French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Tag: Park

Shameless advertising: Anaïs Photography

Not so long ago, I had a photo shooting session with a professional photographer and I have to admit that I’m pretty impressed. First of all, the pictures were taken in Greenwich Park, which is my favourite running place. But she also managed to make it look like I’m not ugly, and that’s quite a feat! Well, she couldn’t change my flawed running form (bloody arms, I need to make them have a nice 90° angle) but that’s my own freaking fault.

In any case, I recommend you use Anaïs Photography for all you photo needs (corporate, events, advertising, weddings, pregnancy, engagement, etc). She’s available in the Northern Hemisphere (France and UK) in the summer, and in the Southern Hemisphere (Fiji and New Zealand) in the winter, even though technically it’s summer too – yes, she is cunning and manages to live in summer for the whole year.

French Bloke Runs by Anaïs Photography

French Bloke Runs in Greenwich Photo by Anaïs Photography (All rights reserved)

Down memory lane in Lyon

I’m on a holiday in Lyon and of course, I’m still following my training plan and I’m running exactly as I would if I were in London. But running in familiar places brings out old memories, back from the days I still hated running. I hated it but I still had a weekly jog with Jack of all trades, which made it bearable because at least I had a good friend to speak to and make the time pass. Yes, it was also a good excuse to see my mate and talk shit.

I’ve been running on the left bank of the Rhône, one of the 2 rivers in Lyon and this reminded me of the Sunday runs we did every week on the very same river bank, from one park to another. You must know that Lyon has 2 major parks: le Parc de la Tête d’Or and le Parc de Gerland. It is a very common run for locals to link the 2 parks running along this majestic river that is the Rhône (even though the banks of the Saône are prettier). It’s a mere 6km stroll and the bank has been refitted for pedestrians and cyclists, with wide paths, cycle lanes, playgrounds, fountains and trees.  It also boasts a great view on several major sights of the city:

  • The Parc de la Tête d’Or itself is a beautiful park with a rose garden, a free zoo, a lake with an island, many great trees and plenty of grass to play football or bask in the sun
  • The Croix-Rousse hill, with its colourful façades and XIXth century buildings
  • The Hôtel-Dieu, an old hospital originally built between the XIIIth and the XVth century
  • The Piscine du Rhône, an ugly but iconic swimming pool from the 1960s
  • The fine XIXth century buildings of the universities and of the university library
  • The Musée des Confluences, a building controversial for its gigantism, its weirdness (not to say ugliness) and the astronomical sums of money it cost the local taxpayers

This last one wasn’t here yet when we ran there with Jack of all trades, there was just empty space where the 2 rivers meet. We would go to the Parc de Gerland and come back to the city centre for a croissant and a coffee with a glass of fresh orange or lemon juice. I have to admit I miss that part and every time I go back to France I have a coffee and a proper croissant at the terrace of a typical café.

Quais du Rhône - Photo by Connie Ma

Quais du Rhône Photo by Connie Ma

Several years later, we took on running together again and we went closer to our new respective workplaces, in the Parc de Lacroix-Laval of Charbonnières-les-Bains, the posh suburbs of Lyon. This was a whole different setting and much more hilly, but also very pleasant because in some parts of this park the forest is almost wild. These are great memories too and I hope I’ll run there again one day…

The tale of my Olympic Park 10k

Once upon a time, in a far far away land at the fabled end of the Jubilee Line, in a remote place called Stratford, there was a strange tower called the Orbit. At this tower, there was a race. Not just any race Dorothy! A race between legendary creatures, a race where I met Pinocchia, Bluebeard, as well as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I’m pretty sure Goldilocks and Shrek were here too, but I couldn’t see them in the crowd. This race was the Olympic Park 10k, organised by the RunThrough fairy.

