If you’ve run in a popular road race, you know the usual drill. You stand, packed in anticipation, waiting for the start gun. You hear the “go!” and then, depending on where you’re situated in the crowd, it takes you five, ten, twenty minutes to edge your way up to the start line to begin your personal race. When you cross the start line, you are probably still elbow to elbow with other runners and it usually takes a few minutes for things to spread out.
But, spread it does and you are usually running freely by the middle to last quarter of the race. By the end, you may be challenging another fellow runner to the finish, but you can run unimpeded across that line, grab your medal or t-shirt, and do your celebratory “touchdown” dance without too many congestion problems. (Or, collapse on the ground thanking god that’s all over, and wondering why in the world you committed yourself to that in the first place. Whichever takes your fancy on the day.)
That is how I anticipated Sunday’s Paris-Versailles 10 mile run to go. With around 20,000 entrants, I knew it would be crowded at the start. We deliberately hung to the back. Since it was chipped, it didn’t matter when we actually crossed the start line. But, I expected the flow of runners would spread out eventually and everyone would be happy.
Au contraire, mon frere!
The first strike against my expectations came at the beginning, but in a positive way. They funneled us through start chutes at the beginning so crossing the start line was uncrowded and easy. Way cool! That was very refreshing. But even so, the race never really spread out. Because it was a free-for-all line up, everyone was pretty much leap frogging and being passed the entire 10 miles. That was kind of hard, but hey! It was Paris and I was on my way to Versailles, so whatever!
The hill out of Paris was killer. I studied this map beforehand and I knew it would be a challenge. And yeah, it was TOUGH. But really you just kind of had to climb on the “horse” and go. (And go. And go.) So that’s what I did. When I got to the food station, I knew the worst of it was over. I have never been so happy to see an orange in my life. That sucker tasted go-OD! I grabbed a couple wedges and kept the wheels turning.
The last half of the race wound through woodland and villages, with lots of “waves” and “allez! allez!”s . I loved it! It was awesome. Even though it’s hard to run in a crowd and I had expected it to have thinned out, it was so fun to be immersed in the good vibes. You just get carried away with the motion of the group and keep moving forward. I was amazed when I saw the Versailles sign. I couldn’t really believe I was there already. The Avenue de Paris (leading to the Chateau de Versailles) was probably one of the widest parts of the course, and at 15k I was so ready for the finish. I love running races because of the feelings at the end: the accomplishment, the happiness, the knowledge that you’ve done something good with yourself. Something almost magical happens inside you when you cross that line. You feel great.
I was robbed of my magic.
Trotting along, I saw the finish line ahead. I was like, “yeah baby, I am almost there! Wee-hoooo!” Fire up the jets, I’m sprinting in. It was still a bit crowded, so I couldn’t see what was coming until it was staring me in the unbelieving face: a crowd of people standing on the WRONG SIDE of the finish, WAITING to cross the finish line.
I was stopped short by about, I don’t know, twenty strides by a wall of other runners waiting to edge their way across the line. I don’t think many people could believe what was happening. It was so bizarre, unreal. I seriously considered removing the shoe with the chip tied to it and throwing it over the line. But, that’s kind of dumb. How was I going to get my shoe back and how could I do it without hitting someone in the head? It was a childish thought. All you could do was stand there and move with the herd and accept what was. There was no way out except to wait and shuffle along with the crowd. Thank god, I don’t get claustrophobic. It was pretty stifling. I could feel my muscles crying for a cool down and stretch; yet, all I could do was dance in place and will the crowd forward. Once I crossed the line, it took me about 30 minutes to get through the medal and chip queues and out. I was really bummed I wasn’t able to cheer Crunchy husband on to the finish. It was disappointing in so many ways.
In all my years of running races, I have never had that happen before. Has anyone? Apparently it screwed up about 5,000 runners’ official chip times. I’m not exactly sure what they’re saying the problem was. (I’ll have to work hard to translate the bit we found in yesterday’s newspaper.) But, I got through. And so did Crunchy husband, his first race at this type of distance, hooray!! (He’s feeling a bit disappointed because he walked a few kilometers, but I think he did A-OK!) And we even managed to find each other without too much problem at the end.
Distance: 10 miles (16 km)
Time: 1:36:15 (based on watch time, everything else is wildly inaccurate!)
Pace: 9:37 min/mile
Pace: 11:19 min/mile
[Stayed tuned for video footage of the race, if I can get the clips pieced together the way I want them.]