May 03, 2010

Why? (A race report - or a psychoanalysis. You choose)

- "Well, I guess it will bring me luck", I say as as I am getting ready for the race and as I watch my now-dirty running socks, on which Malo has just decided to throw up part of his breakfast.

This is my first race since Malo was born. The last one I did with him in my belly, 5 weeks pregnant., but this time, he will be supporting with his dad, from the comfort of his Chariot.  And because chosing a local race would be too simple, I have signed up for a  21km trail race in the mountain part of Provence, four hours from home. We've planned to spend four days there, staying at a local campsite, racing (me), climbing (Martin),  mountain biking with the Chariot in tow (both of us) and wondering what the hell the parents think they are doing (Malo). As a result of this fun programme, the first challenge of the weekend was to try and load the car with two bikes, a Chariot, climbing gear, running shoes, cycling shoes, climbing shoes, Malo's folding bed and his rucksack. More often than not, it feels like having a truck instead of a car would be a smarter choice for us.

I leave Martin deal with a marathon of his own, i.e. making sure Malo's milk, organic courgettes, clean nappies, spare clothes, hat, sunglasses and whatever-else-he-fancies-stocking-up-at-the-bottom-of-the-Chariot, are ready in 15min, so that they can ride, Tour de France style, up the first uphill I'll have to run, and cheer me.

As for me, I get a ride to the start from our campsite neighbour. Last evening, Mister Neighbour looked at Martin in disbelief when Martin said that he was not racing, his wife was, and he would be looking after the baby.  Today, he quickly goes on to telling me he's hoping for a top 15 finish.  I guess the take-away message is: "I am so, SO good".  As for me, my only claim to fame is to have given birth less than 8 months ago, and altough the delivery was a marathon of some kind , I suspect it is one which is unlikely to tremendously help me today.  Well, I tell myself, the hills may be steep today, but at least I won't have to push the Chariot up them (I get comfort any way I can, as pre-race stress is building up).

Soon after, we start. I have signed up for the short race: 21 kms and 850m positive elevation gain.   Not that the long one did not appeal to me (I am a mountain masochist after all, or at least claiming to be, but after my ordeal of a few years ago, I must remind myself that I-am-running-less-than-I-wished is better than this-time-my-ankle-is-f***-for-good-and-I'll-never-be-able-to-run-again).

After the start in the village's centre, we're soon up the first hill.  Only 3kms done, and 18kms to go, but I am feeling good, and can see the regular Mountain Masochist uphill training should pay off.  Martin and Malo are here to cheer me, although Martin almost misses me, later claiming that, because I am so short, he did not see me, hidden as I was in the middle of a pack of normal-size runners.

First downhill, and trouble starts: a stitch. Oh, no. I blame it on pregnancy, not having got my abs back, and feeling like my organs are playing the mambo-jumbo inside my belly. But I need not worry because soon enough, it's uphill again, and, if there should be only one good thing about it, it is that the stitch goes away.

Or is it that the stitch has gone away because I AM BLOODY WALKING.  So that my pride does not get hurt unduly, let say straight away this walking situation (at that point at least) NOT of my own volition. I just happen to be stuck behind some runners clearly shocked that they could be so many steep hills ,on a trail run, in the Alps. Shocked, and breathless, and with lactic acid up to their eyeballs.  Hence the walking. Hence my being stuck. With no possibilty to overtake, as the single trail is indeed very "single" , and bordered on  each side by dense vegetation.  And as I am looking at my feet to kill time, I realise I am about to lose the time chip, which would be a bummer.  After all, at this pace, I am set to cross the finish line in about 2 or 3 days, and that would be a shame not to have it made official, wouldn't it?

By the time the trail is finally (a tiny little bit) wider, allowing me to overtake, I realise I find it super hard  to get back in motion and find my rythm again.  Then I spot Martin and Malo waiting for me, and stop to give the little devil (the big one too, actually) a kiss.

 WHAT?... Is that what motherhood does to you? Stopping, on a 21km race, when you don't have to? When you should be sprinting taking advantage of a few hundreds metres of not-so-steep dirt road? After a couple of minutes (ie just the time for Malo to wonder who is this stinking alien with sunglasses,  funny socks on, and a big, black number on her t-shirt), I am off again. But the fact remains: I have stopped .  During a race. And not even because I was about to die, just because I felt like it. Can't one get jailed for this?

Starting again, I enjoy a few hundreds metres of flatter terrain, with stunning views onto Mont Ventoux, which I will ride up to as soon as I get the chance (it is long, it is windy, it makes you wonder why you  thought you had to leave your car at the bottom, what not to like about it?).  The road-runner in me wakes up: no more heavy breathing, no more stop-and-go, the legs are just flowing. But a few hundreds meters are a bit short to get in the Zone, and soon enough, we're running up a steep countryside road again.

Unfortunately, by then, whatever killer instinct I may have had in me has gone. I decide I don't like uphills (even tough I have done rather well on them while training - sometimes being light and short has some advantages) , I don't like roads (not very credible either for somebody who spend the first ten years of her running life pounding the pavement), and I don't like the idea of the 18-20% climb waiting for me after the water station, at km 14. Looking at the race's profile the previous week, the upcoming climb, the steepest of the race, looked 3.5-4km long, i.e. more than long enough to make sure it will hurt big time.  I figure there is no point then to rush up that road now, knowing what comes later.  And so I walk. Again.

Of course, the thought that I have RUN (as in: NOT WALKED) steeper stuff when training with Martin, does cross my mind at this point... no explanation there: I guess I am just a wimp.  A wimp not used to to running with hundreds of people, and to sometimes having to adapt my pace to theirs, because I am stuck on a bloody single, very single indeed, trail.

