By Dave Clément
On August 12, I left for my first official ultra-trail. I had had set the bar pretty high for myself considering that I was starting with a 100 miles and you could say that I fell short. Did I succeed? No. Did I learn? Absolutely! Theory, reading about hydration and trail running is one thing. But until you experience it, they remain concepts.
Lesson 1: Running during a workout and running during a race are two extremely different things : Once the start is given, I notice that my heart beats faster than usual. With stress and excitement caused by the atmosphere, my pace is faster than normal but the sensations are good. However, with the heat, I notice that my sweating rate is awfully high. Probably is a mix of heat, stress and feverishness. During my training, I don’t really monitor my water intake and just go as I feel it. However, this time, I challenge myself to hydrate well to avoid problems in the next kms. The first aid station is around kilometer 19. Despite these precautions, I am running out of water about 2-3 km before. The liter of water with electrolytes that I planned is clearly not enough for this humid heat.
Lesson 2: With water, too much is better than too little : I’m not talking about drinking too much but rather carrying too much. I leave the aid station with an additional water bottle and head for the second. The next one is at km 38. So I leave with 1.5 liter of water and for now, it feels like a lot. Yet, at km 30, I’m already counting the kms and the number of sips left. I am starting to feel thirsty and I dangerously lack liquid to hydrate myself. Fortunately, I come across a river.
Lesson 3: A filter takes up a lot of space in your vest, but it’s really important : So I have to fill up in a river. Unfortunately, I don’t have my filter with me, which I always have during my trainings. I take a risk and I drink the water without the filter rather than getting dehydrated. I’m scared for my stomach.
Lesson 4 : Sometimes, routes change without warning : I reach km 38 and I empty my last flask since there is about 500m before the next stop. Surprise, surprise, the aid station is not at km 38 but rather at km 41. So I run out of water again, for the 3rd time in 40 km. This time, I alternate between walking and running, hoping not to get dehydrated as quickly.
Lesson 5 : Taking the time : When I reach the 2nd aid station, I’m on a downhill slope. I’m a little confused, I fill my 3 bottles and I forget that my team is waiting for me with pre-filled bottles. I take a little more time than expected, just to drink more liquid, but not wanting to waste more time, I leave quickly. I manage to run, but it is getting harder and harder, considering the level of water and electrolytes missing in my system. I’m falling behind and I can’t catch up.
Lesson 6 : Hydration also affects nutrition : At km 80, I have the feeling that my race is over. I can’t hydrate properly, which also prevents me from eating well : nausea, sore throat and muscle cramps. The medical team tells me that my weight hasn’t change and that I’m good to go. I find it funny considering the amount of water in my shoes and my clothes that are completely drenched. My clothes are clearly better hydrated than my body. My team motivates me and I manage to leave Saint-Tite-des-Caps. I reach the Mestashibo section, a trail that I normally enjoy, but with everything that’s been going, I have no fun.
Lesson 7 : The muscle is not only related to the training. I can feel the lack of water and I know that it won’t be easy. I have to sit to go down the big rocks, as my muscles are completely cramped. Many people, during these moments, will tell you that it’s a lack of training but I have my doubts.
Lesson 8 : Just a small loop : Little wink here to my pacer and to my brother who push me to climb Mont-Sainte-Anne by telling me : it’s just a small loop. I get up and I go. Cutting the course into smaller loops makes the project a little less complicated. By setting close objectives, it is easier to reach the next pit stop and to stay motivated.
Lesson 9 : If you’re cold, maybe it’s not just the temperature : Once at the top, my face is sunken, I'm shaking and my feet are covered in blisters. I decide to stop my adventure. 106km later, I can no longer cut the route into small loops and I give up. I take the time to have a nice glass of hot water and take in a lot of fluids and finally stop shivering.I finish this adventure after many hours of managing my hydration in a very poor manner and now I understand how important it is. The next morning, I weigh 8 pounds less while being completely dry. Within 2 days of the event, I am back to my normal weight and my muscles are back, ready for training proving my theory: my muscles were not lacking in training, they were simply lacking in water and electrolytes.