The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium - Photo by Martin Pettitt

The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium – Photo by Martin Pettitt

This Sunday was supposed to be a great reunion with all my running friends at the Olympic Park, but they deserted me one by one. Brainy Owl had had a bike accident (it turns out that car bumpers are tougher than human knees), Lanky Pole wanted to come but his coach had decided that a 10k race wasn’t in his training plan that week, Grumpy Grampy had bought his bib but “forgot” to train before the race so he had to throw in the towel, even Mad Cook who had made the trip all the way from France couldn’t race because of a nasty health issue, to her greatest despair.

So get your hankies ready. On this cold and windy day, I had to go alone: I took the tube alone, I arrived at the race alone, I collected my bib alone, I drank a coffee alone, I warmed up alone (remembering Lanky Pole’s advice and slowly building my warm-up routine) and I went to the starting line alone. Emotional.

A few minutes before the start, I took an energy gel, not because I needed it, but to test them and see the effects it would have on my race. The ultimate goal being to take some during my first half-marathon in 3 weeks time. In all honesty, I didn’t feel the kick I was expecting. I didn’t feel anything at all really, but it may have had an effect on my race, as you’ll see.

Countdown to 0, I start running. Too fast but I don’t care, my strategy for this race is to ‘under-perform’ for the first lap, but at the pace of my previous PB, and then to ‘over-perform’ even faster for the second lap. It didn’t work as I expected: I ran really fast for the first lap, but I couldn’t run faster for the second lap, so I kept the same pace.

My first pacemaker was Pinocchia, a lady running like she had wooden limbs. I thought to myself: ‘with such a stiff running style, she can’t possibly go fast, I’ll overtake her quickly’. WRONG! She was doing much better than me and my self-righteous poorly executed mid-foot strike: she was already far ahead of me after the first kilometre. I soon found another pacemaker, a bearded dude in a blue shirt. Bluebeard is a heel-striker, I can hear his slow and heavy pounding from a distance, but his pace is incredibly close to mine. When the course goes downhill he’s a tad faster than me, but every time it goes uphill again I overtake him. For the next nine kilometres, it’s a real race between the two of us. Does Bluebeard pace me, or do I pace him? I don’t know, but the competition really pushed me.

Just a kilometre before the end, we overtake Tweedledum and Tweedledee (two funny ladies with orange wigs) who struggle to finish their 5k. I wish I could give them some sort of encouragement but I have my own battle to fight, so I’m sparing my breath to overtake Bluebeard. Eventually, I managed to sprint and overtake him just before the finish line! I let out a manly scream of relief, making the audience laugh in the process, and I crossed the line after 42 minutes and 39 seconds! OK, that was actually 3 seconds slower than Bluebeard’s chip time, but I beat my previous PB by more than 2 whole minutes! I think that deserved a manly scream followed by a manly hug to the guy.

In the end, between my energy gel and Bluebeard, I don’t know who I should thank more for this performance. But I’ll bet that the competition was the greatest motivator. So thank you Bluebeard for making me less lonely, and thank you for helping me set a new PB!

Why I run

I have never really been a couch potato but I’ve never been the greatest sportsman either. Since I was a young lad, I have thoroughly hated football (and I still do to this day), fencing and judo didn’t agree with me either. I’ve enjoyed rugby union for a while, but the sports I really liked were skiing, snowboarding, roller-blading and climbing, most of which I still practise today. But running? Hell no! I have done it on and off for years to try and stay fit but I hated it almost as much as football, although I’ve always been fascinated by marathon and ultra runners (but that’s another story).

I have never really been a couch potato but since I arrived in London 4 years ago, I succumbed to British real ales and burgers and they made me chubby. Bastards.
So I started to say things like “I’m fat” fishing for compliments and replies like “Don’t worry, you’re not”. But Lanky Pole was brutally honest with me and told me “Yes you are”. Bastard.
I’m sure he had planned everything from the beginning: spending three years getting wasted on beer together twice a week, finishing the nights eating greasy fried chicken to get me fat, then convince me that the solution to my ‘comfortable’ body was to run. Bastard.
Then we spent an hour in Greenwich Park so he could show me a good running form, unfold a stretching routine and tell me to ask the Quiet Roman to help me choose a good pair of shoes. The Quiet Roman advised for a pair of Altra and innocently recommended me to read Born To Run by Christophe McDougall. Bastards.
I got hooked by the damn book. I began to appreciate the feeling and the lightness of the mid-foot strike. I understood that what I hated in running was sounding and feeling like an elephant at each step. I loved the elegance of this running form, and I stopped hating running. Bastards.
It took me several weeks to change this absence of hatred into active love. Now I hope I’ll never stop.

