Sunday, 28 September 2014

Paris to Versailles

I'm not enjoying getting old!  My memory is playing tricks on me!  I was sure I'd last run Paris-Versailles in 2012 - I was so sure that I spent ages trying to look for my time in the 2012 results listing (tricky anyway on a mobile 'phone!)  I knew it was 1hr 26 mins and some change, and I also  knew I wasn't anywhere near fit enough to come close to that time at the moment.  When I ran that time, in 2011 it turns out, I was running really well!  I got PBs at every distance I ran that year.  I think the fact that I only started working at the beginning of September that year may have had something to do with me being more focussed on training!  

So, after a longer break than I remembered we were going back to Paris for the race with that hill!  We travelled to Paris on Saturday morning, arriving with plenty of time to pick up our race numbers and look at the stalls at the expo.  I was beginning to have doubts about my choice of running kit.  It was really warm in Paris and I had brought a t shirt to run in.  I had a look at the clothing on offer, and while it was possibly to buy obscenely short running shorts there was not one single running vest on offer because they were all showing off their autumn and winter stock.  So I would be wearing my lovely Kent Roadrunner top, as would Husbando!    Neil, who were were staying with and who had hoped to run with me in 2011 but ended up running by himself in 2013, was running with us - he had to make do with the rather nice, but much more subdued, official adidas race shirt!  My KRR top was admired by a French lady - who informed me that I must be American because I was wearing 'such a shirt.'  No amount of denial by me would convince her that I was English!

Race morning dawned bright and sunny, we had breakfast, got our stuff sorted out and headed for the station to get the train to central Paris.  In contrast to 2011 my mood was good - we chatted and laughed and talked about our goals.  Neil wanted to do better than last time, Husbando was planning to run with me, and was hoping we could run sub 1hr 30.  My A goal was sub 1hr 30, my B goal was getting round in one piece.  We were joined by a growing throng of runners - always reassuring to know that we were going in the right direction.  At Champ de Mars I sent the boys off to check the bags while I queued for one of those 'tardis loos' - the ones that self clean between each user.  I reckoned that, by the time I got to the end of the queue I might need a wee!  From there we made our way towards the start and took some photos with a famous Paris landmark in the background.  

There are no starting pens at this race, and with 25,000 entrants we thought we ought to make our way to the start areas where runners were gathering.  There was a constant commentary from the, very loud, PA system.  I understood about 60% of what he was saying.  I didn't think we were too far back from the start.  We tried to chat over the PA, and ignored the nonsensical warm up ("Jump up and down on the spot to raise your heart rate").  I was struck by the number of runners who were kitted out as though they were about to embark on an ultra.  Whilst a 10 mile race might be a good time to try out kit that you are considering using on a much longer race I don't think that it is possible that all the people we saw with Camelbaks were ultra runners, and nearly every other runner was wearing a race belt stacked with enough gel packs to feed an army.  One bloke had 12 gel sachets (yes, I am that sad, I did count them!)  TWELVE!  That is more than one per mile!  I can't imagine eating that much gel without wanting to throw up at some point.  

At 10.00am the elite runners went off, followed by waves of us mere mortals going off at 1 minute intervals.  We crossed the line at 10.17!  The first male was nearly half way through his race by then (he finished in 47mins 42 seconds).  While I was waiting I looked up and took a photo of the Eiffel Tower - I note that I took an almost identical photo last time I was here.  We were the last to be allowed through in our wave - Husbando had to say, in his best school boy French, that I was his wife in order to be allowed in.  We crossed the line and suddenly all my nerves and uncertainties faded away, I forgot my niggling sore throat and remembered why I was here.  I love to run!  I really just do.  Off I went with a huge smile on my face.  I knew I was going too fast but I didn't care!  I knew that I'd slow down later, but it felt fantastic to be moving!

Husbando had been talking about a wee stop from before the start - the queues had been to long before the start, so he joined a row of men peeing against a wall before we got the the first kilometre marker.  I carried on.  It was crowded and I had to constantly change direction to plot my way through.  Husbando caught me up at about 3k in.  It is very flat for this section, but in the back of my mind I knew that the hill was coming!

The hill came.  Husbando is much better at hills than I am, I told him to go on ahead - as to be honest the thought of him stopping every so often to wait for me to catch up was very depressing.  I plodded on.  The hill isn't hugely steep but it is very long.  At several points you think you much be at the top, but you aren't - there is more, and some of it is on cobbles.  I may have been slow, but I kept going and was even overtaking people.  A new addition to the signage this year was one saying that we were at the highest point of the run.  Lovely, there was still another uphill section that I could recall, but for now it was time to recover, get my breath back, get my legs moving again and fly down hill.

