Monday, November 30, 2009

Course de la Grapille (7k race)

It’s almost three weeks now, and my leg (hamstring) still hurts. I thought it would be a good idea to invite a few of my colleagues to a 7-k trail race, since it’s a rare distance and therefore a guaranteed personal record. mini_HPIM3844 Well, Cyril met Rebecca, the kids, and I about half an hour before the race, where we got in line to get our race numbers. Unfortunately, Cyril was denied access to the race, because he didn’t have the mandatory French paperwork—a physician’s permission slip. This was never required in any of my races in the US, but here, a waiver isn’t good enough. We need to have an annual checkup to prove we’re not at risk of dropping dead on the course. I’m not so sure about that philosophy—Ryan Shay, an Olympic marathon hopeful, never finished the trials due to sudden death. Then again, maybe if he had run the trials French style, with a physical and all, who knows? It’s ironic that the exercise we do can also be the end of us. The problem is, if I don’t run, it hurts, and if I do run, it hurts. My sedentary desk job is just bad for my body…

Well, like I said, it sounded like fun to have a guaranteed PR, and since I wanted to run with a colleague, I had come to the race without even a goal time. Things don’t always go according to plan—I’d lost my running partner for the day, and I didn’t know what to do. Still, I had missed a lot of workouts recently due to our Irish vacation, and I decided the best plan was to stick with a low-key race—just something that felt good, and negative splits. I couldn’t help to want to break a 7:00/mile pace, but knew it wasn’t likely. I warmed up, and waited for the gun. We started and within 20 seconds I was in a decent pace group… and the sound of the running was an incredible, first-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone was silent—not yet tired enough to be breathing heavily, and their feet were landing gently, rolling against the clean pavement, almost with the same cadence… swoosh, swoosh, swoosh; it was meditative. The course turned onto a rocky farm road, cut through a field, and it was all absolutely beautiful. The Franche-Comté has so many dome-shaped limestone hills with great panoramic views. We were maybe 20 km away from Besançon, so I didn’t recognize any of the hills, and I just tried to soak it all in, and stick with the people around me, hoping I was running a sustainable pace.

Soon we headed downhill, and I thought I’d be able to ‘roll down’, at least that’s what I say to myself to recover energy from the descent—but the path was too muddy and slippery to roll (unless I didn’t mind literal rolling)—I had to keep my legs tense to stay in balance. At that point Imidrace thought, well, this is why I usually race by the rivers—it’s all flat—and why I only do one trail run a week—I can’t run as fast as I want… but then I decided not to stress about it.

We headed uphill again, and the person I had picked to be my pace-keeper dropped back. I had to pick someone new, a bit ahead, and I only caught up in places where the road was better, then fell back again when it was slippery. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn my racing flats—my special, ultra-light racing shoes—my magic personal-record setters… there just wasn’t enough traction—I think I really needed cleats!

Still, when I got to the 5-k split, I noticed my time was 21:37, which I think is close to my PR for that distance—so I figured I was doing great. We descended again and did a hairpin turn into a cow field—wet, soggy, and muddy. This corner was so slippery, the person just ahead of me had fallen. She scrambled to her feet, and after another two hundred feet I slipped—my left leg stung for a second but I managed to stay on my feet and keep going.bell

Then I found out the last kilometer was all uphill—aargh! I was tired, but figured that it was ok to feel as bad as I do for my track workouts—and I chugged on. I was happy when I heard the cowbell of this dedicated fan, signifying the finish line was near.

Here I am pictured 50 feet before the finish line:final_push

Cyril had waited for me to finish—here’s his congrats, mini_HPIM3854 as well as support from my most dedicated fans:


Well, sometimes runners are stereotyped as fastidious, exacting, demanding—that’s me. When I got home I used a toothbrush to get the extra weight off these puppies:


Despite the terrain and conditions, I think it’s an encouraging benchmark—31:41 (7:14/mile)—maybe I’m not too old to be able to improve! Results are here:

Well, for once I was very happy with my race. Seems like the key is not having a specific goal!

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