Racing for bananas

When a race costs 2€ to enter, it’s pretty hard to say no. Even more so when there’s a small field and a good chance of winning… which is how I came to sign up for the August edition of the Sri Chinmoy 2mi race in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris.

This event is held every month, as a way of tracking your training progress over time. Having studied the previous race results, there tends to be around 20 participants, of which only 4-5 are women. The age categories are split up as ‘under 50′, ’50-59′, ’60-69’ etc, so you can get an idea of the type of runner who participates. It was easy enough to sign up online, or I could have paid 3€ in person on the day of the race. The course is a two-lap route through a small section of the Bois de Vincennes, totalling 3218m (according to the website).

I originally had a long run planned for this day, and so decided to do an extended warm up and cool down either side of the race to get in some kilometres. I ran ~30min to the race start, which turned out to be a very nondescript table parked at the side of a trail. If I hadn’t known where to go, it would have been easy to miss – except for the big ‘Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team’ sign strung up 100m away. I handed in my medical certificate (compulsory for all races in France) and had a sly look at the starting sheet. When looking at the results from previous months I had noticed one fast woman, and saw her name listed for today. However, there was no bib assigned yet, so perhaps she wouldn’t show. The organisers gave me bib 14, and then I took a little walk to bide the half hour until race start. Note to self: there’s no need to arrive so early to a tiny race!

Taking stock of all my training recently, I had calculated that I should be able to run between 12:48 (4:00/km) and 14:30 (4:30/km). Sye predicted 13mins flat, but I knew that was a little optimistic. Theoretically my 5km pace is around the 4:00/km mark, but I haven’t managed to run at that pace for more than a few minutes at a time (yet). In addition, I’d done a hard workout the day before so it was quite possible that my legs would still be fatigued.

With 5 minutes until 10am we were walked over to the start line, marked on the ground with flour. I positioned myself in the second row of runners to try and prevent myself from going out too hard, and we were told to be silent for the race start. The philosophy behind the Sri Chinmoy races is ‘transcendence’, and I must say that the moment of quiet before racing did bring a peace to the event. I’ve never seen that happen at a race before, and I quite like it.

3, 2, 1, we were off. I fell into a rhythm behind a string of men, easily taking the position of first female. The course was mostly on road with only a few trail paths, but pretty much flat the whole way. I caught up to a few guys as we turned around to head back towards the end of the lap, overtook one and let another guy’s ego push him to speed up. Men don’t like being overtaken by women! (Or perhaps, just overtaken at all). Most impressively though, that second guy was running in long pants and a shirt – dressed more for a day at the office than a running race ?

I rounded the corner to start the second lap and finally caught him. One of the volunteers read our splits for halfway: 6:43. Not quite the 6:30 I’d need to run 13:00, but not bad either. Now I just had to keep holding on to my pace. The second half of a race is always more difficult, but I kept pressing on and trying to close the gap with the guy I could see a little way up ahead. It did help that I knew the course by now, and could tick off certain markers as I flew by: a turn here, a change of terrain there. There were a few walkers out who looked at us like we were mad.

In the last 200m I cruised past a guy and then put down the throttle to sprint home. In a way it felt like I was finally actually running, and I wondered if I could have stepped up to this pace earlier. Maybe also not, given that I crossed the finish line and had to double over for a while to calm down and catch my breath. Hmm, racing is interesting.

First female in 13:16, which meant I topped the F-50 category, for which the prize was a banana! There was a little ceremony after everyone had finished, where each runner was presented with a certificate complete with their time. It was lovely to see everyone recognised, but also insane to realise how old some of the runners were! For instance, the man I overtook right at the end (he finished 2 seconds behind me), was in his 50s… and he didn’t even win his category! Possibly the most impressive was a 72-year-old who ran 15:47 – please let me still be running like that when I’m that age.

It was a fun event and I (obviously) enjoyed taking the win. The other fast lady never showed up, but I think the extra competition would have been good. Despite all the speedwork training I’m still not quite running as fast as I’d like, but I’m pleased with the result and it was a very enjoyable morning. The banana tasted like sweet sweet victory!

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