And here we go. After waiting for 3 hours at the Parc Expo in Saint Etienne the race is on. 5,600 head torches are dribbling through the quite and sleepy town. Most of the 17,500 resident are in bed. Not surprisingly as it is 12 o’clock. 12 o’clock at night. The early rain showers are gone and everything is set up for the 69 kilometre journey through the Rhône-Alpes region. Final destination: Palais des Sports, Lyon.

As i didn’t have any previous knowledge or any expectations for that run i sticked to Donnas advice and ran with Adrian, a well experienced Ultra runner who was over with us for the race. Beside Adrian and me there was Eoin, another member of the Irish-German travel contingent who made the way for the “season-ender” to lyon.

We started off nice and easy. I didn’t have a watch with me and was just running by feeling or to be honest by Adrians speed. So we cruised along out of town and into the Massif Central. The first climb was quite early and we took it easy. Saving energy would be key – nothing secret as a close look on the course profile reveals.

The first part was on the streets and just a normal jog out of Saint Etinne. Shortly before the start I decided to wear my gore-tex rain jacket as the temperatures on top of the hill would get close to zero. I feared to get caught in a storm or to hit the rain. All members of the team were running with jackets so I was sticking to the advice and experience of the others.

Shortly after the 8k mark we were hitting the first trail. The terrain was rougher than I expected. Very rocky and technical, especially when you run at night and the visibility is poor. Beside that the paths were steep, sometimes very steep we took it handy and walked them fast. The legs felt good and the company between the three of us was brilliant. We weren’t talking so from time to time we were shouting out each others names just to check if everybody was still there and fine. The sound of the name was then just followed by a short “yo”. roll on…

Kilometre 16 saw the first aid station. We stopped got chocolate and tea in and ate and drank as we were walking on. The legs were still fine and i felt great. It was a special feeling to run at night and to run on trails. I enjoyed it a lot. The scenery, as far as I could see and the landscape was amazing and thrilled me a lot. I loved the mixture between rough trails, paths and back roads.

Our little group went on and the aid station in Moreu was the last one we reached together. Eoin felt good and on a uphill he was gone. Adrian asked me to run with him. I was nervous to join him. I felt good but I still had respect for the distance. I didn’t know whats happening after 3.5 hours of running. I stayed with Adrian which was a brilliant idea. He helped me a lot with his economic running and his patience.

After a little while and a downhill section were I nearly crashed again (I was hitting both of my toes 4 to 5 times…) I lost adrian. I felt good so i carried on with the rhythm I was running. Still on trails, still downhill, uphill, left, right, through a forest, over a rock around a tree around a bear!! NOT!!… But still brilliant and very exciting. I was always waiting for the next highlight to come. My highlight would be some of the good back roads that were leading us from trail to trail. I had phases were I loved the trails and parts were I just wanted to stay on the road for another hour. Size 13 plus lunar trainers were a bad and miserable combination. Rocks went in the shoe and I felt the croppy stones. As it was at night and in the dark I couldn’t see some of the obstacles so I felt the entire course.

The feed station in St Genoux was a special one. An old barn in the middle of the Massif Central. roughly 80 runners full of mud and keen to get calories, drinks, gels and fruits in as fast as possible. I entered the old shed and was happy to get my mug filled with tea. I felt the pain and I started to feel the tiredness. It was 4 o’clock in the morning and I still had a good bit to go. Earlier on, from top of the mountain I saw the lights of Lyon. And I wanted to see those lights a bit closer now. I leaned against a wall and all of a sudden Adrian stood in front of me. We were happy to meet again and after empting the shoes from little stones we surged on.

However I didn’t get back into my rhythm. It was hard for me to follow Adrian as he was setting the pace. When we entered a trail I couldn’t stay with him anymore. I had to slow down and get back my motivation and power. The short uphill’s really hurt at this stage and mentally it was tough to keep the faith. The muscles were destroyed and my sole as well as my soul were sore from the rocks and the stones. It was hard fighting.
Km 45 was there and the aid station was like the next dealer for a drug addict. I needed my energy to load the tank. I got 3 mugs of tea, 2 cups of coke and numerous chocolate bars together with my gels in. When i stepped out of the tent my legs felt a bit like coming out of T2 at the ironman – spongy!
I tried to get the legs moving and it worked. I got the rhythm back and running on the streets made it more easier than the madness on the trails. I felt my energy coming back and what happened then is still a miracle for me. the legs started to feel great, the tank felt full . I was running smooth and effective up and downhill. It was like changing gears. I was amazed and hyped by myself. I was pushing, not to hard, but I was forcing the speed. In this phase the only guys that passed me where the relay guys that started later and were hammering down the field at this stage. Those relay guys helped me a lot. I followed them as often as I could and it worked out pretty well. The next aid stations in Beaunant and centre Lyon didn’t exist for me anymore. I was on a high. I had pain. the knees, all muscles and the sole was hurting but it was too sweet to give up now.
The scenery when I entered the old part of Lyon was amazing. the cobble stones together with the steep downhill’s gave my legs the rest but I didn’t care. when I was running through the empty streets of Lyon I was so happy to be there, to be in that kind of condition that I just enjoyed it. The last stretch to the Palais des Sports was boring and I thought it would never end. When i entered the stadium I was happy and satisfied. I was wrecked. Eoin was waiting just beside the finish line. I sat down and just enjoyed the relief.
Zero au soixante-neuf = Sept heures et vingt sept.
Fini avec plaisir.
Thanks to Aisling, Rob, Liam, Adrian, Eoin and everybody travelling over – it was a remarkable trip!