In the middle of a scorching June heatwave, the thing to do is run a short-distance race, right? Even better, one where you don’t actually know what you’re running until you arrive…
I’ve run one Secret Race Series event before, a super-early-morning chase through the streets of Paris last August (which I won on a technicality) – but somehow hadn’t made it back since. The people who run tend to be from the ‘cool’ run clubs of Paris, and given my still-lacking French fluency and slightly-awkward social skills, I feel a bit out of place. But I’ve kept my eye on the events and signed up for the June edition, titled ‘Biathlon très modern’.
Having still not learned the French concept of tardiness, I showed up to the meeting point 15mins early, and slowly the other runners trickled in. It was a balmy 34 degrees and when the guy lead us off on a ‘warm-up’ jog to the race start, I was already struggling in the heat. We didn’t know where we were heading, and as we went under one bridge and then another and another I really questioned my choice to race in this weather.
We reached the start to see the biathlon set up: a row of plastic ducks lined up in pairs, and a plastic gun in front of each. The concept was simple: run a lap, shoot two ducks, run a lap, shoot two ducks, run a lap. After each shoot, you had to run a small penalty lap for every duck which remained standing. So worst case scenario: four extra penalty loops on top of the three main laps.
The format had originally been longer, but once we got back from an easy jog around the course lap (up some stairs, over a bridge, down some stairs, along the canal, up a ramp, across another bridge, choice of down some stairs or a ramp, along the other side of the canal, finished) they shortened it to just three laps because of the heat.
Us women set off first, surging to be the first up the stairs. I was running a decent pace but two ladies were already far off in the distance. There would be no winning today’s race, that was sure – I just needed to make sure I completed it. Each main lap was less than a kilometre long, but that made it short, sharp and painful even without the heat.
First shooting: I missed both my ducks. OK – I knew that was going to happen anyway. I have terrible aim and don’t even bother attempting those theme park games where you can win giant stuffed toys, it’s a waste of my money. Off I went for my two penalty laps and then onto lap two.
The rest of the run went much the same: I ran progressively slower (ending up somewhere around ~5:00/kms, although that still felt like I was pushing it hard), and once again missed both my ducks in the second shooting. The fun part though came in the final 100m, where I put on a grand final spring to try and chase down the lady who had been just ahead for most of the last lap. She sprinted too and I couldn’t catch her, but it was a great finish!
Off went the men on their race, while the rest of us stood to watch and cheer. I hadn’t realised while racing just how much of an advantage you had by successfully shooting your ducks and therefore not running penalty laps – the men’s leader could put a good few hundred metres on the guy he had come into the shooting with, just because the other guy had to do a penalty loop. If you’ve watched the biathlon in the Winter Olympics it’s much the same, you really can’t pick who’s going to win until right at the very end. It was all very exciting!
Afterwards, Secret Race Series puts on a good spread with beer, brioche, cheese and meats, (and lots of big bottles of water to cool down!) and everyone stood around and chatted with each other. I even got chatting to a few people en français before they did the prizegiving (complete with packs of cigarettes for 2nd place, and hand-held fans for the winners). The whole organisation is super chill, totally unsanctioned, and just a lot of fun.
For 5€ a race, it’s a great evening out. (Just don’t tell too many people – it’s meant to be a secret, after all!)Thanks to @kevin.cal and @secretraceseries for the pics