This post has been ready for nearly a month now. I was just waiting for the race photos before posting, but I’m not sure they will ever appear… So, since late is better than never – and since I hope to publish the next article relatively soon – here it is:
I posted my last race report just two days before my next scheduled race and, I’ll admit, I was a bit worried that I might jinx myself talking about my great 44km Maratrail race (and podium finish) in May and set myself up for disappointment at the following Sunday’s Trail Vercors Coulmes, a 30km race in the local Vercors Mountains.
I was actually doubly nervous about this race since, in addition to being on home turf, I was meant to be running it with a new friend and his training partner – and I didn’t want to be responsible for holding them up, or have the impression that they were forcing me to go faster than I wanted.
Running with someone new is often kind of awkward. You generally don’t know the person but you share a passion and have before you a potential new friend. You want to keep up, but you don’t want to end up light-headed and nauseous half way through your run from pushing too hard (or put the other person in that situation, if you happen to be the faster runner); you want to chat, but you don’t want to be the person that never shuts up (or have to run with the person who never shuts up) – you get the idea…
So running with someone for the first time during a race really wasn’t something that appealed to me profusely – particularly when that person is a seasoned and much faster runner preparing a pretty impressive goal in just over three weeks. But given that Olivier and I had been unsuccessfully trying to find time for a run together for well over a month and that he had signed up for this race in large part because of me, I really couldn’t tell him and his friend Seb to bug off.
When we chatted on Messenger the night before, Olivier asked how I intended to race and I said that I planned to start out easy and possibly ramp things up in the second half of the race, depending on how I was feeling. I told him that I thought it best that he and Seb “run their race” and that I run mine, but he insisted that they wanted to run with me. This was not a major race for me – it was more of a practice run in preparation for my next “big” race in a month’s time, so I decided they had been warned and that I wouldn’t let myself get flummoxed by the company.
I carpooled to the race with my friend Céline. The temperature was already above 20°C when we left at 6:45am, so I knew we were going to be in for a hot day, but the clear blue skies also presaged the great views we would have on the trail. The race left from the Col de Romeyère, which is a thirty-minute drive up the mountain from home. We quickly collected our bibs, post-race meal ticket…and a craft Belgian beer – a great entry gift!
Olivier and Seb were already there and we briefly said hi before respectively heading back to our vehicles to get ready. By 7:55am we were at the arch and ready to get going. There were only about 60 racers in the 30km race and we were surprised by the number of women (granted still a minority, but more than usual we all agreed).
Then, off we ran at 8am. The first fifty metres were great, until I heard a commotion behind me and glanced briefly to see a guy about to go flying, apparently tangled up in his poles. My main worry was that Céline was caught up in the scuffle, but with people running all around me, I decided it was likely better to keep my eyes looking forward and not risk getting caught in (or worsening) a pile-up, so I sped on (and, despite having a front row view, Céline managed to avoid the crash too!).
The first three kilometres were up-hill and we very quickly started up on a single track out of the Col de Romeyère. This was great as it limited the risk of talking oneself breathless while trying to run uphill and it let everyone get into a good rhythm as the pack gradually began to stretch out. As we crested the top of the first climb and came to a wider path, a guy called out to me that we knew each other. I was fairly convinced he had mistaken me for someone else, but when he used my name I had to do some quick mental gymnastics to figure out who he was (a friend of a friend, but we follow each other on Strava since meeting briefly at a race last fall). A quick chat and the trail started up for the next 3km climb to the first aid station.
It was only at this point that I realized that Olivier and Seb were just behind me, but neither had put any pressure on me at all, which was a great relief. Seb would occasionally pop ahead, only to wait for Olivier up a bit further up. The first aid station arrived quickly and we only stopped briefly to admire the view, which was overlooking the village of Malleval where we were headed for the second aid station at kilometre 15.
I’m not actually sure at what point we started chatting, I think at some point around the four or five-kilometre mark, but by the time we started our descent towards Malleval, my worries about the awkwardness of running with relative strangers and my fears about holding up my running mates were a distant memory. I was really enjoying myself, laughing occasionally and gleaning tips and advice often. We talked energy drinks and gels, about the Trail World Championships that had taken place the day before in Italy, and about shoe choices for their upcoming 3-day Pierra Menta race; but we also talked about our lives, kids, mutual friends and a whole slew of other stuff.
Before I knew it, we had reached the second aid station and were headed into the second half of the course, a mostly up-hill slog for the next ten kilometres, which once again offered some stunning views. I was surprised to not have seen Céline, who generally finishes a few minutes before me at races, but for now she was nowhere in sight, apparently still behind us. The chatty nature of our run meant that we were moving along at a conversational pace, but I was pretty much on target to finish in the time frame I had set out for myself, so I didn’t feel the need to change my pace and hoped the men were confident enough to leave me in the dust should they feel like it!
We made it back to the last aid station at kilometre 25 and now had some rolling terrain to cover as we headed back down the Col. My fuelling was fairly similar to last month’s Maratrail race: something to eat every 45 minutes (the still-awesome fruit jellies and nougat bars I talked about here, and some fruit gleaned at the aid stations). Given the +30°C temperature, I also drank about 2.5 litres of fluids over the course of the race, a mix of sports drink in my camel bag and water in a soft flask, which I replenished en route. I was also happy to be wearing my ultra-light (and stitch-free!) Uglow running skirt and tank top, just perfect for a hot weather race!
I had planned to run the course in four hours and twenty minutes, so was quite amazed when I crossed the finish line in 4:20:01! That’s certainly the first time I’ve predicted my arrival time with such precision – and I wasn’t even really watching the clock during the race!
Céline finished her race about 25 minutes after us and clearly didn’t enjoy herself as much as I had, but quickly refound her smile upon arrival. A post-race meal was included in the race entry and it was a nice surprise to learn that it was a proper restaurant meal – yum!
In sum – and like often – I was worried for no good reason. While I like group training runs, I’ve always preferred facing race day alone and never understood the appeal of racing in a group. That’s likely why I never saw the appeal of having a pacer, either, even at the ultra-marathon distance. But I think this race might have changed things for me, or at least provided some insight into what a good pacer can do – keep you company but let you run your race, be present but not overbearing, chatty but not suffocating.
Had I run this race alone, I might have run a slightly faster time, not talking as much or stopping for as long at aid stations, but I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much either – and I surely wouldn’t have spent the time getting to know two very cool new people.