Ecotrail Paris 80km Race Report - 17th March 2018

ecotrail Paris 80km finisher medal

Since I have more time on my hands (no training for now hahah!) I thought I’d let you know the gory details of the Ecotrail Paris 80km - my first ultramarathon and at the age of 57.

The Ecotrail Paris 80km was in fact 9 days ago and it is still fresh in my mind. Plus me legs are still feeling it too.

So how did it go..............

We arrived in Paris on the Thursday and I had done very little running for the past 10 days as my sciatica was still bothering me. I developed sciatica 2 weeks before the race (really bad timing). I was quite stressed about it and wondering if I’d even make it to the first ravito (water stop). 

Race kit ecotrail Paris 80km
Her Kit
Anyway for our first night in Paris, we went out for a nice meal and even had a glass of red wine, after having been teetotal for the last couple of weeks. Gotta relax a bit. On Friday we went to collect our dossards at the Paris expo, Porte de Versailles, which is an exhibition centre in Paris. We tried not to overdo the walking about but it is a huge place and there was a Salon de Tourisme going on at the same time, so lots to see. Then it was back to our studio to put our feet up and to get all our gear together. We had rented a really cute Air BnB studio and it was so much more practical than a hotel. We could cook what we wanted, had a decent size fridge and even had a washing machine.

Race kit ecotrail Paris 80km
His Kit

Suddenly it was Saturday morning and it was race day! 

Surprisingly we both managed to sleep but we were up early (far too excited) and I stretched and rolled my legs. I was a bit nervous about overdoing it, so did a sort of half hearted attempt. Breakfast was a cold boiled egg, yogurt and coffee (plus obligatory mint green tea for me as well) and then we packed up our backpacks and off we set to get the train from Gare Montparnasse. 

It was funny trying to spot other runners on the metro and trying not to let our backpacks get in the way of other travellers. Our backpacks weighed around 3kg as we had to carry a minimum of 1.5 liters of water plus various supplies. Finding the right train was a bit of a nightmare as there were works on the lines so lots of trains had been cancelled or rescheduled. Luckily, we weren’t the only ones bumbling about. We eventually found our train and had about 5 minutes to get on it. We had been given a free train ticket which was great…not! Bill went through the barrier first with his ticket but when I tried mine, it refused it. Oh the panic!!!! There were no guards about at all and we just didn’t know what to do. I bent down and got under the first bit of the barrier and pushed my backpack through to Bill but then I was stuck. Bill kept telling me to climb over the second barrier but it was about 8 feet up in the air so that wasn’t going to work. I was peeing myself! Thankfully another runner came to the rescue and using his ticket we went through together as one person. My hero!

The train to St Quention en Yvelines took about 40 minutes and then we had a 10-minute bus ride to Trappes. Once at the start, it all became real. Poor Bill was freezing and trembling as it was so cold and it had started to rain. Everyone was trying to shelter in 2 small tents. Thankfully there was coffee and cake to eat. I seemed to spend most of my time in the toilet queue and I went about 3 times. I think it was nerves.

It was interesting looking at what people were wearing and I began to worry a bit that I had chosen not to wear trail shoes. I went for comfort and was wearing my 'lots of toe room, walking on air', Brooks Glycerin 14 shoes. One guy was wearing leather thongs and an another was barefoot - brave people. Some people had huge backpacks and others seemed to have practically nothing. Then there were people in poncho capes (they ran in them too) and some so wrapped up you could only see their eyes whilst others were wearing only shorts and t-shirts. On the whole I think we blended in.....

We had brought some ready made up UCAN with us, so drank that down about 30 minutes before the start. This was hopefully going to give us enough energy to get us to the first food station.

Start line ecotrail Paris 80km
Ready to go

Then at 12:15 we were off.

I had taken some ibuprofen just before the start to help with the sciatica. I don’t normally like taking medicines but my goodness, it was a godsend. We decided to go slowly and go by our MAF heart rate for the first 20km or so. That meant running with a HR of around 125 – 130. I looked at my watch and my HR was immediately 162! Must be a mistake I thought but then it never seemed to come down. I then decided to not look at my watch and to run by feel as otherwise we would be walking the whole way. 

The first part of the race (until the first food station) is pretty flat and took us round the étang de St Quentin before heading to the forest. The first few km's went by in a blur of excitement and chit chat. Everyone was smiling and happy and although it was drizzling and there were muddy puddles, we all took our time to gently tiptoe through them, trying to keep our feet clean and dry. 

