Monday, March 5, 2012

France National Cross-Country Championships

What a weekend!  After qualifying for the France National XC championships a few weeks ago as an individual I was really excited to go with a few runners from my club and compete on this level.  We met up on Saturday afternoon to drive the 4 hours to the town of La Roche sur Yon in Western/Central France.  There were 5 of us in the car, Olivier (my coach and also fellow teammate who qualified with me in cross court *short race), Marie-Amélie (Olivier's girlfriend but also pure stud runner who was running in the Elite women's race), Heidi (another American from my club was in Mélie's race), and Jean-Christophe (a masters runner from our club racing the masters long xc division.

It was a great trip there talking running, our backgrounds, and what to expect for the race.  Turns out that Jean-Christophe (JC) was a professional VTT rider for 9 years and was the European Champion competing in many world cup competitions.  Very cool stories.  This is especially true for you cycling fans because at one point he was roommates with Cadel Evans (2011 Tour de France Champion) and beat him in the European finals.  Not bad!

We stayed together at a youth hostel, sharing the rooms and sleeping how you sleep when you don't know the people really well and you're all in the same place.  It was fine though.  In the morning we ate a bit of breakfast in the Sports center complex with some pure beast runners all around.  We sat a few places down from last week's 1500 indoor France national champion as well as his buddy, 3x winner of the XC finals.  Everyone was super cool, chill, not cocky, nothing to prove.

The day of the race was a bit stressful due to the weather conditions.  Whereas Saturday was a nice day, and we had done an easy 4 miler on the course which was gorgeous and fast when dry, Sunday was storming, with wind gusts upwards of 45 mph and heavy rain.  The course transformed into a mud track and by the time we ran at 2 p.m. there was barely any good footing left.

Olivier and I warmed up in the pouring rain and wind but found a bit of shelter for some dynamic stretching and to get in the "zone."  I was feeling absolutely great after 2 days off and an easy run the previous evening.  We took our time getting our stuff together and went to review the course map to be sure of where we were going when we looked at the start time of the race and realized that they had changed the time by 10 minutes.  We were going to be late!  We literally sprinted to our stuff which was all in garbage bags to protect from the rain, and threw on our spikes.  We had to jump the fence and sprint 600 meters to get to the start in time.  Unfortunately, while jumping the fence my knee caught an edge and it got cut so there was blood streaming down my leg.  No time to worry about that now.  Plus when it mixes with the mud it looks like pure warrior.

We are all called to the start line, 285 of us, not one guy an average, casual runner.  We wait at the blocks in complete silence for at least 2 minutes while the clock in front of us ticks towards 14h10.  At exactly the start time the gun goes off and it's an all out sprint (not joking).  I find myself at probably 250th place because we got there late so were in the second row at the start blocks.  The course climbs for 600 meters in muddy conditions that I have never run in.  At about 1km out of 4.5, I decided that the course was so crappy that after a certain point these guys were going to settle in and stop battling.  I was wrong about the "letting up on the effort", but I decided to make a very hard move.  I probably surged harder than I ever have in a race and took a bunch of guys in the mud.   I hung on but by 3km was hurting badly.  I held my place, especially through the winding woods where guys were falling everywhere.  At one point this big guy went down in front of me and I jumped over him Reggie Bush style hoping not to clip his face with my spikes.

The final straight away was 500 meters of incline.  At this point my body was in pure lactic acid mode.  I had not let up from the beginning and was hurting badly.  I still managed a sprint at the end although the thing felt like it would never end.  I picked off 5-10 guys to finish 158.  I was really hoping for 150 but in my first xc race like this I was very pleased.  My coach and friend Olivier had a bad race and finished 210. Even though he didn't run well, and I'm not just trying to beat him of course, it was a mental boost to me to know that I had taken a risk and had finished so far ahead.

After the race I had to head to the Red Cross to get my leg taken care of because it was stinging badly and I was worried about infection.  They hosed the legs down and cleaned the cut but afterwards I was so cold that I shivered for like 30 minutes before getting back to the car.  No one else on the team had a great day so it was a bit awkward in the car because I didn't want to be overjoyed with my performance even though I was pretty happy.  What a crazy experience this was.

I'll never forget the big screen streaming the race in front of thousands of spectators, or the bracelet that said FFA athlete on it to get me into the race, or the level of competition that I have never seen before.  All 278 of those guys were just pure studs, I have never been in that deep of a race before.  But, I'll also never forget this great blessing that God has given me to re-start my career as a runner and to compete again.  He is worthy of all my thanks, praise, and glory.

Now it's time to get ready for a half and full marathon.  Gotta keep it rolling!


Jamie said...

Epic conditions. Congrats on a great race, Tim! When the elements come into play it always makes it more memorable, for better or for worse. Glad it was the former for you. Well done!!!

Greg Strosaker said...

Great summary Tim, what an amazing experience, and way to gut out the late arrival at the start, the crowd, and the brutal conditions. Hope the knee heals up quickly. I'm sure the images of this day will be blazed in your memory for the rest of your life.

iRunParis said...

Thanks guys. @ Jamie definitely a mental switch when the elements are in play. @Greg, thanks. the knee feels good and I definitely won't be forgetting this anytime soon.

Mark Williams said...

What a great recap Tim - nearly had me on the edge of the seat. Congrats again..but no time to celebrate - you have to get right back to work. You have a little marathon score to settle! ;)

Lydia said...

Wow. Pure warrior indeed. I love it. I'm so happy for you, which is strange as I do not know you. :) I love the imagery. What an ordeal...very exciting...very elite...very very cool. I'm feeling a little off today, so I did get a little teary eyed reading the experience. You are right, you have been blessed. Thanks for sharing!!

Gordon Meier said...

So proud of you, son! Great accomplishment.