It was never easy going.  There were so many slow runners in the 16 start waves ahead of me that it was a constant case of weaving in and out.  There was a distinct lack of running etiquette - no moving to one side before slowing down, people just stopped in the middle of the road!  And faster runners used their elbows to warn that they were approaching!  The water stations, however, were well placed and the volunteers cheerful and friendly.

At around 14km I had a real conversation, in French, with some fellow runners.  There was one of those traffic signs that calculates the speed of approaching vehicles and it was picking up the speed of the runners.  It was fluctuating between 9, 10 and 11kph,  I announced that I wanted to get it to 12 - and with lots of cheers and encouragement from those around me I did it!  A much needed burst of speed!

Soon I was approaching Versailles along the Avenue de Paris, looking left and right to see if Husbando was watching.  I knew I had my sub 1:30 in the bag, so now I was just seeing how fast I could get to the end.  I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin, and saw Husbando waiting for me.  I'd run 1:26:41 - I was amazed.  Was it a PB?  It would be close…. Checking my records I found I had missed a PB by 20 seconds.  Which is gutting, but there are positives to be drawn.

When I do this race again I will get there earlier and hopefully get a clearer run.  When I ran my 10m  PB there in 2011 I was having an amazing year, this year has been a bit naff really and I don't feel anywhere near as fit as I did then - so hopefully I can take a few more seconds off my time.   And above all, we had a great time.  We spent time with friends, we ran in the sunshine and collected a medal.  What more could one ask for?

Sunday, 21 September 2014

He, who would valiant be...

I am not entirely sure how I ended up entering this event again.    Indeed, if look at my blog from last year,  I find I am at pretty much the same stage in this year, new job - great but still in the rabbit in the headlights stage, tired, losing my voice etc.  At least I'm not training for an imminent marathon.  I think that I entered because I decided to do the Giant's Head Marathon next year and thought I'd need to get some trail experience.  I'm only doing the Giant's Head for the medal (go on, have a look, you know you want to!)  26.2 miles on trail is a long way for a confirmed road runner so today I was only taking on the half.  
The weather was fantastic.  I'd obviously misread the weather forecast as I'd thought the sunny, warm weather was over, but the sun was shining and clouds were scudding by as we waited for the start.  We got their early enough to see the full marathon runners off, and I caught up with friends.  I have since discovered, via Facebook, that there were several other people I know there and I am sorry to have missed them.  As they set off they were told to 'watch out for tyre girl' who had set out early for the marathon pulling a tyre behind her.  I prefer to carry my tyre around my middle!  As we had time we had lovely coffee from at the back of a Citroen van.  This of course meant a queue of the loos!  

Soon we were off, having just managed to get to the end of the loo queue and back to the start line in time to sort out  my Garmin.  As we left the start area we passed through the open gate, and my race almost ended there.  I was chatting to a fellow runner and did not see the thin, grey end of the gate pointing towards me (see photo).  I hit it hard with my left shoulder!  It wasn't marked and with loads of people all around it was not easy to spot.  Still, onwards and briefly downwards I went.  Running on the road was easy, nice and wide, easy to pass people.  I'd decided to just see how I felt and not force the pace as I have another race next weekend (and the weekend after).  Which idiot enters 4 races in the first 5 weeks of a new job, with one of them being in another country?  So I pootled along, chatting with people I knew, people I'd never met before.  I made a huge effort to catch up with one lady who I thought was someone I knew only to find she was a total stranger!  I caught up with someone I know from CPRC briefly and was introduced to his running companion.  Only in England would one turn and shake hands with someone one was introduced to while running a race!   

Once off the road it got a bit more serious.  The paths were narrow in places which resulted in having to walk for some sections and during other sections I just concentrated on keeping up with the person in front.  The hills were as sapping as last year, but I think that the weight loss has helped as I recovered much faster.  Not that you could speed down lots of the hills as they were steep and, well, trailey!  I stopped completely to check on two runners who fell spectacularly!  My automatic reaction to stopping running was to stop my Garmin, luckily I didn't stop it for long and the runners were both OK.  The highest point of the run offered absolutely stunning views, I'd say they were breathtaking, but I didn't have much breath left to take!  There was less haze this year and I could see much further.  If I can work out where it was I would love to go back and spend some time there.  

The water stations were well placed, just when I thought I was too thirsty (it was warmer than I'd anticipated) a water station appeared!  The marshals were friendly and cheerful.  I think I managed to thank most of them as I plodded past.  At one point, in the last couple of miles, I overtook someone and realised that I couldn't see anyone ahead of me.  I panicked a bit and called over my shoulder 'Are we going the right way?' and sped up so that I had someone in view.  Soon we were back on the road.  Running past the golf course and up hill to the gate to the field.  I spotted a man in a purple shirt who had passed me way back at mile 4 (in Puttenham).  I caught him up, overtaking several people in the process.  Then I carried on overtaking people as I knew that the finish beckoned.  At one point I overtook a car - shouting 'I'm faster than a car!'  Then it was round the corner and down the hill to the finish.  I heard my name called and I think I waved - but I was intent on catching just one more person.  I threw myself over the line and heard my number and name over the tannoy - a nice touch that.  I'd done it!  And 11 minutes faster than last year!  
The CPRC guys I'd caught up with briefly had finished ahead of me (it was they who had shouted as I came in), so I went to join them.  Apparently they didn't realise I was so fast.  I said I wasn't really, more a case of being too stubborn to give it!  

