Race Report: Cross de la Feyssine 2013
Wow...and I didn't even know adults ran cross-country races! As it turns out, most of them don't: however, cross as it is called in French is alive and well amongst a small but alarmingly fit section of France's never-boring sporting landscape.
It all started last February during a blustery Sunday morning run through Parc de la Feyssine, a narrow piece of wilderness that snakes along the Rhône just north of Lyon and that serves to connect three better-known gems in the city's impressive open-space crown: Parc de la Tête d'Or and the Berges du Rhône to the south, and the Grand Parc Miribel-Jonage to the north. It really is quite nice, and rarely crowded.
Anyway: I was just running along, minding my own business, when what do I see but a strange series of orange cones, tape, impromptu fencing and, further along, a group of maybe 200 people in running getups lining up next to a man holding a gun.
Strange, repressed high school memories surfaced. Yes...either some horrific Shirley Jackson-style nightmare was about to take place, or this was a cross-country race.
But wait: these people weren't in high school. Or college. In fact, some of them were older than I was.
What could it all mean?
Mysteries are short-lived in the Internet age. It was something called the Cross de la Feyssine, a full-on cross country race that takes place in the park every February. Damn, I thought, I should do that next year, just for fun.
And so it came to be that I was standing behind a chalk line last Sunday morning with about 150 other people, waiting for the starting gun.
I noticed right away that this had nothing to do with the French road races I've been running the last few years. First of all, everyone was fit, and most of them were wearing matching team gear! There was clearly no one here with the intention of running the advertised 5960 meters in 40 minutes and then hitting the sponsors' food and drink stands: these people meant business. Second, there were no sponsors, or food and drink stands. Third, everyone had track shoes!! I haven't worn track shoes since 1991, and I'm quite certain that something would explode inside of my feet were I to attempt to do so today. Fourth, it was just cold and windy enough to genuinely remind me of an October day in Minnesota in 1990, which was the last time I'd participated in this sort of activity.
While I was taking these mental notes the gun went off, and suddenly I was sprinting across the uneven grass surface towards the woods, just like in high school! Woo-hoo!!
That's me there on the left, #264, trying to keep up with the kids. I bought those running tights about five years before they were born.
About three minutes later reality set in. By the end of the first loop of the three-loop race I sounded like Arthur Digby Sellers in The Big Lebowski. I repeatedly tried to settle in with a group, but each time we went through a mud patch I and my giant, clown-like stability running shoes would drop off, only to creep back up a bit when the footing was better. By the third lap I was toast, just hanging on for the final sprint...which went OK, until a child whom I later found out was born in 1995 nipped me at the line. Kids today.
They timed me in just under 20 minutes, rendering the advertised distance comically impossible, unless of course I can suddenly run 5:25 miles, and the lead group consisted of Olympians...
...but hey, it doesn't matter, right? Cross country is about racing, not distance, and this was a good old fashioned footrace amongst people who are passionate about running fast, not slogging through a race while chatting and listening to live music and then eating free food and getting the sponsor swag afterwards. Not that there's anything wrong with all of that, and it's cool that running is so hip and popular in the age of high fructose corn syrup, obesity and adult-onset diabetes...but it was, oh, I don't know, inspiring to re-taste the flavour of competition for its own sake.
Even if it did mean that I had to finish 56th.