October 11, 2010

Miss and Hit...

... or how to write two race reports in one post (and make the most of the very little free time I have since starting work

Fast rewind to the end of August. I had signed up for a trail race in the mountains not far from home, and had found plenty reasons justifying getting up at 6am on on Sunday,including, in no particular order:

1. Pretty much everybody who runs in Annecy (and even a big chunck of those who don't) has done it, so I felt I would not get any credibility as a runner here unless I can tick the box (OK, I am totally making tup reason  #1).

2. Set up in the Aravis range, halfway between the Annecy lake and Mont Blanc, the scenery is stunning (this I am not making up).

3. I had turned 37 on the eve of the race, and running and spending half a day in the mountain sounded like a great way to celebrate. And while I was at it, I would also "celebrate", although I am not sure that's the best way to describe it, the end of my time as a stay-at-home mum, and the beginning, three days later, of my new working life.

4. I was still frustrated to have had to withdraw from another great trail race because of last minute surgery inconveniently planned for the day before the race (and it seemed bad form to race anyway while the surgeon had said "no running for three weeks).

5. I don't race a lot, and never felt the need for it. I don't need them to push myeslf.  Actually, I push myself harder if I don't race, as it became all too clear last time round,. Call it a screwed up mind, and clearly a lack of  trail racing experience too.  So it was probably also because I am screwed up that I had managed to convince myself that I had to be able to manage stress and race situations better, and race at my full potential, instead of being the only girl in the world who trains faster than she races.
So here was I, literally freezing my butt off while waiting for the race to start, on that last Sunday morning of August. I had slept very little, eaten even less, in a nutshell, my stress management still had some way to go before being called efficient. Checking out the list of runners the previous night: had not helped all the best female runners from the region were there. Unfortunately, I know I am - in theory - almost as fast as some of them, at least on a terrain I am more familiar with than mountain races.  And I say "unfortunately", because it means that, for the last 12 hours, I had been thinking that, again in theory, and even accounting for my lack of experience of mountain races,  I should be finishing just behind them.

Best way not to feel under pressure? Probably not.

As the church bell rang and notified us of the start, I, at least, managed to avoid a first mistake. Instead of being buried (quite literally, given my "sample" size) in the middle of pack, I positionned myself at the front, to avoid getting stuck behind a long queue of walking runners on the first steep single trail section comes up, less than 1km after the start.

Half way, I was 6th woman, which I was pretty happy with, considering who were the first five On second thoughts, cross that last sentence out: I was 6th woman, but defintitely not happy. Too stressed out to be happy. The same - totally unproductive - thoughts than last April  were cluttering my mind: what am I doing here when I could be running with Martin instead, why putting myself through all that stress while I am a runner because it is fun, why why why...

Then things got even worst: as I started down a very steep and technical downhill session at the half way point, I started feeling a sharp pain on the side of my knee. I had to stop and walk for a few minutes, and got overtaken by a first woman. Then I started running again. Then had to stop again, and got overtaken by a second woman. Repeat that twice more.

As I was about to start up the last very steep climb, I saw Martin and Malo, who had just made it up the mountain to see me, and was oh-so tempted to DNF, and just go back home with them. But as I could not decide what would make me feel worst, DNFing or walking to the finish, I carried on, thinking that, at least, I would get the t-shirt.

An hour and the worst 4kms downhill of my life later, I "sprinted" the last few hundred meters, crying of pain and frustration.

 That's me at the end of The Dreaful Downhill,
crying (but luckily, I am too far for you to see it)

As we talked about the race later that day, Martin pointed out that I didn't need to do this: I love running, I am a good runner, I am lucky enough to have wonderful running routes on my doorstep,  and that should be it. Why racing if that is going to be such a traumatic experience?

And I fully agreed with him.

So why is it that, two weeks later, I have signed up for yet another trail race, taking place the following weekend? Again, plenty of good or not so good reasons. I have in the meantime started in a new job, met some of the runners there, and a few have signed up for that race, too, so I feel this is a good way to "bond". Again, it is not far from home, so I can race and still spend half od the day at home with Martin and Malo (who are staying home today, just in case the whole day is a total failure again). But the main reason is that, once again, I want to prove myself that I can race on trails.

This time I have been smarter though, or so I hope. I have chosen a race which is flater (flater, not flat: there is no such thing as flat around here), to be able (or so I hope - again!) to build on the experience gained during road races, enjoy the flatter portions which should allow me to run fast, as I like it,. That seems slighly more promising than running one steep hill after another, since I seem to love them while training but get terrified by them while racing.

On that Sunday morning, as we start with a first kilometre of asphalt and I get into the rythm, I immediately feel good. My legs are moving well, I am going fast. I am the first woman, and can hear the breathing of the second one just behind me. Then I can't anymore, and understand she has fallen back a little, and I think I am going to try and keep it that way.