As I waited for my friend to come in I collected my medal and my tech t-shirt.  Then I totally messed up sorting out my 'phone to take a photo of her as she sprinted to the finish!  Sorry!   After that we went for lunch!  Steak frites and a glass of wine.  Lovely.

So, how many trail races will I have to do before I feel the love?  This was a very well organised event, the views were stunning, there was plenty of cake for afterwards (I was good and did not partake), and I am very glad I did it.  But to say I enjoyed it would be an overstatement!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Run The Vyne

I think I must have signed up for this race pretty much as soon as I heard about it.  That would account for me getting bib number 14.  I obviously didn't read the web page too closely because I really hate trail running.  When I did realise it was a trail run I thought that, as it was on National Trust property it would be the sort of paths that would be suitable for elderly ladies in wheelchairs and yummy mummies with their buggies and not 'proper' trail.  So it was with a degree of trepidation that I laced up my trail shoes and set off for The Vyne this morning.   
I got there far too early of course - I always do, but I'd much rather be early than late.  Arriving early gave me a chance to get my bearings, work out where the loos were - all those important things!  Registration was in front of the house - and seemed to work smoothly with Chineham Park Running Club members manning the desks and greeting all the eager runners.

Shortly before 10am we made our way to the start and after a short run briefing we were off.  I immediately remembered why I don't like trails.  I like to put my foot down on the floor with a degree of confidence that it isn't going to wobble and twist!  I like to run without thinking about where the safest path is going to be.  We ran across a bumpy field, through a gate and into the woods.  The tree roots were clearly marked, but this did not stop me taking a tumble before we got to the first kilometre marker.  I felt a bit stupid, so got up and carried on!  Soon there was a lovely bit of concrete path - but it didn't last long.  I was aware that we seemed to be running downhill for a large proportion of the time.   This worried me a little as we'd have to get back up to the start at some point - but I decided to put that out of my mind and enjoy the amazing marshalling stations!  We had Scots' Corner, Halloween Hill, Teddy Bears' Picnics, Legoland and what I am naming Valentine's Corner - complete with pink flamingoes and fairy lights.  I wish I'd had time to take photos and thank each marshal personally for such an amazing effort!

I didn't take in much of the scenery I'm afraid.  I was too busy concentrating on staying upright.  At the water station I decided it was prudent to stop and drink rather than trying to run down hill while drinking from an open cup!  I never take water with me on a 10k run, but somehow running past a water station always makes me feel terribly thirsty!  

There was one short, sharp steep hill - where a parkrun friend and CPRC member stood capturing photographic evidence of how hard we were working - and another longer, less steep hill.  For those of us running the 10k we had to do these twice.  I spent most of the second lap trying to remember where the hills were and failing miserably!    At the end of the second lap we turned right and were back in the field, as we did this I overtook a man from Bramley Trail Runners, thinking that we were just a short sprint from the finish line.  Funny how the mind can play tricks on you - it was quite a long haul over the uneven ground and mainly up hill too.  I managed to hold my place until we crossed the line - he managed to nose ahead of me but only just!  
I stopped my Garmin at 54:26.  My road PB is 49:16 and I haven't been close to that all this year, so I am happy with my time.  I had no expectations of how I would get on this morning, and after taking an early tumble I definitely erred on the side of caution - especially on the steep downhill sections.  I am not a convert to trail running - it requires far too much concentration for me, but I would definitely run this one again, just for…er…fun...  

I met up at the finish with various running friends.  It was a pleasure to run a race with the woman who got me into running.  She was completing her first 5k race today, and has decided that she will enter the Bupa 10,000m next year!  It was lovely to cheer people over the finish line and watch the prize ceremony for the top finishers.  That done we made our way back to collect our bags and enjoy a post race massage thanks to the guys at North Hampshire Sports Massage - they kindly plonked my sore foot in an icy boot thingy while I waited for my friends to have their turn on the massage tables.  

This was a great race, with excellent organisation and nice medals (not sure if you can call wood 'bling').  It was lovely to see so many people I know both amongst the runners and the marshals - it is such a boost to have someone call out your name as you run, and the marshals were very good at lying and saying that I was looking good!  

Thank you to everyone at CPRC and The National Trust who made it all happen.