As part of my working vacation in Paris, I thought it would be fun to run a race in in the City of Light. Races are few and far in-between in France, so I had to go with what was available. I registered for a women's only 10K called "Paris Pour Elles" (Paris for Her).
One of the funny things about signing up to race in France is that you need a doctor's note confirming you are fit to run. In the US, you just sign a waiver, basically saying if you die, it's your own damn fault.
This was truly a race scheduled for "fun." My season was finished. I had met and exceeded my goals beyond my wildest expectations in my goal races - PRing in every distance I raced this spring and best of all, coming in 4th in my age group in the wildly competitive Broad Street Run. I even won a 5K!
So I was tired. My body was creaky, and my legs felt anything but fresh. All signs that I should slow down and chill for a spell. Even my coach directly told me to back off.
But I didn't. *rolls eyes* 🙄🙄🙄
It's hard to slow down when you are type A and you seem to be on a roll.
I knew I was not feeling great, so I decided in advance to not run this race all out. I even thought that 8:00 miles would have been fine, given how I was feeling. This race was purely for fun - that was embedded in my mind.
The race: Paris Pour Elles
The weather had been unusually warm in Paris and race morning was no exception. While it was hot, it was nowhere near as humid here as it gets in Philadelphia, which by contrast feels almost tropical. Still, instead of running my usual 2 or 3 mile warm up, I jogged for only 1 mile and did some dynamic warm ups.
The start was crowded and we were off. Some super slow runners (about 11:00 pace) misplaced themselves right at the front of the corral and you had to weave past them. I looked at my watch and was running 6:00, and it truly didn't feel that fast. I slowed to a pace that felt comfortable and that ended up being 7:22 for the first mile, which included a decent climb. I was surprised at how good I felt and adjusted my expectations upwards since I was feeling better than expected. I knew I could hold 7:22-7:30 for the whole race because it really did not feel hard.
The speed bump: dos-d'âne
We were rounding a corner at the top of a hill, just short of the 2 kilometer mark. I was focused on running the tangent. So I did not see the ginormous speed bump in front of me – dos-d'âne in French - a donkey's back. I am not a bouncy runner. My feet stay pretty low to the ground. So when my foot hit the bump, I went down hard - in horrifying slow motion.
As I was falling I remember thinking "This can't be happening." I literally saw the speed bump coming parallel to my face and I put out my hands to break the fall. My thigh skidded across it and I stopped with a thud as I silently screamed "#$%&!" A faster runner (whom I was about to pass, LOL) was nice enough to stop. She was also horrified.
"Caaaaaa-vaaaaaaaaa?" she asked me. ("Are you okay?") She looked like a giant while I lay there on the asphalt like a crushed ant looking up at her.
"Ouuuuuiiiiiiiiiii," I said, in a knee-jerk response.
An official wearing a fluorescent yellow vest fluttered over and helped me up to my feet.
"Caaaaaa-vaaaaaaaaa?" she asked me.
"Oui," I said.
But after two steps I knew I was not ca-va.
The asphalt made a gratin of my elbow, palms, knees and a huge portion of my right thigh. It was like I had an abbreviated version of the stigmata.
I probably stopped for 30 seconds because I literally saw stars, just like in cartoons. I hadn't fallen like that since I was a kid. A hundred scenarios crossed my mind in a matter of seconds. I thought about jumping back in the race. I looked at all the dirt ground into my wounds, thought about infection, and remembered this race was supposed to be for fun. Then when I tried to walk a few steps, I could not bend my knees or elbow without pain, and I decided to step out.
Speed bump, 10. Dynise, 0. Decidedly not fun. Donkey's back is an appropriate name for the speed bump, because I felt like a real ass tripping over it. Honestly, I did not feel like writing about having to drop out of this race and reliving this, but I did it for two reasons:
1. I want to be transparent about my running in this blog. I want to show both the good and the bad. I want to share my decision making process. I want to show that running is about consistency and not just one workout or one race. It's about working hard and resting properly. It's about having fun. And sometimes falling down...and getting back up.