As we keep on running into woods and accross fields, I am feeling HAPPY! No stress, just pleasure to be there, enjoying the splendid scenery and the feeling of my legs moving well and fast. This is so much fun! Not that it is not hard, but everything seems to be happening the way it should be. I am focused but relax, I am pushing hard but it hurts my legs, not my brain.

Having fun! To set the story straight, this guy had been using me as pacer for a while, overtook
me when he saw the photographer, then stepped behind his favourite pacer again as soon
as we had passed the photographer. Men...

Two thirds into the race, and I am still feeling happy, but also wondering how things are going to pan out, as I start feeling pretty hungry too. The race has not started before 10am, a full 3 hours after I ate breakfast, and I can tell I am getting low on sugar, and to make things even more interesting, the one big, steep hill of the route is now in front of me.

I slow down but keep on pushing, carried by the idea that I may be able to win my first race ever... if I manage to keep whatever distance there is between me and the second girl. Is she 500m or 2kms behind by now, I have no idea...

Two kilometres before the finish line, we hit asphalt again, and a hill. And I am more starving than ever. By now, I am done with the race, no matter how much I have enjoyed it so far. I briefly turned my head, seem to notice "the other girl" only a few hundreds meters behind, and gather whatever energy I have left to sprint towards the finish.

"And here is the first woman now getting to the finish", I hear the organiser shouting in the microphone. As I cross the line, he races towards me to get my "first impressions", and I am beaming: I won, for the first time, but more importantly, I had fun!!! I could do it, race and have fun!!! It may be that, to achieve this, I only have to find the right combination of off-road but still fast course... only problem is, I think I have just done the only race of that kind in the region...

The only thing missing is actually two things, or rather two people: my two men, the tall one and the tiny one, who I have told to stay home because it did not seem fair to drag them to yet another race especially if I was going to end up in tears like last time. But now I have won, and the two people I want the most to share this with are not here.  I would have been so proud to walk on the stage to get my prize with Malo in my arms (and who knows, getting "his" first prize maybe would have stuck somewhere in a deep part of his brain, and came up to the surface 15 years later, giving him the urge to become a runner).

 I would not mind if that was the first of many...

Later that day, as I am getting back to Annecy, it occurs to me that I am going to have a problem getting back home. I have ridden my bike to the town-centre in the morning, to meet a guy who had kindly offer to give me a lift to the race. The problem is, I am now supposed to ride back on said bike, only I now have ato carry, together with my rucksack, a massive basket full of wine bottles, cheese and honey and an as-massive bouquet of flowers... I guess finishing first sometimes has its drawbacks...


NLabib said...

Ah, MAPP - you're a star! I guess the thing is that even if you don't HAVE to prove anything, sometimes you just WANT to. I'm so glad the second race was so much better than the first. Hurray for you!

sea legs girl said...

Congrats! That is so awesome that you just WON a race :). But I'm am sitting here wondering: how long was it? what was it called? And I'm wondering the same about the first one.

I hope things are going well at you new job, too!

Angela and David said...

That is one sweet victory basket! Nice work.

Thanks for your kind comments on my blog. I am so excited to have found your blog. I am SO INCREDIBLY JEALOUS you live in Annecy. It is my absolute favorite place in Europe. Didn't plan on ever going there and when the 100 year flood destroyed our plans a few years ago we just randomly picked Annecy out of a travel guide and ended up falling in love with it.

PiccolaPineCone said...

"hurts my brain" - so true, so much of racing distress is mental. though i guess ultimately all pain IS mental, after all the brain sends the messages that cause us to feel pain. but mental pain without a specific organic cause is hard to endure.

why am I going on and on about pain?? congratulations on your race, on your win and on finding the fun! i think racing can be so very rewarding on many levels when one is in the right mind frame, I am glad you had a great experience.

Mapp said...

@ Nadya: thanks! I guess you summed it up perfectly: it probably all boils down to have and want!

@ SLG: thanks too! Actually it is kind of on purpose I did not put length, time, or anything of that kind, since I don't want this blog to become a "training blog", or not even a pure running blog for that matter... for my own sanity! As for the job... well, I guess I could write many posts about it... if I had time! I'll try soon...

@ Angela: well, Annecy will be one more thing we'll have in common then, on top of a once "high flying" (I so hate this way of describing it!) job, an attempt at leaving this life behind us (and failing partly, by the look of our schedules!), a funny toddler we love to bits and would love spending more time with... If ever you feel the urge to see Anency again, you're very welcome to visit (by the way, the Annecy triathlon is really cool!).

@PPC: you're so right: my life as a runner would be so much easier if I had no brains!