September 20, 2011

Race report (and a bit more) - Some rain, some cold, some wind, some fun and some surprises

Disclaimer : this is as ling as a book, not a blog post. You read at your own risk, and I decline all responsability should you fall asleep.

The Nevache Sky Race, a trail set in the Southern part of the French Alps, started in what one may arguaby call not perfect conditions : it had rained sheets all night and this showed no sign of coming improvement. It snowed above 1900m. We may have been right in the middle of July (ooops, I gave it away : I am VERY late to post this race report) but the temperature was in the single digits at the start, and close to freezing a bit higher up. The longer trail, which I was not signed for, had had to be shortened due to gale, snow and generally very unsafe conditions.

Yet as I lined up at the start, I was feeling great.

Photo: Charles (merci!)

Now, this is VERY unsual for me on a trail race. On road races (which I have not done for a very long time), I used to be fairly relax (well, on my own scale at least, those who know me can vouch for the fact I have huge room for improvement as far as relaxing goes). I knew what my time roughly could be and I would just try and run that pace. I did not feel I was competing against others, but just against my own and my self-set goals. I knew I could place in the top women on a small race and get a decent place on a larger event, and that was enough.

On trail however, things turned out to be very different. I happily found out I was pretty decent at it. Specific trail running technics, which is very different from road running, especially on French trails, which are mostly quite technical, with steep slopes and loads of single tracks,.  That seemed to come quite naturally to me, including downhill, which is key. I also had decent speed. So, in theory, I could do well. Except I did not. Well, I never finished at the bottom on the pack, not even in the middle, more in the top 10-12. But I also did not seem to rank better, despite the fact that I was as good a runner as some of the girls who did, at least when I happened to train with some of them, definitely doing my fair share of leading up the hill.

What was I missing?

Well... a head. Or at least the right kind of head. One which would not tell me, starting a week before the race, that I did not have time to train as much as The Other Girls did. That I did not have as much trail races experience as The Other Girls did. That I was really worried that I may not be able to run enough of the steep sections, when surely all of The Other Girls would (it did not matter to said stupid head that I run these sections all right when running them for fun).

In a nutshell, as for many other things, I was very ambivalent about trail races. I wanted to do some,  I wanted to have fun, yet I  was scared to death about "failure". I am not interested in doing many races since I enjoy so much my "mountain meditation runs" or my "fantastic time on the trails with Husband runs", hence my seldom races, yet I expected to perform as well as if I had huge trail races experience. So the result was, I managed incredibly well at stressing myself out in the build-up to a race. And if things were not bad enough, this would go on as the race started.

I remember a trail race last year. 28kms and 1000m elevation gain, so in theory (by now famous last words) perfect for me. A very steep section 500m after the start, but that's how most of neighourhood trails start, so in theory not a problem. Expect that... I started worrying about the competition. About not being able to run the steep part. About not being able to run at my own pace because of the singles track section.s About worrying too much to perform. Bottom line is, I had an OK run, would have finished in the top 5 had I not developped patella pains, but did NOT enjoy one single of the 28kms because of the sheer pressure I had put on myself. Yes, I know. Ridiculous.

And then there are the very few races where somehow I arrived pretty relaxed. On one last year, I finished first, less than a month after the above mentioned nightmare, just because I had managed to convinced myself that this was a race for me, pretty fast with less elevation gain . Then there was last July race. I had signed up at the last minute on a whim, had not trained loads. It was 25kms, 1000m elevation gain, so pretty much like all the races I got so stressed out for. Yet I was determined to enjoy it. I love the scenery of the Southern Alps (not that I ended seeing much of it), this is an area where Martin and I hiked a lot 5 years ago and where he ended up proposing, so I just wanted to do this race as a way of saying thank you for being so lucky (yes, so sappy, I know).

And, oh miracle, it worked. I had spotted at the start two fast girls (or are you supposed to say "ladies" if one of them is only 10 years younger than my mum?), both with sponsors, one of them the French veteran mountain running champion and the other the winner of pretty much all the trail races in France Southern half. These two I knew I could not beat, so there was no reason letting negative thoughts littering my mind. As for the other, I did not know them, so I would just have to mind my own business run.

We started off, the two fast girls rapidly ahead, and it seemed to me I was third woman.  I could not complain, it felt like my training runs indeed, namely straight up after the start., but this time, I decided I could not be my usual total fool and let myself be overwhelmed, as there was no way I could  then overtake for a while, on those steep, winding single trails.

photo : Charles again!
It was pouring, and I was soaked after 200m. And soaked would not have mattered, had it not been so damn cold. After 5 minutes, despite I usually warm up very fast when running, I could hardly feel my shoulders, numb from the cold and the icy rain. Fantastic, I thought, and we're not even that high up yet. 800m elevation gain and 8 kms later, it got confirmed : the uphill had been hard and steep, but not enough for me to get warmer. This made me slowed down a tiny bit, and a girl, she cleverly wearing a red rainjacket, overtook me. Bummer, I thought,  to be overtaken  just as the taughest section was (I thought) behind me. Still, despite the terrible conditions, I had fun. I was telling myself that it did not matter I could not see a thing further than my feet, as I knew anyway I was running in a beautiful (if currently hidden behind a white screen) scenery. I was laughing  at guys (silently, since it is bad form to make fun loudly of fellow competitors) typically picking up their speed as they get overtaken by a girl.  I thought about Martin and Malo, who would be there waiting for me at the finish.