That's when a guy who has been running next to me for a few minutes starts talking to me.
- "you're the wife of the guy who has been cycling up all that dirt roads with the Chariot. Whoa, that's quite a challenge, and I should know, we have a Chariot too, and we never got it anywehere else than flat land: too hard." Was I complaining about not having any decent claim to faim? Well, here you go: I may be the one running up that gruelling climb, but what I'll be remember as is "the wife of the guy cycling up with the Chariot". Oh well.

Anyway, feeling sociable today (which makes me a sociable walking wimp), we start talking about kids, Chariots, running, life in a nutshell. If anything, that helps passing time, and a little while later, we at last reach the water station. Again with the hellish climb ahead in mind, I figure a couple of minute stop won't make a huge difference now, and given that I have not been able to eat much  in the morning, I desperately need to eat something anyway.

Then, as I am refilling my camelbak, one of the girls at the station cheerfully announces that respite is soon there and we have only 1.5kms more to climb.  WHAT? I don't know how I got things so wrong, but in any case, it suddenly, it feels very, very stupid indeed to have stopped to refuel with only such a short uphill portion to go. Plus, a girl who is being paced by her boyfriend has just passed without stopping, and that, cannot stay unpunished (I just don't approve of pacers). 

So here am I, running full of energy again... only to have to stop a few hunderds metres further, because the climb may be shorter  than I thought at this point, but flatter it is not, and again, I am stucked behind this long queue of runners. Frustrating, but nothing to do about it, and partly my own fault anyway.

I eventually reach the top of the climb, and soon after, start the descent towards the village and the finish line. It is a super narrow, super steep, super technical, this is where I thought I would waste time, and I am flying.  WHOA, THIS IS FUN! The last km is run on the road, and again, the road-runner in me wakes up: I am picking up the pace again, things are feeling smooth. I sprint to the finish line with a huge smile on my face, and soon Malo in my arms.

I finish 16th woman, and 10th in my age group (nothing glorious here: it just means that 6 Vets were actually faster than me).  Not bad, given I have done only 3 trail races before (one of them pregnant) and most of all given what a poor race I did in view of my training. Maybe that's my claim to fame then: "the girl who is the wife of the guy cycling up with the Chariot AND runs much better and faster when she is training than on actual race day".

Then, as the awards ceremony gets started, the organiser announces that he wants to apologise, the course has been modified at the last minute, and he forgot to mention it at the pre-race briefing. The course was 1050m of elevation gain instead of the stated 850m, the water station had been moved further. than initially  intented, and instead of rollinh hills, we got a solid 10km-or-so climb. So the climbs were as  steep and long as they feel then. Well, that's a relief, for my mind if not for my legs. And my strategy of stopping for refuel would have been the right one had the station not been moved.  Still not  an impressive performance I gave, and still does not justify the walking, but it makes me feel marginally better about my run.

As I am walking back to the campsite later that day, I can't help wondering why I raced, and whether I did enjoy it. After all, there is no shortage of super nice trails on which to run back home, and more importantly, on which NOT to get stuck behing other runners.  And I don't need  races to push myself so I did not do it  either because I needed some kind of goal to train.  Instead, I feel rather frustrated with myself:  I finish in a decent time and at a decent place, but definitely not by pushing hard enough, which means I should have finish in a better time, at a better place.

But then... I have somehow enjoyed the race too...  I enjoyed the superb scenery (granted, I spent more time looking at my feet in an attempt to avoid the falls than admiring the mountains, but I am sure there were amazing). The friendly chats (even though they made me feel like the "wife of", and did not do any good to my speed). The bliss of managing to see my husband and son on no less than 4 points of the race (even though one should never waste time by stopping to kiss people - even ones son - on a race).  Oh, and I enjoyed the strategies devised post-race to improve my performance at the next race.

Oh yeah, because I have signed up for another one. Which means that if I walk the uphill sections of this one too, I will end up walking the entire race, because it will be a 23kms, 1500m elevation, climb, no flats, no downhills. Go figure.

Did I say Masochist?

PS - I think I have just managed a PB of some sort: that of the longest, most boring post. Actually, cross that out: nothing that long and rambling could be called a post. 
Self-inflicted flagellation maybe.
Or an online psycho-analysis.
Or a probably very successful attempt at using once and for good my few readers.
Or all of the above.
End of "post".


PiccolaPineCone said...

Not boring! Great race report. It is a WHOLE different world on the trail isn't it? Quite a culture shock for a roadie like myself. Sometimes I race on two lane, asphalt roads, both of which are closed to traffic and I STILL feel like I don't have enough space to myself. This "single track" concept adds a whole new dimension to racing. I also appreciate the concept of questioning whether you enjoyed yourself after the race. Sometimes as runners we just assume that racing is what we WANT to do... always good to step back & question.

cherelli said...

Oh I forgot to comment as I ran out of time after reading your post ( :) ) but this was an awesome race report - I really enjoyed reading it! I've only done one 30km trail race in NZ a few years ago and it certainly was another world, I thought I was fit until attempting that and got handed a huge lesson in humility (and gaining a lot of respect for anyone that takes those challenges on regularly). And I definitely understand that question "why do we race?" because honestly I really enjoy time in my own headspace training. Racing pulls you out of that and challenges you to get comfortable. But it's kind of a nice way to gauge your progress....or even just improve the mental side of racing...

Husband said...

Your husband and son only got ONE little (20 secs max) kiss-stop out of 4 cheering points along the race!
The cheering husband

Marie-Aline said...

Husband: I guess you're right :-) That makes me a quarter of a wimp, then.