Road Race Report: 2012 Tour du Lac Paladru
I'm in this picture. 100 clams to anyone who can find me.
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year!
360-some days ago I ran my first race in over a decade, and it was so much fun that I vowed to do it again when the calendar rolled over on me one more time.
And now it has come to pass. Funny how time passes so qui…oh never mind.
The 2012 edition of the Tour du Lac Paladru was perhaps even more entertaining than last year's race. Everything I loved about it the first time—the fantastic welcome, the decent organization (by French standards, at least), the magnificent course and the easy-access parking—stayed the same while, in a shocking turn of events, race management made a few improvements that addressed some of the basic concerns I brought up in this space last year.
Clearly, race management pays attention to private blogs written in foreign languages when planning upcoming editions of their race (hey, no harm in celebrating my imaginary influence on the world around me, right?).
Anyway, let’s have a look at a few improvements:
- Electronic timing
It actually happened! While this is not exactly new technology, the only chips found at many races around here come out of a Pringles can. Hell, I did a cyclosportif a couple of years ago where the official timing system consisted of an old guy in a crow’s nest shouting out the numbers of the finishers to another old guy at street level with a clipboard—the fact that they had big digital clocks in Paladru last year was already something.
Only one problem, though: race organizers didn’t splurge for the magnetic carpet at the start, so there was no possibility of having an official personal time. This doesn't really bother me—most of us runner-types do have watches that we start when we actually cross the start line—and in any case it didn't matter because there was a…
- Controlled starting line!!!
My biggest complaint last year was that many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of runners began the race between one and fifty meters ahead of the starting line and no one seemed to care, or even notice. I know that approximation is a prominent feature of French culture and it's not like I’m racing for money here or anything, but a modicum of amateur sportsmanship is still to be expected in something called a “race.”
And my prayers were answered. Thirty minutes before the start—about the time the gun-jumpers were gathering last year—there were stern-looking metal barriers in place and stern-looking people wandering around keeping mass numbers of runners from collecting like shower mold on the wrong side of said metal barriers. It was very satisfying.
- Semi-accurate kilometer markers
As it turns out these were there last year. In fact, by the looks of them they've been there for about the last 50 years: I just didn’t get how they worked in relation to the race until now. My bad. Moving on...
With these improvements in place and my snazzy race t-shirt safely tucked away in my safely-parked car, I set out to warm up a bit along the beautiful lakeshore. Unlike last year, this race wasn’t a goal event for me; it was rather a tune-up for an event-to-be-named-later. Less pressure, but less energy too: I’ve been in the 30-50 miles/week range for some time now and in need of some serious tapering. Also, a baby-induced lack of sleep was on the wrong side of my performance equation.
On the other hand, I was genuinely excited to have my first go at the 40-49 age category. After a season of competing in the absurd French age group of 23-39—seriously, who thought that up?—the idea of turning the clock back and being the young guy in the group was pretty appealing. I was ready to go.
As was the case last year, the speed walkers got the gun (whistle, actually) five minutes ahead of the runners. This shocked me the first time around—it's all very Pamplona, and I was legitimately concerned for their safety—but now that I know there are never more than a dozen or so walkers I see the point: there aren’t enough of them to really get in the way, and it’s a great method of getting these oft-maligned athletes a warm send-off from the hundreds of onlookers crowded around the starting line for the main event.
Slightly less than five minutes later, we got our own whistle. While I’m still not wild about the 90-degree turn fifty meters into the race, this year I was smart enough to start within a few meters of the front and thus avoid the worst of the inevitable traffic jam. I still don’t see why this turn is necessary: why not just start the race on the main road and call it 14.1 km instead of 14.15 km? But whatever: I was only behind the line for nine seconds and then slowed by the pack for perhaps another minute. Not bad.
As we accelerated and turned right around the pointy end of the lake, I remembered why this race feels so great. There’s just something simplistically primal about looking at a lake, exchanging glances and saying, “hey, I wonder how fast we can run around it?” It's very honest: it’s an oddball distance that probably leaves PR-obsessed runners cold, and there’s been little or no effort to change the course over its 35 years of existence. It’s just “let’s run around the lake,” now with electronic timing. Very chic.
The hills on the far side of the lake, however, took a bite out of my enthusiasm. I’ve trained very little on hills since the Lyon Urban Trail, and I paid the price Sunday. Instead of the sub-4:20 kilometers I was hoping to start with I was hitting them at 4:30, even one 4:40. After seven I was almost at a half-hour. Oops.
The second half proved more eventful. I had a surge of energy and churned out a series of kilometers between 3:55 and 4:10, getting me back on pace to beat last year’s time. Myself and two other runners formed a triangle, picking off stragglers who’d started too fast by the dozens. It was exhilarating…
…until they both ditched me. Oops. (That's them, finishing just in front of me and the 5th-overall woman. Bravo.) I hit the last 200 meters hard and finished on their heels right around 58:30 gun time and 58:20 watch time—as compared with 59:08 and 58:44 last year—getting me just a nip under a 6:40/mile pace and 140th place overall.
And what of my new age group, the one I’m supposed to be dominating now? 38th. Ha. Sure, there were more than 350 of us early-middle-aged weekend warriors and most of them were behind me, but still: 38th? Where do all these speedy geezers come from? There were, in fact, several of us under 50 minutes: what kind of maniac 40+ French dudes run 5:45 miles on that kind of course? That’s really, really fast. Chapeau.
But hey, it’s all good. Even on a perfect day with perfect preparation and blowing out all the gaskets, I don’t imagine that I could cut more than another 30 seconds off my time at Paladru, which would still leave me outside the top 20 among the 40-49 crowd...and let’s face it: the event horizon for even that is closing in on me pretty quickly. A few years from now I’ll be going to Paladru on the last Sunday in August mainly for the after-race swim and the free coke and cookies…but it will still be good, clean playground-style fun to see how fast I can run around the lake.