Photo : Charles
I watched my steps as I started negociating a traverse trail overlooking what I know to be steep slopes going all the way down in the valley.  At some point, as the fog briefly cleared up, I saw the girl in front of me, which was making good progress. I did not lose ground on her, but was not gaining enough either to hope being able to overtake her again, especially on these single tracks which make it pretty much impossible to overtake anyway. Though luck, I thought, 4th is a hard place to be, but still, I will have had fun.

Photo : Charles
After negociating the technical downhill, I reached the check point. From here, it is all downhill, I thought. Sure, except that my mind somehow overlooked the fact that there was still 11.5kms to go. And except that  I should not have taken for granted what the large scale race profile showed as a  gently rolling down to the finish section. In reality, that on-average-downhill section included, in its first kms, a succession of flats and quite a few bumps, which I started getting quite tired of, literally and figuratively. Luckily, I soon found myself running with a bunch of 4 guys and I was determined not letting myelf being distanced, as I knew it would then be hard to keep on the pace.

Then, as there were maybe 5 five or six kilometres to go, I saw the red rainjacket of the third girl ,right in front of us. She had clearly slowed down and was looking tired, but was still going strong. We overtook her, and I realised I still had a chance to make it on the podium with Malo in my arms!

Except there was still quite a way to go, I could feel my knee a bit,  was starting to feel a bit tired, and was worried the girl would find hidden resources allowing her to regain her third place. I started talking to myself : go on, you're not going to let negative thoughts polluting your mind again. You're tired, there will be time to slow down after you've crossed the finish line. And then the guy who was still running with me said he was struggling, and I felt I needed to help him keep on the pace, since he had helped me do the same over the last kms.  Every 45 seconds or so, I would turned back to see where the red girl was. I could not see her, but that did not mean much since the trail was doing hairpins through the forrest.

Then suddenly, the village was there. A few hundred meters more, and I crossed the finish line. In third place. Without Malo or Martin to greet me, as I had run faster than Martin and I had expected! They managed to get there on time so that Malo and I would be on the podium together, Malo clearly wondering what the hell was going on, with all these people soaked and wearing running shoes, and Maman beaming in the rain.

Photo : Jean-Marie
Well, this had just been SO MUCH FUN! I even managed not to spoil my pleasure by telling myself (as, let's face it, I would usually do), that I could have finished closer to the first two, had I trained more. No, instead, I was just feeling happy, to, for a few minutes, share the limelights with girls so clearly  running in a different league  (some of the running websites or magazines later reporting on the race clearly did not get mistaken about this, mentionning the men top three... but only the first two women!).  I was also  happy that, not doing any specific or targeted training, and probably running these days not even half as much as they do, I still managed to place third. And this, mainly I had the "right head", that day!

One day, if I feel like being more dedicated again, if racing and setting goals becomes more important to me, then I will do it. But because the great thing with running, and especially trail running, is that you can still be strong well into your 40s and 50s, there is no pressure! Until then, life's cool : I had a great race, I got to spend some time in the mountains I love, I got nice bright blue train running shoes and local delicacies (well, that's France after all) as race prize.  And , last but not least, I got more confidence in my ability to run a race un-stressed, and evidence I can then have a decent race.

And as if brand new shoes were not enough, the icing on the cake came exactly a week later, when I found out that... I had actually been pregnant when getting on that podium!  Just as well I managed to get a good race in before finding out Petite Boule N°2 had settled in, then, cos' it looks I may not race again for a while...

(OK, apologies, that was awfully long, but at least I hoped I managed for an unexpected ending... for those who did not give up long ago, that is).


Anonymous said...

Wonderful news MAPP! So glad you enjoyed the race and did so well. And so exciting that #2 is on his/her way. xx

PiccolaPineCone said...

oh... so so gorgeous... the fog and rough terrain. what a place to run a race (oh, except for all that pesky climbing). congratulations! not just on the race, pregnancy and placing but on being (as we say here in Quebec in one of those perverse expressions that is really neither english nor french) "bien minder" (as in, maintaining the right mindset to perform). good stuff.
and sorry, I didn't mean to brush over the pregnancy. CONGRATULATIONS! How wonderful and exciting. I guess you are due sometime in April???

Mapp said...

@Nadya : thanks. See, the Serpies AND ex-Serpies are working hard on producing the next generation of runners!

@ PPC - "bien mindé", hey? LOVE IT!!! That confirms that, if ever you had to leave Annecy and had the choice where to go, I would chose Quebec (well, BC would do, too!)...
And yes, you're guessing right! So it looks like once again, I will be following you by a few weeks :-)
It's going to be fun sharing experiences and tips!

cherelli said...

Congratulations Mapp! On both a great confidence building run....and being pregnant! Totally worth the read :)

Angela and David said...

Congratulations! That race sounds epic. I think I'd kill myself in a trail race in Europe. I can see myself sliding down a steep climb on my butt, moving in the opposite direction of my competition.

Angela and David said...

And I finished my comment too soon - congrats on the pregnancy! Looks like you are just a few weeks behind me. Hoorah!

Nicole said...

Congratulations!! Such happy news. I am envious of your race experience. Maybe you will have twins like me too. Keep that in mind even if you are told you have a singleton.
Looking forward to read about your journey.