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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Runaway Success

The first weekend in September means only one thing here in la capitale des Flandres : La Braderie, or the largest flea market in the world and one of the biggest outdoor events in France. On average 2 million visitors descend on Lille to walk around looking for bargains, to soak up the atmosphere and to demolish their share of the many tonnes of moules frites that are the speciality of the weekend.

Although the Braderie has been around in some shape or form for some 800 years, it is only since 25 years ago that it has also been the occasion for a race ie the Semi Marathon, which itself first saw light as a full marathon back in the mid 1980s.  As running, and particularly distance running, has increased in popularity and as a challenge open to most who are prepared to dedicate time and energy to train, so has the number of participants grown. This year there were around 9000 people involved in the half marathon, the 10km and the childrens' event. There was a marked difference this year in that amongst the 5000 odd waiting for the off in the Boulevard de la Liberté were Messieurs Newman-Legros, Max et Peter.

I would have liked to have reported that, after 4 months of training, running on average three times a week and even running the full 21.1km in a practice run 12 days before, we were raring to go, fit and feisty, itching to get pounding the rues and the boulevards of central Lille. Sadly this was not the case. We'd been suffering all week with what may have been some lurgy and were still feverish the night before which didn't help us to achieve the length and quality of sleep we had hoped for. Two days before the day we completed just one lap of le lac du héron and felt terrible. So, it all felt disastrous and, though prepared to start the race, neither of us could envisage completing it or doing so in a reasonable time.  The "before" photo says it all...

The evening before we went to the Pasta Party, an event that has become a pre-requisite of any distance running event. We'd enjoyed the one in Paris for the marathon there last April. The Lille version was sadly lacking: lacking in ambience, decent pasta (no vegetarian sauce?!) and motivation.

Still, early the next day we were bolstered by the glorious weather, blue skies and just enough warmth in the air to keep us at the optimum running temperature. We were supported and encouraged by running old pros Tiff and Stuart, and by the Bopes - the pack of four were detailed to be standing in specific vantage points and to gee us on - and by messages and waves of support from friends and family we just couldn't let down.

Maybe it was the atmosphere, something magical in the air, maybe those waves of support from around the world did carry us along, but, from the moment the race started everything felt just right. Within a kilometre we had postioned ourselves behind two runners who were going at a pace just slightly faster than we normally run, and we stuck with them all the way round.

Lille looks different from the middle of the road, and I had been looking forward to seeing it from this angle. It felt so different and sounded different too, only the pounding trainers rather that vehicle engines. Strangers cheered us as we counted down the k's,  and bands played adding to the festive feel of the morning. Stallholders along the route set up their goods ready to two o'clock when they would officially be able to take money.

Before we realised we were just a few kilometres away from the finish and it was obvious that, were we to keep up our pace, we would be completing the race in a personal best time. It felt so good to be overtaking so many runners who had started to quickly and were now flagging, whereas our pace, if anything, quickened.

Turning down the Boulevard de la Liberté for the final time, turning left into Rue Nationale, avoiding inconsiderate pedestrians in the Grand' Place and being squeezed between the barriers in Rue de Paris before being funneled through the finishing post. Suddenly it was over and we had done it in 2 hours and three minutes, knocking 12 minutes off our time from only 12 days before. Stretches, medals, water and we were at our pre-arranged meeting point having photos taken.

Max is already signed up to run the half marathon in Marchiennes on the 12th October. He also is determined to run the full marathon in Paris next April. Me? I have no plans other than, perhaps, to run in the 10km Foulées in November as the route just happens to take in part of our road. Then, who knows?  We are continuing to run regularly having "caught the bug" and I would not rule out running another half marathon, maybe Lille next year or maybe somewhere else. You only need a decent pair of running shoes and some get up and go.

P.S. three charities benefited to the tune of over £500 in total. Thanks to all who donated.