Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Paris to Versailles

I don't need much of an excuse to jump in the car and head off towards Paris! One of my best friends lives there for starters and, let's face it, it is Paris after all! So, when Cerys emailed me the link for the Paris to Versailles race I started planning. The race coincided with Stephen's birthday, so I paid his race entry fee as a birthday treat.

We traveled over on Saturday morning, arriving at Cerys' house at about 11.30am, in time to persuade her to abandon her children and come and join us for lunch at L'Avenue before we headed off to complete our registrations for the race at the Palais des Sports Robert Charpentier. We are getting quite proud of our ability to navigate the public transport system in Paris, but still wish that the map was as beautifully simple as the London Underground map. Retrieving our race numbers required the usual level of French bureaucracy, photo id, copies of UK athletics association membership cards etc. were required before the all important number and timing chips were handed over. Souvenir t shirts were given out at this point too, which meant that rather than a 'one size fits all' affair we actually got shirts that fit! It was rather pleasant to watch some very athletically built men strip off to try on their new shirts.

Back to Maisons Laffitte for a fabulous Coq au Vin, made by Paul, a medicinal G&T and a couple of glasses of red wine to sooth my chest, then an early night. I woke often in the night because I kept coughing, and during the night I had many dreams about the race - I figure my subconcious was making up for the fact that I hadn't run for a week due to feeling rough.

Sunday morning arrived, cold but dry. We made our way toward the Eiffel Tower joining a growing throng of people in running gear, clutching their water bottles, isotonic drinks and energy bars. The start seemed chaotic to me, after the highly organised starts of races like the BUPA 10,000m and the British 10k. Where was the luggage drop? There were no signs, no one who looked 'official' to ask, and I couldn't think what 'luggage drop' would be in French anyway! We found our way eventually, passing the open air urinals which were being ignored by most men who seemed perfectly happy peeing where they stood!

The wait for the start seemed interminably long. I was so glad Stephen was with me as there was none of the normal pre race banter. This is probably because we aren't fluent in French, so couldn't join in easily, but looking around people seemed to talk to the people they had arrived with and not chat with strangers. We were thoroughly cold by the time the race started! A good warm up was provided by trying to avoid the litter left by our fellow runners, jumpers, shirts, plastic bags and bottles filled with suspicious coloured liquid, formed a compost on the road.

There were far fewer women than I would have expected to see in a similar race in the UK. When I was waiting to start I could only see 4 other women, and there were none of the 'jolly mummies' (as Stephen calls them) who are running for fun. Another absence was the huge numbers of charity runners - I saw about 6 charity shirts during the morning and, because there wasn't a huge charity presence, there were no bands of volunteers supporting their charities' runners.

The first 3.5 miles of the race were lovely! Easy, flat roads with me keeping the pace at just under 8mins 30secs a mile, my lungs hurt and I coughed as though I had a 40 a day Gaulois habit, but I was doing OK, my legs felt fine. The only downside was the spitting! French men seem to spit while running with as much regularity as I breath while running. We became adept at avoiding flying spittle. Support was thin on the ground, until the very end of the race. A few bored looking Parisiens watched us as they contemplated how they could safely cross the road to get to the boulangerie! There were bands along the way, and if you like brass bands you'd have been happy. I am not a mad fan, and would have preferred something a bit more uplifting - but I suppose anything is better than French pop music!

At 3.5 miles we started to go up a hill that would last for two long, steep (7%) miles. This hill just went on and on. We'd go up, turn a corner thinking 'this must be the end' and see the hill stretching away ahead of us. I don't mind admitting that I really struggled here, even though I was still overtaking people I knew I had slowed right down. All that running up Brockham Hill had helped a little, but not enough. At one point I was down to 11 minutes 55 secs a mile, and worst of all it now felt as though I was drawing every breath through molten larva! It took a good 2 miles for me to recover from the hill, I normally bounce back fairly quickly, but I just could not get enough oxygen into my system to revive my legs. Stephen kept telling me not to worry, that it wasn't about the time, it was about having a good time. 'What a f*cking excellent way to spend your 44th birthday!' I grunted at him halfway up the hill. This got a laugh from a passing runner, who yelled out 'No one can swear like the English!' as he sped past me. He must have been listening as I called Stephen every name under the sun when he tried to tell me that we were on the last hill!

A brief downhill section between miles 6 and 7, and another shorter one just before 9 miles did enable me to catch my breath and regain my sense of humour! We were not going to make our target time of 1hr 30mins, but then we hadn't reckoned with me running with a chest infection, nor had either of us realised quite how long and how steep the climb would be. The last mile was a steady incline up to the finish. We ignored the last 'feed stop' which was offering wine and ploughed on to the end. Despite thinking I was all in, I did manage to dig deep and find a little more speed, but not much.

We eventually finished in 1hr 33mins 35secs. I console myself with the thought that, had there been another 3 flat miles to run (i.e. a half marathon distance) I would have been able to complete them in under 26.25mins and finished a half in 2hrs. I came in the top third for my age and gender groups. I am grateful to Stephen for sticking with me. He knows that I wouldn't have done it if the roles had been reversed - I'd have left him and run on to get the best time I could!

Amazingly my legs did not protest the next day! I thought I would be stiff and achey, but maybe my legs decided to give me the break my chest wasn't giving me! We raised over £300 for Combat Stress - there is still time to donate via Virgin Money Giving and we had fun! Yes, really we did! I may have moaned a bit at the time, but now I've got my shiny medal I am a happy girl.

Photos are on Facebook, because I am too lazy to wait for them to upload here - you'll need to be a friend to view them.

Thank you to Cerys and Paul for putting us up (and to Emily for letting us sleep in her room), it was lovely to be met at the end of the race rather than having to work out the best public transport route. Even if the end of the race co-incided with Cathedral kicking out time (do they have last orders or last rites before this?) so it took us half an hour to get out of the carpark and another hour and a half to get back to Maisons Laffitte. It might have been quicker to run....


  1. well done - i love reading these racing stories. Keeps me going. I am still keeping up the training for the Bath half although probably not as much as I should. Bought a new running jacket which gave me a boost for a while! ha ha. You are an inspiration!

  2. It is lovely to get comments - sometimes wonder if anyone is reading my drivel!

    I have a nice running jacket, never worn it to run in, but may do come the winter. I have worn it as a waterproof as it is so small and lightweight it packs away to nothing in my handbag. I must have been going through an uncharacteristically sensible phase as I bought a black one rather than the bright pink one that I was very drawn to, so it goes with more things.

    Went to the doctor last night, was given a lecture about running while not well and antibiotics for a chest infection. Was the first time I've been to the doctor for 11 years apart from to get repeat prescriptions of my Epipen, and if all they do is lecture me I won't be going back anytime soon!