2. I want to raise awareness of the dangers of unmarked speed bumps in races. They are dangerous and are a real problem. I have seen many runners trip over speed bumps in races. I tripped over one at the end of the Frostbite 5-Miler but managed to stay upright. I saw a woman fall, exactly as I had done, in the Cooper-Norcross Bridge Run. I should have looked ahead, true. That's my own fault. But the speed bumps should be clearly marked with neon spray paint or a cone. I am sure I am not the only runner who tripped. Race directors: PLEASE, if you are not able to create a course without speed bumps, PLEASE mark them. Why not even list them on the course map?
Nothing broken! It could have been so much worse. All I lost in this race was some skin. The speed bump took a huge gash out of my elbow, and left me with bruises and cuts on my knees and palms where I broke my fall. I also had a nice 8 x 10 patch of road rash on my right thigh.
The day after the race, I felt surprisingly beat up. I did not run a single step last week, at my coach's urging. Honestly, I don't think I could have run if I wanted to. It hurt to bend my knees, elbow and hands. Coach suggested I do yoga last week but since my palms and knees were so black and blue, I could not hold up my weight in the yoga poses. All better now, though.
I have so much respect for trail runners and ultra runners who would probably roll their eyes at this little mishap. But I'm not a trail runner. I'm a road racer and I like my fast flat, speed-bump free courses, thank you very much.
Race review: The good
- This race celebrates athleticism and fitness in women. This may not seem like a big deal in the US, when you can pretty much run your choice of 5 or 10K every weekend during the season. But in France, races are rare and races for women only are even rarer than steak tartare. Women of all shapes and sizes, of all ages and abilities participated with great enthusiasm.
- Great spirit of joie de vivre. Just a bunch of French women (and moi) having fun.
- You could pick up your bib before the race, which was a good thing. But there were no vendors, as we are used to in the US. Since bib pick up was in a business district, it felt a bit lonely and empty – not at all the atmosphere of excitement and camaraderie you feel at US expos and bib pick ups. Once the French companies realize the economic possibilities, I am sure they will jump on board.
- Nice short-sleeve tech shirt. I like the sentiment on the back: which means "affirm the athlete you are." And I like the color. I don't have any purple shirts. When I registered, they listed XS as an option, but when I picked up mine, they only had S, M and L. It actually fits me okay, since French sizes run a bit small.
- Reusable bag. Not much swag, though.
Race review: The not-so-good
- Porta-potty situation was horrendous. Lines were super long and there was no toilet paper. Most of the French women didn't seem to care but I think they should demand more.
- Speed bumps were not marked. What an understatement, considering what happened to me. But speed bumps are obviously a dangerous problem in races all over the world.
- Medical situation was awful. After my fall, I walked back to the village to get my gear and I told them what happened. There were no medical people at the village, which is understandable, but you would think they would have at least had a first-aid kit or could have called the medics on their cell phones. Non. I asked the woman in the hospitality tent if I could have some water to wash out my wounds, which were studded with ground-in asphalt and primed for infection. They were nice enough but the woman started to hand me the bottled water she had been drinking from. Vraiment?! Yuk. The point of the water was to remove bacteria, not add more. I asked her if I could have a fresh bottle, and she obliged.
- Ugly course: A 10K in Paris. Rive Gauche. This conjures up images of running past beautiful sights and lush, manicured gardens. Nope. This was one of the ugliest courses I've ever run, anywhere. It was held in a sterile business district in the 13th arrondissement. We ran past a bunch of office buildings with very few spectators. It could have been anywhere in the world. The message that the "Paris for Her" course sent out is that women merit only a second-class course. I understand the challenges the race directors must have met setting up the course, but still, there have to be prettier, cost-efficient courses in Paris, like in the Bois de Boulogne or Bois de Vincennes. On the upside, most of the course was flat.
So all this is funny in retrospect. The more you race, the more stories you amass.