pass the time, loaded up with a sandwich and water and talked to H from the group, who arrived a bit later.
|Four minutes left to the start|
When it was time, we joined the rest of the 170 runners at the starting line, and then the pistol went off. It was a bit crowded at first, but we soon spread out. The sun was shining and it was warm enough, despite the best efforts of a persistent wind that was only going to pick up even more as the day went on. The surroundings were pretty; we were running in a small park in the heart of the city. The first 10 km went by very quickly. Sometimes I ran past people, sometimes they ran past me.
My knee started bothering me. Strangely enough it seemed to like running uphill. There is a famous slope in this loop, affectionately called the ”Murder slope”. My knee must be a masochist. Any efforts to get rid of the irritation, be it by changing my running style or by walking, was pointless and in one case even painful. But after the slope it always got better and finally it disappeared.
I took a break every 5 km to drink water and to eat. I had a few minutes to spare every 10 km, as I kept a sub 6min/km- pace. The good thing is that, even when you walk, it counts in your total. Walking kept my legs fresh. After 25 km I decided to drink some coke from the cornucopia offered at the aid station. It was a mistake and a valuable lesson. I got such a stomach ache that I almost had to stop. I pushed on for another half hour until it felt better.
My motivation to keep running started disappearing after 30 km. I wondered what the hell I was doing running on a hamster wheel. Talking to some people I know helped, but in the end it was the music I played in my earphones that gave me a big kick in the butt and I picked up some speed. Well, for maybe 50 metres. Then I remembered how tired I was.
When I had run a marathon, which was my most basic goal, I saw that I had made a new personal record by 2 minutes, despite my walking breaks, my sleep deprivation, my aching knee and my cough. I moved towards my next goal, 50 km, and what I considered the ultra boundary. My motivation was low again. I knew I could make 50 km, there were almost 2 hours left to the race and I only needed to cover another 8 km. Unfortunately H had had to drop out, but I was very happy to see that he stayed at the side of the track and supported me.
I reached 50 km with just under an hour left. I walked one lap with H, who then asked me what I was doing walking. ”Shoot for 60!” he said. I thought he was nuts. But maybe 55 km wasn't so crazy? Not having put over 50 behind me, anyway. Not now. But a few hours ago I would have thought it was impossible. I started running again. One more km. Walk, run, walk. Suddenly I've crossed 55 km and I'm still going strong. Keeping an eye on the clock, I pick up some speed, and have run a couple more when they sound the signal. I stretch while I wait for them to come and measure my distance. H comes running and lends me a sweater so that I don't freeze while I wait, but I'm shivering because I can't believe my eyes. I am one of the top ten women in the country.
A cold shower later (with 170 people trying to use the shower at the same time, it's not that strange that the water was cold), we sit down to eat and chat. Then it's off to the train again. I have no words. I am tired but overjoyed. One of my craziest dreams came true. I am an ultra runner.