The first ravito was at 22km so we filled up our water packs, added some Tailwind, dilly-dallied around the food tables filling up a plastic bag with chocolate, nuts and dried banana. I had also brought marmite and peanut butter sandwiches (not mixed together) but Bill was relying more on the food supplied and some gel bars. By this stage we realized that we were 10 minutes behind our planned schedule. We weren’t too worried as I thought we could easily make it up later (I was in charge of the time plan 😊). Our plan was to do the race in 10.5 - 11 hours and the official time allowed was 12:45 so we had made ourselves a time cushion of just under 2 hours.

However we were going to need that time cushion as after the first ravito, the mud horror began.

Mud - ecotrail Paris 80km
Let the mud begin...
This was also the toughest part of the course in terms of elevation. The mud was incessant. There were people falling over the place, slip sliding along and it became impossible to run, even on the flat. By now our shoes had filled with water and mud and the mud inside started to solidify into clumps so it was not very comfortable.

What surprised me a lot was that the hills which I had worried about, didn’t seem at all bad on my legs (says me who used to whinge at all the hills) and we didn’t feel exhausted. It was more just a challenge of staying upright and being frustrated at not being able to run. I think our training must have been spot on. Many people were surprised that we did all our training at MAF hear rate. This meant no intervals or fast running and walking most of the hills. The emphasis was on, time on our feet and the longest training run/walk that we did was around 7 hours.

We got to the second ravito (45km) just as it was getting dark. It was drizzling and speckles of snow were starting to settle and the air just felt damp and cold. There was only water (no food) and it was a grim place with runners starting to look forlorn. On a good day you should be able to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, but not today. I took off one shoe to try and get out some of the grit and mud but then getting it back on again was horrible. My hands were cold and I seemed to be putting back in more mud than I had taken out. We also realized that we were nearly an hour behind schedule. 

Headlamps on and more ibuprofen and we set off again. The next ravito was in about 12km and we could get hot soup there apparently so that was something to really look forward to.

It was now snowing properly and it was dark. The forest just seemed almost like a dream. There were reflective strips on the trees every 50m or so but it was a challenge to spot them when you are looking down at the ground all the time. It was impossible to know where the tree roots were as everything was mud and puddles. The runners were getting more sparse and the chit chat had died down as everyone was really concentrating. All you could hear was the slip slop of feet being sucked through the mud.

I fell over several times but thankfully Bill was there to pick me up. Each time I fell, he said I got heavier and heavier to heave up! I had bought a new headlamp for the race and tested it several times during training and it had worked brilliantly. However because it was so cold, the batteries were not working properly and the light was much dimmer than usual. Bill also had problems with his phone which packed up because of the cold. We learnt afterwards that we should have used Lithium batteries as opposed toe Alkaline ones which don't do well in the cold.

Finally, we got to the 57km ravito. Hot soup. Yeah! Although it was luke warm by the time we got there. The volunteers were absolute champions at remaining cheery as they had been stuck in the woods for as long as us. At least we were moving about whereas they were stuck in one spot for hours on end. There were theoretically meant to be first aid tents here too but everything just seemed a blur of brown mud so it was difficult to work out what was going on. All we knew was that we were getting further and further behind our time schedule. At this point it became a matter of just keep on running and do your best.

Normally, what color are my shoes?
 On we went, the field of runners getting more and more sparse. Although we were all silent, we felt that we were all supporting each other. Every hill meant one step forward, half a step slipping back. The flat was even worse in a way, as you wanted to run but couldn’t. I tried a few times but my body would go forward whilst my foot would just be sucked into the mud and stay put.

Ravito -  ecotrail Paris 80km
Last ravitaillament - Keeeping postive. Only 13km to go...
Eventually we got to the last ravito, 67km. They had hot soup which was actually hot 😊. However, we had seconds to drink it as we were told that the cut off time was looming and we had 11km to go and one and half hours to get to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. It turned out to be 13 km…..