I have never really been a couch potato and I don’t want to become one. That’s why I began running, but it’s not the reason I’m still doing it. I run because I love the feeling of freedom, I love that I feel my body, my muscles and my feet, I love the ‘high’ it gives me for the rest of the day. I also have to admit that I secretly love pushing my boundaries and the electric atmosphere of a race. Thank you Bastards!

Bushy Park 10K

Sunday 7am, the alarm rings. YIKES!!! What on earth went through my mind when I signed up for this race at the other end of London at 10am on a January Sunday?

Nah, just kidding. Actually I don’t mind getting up early. Without the alarm I would probably have gotten up before 8 anyway. Yes I’m a lark, and I’m happy about it: it leaves me plenty of time to do lots of things. Successful people get up early. Take that, owls!

Back to my story. Sunday 7am, alarm rings, eyes open, body leaves the bed quietly to avoid waking up the other occupant (who’s an owl) and dresses up quietly, mouth gives a light breakfast to stomach, hands prepare a thermos bottle full of hot tea because skin tells it’s freaking cold outside, brain manages the commute alright with a little help from smartphone, reader is tired of terse sentences so author switches back to legible style.

I arrived very early at Hampton Court because I was afraid I wouldn’t find the race start. In the end it was really easy to find but I didn’t regret arriving early because it gave me enough time to go 4 times to the bog to empty my bladder from all that hot tea. It also gave me time to warm-up a little, even though I don’t have a set routine yet. Apart from a little jogging and that silly dance we invented with a Polish bloke, one of these nights we ended up as drunk as lords (the French expression is “as drunk as a Pole”, it may be derogatory but it’s appropriate here) raising our knees very high up one after another on the beat of the music.

The race begins. We’ve been warned that the track is muddy and slippery at places but the first kilometre is good. Too good even and I have to restrain my enthusiasm as I had decided to underperform slightly for the first 5K lap in order to save myself for the second lap. The marker for kilometre 3 shows up and shortly after, the muddy part begins. I struggle to keep my pace but I have to if I want to reach my target. My feet get bogged down at each step and it becomes really hard. I manage to stay at the same pace but my heart pays dearly for it: it rushes up to 206 bpm, that is 16 bpm more than my previously recorded max HR! The deer on the side of the path chew some grass, they clearly don’t give a fuck.

The second lap begins and we return to a more passable terrain. I follow the plan and speed up a little bit. Even though I was running alone most of the first lap, I’m now following a dude in a black tracksuit with red edging. I realise I should accelerate even a bit more. So I overtake black-tracksuit and my new pacemaker is a girl with an orange top. Clearly she’s a better runner than I am and the distance between us grows little by little. Then comes the dreaded marker for kilometre 8. If you follow and if you remember your maths from kindergarten you know it’s the same as kilometre 3 of lap 1. It’s where the muddy part starts.

My shoes stick to the mud, my heart goes crazy again, the deer still don’t give a single fuck (do they ever?) and black-tracksuit overtakes me. That’s a bit of a downer innit? Soon the finish line is in sight, I hear another guy catching up with me, the volunteer in the last curve shouts something like “Sprint now, don’t let him catch you up!”. So I do. I don’t know where I find the energy but I do.

I cross the finish line, check my watch, 44:47, I did it! I ran a 10K under 45 minutes and almost 2 minutes better than my previous PB! I love you volunteer! I could kiss you! But you’re a dude and anyway the one I really want to kiss now is probably rubbing her eyes in our bed at this very moment.

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