I had such a great time at the beginning of this year getting out onto the trails and just exploring for hours at a time. I fell in love with the forests to the south-west of Paris: Meudon, Clamart, Vélizy, but I haven’t been there much lately in amongst all the speed and then marathon training. Which is why I got excited when I found a 20km trail race based in Viroflay, which would run through these forests that I love. Hosted by QBRC (Quelques Bonnes Raisons de Courir = some good reasons to run), the route included some ~500m of elevation gain, cost only 13€ and also offered a 12km option.
So last weekend I caught the RER out to Viroflay for a morning of trail-running. I’d looked over the results for the last few years and figured out that if I could finish in under-2 hours, I would have a pretty good chance at being in the top-10 women. This seemed a reasonable goal for the race, particularly as I’m not very strong on hills (walk, not run). As always though, it was just as important to smile and enjoy being out amongst nature.
The race offered a bib pick-up the day before, but I’m glad I didn’t bother with that as it was just as easy to get my number (406) just before the race, pull off my warm layers and hand my bag over to the baggage people. With 20mins to go I headed towards the start-line and did a little jog/hike in the nearby forest to warm up. After some announcements in French (which I can actually understand now!) it was time to get the race started.
I set off in race-mode, the game was afoot! I’d started some rows back and in those first few kilometres picked off the people in front, focussing mainly on overtaking women. The course was very well marked, with red-and-white striped tape hanging from trees every 100m, at least. The first hills we hit weren’t particularly steep and I was doing fine running up them. Probably didn’t have to hike until ~5km or so, which is pretty good for me. Was definitely pushing myself though and flying down the hills. Good to know my trail-legs from the first part of 2018 haven’t disappeared.
Now, when I run I breathe really loudly. It’s potentially an issue which I should seek medical help with, but it’s always how I’ve run. Often people make comments, telling me to slow down or breathe more easily or whatever, but this is just what I sound like when I run. Even on easy runs, you can hear me coming thanks to my huffing and puffing. In this race, at maybe 6-7km in, I was trying to overtake a guy who did then step aside, saying something like “j‘ai pensé qu’il y avait un locomotive derrière moi” (I thought there was a train behind me). He probably was referring to my breathing, but in the moment I also took it as meaning that I was a train, steaming past everyone in front. This became my mantra for the rest of the run: je suis un locomotive – just keep chugging along.
At 8km I was hiking up a hill, trying to push on my knees (a trick I learned during the race by observing people passing me – somehow it helps you keep moving) when I got halted in my progress. In front of me was an incredible group of people who were running with two wheelchair participants. You’ve probably seen groups like this during a road race, it’s amazing to see the selflessness and enthusiasm they have for providing an experience to a person with special needs. I’d never seen it before in a trail race though: they were carrying the wheelchairs up this crazy steep hill which I was having enough difficulty getting up on my own! All my respect and kudos to the Dunes d’Espoir, you are inspirational.
Although I had to do some hiking, I was still running well as we came to the aid station at halfway (10km). I’d been going back and forth with a girl for a while, trying to stay in front of her, but just before the checkpoint had noticed that she was wearing a different coloured bib to me, which I took to mean that she was in the 12km race. Cool! That was fine then, she could run ahead if she wanted. However, when we came to the 12/20 split, she turned left with the 20km-ers! Damnit! This was just before the aid-station, where she stopped along with two other women who had recently overtaken me. I decided to forgo the tempting refreshments and kept on moving, sure that my own backpack of supplies would see me through.
We crossed a road and a kind volunteer told me I was in fourth, but this didn’t last long as all the women who had stopped to eat promptly overtook me again. No matter, I just needed to keep on moving. Unfortunately we then hit the biggest hill of the race, which was definitely the cause of my dip in energy. The next few kilometres were the trickiest of my race but I tried to just go with my energy: slow down if I need to, then pick up the pace when I feel better again. I love being able to do this in trail-running, it’s very different to being on the roads where I find you just try to lock into one pace and keep that going for as long as possible. So perhaps I was actually more like a tram, fluctuating my speed to the terrain than a train which continues at the same tempo.
The route was mostly off-road but did go through some concrete sections, such as the glorious bit from ~16-19km. Here I properly flew: dropped some of my fastest kilometres, which I’m pretty proud of given all the elevation that I’d covered up to that point. Well done legs, you’ve still got some kick in you! And then – as a nasty final surprise, they threw in one last big hill at the 19km mark. Bam, splat. Who does that! Eugh, fine, one last hike to the top and then down again to the finish line. Overtook a guy in the finish funnel in a last little sprint ?
Most pleasingly I’d come home in 1:56:22, a good few minutes under my two-hour target. This was good enough for 8th place female and 5th place in my SEF age category! It was a solid run and a great confidence-booster ahead of the next marathons. If it gets tough, I just need to remember that I am a train: keep moving forwards, and I will reach my destination.