We were really close to Paris now and when we got out of the woods and onto the streets of Paris, it felt almost surreal. It was certainly a shock to the feet, hitting hard pavement, some of it cobbles too. We decided to run and not stop. I did a quick calculation in my head (don’t ask me how!) and realized we could do it if we ran at a pace of 8min/km or under (not realizing at that point that in fact we had to run  13km). All the zigzagging had made the course longer.

ecotrail Paris 80km
Why am I running away from the Eiffel Tower?!
We started overtaking other runners who were walking or limping or doing a run/walk. I was desperate to walk at some points too and began to feel weak as we had not eaten anything at the last ravito. Head down and concentrating hard we just kept moving forward. Thank goodness I was with Bill as the marker tape was actually quite hard to spot. At last we saw the Eiffel Tower but it still seemed too far away for my liking. And then we seemed to run in the opposite direction! As a final taunt, we were directed onto a small island on the River Seine and guess what, it was muddy. And so of course I immediately fell over!

Finally, we were there, Paris traffic zooming around us and we were being directed towards the steps of the Eiffel Tower. In previous years they would security scan your bag but this year, only an entrance ticket was shoved in your hand and then we were off up the 330 stairs to the first floor. Funnily enough I had energy to run up but you couldn’t as we were in a pack, all trying to get up the stairs together and so it had become a slow crawl up. There was a red carpet at the top leading you to the final timing mat. It was just before 1am and we had been going for 12:42:10. We arrived just under 3 minutes before the official cut off time and when they turn the lights off in the Eiffel Tower.

Crossing the finish line was sort of an anti-climax. A wooden medal was put round our necks and then we were directed to a table to get a t-shirt. Then we headed over to get a beer and I was able to use my non-disposable cup (part of the obligatory equipment) for the first time. The first floor of the Eiffel Tower was cold, wet and windy with runners wandering around in a kind of daze.

Arrivée, ecotrail Paris 80km

We later heard that just over 500 people abandoned the course (2200 started) and people who had done it before said that their times were slower by 2 hours. So I think our original estimate of 10.5 - 11 hours could have been correct. Maybe we should do it again next year... 

Tour Eiffel - Ecotrail Paris 80km
1st Floor of the Eiffel Tower
After we got back down to the Paris streets we had to walk about 10 minutes to collect our bags. That was hard as we had begun to get really cold. We then went to a huge sports hall where there were showers. Bill didn’t bring any clean shoes so I went off to just wash my feet and put on some compression socks and clean shoes. Trouble was that the showers by that stage were filthy so I basically stayed dirty. One thing I did notice when I took my gloves off were that my hands were huge. They had swollen like a Michelin man. Thinking back, although I had drunk at least 2 liters of fluid, I had not peed for the whole race plus my feet also swelled the next day. I did look up why my hands had swollen and one suggestion was that the swinging of my arms (to keep balanced) caused fluid to collect. Another suggestion was electrolyte imbalance although I was taking in electrolytes with my water. I’ll investigate more.

We then went off to this big marquee (still freezing) to have some food. By now it was about 2am. We had bought a bottle of bubbly to share with other runners but somehow it seemed that no one was in the mood. We did talk to a few runners who had done the race before. Basically everyone said the same thing, in that their times were 2 hours slower than usual and that the conditions were the worst that they had seen.

After taking a while to find a taxi, we got back to our air bnb around 3.30am and crashed into bed at 4am.  Then can you believe it, we woke at 8am. What?!!!!! I think we were just too excited at having finished and wanted to see all the photos and the results on the Internet.

Funnily enough we both did quite enjoy the whole thing. Easy to say now but I don’t remember ever feeling like I wanted to give up. I think we felt strong generally, because we had done the right training. Even the hills didn’t seem too bad. Having done a couple of training runs of  6 - 8 hours meant that the time on our feet didn’t seem too much of a shock. Towards the end when the mud never seemed to stop, it got frustrating and it was really frustrating not being able to run on the flat sometimes. Next time (hahaha but yes we have thought about it!), I would just run through the mud from the start. Weaving in and out of puddles, certainly added on a couple of km.

People say it is wise to take a couple of weeks off running after and ultra marathon as your muscles have suffered a lot of micro tears. I can certainly believe it. My legs feel a bit more fragile than Bills although he has 4 black toenails. What I thought was sciatica, I am now wondering if it is actually IT band inflammation.

Today it is day 9 post race and I have just started some gentle stretching and some strength exercises. I am walking our dog Lily twice a day too to get the blood flowing. All in all, I am feeling chuffed but also really looking forward to getting my trainers back on and getting back out there. Patience Nicole!!!

In a couple of days I'm going to write about my ultra marathon kit and nutrition and basically see what worked and what I could have done better. See you then.