Ever been to le Touquet in Northern France? I recommend it - it's a buzzy seaside resort, with a golden sandy beach, good restaurants, expensive shops and the municipal flowerbeds are very stylish. It also has a belt of what I imagine (never actually having been to the UK equivalent) to be Surrey stockbroker-type 1920's houses, with sweeping grounds full of pine and deciduous trees. It really is a classy, attractive place. Every August it also hosts 10k and 20k races around the town.
Last year we happened to be there on the day of the race, and I hatched a plan there and then to run in the 2012 10k.
Anyone in the South East of England this weekend will know how hot it's been. Well add on a few degrees on the French side of the Channel! It was hot when we arrived on Thursday, got hotter on Friday and hotter than ever on Saturday. And no, the race doesn't happen at 9:30 or 10am, before the sun has really got his hat on, but at 4 pm, when the sun needs not just a sombrero but a cold beer and une glace à vanille s'il vous plaît.
The other downside of the heat was that since we'd arrived on Thursday, and despite staying at the not-cheap Holiday Inn Resort hotel, which astonishingly has no air conditioning in the rooms, I had had very interrupted sleep at night. The interruptions were mainly due to being eaten alive by mosquitoes - all those shady trees around the hotel are a perfect mozzie habitat and as we had to keep the windows wide open to avoid cooking to death, every biting insect in town was making a beeline to room 236 By the time I got up on Saturday morning my feet, ankles and legs were covered in tight, swollen red patches - the worst one, just where my trainer laces would need to be tied.
Never mind, at 3:30pm on Saturday I made my way to the start. A chap from Ackworth Road Runners said hello, and a little knot of Maidstone Harriers clustered in front of me. Old hands told me to watch out for sharp elbows as the pack sorted itself out, then we were off.
Now this was a curious thing. In England, when I've run races through towns and villages, people watching along the roadside will virtually always shout out encouragement as the runners pass. Not in LT it seems. There were plenty of people watching, but mostly in silence! Most odd. Luckily some friends who were specifically spending the last night of their holidays in LT so they could cheer me on made themselves conspicuous by some loud encouragement
First couple of miles are up through the main shopping drag, then a bit of out-and-back along the sea-front and at this point, I'm really enjoying myself, running about 9:30 min/miles which I'm comfortable with. However the sea front stretch is entirely unshaded, and then the route heads along the dunes path with no shade and worse, complete shelter from any breeze off the sea. This goes on for another mile and a half and by the end I am really struggling with the heat. The first water station is at about 4.5k and I could have done with it a good k sooner, but I drank a cup and poured another cup down the back of my neck. I tried to keep it going but pretty soon I had taken a walk break, running in any shady patches. This was not a good part of the run for me.
Eventually, thank goodness, we turned into the Surrey stockbroker roads, and hoorah not only were people actually cheering us on but they had also got their garden hoses out to spray over us as we ran along By now I had settled into a run/walk pattern where the runs were a decent length and pace and the walks were minimal distances. At this stage I still had hopes of getting under the hour but the final kilometre was tough again (especially when the elite 20k runner plus motorbike outriders swept past, having started at the same time as me!).
For the last 500 m the route turns into the sports arena. A French lady came alongside me and said, "come on, we'll do this together shall we?" I'm always a bit shy of this because I feel I'm going to hold someone up and spoil their time, so I said to her to go on, but she was adamant we'd cross the line together. What a nice woman - she encouraged me all the way round the lap we had to run on the running track to the finishing arch, and thanks to her, I crossed the line with a smile in 1:03. That's a PW for me, but I was just glad to have taken part and to have finished under those conditions. I have earned the nice tech T-shirt!