First of all, let me say that I only got the nerve to sign up to this race because Eric wrote on page 130 of TCI that after going through the foundation program, I would be ready! I don't think I would have dared to attempt this on my own.
But ever since I first heard about this race, it had me mesmerized. This 22 km "half" marathon leaves downtown Grenoble and heads South for the first 5 km. Then there is a 5 km, 280 meters vertical ascent up one of the hills (pre-Alps actually) that surrounds the city. The next 11 km consist in a gentle and regular descent through the countryside until we reach the walls of the Renaissance chateau de Vizille. The last km is run on the castle property in a beautiful park. The castle itself was the place where the French revolution started in 1788. And this particular year was the 200 year celebration of Napoleon's return from captivity in 1815, and whose mythical meeting with the King Louis XVIII's army took place just a few kilometers from there. For those not too familiar with French history, the King's army had been sent to arrest him, but the soldiers, who up til 1814 where all Napoleon's soldiers, all decided to turn against the King and proclamed Napolean Emperor once again, before marching on Paris. Etc, etc.
So this was the race I fantasized about, dreaming about it every night before falling asleep, first thing in my thoughts in the morning. A bit of background, I started running seriously (more than once a week) last August and started the program in October, hoping to finish just in time for the race. Life got a bit in the way but I managed to finish week 18 and tapered off the week before the race. I'm the extremely slow, previously unathletic but enthusiastic type of newbie. Running has also become so important to me in great part because it helps me deal with my anguish concerning my mother's health.
The entire week before the race, I had the "I'm sick to my stomach" and "I'm going to throw up" type of fear. My longest run til then had been 13 km in HRZ2. I couldn't wait for the race to start so that I could get the anticipation over with! So I got to the race early to have plenty of time to prepare, warmed up exactly like for a training run (15 minutes in HRZ2/3 + 4 pick ups). I took my place at the back of the pack because I didn't want everybody passing me like at my last race (5km in September). Even if my CI would be to run this race in 2 and a half hours, I knew that a more reasonable time for me was 3 hours. The first two km were difficult because of all the doubts concerning whether I would manage to get to the end. Then I concentrated on my pace and was really happy to see how easily I was maintaining a 7'10"/km pace over the first 5 km. This was practically the pace at which I ran that 5km in September, so I was very pleased. Then started the 5km climb, with the steepest part being at the beginning. Ouch, but lots of hill training had taught me that the pain eventually goes away after 15 minutes or so.
Thanks to this knowledge, I persevered and decided I would NOT walk any portion of the climb, like several people in front of me were doing. I settled into the climb and was very happy to see my pace get quicker over the less steep sections. I must have been really concentrated because, on arriving at the top of the hill, I missed a left turn and kept going
straight for about 300 meters before I started wondering if I was on the right road!!! This section was downhill unfortunately so I ran back up again quickly and a bit panicked hoping I wouldn't be disqualified. As I reached the turn itself, the half dozen policemen who were posted there in order to make sure people DIDN'T get lost apologized saying they thought I wasn't in the race since they couldn't see my number which was taped to my T-shirt but under my jacket (it was very cold that day). So off I go, starting the long downhill portion of the race. But then I see the "voiture balais" ("broom car" in English ?) go by and I ask a policeman following me on his motorcycle "I'm last?" He answers Yes. He asks if I want him to take me up to the "broom car" in front and I answer "No!" So he replies "Well, we will follow you then" and I answer "whatever you want!" A bit later, I pass the "broom car" which had stopped on the side and then observe that I'm gaining on the next last runner, one that had walked during the climb. My pace is great, I'm feeling strong and fast. Vroooom, I pass him. Next I see a woman running in a pink bunny rabbit costume (I am not making this up. Do people dress up in costumes to run races in other countries ?) I pass her, vrooooom. So happy to have left my escort in the back and feeling relieved to be still in the race. Now I'm pretty much on my own with 7 km to go. The following thoughts cross my mind:
"This is going to be easy, I run 7 km every day on my lunch hour."
"Am I enjoying myself????? .............................. "
"I really should have started core strength training before January..."
"Imagine that Eric is running beside me. Well ok, walking beside me..."
Those last 7 km, I felt less strong and less fast, with my pace slowing. But the idea never entered my mind that I might not finish the race. I even managed to speed up on the last km. The finish left me a bit sad that my dream race was over. My total time is 3 hours and 11 minutes. My shame-Gremlins are already trying to convince me that running this race was not such a big deal. That it was actually pretty easy. Let them grumble.
Je t'aime, maman.