The 25th edition of the Semi Marathon de Rambouillet took place last Sunday and it was a day of mixed emotions for me, it has taken a few days in getting round to reporting it so I will try to gloss over it as succinctly as possible.
The experience for me was essentially divided between the race itself and what I perceived as below par organisation. I am no race director, nor do I claim to be, but to back up my opinion I feel its only fair to elaborate further. The participant limit for the trail half marathon was topped at 2,200 runners which is a nice sized bunch. Not too big to cause a back up on a trail road or through the town itself. The very first thing that struck me on arriving was that there was a queue and barriers set up for pretty much everything, most of it needless. In order to enter the indoor changing rooms/bib collection areas etc everyone had to wait in an enormously long line that took forever to move. I was surprised at this as I had already been here the previous day and knew the size of the area to be that of a couple of basketball courts. After shuffling along and eventually getting out of the cold it was time to get ready. I was with a bunch of guys in a corner and in between pulling on t-shirt, socks etc this lady arrives and says to move it on. Apparently they were under strict regulations for health and safety and could only have so many people in this area at any one time, lord knows these running folk are known for their dangerous behaviour. So, half naked, with one sock on and one sock off, carrying heart rate monitor, water bottles and shoes I plodded reluctantly to the next room which was the area for leaving bags. This was a shoe box in comparison to where we had just been and no sooner had I settled in to finish dressing myself when someone else turns up and points to a changing room across the way and tells me to move it. I felt like a drunk who was been turfed out of a bar that was just closing. So eventually I made it to a patch in a changing room that was even smaller and twice as packed as anything I had seen before, in the middle of it all I had dropped my head band and could not find it. Great, sweat in the eyes for an hour and a half. Time was now very much ticking and the all important bathroom call was awaiting, and no, the bushes wouldn't do for this one. Turns out there are two toilets. TWO. No cubicles anywhere, just two toilets in the dressing room. Half an hour of queueing and I eventually get in. By the time I vacated the loo it's five minutes to the start. So with very little warm up and no stretching, having spent the best part of fifty minutes on my feet already I make it to the 1:30 pace-group area. The street is narrow and the podium/start area is about three hundred metres away. There is a guy on it with a microphone which is pointless as none of us can hear him, there is also no timing mat below our feet for the chip timing. Is this mat up ahead where the guy is, do we slowly run up to it and start from there? No one has a clue. It passes 9.30 and we are still standing around like cattle in a pen, shrugging our shoulders and glancing at each other in way that indicates the guy next to you is as confused as you are. So at 9.37/40 or whatever time it ended up being, a shot sounded in the distance and I guessed we were off. Now to the race itself......
Once we were moving it was blatantly obvious that was a kill or be killed race. The width of the road was not sufficient and elbows flew and ankles were stomped on. The first three km took us on a meandering, quad searing, descent into the town. I knew immediately that this pace, 3:20 per km, was out of my league and wanted to ease back a bit to regain some composure. Dropping into the cobble stone covered streets turned into a lesson in dodging pedestrians. People were stepping out of butcher shops and boulangeries and walking against the tide of over two thousand people going as fast as their feet could carry them. It was a relief to get out of dodge, turn left and start the climbing into the forest. The first ascent was not so severe in gradient but it was its length that zapped energy, the pack began to string out and I was glad to get settled into a less frenetic rhythm. The climb took us steadily up through the forest to the ten km mark and it had taken more out of me than I had bargained for (dam that early dash), I paused briefly enough to take my first sip of water I decided I needed some tunes. It's rare that I'll run a trail race with music on but my friend Rene planted a seed in my head the day before when asking about my play list. So when Devin Townsend's Addicted kicked in it was time to hammer on some more.
The following five km up to the next aid station were a mixture of narrow, winding trails. Constant twists and turns providing a stark contrast to the mundane climb of earlier. I was feeling pretty good with having gone just under forty minutes for ten km and hoped to maybe have an even split for the remainder. The pace was pretty steady and at the aid station I took a lot of water and a wedge of orange to get me to the line, six km away. I bolted out of there and turned a corner both figuratively and physically. A small lane gave way into a sort of housing estate that then led to a horse racing course, it was a wide open space and this howling headwind was waiting to greet me. It took me aback given how strong it felt and and at the very same moment I could feeling a roaring stitch stabbing my left side just below my ribs. A stitch may have never killed anyone but this showed no signs of abating, external noise started to pollute my thoughts,'did I eat the right breakfast, should I have drank so much back down the road' and on and on. Once that devil on your shoulder starts messing with your mojo it's hard to leave him by the roadside. I slowed my pace down and tried some deep breathing to quell the stitch but not much joy.
I was now well below my projected pace and steadied myself to make it to the last aid station at km nineteen. I took a brief pause and had a sip of water and came close to pulling the plug and walking to the line. Fortunately that thought was fleeting and I resolved to push on to complete the course. The discomfort seemed to ease and I crossed the line in 1:31:37. (This is my Garmin time as the official time for me is not accurate enough due to no timing mat at the start). It was a mixed day really and I wondered if my time would have been better spent on home trails enjoying the surroundings as opposed to the trains and queues that took up the majority of my morning just to run twenty one kilometres. I guess I race to keep an edge and plan goals to strive towards and will hopefully always do so. It's just one of the facets of racing and of life that the chips don't always fall where you would like them to. I hope my rantings about the organisation are seen as constructive criticism as opposed to sour musings. They did provide a really decent goodie bag to their credit and I think with a little few tweaks could have one of the best semi marathons in the area.
For the moment it's back to the familiar forests for me and an impending flat move which should provide some much needed weight training ;)
See you round the bend.