WITNESS: From agony to peace: my ultramarathon experience

Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:48pm EDT
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By Paul Carrel

Paul Carrel, 36, is Reuters' senior economics correspondent in Berlin. A Briton, he joined the company in 1996 and has worked in London, Vienna, Frankfurt, Paris and Berlin. In the following story, he describes his battle with injury and the experience of running a 6-day ultramarathon in France.

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - I had never run further than a half marathon before. I wanted to take on a really big challenge but I had a problem: I couldn't even walk properly.

A doctor had given me a downbeat assessment in the spring of 2009: I had damaged my Achilles tendon by trying to revive my teenage exercise levels in my mid-30s. He told me to rest.

By early 2010 the Achilles still hurt. During a walk on my 36th birthday, January 2, I found myself limping as I trudged home through the Berlin snow.

I wanted to shape up but running was a problem so I used a cross-trainer -- a machine that simulates running with plates under the feet to avoid impact. I longed for more.

Soon after, I was surfing the Web and found 'La Trans Aq': a 220-km (137-mile) , six day, ultramarathon which takes participants along the Atlantic coastline of France from Montalivet to Saint Girons Plage.

That averages out at almost a marathon every day, in a race where participants are required to carry their own food and kit over beaches, across sand dunes and along forest trails.

"I couldn't do that, could I?" I thought. "Or could I?"   Continued...

<p>Paul Carrel (L) leads a British contingent into Hourtin, near France's Atlantic coast, at the end of Stage 1 on the 6-day Trans Aq ultramarathon, May 31, 2010. Picture taken May 31, 2010. REUTERS/Dunes Organisation/Handout</p>