9.7 km - 49.07.59 min., humid, cool, no wind (Sunday, 5 June 2011)
It was an organised run, or rather a race along the route of the old railway, now a rambling path (chemin vert) from the site of Chaulieu Station to the town of Sourdeval, in South Manche, Normandy. It's a pleasant route, mostly downhill. But sharp gravel and thick humidity under the canopy of trees can make running there slightly uncomfortable. No dogs today, I meant to sign up Leroy like the farmer in The Babe did for his pig. Like in the film they didn't have a rule against animals participating, just the usual date of birth, sex, medical certificate or club licence. But in the end I changed my mind, because, not having participated in 'official' runs for years, I just wanted to get back a feel for competitive running.
I finished 82nd in the field of 90 with a time that I think was quite respectable since I didn't push myself too hard and hadn't trained up specially for that run. Francesca Bostock, an English neighbour from Sourdeval, for who it was the first race, came in a few places behind me in a great confidence boosting achievement for someone who only took up running about a year ago. And got a trophy cup for being the first non-licenced (non-club member) finisher from Sourdeval!
A few notes on running road races in France.
If you are on a holiday or a short visit and want to join in, the choice is great. There are many local runs, 5km, 10km and various other irregular distances. There is one practically every Sunday. Check leaflets at tourist offices, news agents and bars.
Runs usually go over scenic spots and avoid busy roads. There are runs on beaches, along walking or tow paths and over old city walls.
Routes, awkwardly, are often non-circular, so make enquiries and arrange a pickup at the finish. I just left my stuff in Sourdeval and left the car keys with a race marshal. In rural France it is still a safe thing to do.
Remember, in France you can't just turn up and join in. To enter you need to be a club member in France and show a licence (card). A UK running club member card would do too. If you don't have one or haven't taken it on the holiday you need to ask any doctor (generaliste) to give you a check-up and issue a certificat medical stating that you are fit for a course à pied (a race). Entry fees, I think, are higher than in England. For the Sourdeval race the fee was 8 euros online and 10 on the day.
Another striking difference is that runs in France are very competitive. People who turn up are mostly club members, incredibly fit and run aggressively - for individual and team points towards championships of various levels. Fun-runners are usually in the minority.
This may sound off-putting, but the general atmosphere is as jolly as it is at runs in England. There is a picnic, with some sort of hot snack or sandwich and a drink the price of which is included in the entry fee. Then there is a long-drawn ceremony with numerous prizes, medals, trophies and - money prizes for several top finishers in several categories. Prize money can be up to 100-150 euros. So don't rush to go home, you might end up winning something unexpectedly. On the other hand, goody-bags are often pitiful. At Sourdeval it was just a small hand towel and a discount voucher for a local shop.