Monday, 26 September 2011

Paris - Versailles, revisited!

Those of you who know me know that it doesn't take much to tempt me to Paris! In addition to the well known cultural attractions, I can visit friends and eat and drink well! The end of September sees another attraction too. The annual, 10 mile, Paris to Versailles road race.

Last year the race fell on husbando's birthday, so I bought him his place in the race as a present! Well, what do you give the man who has everything? This year husbando is injured and decided about a month ago that he wouldn't be able to run. I offered the place to a friend who lives in Paris who had expressed a mild interest in running and was all set to start the race with him. The loser was to buy lunch! Sadly, Neil was a little too enthusiastic in his training and managed to damage his knee, so his doctor would not give him the medical certificate that is required by the French race organisers.

I was undeterred. Despite having had nightmares about the big hill I had been looking forward to this race. I travelled to Paris from work on Friday, spent a relaxing Saturday morning with friends, met Neil for lunch, walked too far in new boots (in unseasonably hot weather) and got huge blisters on the soles of my feet and spent Saturday evening eating pizza and drinking red wine with Cerys and Paul. A 12.30am text message from my darling daughter requesting a recipe for birthday cake disturbed an otherwise good night's sleep and I woke ready and raring to go on Sunday morning.

The first thing I noticed as I left the house was that it was warm! It was 8am and I didn't need my jacket! The RER into Paris was full of other runners, all clutching our kit bags, race numbers and fiddling with timing chips. At this point I began to feel a bit glum. I had no one to share my excitement/nerves with. I couldn't follow the conversations of those around me, and it felt very lonely.

Arriving at the start, I stowed my bag and made my way to the start. Over 20,000 people lining up in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower is quite a sight! Thankfully I had my iPhone with me, so had some music to listen to to pass the time. About 5 minutes before the race started, as competitors were jettisoning unwanted jackets, tops and water bottles, I was suddenly walloped on the side of my head by a half full, 2 litre bottle of evian! I was so glum by this point that I just burst into tears. I sent husbando a text message telling him I was fed up and miserable and that I wanted to come home. He told me to get a grip!

Pretty soon we were off. I like the start of this race. It is first come first over the line, but they start you in waves of around 150 every 30 seconds. I started out quickly; running the first three miles in a time I wouldn't have been too upset to run my Saturday morning parkrun in - 24 minutes! I knew I had to slow down, but also wanted to get a bit of a speedy start before the hill that I knew was coming. Last year this had slowed me down considerably. I had been ill, so it was understandable, but I wanted to do better this year.

The hill, when I got to it was not quite so awful as I remembered!
Yes it was long, yes it was steep, (look at the profile below if you doubt me) but I managed to keep plugging away! I overtook a fair few people. I was looking for the shade all the time as it was hot and sunny without a hint of a breeze. I grabbed water at every water station and made myself drink the entire bottle. It was so warm! It was unexpected too - the weather in the lead up to the race had been typicaly cool September weather. I saw a fair few people suffering and being helped by the pompiers, and at a couple of points we runners had to move onto one half of the track to allow the ambulances to pass. At around 11k in I was starting to get bored. I love chatting to people for a wee while on a long run, but couldn't do this as my French is limited to talking about monkeys in trees and my aunt's pen being on my uncle's desk! I did some maths and realised that I could run the rest of the race in a pace of 10 mins/mile and still beat my previous time - just. I had to give myself a stern talking to just to make sure that I didn't coast for the last few kilometres. A hill at Viroflay surprised me with its intensity
but luckily one of my favourite hill songs came on - ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky' and that kept me going! The field was crowded throughout, which meant I missed a lot of the kilometre markers. I assumed I had missed the 15k marker as I'd forgotten how long the final approach up towards the front of the Chateau is, it being slightly up hill is particularly cruel!

I remember noting that the gun time on the clock was three whole minutes faster than my chip time from last time as I threw myself across the finish line - I'd done it! I looked at my watch and saw that I'd done it in 1:26:22! The 'official' time came in at 1:26:21 - pleasingly palindromic - which is 7mins and 14 seconds faster than last year and 43 seconds faster than my previous 10 mile PB.

The medal has to be the nicest one I have seen. It is the International Year of the Forest. (Who knew? Not I!) The inscription reads "je respire les feuilles des arbres qui de mon souffle bruissent" and bablefish doesn't give me a satisfactory translation - so if you can translate this please add it as a comment below!

I'm back home now, and feeling far more positive about the whole experience than I was yesterday afternoon. I'm really pleased with the improvement in my time. Hopefully I'll get to run this race again next year, but I won't do it if I have to run it alone. I've been out this afternoon to buy new running shoes. The new ones are UGLY, and yellow, but hopefully they won't cause the pain in my little toes that I've been enduring and I may not lose as many toe nails! It is the first time I have bought anything other than Asics for a long time. I have just under 2 weeks to get them ready for the Royal Parks Half Marathon.....