Saturday, 21 June 2014

What a weekend - Le Marathon de la Liberté & #DDay70 (Plus 7)

(Drawing by Benjamin Thomas & really does sum up how you feel when running this event.)

Another event on my bucket list – I first saw this event back I think in 2011 & I`m so glad I left it to #DDay70 to run it which I have to say was more luck than judgement. Like all races in France you need a Doctor`s note (£25) so with that in hand I entered, I eventually booked the ferry crossing (initially I tried to booked the actual D-Day weekend & did wonder why the Friday night & Sunday night`s crossing were already full !!) & booked a nice quiet hotel (Hotel du Havre) about 2 miles away from the finish and waited till race weekend……..

And what a weekend it was !!

The train from Farnborough was hassle free as it was straight to Portsmouth Harbour and with a short taxi drive I was at the International port awaiting boarding….

It was a really nice, smooth crossing except that I fell asleep in my reserved seat & woke up in the morning on the floor....a bit bizarre and there was me thinking I was a light sleeper !!! Shortly after arriving I found a café in Ouistreham & over breakfast I planned out the day – trip to Sword Beach landing area, see some of many memorials & visit a few museums.

First up was Sword Beach - even the walk to the beach brought goose bumps to the back of neck - it was quite electrifying. The houses were still proudly showing their appreciation by showing flags of all sizes. (I instantly knew what I had forgotten - a flag for my race). I got to the actual beach & have to say it was quite a humbling experience -I had pictures in my head from various war films like Saving Private Ryan and knew it wasn`t even close to knowing how those young men felt fighting for survival on all of those landing beaches not just Sword Beach.

I walked past the `Memorial Commando Kieffer` & down towards Colleville-Montgomery - I didn`t realise how far it was. As I came back I stopped in Museum No. 4 Commando & Le Grand Bunker Museum - quite incredible. You could easily spend all day walking round just that one little place & if I ever came back I would spend more than a few short hours plus you would need a car to see the larger tributes to those fought & died during D-Day & the weeks after.

Eventually I headed back to the ferry port area to have lunch - I had almost forgotten I had to collect my race number from `Le Memorial de Caen` & check into the hotel plus it wouldn`t be a bad thing if I got off my feet for a while. The expo was in full swing when I got there (4pm ish), got my number & had a look around the various stalls. I knew my hotel was about 3Km away - I just had to make sure I headed 3Km in the right direction. I am glad I walked back that day as I knew I had to do the next day too. I eventually got to the hotel & it was a fairly straight forward route - even going past a couple of nice bars - and checked in. After I had a shower I did manage to grab 40 winks, afterwards I got my race kit & bag together & realised I didn`t bring my normal breakfast - good job I carry a few things to eat after these long runs so they would have to do plus I`m sure (hoped) I would find a cafe open near the start. I went out for dinner but did dragged myself away before the England game as my taxi was booked at 06:30am..

We had free buses taking us from the finish to the various starts (10Km, Semi or Full Marathons) - it was quite funny as I saw loads of buses & headed that way. The marshal informed me that they were the Semi-Marathon buses & that I needed to head over in that direction - I headed off & turned the corner & saw only two buses...and thought I`m gonna actually be last then!

As we got one of the first buses we were almost the first ones at the Marathon starting area - a little fishing / harbour town called `Courseulles-sur-Mer`.  I found my cafe & coffee was drunk :-) I walked a little just to keep the legs ticking over - I wanted to keep the warm up to a very easy one as while the hamstring was OK I didn`t want to push my luck anymore than I was already !! I guess within 10 minutes of the start (09:10am - odd time eh??) I went for a little jog - only to see a `Farnham Runner` on the other side - I said hello & wished him luck. As we formed into the starting area I saw another local running vest - this time it was Reading Roadrunner - bizarre. We chatted for a bit then the race started.

My race plan was changed when I saw in the previous week the cut-off times (being 5hrs) as ideally I wanted to jog round taking loads of photos & clocking a time of 5:30hrs perhaps. So I changed it to around 4:45hrs.

We headed out of Courseulles-sur-Mer & the support was amazing - loads of cheers - I even got my first "Monsieur K" - we headed out of the town and along the open roads. After about 3 miles we ran along the beach road and I began to notice was how flat & open it was & thoughts of what it must of been like 70 years ago. We were at this stage running towards "Juno" Beach and past many memorials. Pace wise I hit the 10Km mark in around the hour & time for my 1st gel (1 every hour on the hour)

Just before the 10M point (01:36:xx) and it didn`t feel like the 10M point we ran into Colleville-Montgomery so my trip the day before wasn`t wasted as we ran exactly where I walked even past the Grand Bunker. The support around here was great. Soon enough we went past where I had breakfast & lunch the previous day & headed down the river. I went through half way in 02:06:xx so a bit quick - looking back I guess it was due to I wasn`t really thinking on the running but more on the history of the area (that`s my excuse anyway).

For some reason I had expected the half way point was to be Pegasus Bridge & us to actually run over it but as we came up towards it I saw it from side on - I stopped to take a couple of photos (14.85M in 02:24:xx) & saw a Hatch Warren (nr Basingstoke) runner just ahead (he did keep that way too). Despite me paying not too much attention to running I was getting (& no real surprises) a bit tired esp after about 16M we turned off the river path and headed up into a built up area. Another thing was also clear this part had more of an incline without a lot of descent parts.

I guess I first started to walk around 17.5M (02:53:xx) which on the back of my recent runs wasn`t too bad really. This last section of the route was very pretty but again very open & despite the inclines very flat. We headed down narrow tracks and here I did wonder how many hours it took to clear back in 1945. We past several small cemeteries - all carefully looked after.

At around the 3:30 hr mark the last of the pacers (4:30) came past - I did half think of hoping on board but by this time the `Ultra shuffle` was in full swing. My hamstring was generally OK but what I had noticed was that my soles of feet were hotting up - I guess from the lack of pounding (something to note for next year I think).

Soon enough & I do not recall many Km / Mile markers we came into the last mile - the crowds were building up & cheering away - during the last 1/2 mile or so I untie my flag & waved it back - great response back. Went through the line & collected one of the best medals I think I have (Dog tags), collected my goodie bag, grabbed some water & coke - I did declined the cheese.

I did find the showers - which I have to say were very nice not only from a post marathon feeling but it did also mean I would not be travelling back `marathon` fresh. I walked back to the hotel feeling pretty good - the walk actually helped my recovery. I got to the hotel & arranged a taxi to take me back to Ouistreham, where I could really start enjoying the post marathon recovery with some Leffe & a bit of lunch.

The return night crossing was uneventfully in terms of sleeping positions - must of been tired.

I have been fortunate to enjoy many fabulous running weekends & mini-breaks and this one was up there with those.

Score on the doors - Marathon No. #35 (inc #18 Ultras) done.

News - To help me get into shape & be more prepared for the racers at the end of this year & next I`m working with Fleet Sports Therapy - something I`m very excited about.

Next up - is the Endure 24 & two teams of eight from Frimley Lodge parkrun (Frimley Lodgers I & II) - this will be heaps of fun plus a bit of running thrown in.