I had missed this race in my wife’s home town for a few years but with an early Easter I realised I would still be around. This was due to be my first competitive race for 8 months after some medical problems last year so with a few good park runs under my belt I thought I would give it a whirl. To be honest the preparation for this wasn’t great. With the frozen arctic wastelands of Durham having sapped a lot of enthusiasm in March I hoped to pick it up in France. I planned to test out my slowly improving French by jumping onto a Sunday run with the ‘Escapade de Malestroit’ running club and they were very accommodating with a select group of us dodging through some 11 miles of woodland trails that looked like they were last used by the resistance in WW2. I was finding it tough and was well off the pace with a growing niggle in both hamstrings. I decided then to avoid further injury I would rest until race day and hope for the best. I always had a PB in mind as I had done the Great North Run in 2011 in 1 hour 41 so I was hoping for a fast flat course running at about 8 minute mile pace.
The French have a saying “il pleut comme vache qui pisse”- it rains like a cow urinates! As I awoke on race day it was doing just that and the wind was howling around too. At 2.30 I went to pick up my race number. I managed to bluff my way through the obligatory doctor’s fitness certificate that all French runners must produce and then started warming up. And I needed warming. It was wet and freezing. The turnout was low as a result as there were certainly no fair weather runners. At 3.30 some 300 of us set out to start on what, for some, was part of their qualification for the French national championships. Running at 7.5 min miles was the target and I was easily doing that as we pulled out of the sports centre across the river and out of town towards the village of St Congard.
The route was along a road that in places resembled a river and it was not long before a race number malfunction slowed me down as I readjusted the safety pins on a very soggy ‘15’ sign. At park run distance I was going strong at 23.30 mins. On track to maybe get my new PB. But the wind and rain was coming in all directions. It got no better! At 10k I was on 46 minutes and still flying with not a single mile over 8 minutes. I was very happy as there was no sign of the stomach problems that had previously dogged me. Then at seven miles we turned into a village and started a short climb up a woodland road. It was then that disaster struck. I now know what the saying means when runners ‘hit a brick wall’. My legs just turned to jelly, I ran out of steam completely and my times plummeted. I tried to keep going up what would normally be a gentle climb but this was becoming torture and I was struggling as I came to 9 miles on a very exposed hill. The rain and wind continued which is more than I felt like doing. Times were now around 10 minute mile pace and everything was coming to a grinding halt! I dropped down to the village of St Laurent and with a bit of water and a slice of orange I got a bit more energy but it wasn’t really enough as I crawled the last 3 miles. The thought of the chocolate eclair I skipped at lunch, waiting for me in the fridge, was all that was keeping me going. I passed the cheese factory at the 20k mark and hobbled onto the final part with thoughts of only finishing.
Crossing the line in 1.53 it wasn’t my worst but it did show me I’m still a bit off the pace as yet. Still that was not going to stop me tucking into my eclair. Delicieux!