Ahhh race reports… I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve done one of these! (Especially since I still haven’t finished recaps of the Catalina Island Marathon or NYRR 60K, both in November. So much for my 2013 goal of writing up every race in a timely manner.) But I’m really glad that I was able to run Nice this weekend, and it really helped to remind me of how much I really enjoy racing. It felt so natural to get back into the groove! I think rather than dropping out of marathons completely, I’m going to be ramping back up and getting back into them.
I didn’t arrive in Nice until midnight on Saturday night; luckily, the race wasn’t slated to start until the relatively-late hour of 9:15am, and there was day-of packet pickup available. When I arrived at my hotel (Le Meridien Nice), I was extra pleasantly surprised to find that it was literally right next to the start – and in fact, since the amazing staff had upgraded me to a room with a huge balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows, I could even see (and hear) the volunteers circling up for one last round of preparations when I went to sleep! That definitely put me in a great mood for the next day.
I woke up in the morning feeling fairly well-rested (hooray for the Dreamliner’s comfy seats, where I had slept well on Friday night), and opened my curtains to find a gorgeous sunrise coming up over the coastline. I hadn’t looked too closely at the course map, but I knew that it largely involved running out-and-back right along the water. This was going to be beautiful!
I headed out of my hotel and found the start line pretty much right in front of me… but no sign of the promised packet pickup. It was 7:45am (about 90 minutes before the race), and the website had said that packet pickup would be available 7:00-8:30am, so I figured I was well within that window. But no one was out! I headed down the course, finally spotting another runner heading the opposite direction and carrying a gear bag. Presumably he was coming back from getting his packet, so I just headed in that direction.
As I got closer (the packet pickup turned out to be about 1/4 mile away; not far at all), I saw enough other runners to know I was on the right track. Packet pickup was being held in a little square opposite a farmer’s market, and while the market was already bustling with vendors setting up for the morning, the packet pickup itself was very quiet and well-contained. Nice and easy to get my bag, t-shirt, number, and be on my way!
The awesome thing about having a hotel room right next to the start of the race was that it meant I could go lounge around in bed until literally 10 minutes before the starting gun. So convenient! By opening the doors to the balcony, I could also still hear all the pre-race music and announcements, which got me pretty pumped up. I was really intrigued to hear the announcer say that there were runners from all over the world, including “40 runners from the USA.” That was a smaller number than I was expecting, given that Competitor Racing (the group that puts on Rock N Roll races) is a US-based company and tends to attract a lot of really loyal followers. I guess not many people would travel all the way to France for a short 10 mile race, but I was still surprised that the number of American running was so low, in comparison to the fairly good-sized field of about 3000 runners.
But the major way that I felt in the minority for this race was… my lack of costume! I had seen on the website that the organizers were encouraging runners to dress up, but since most of my stuff is in storage (I just brought a few suitcases of basics with me to Dallas when I moved out of NYC), I didn’t have any of the costumes I’ve run in for previous races, and I hadn’t thought ahead to go shopping for a new costume. Apparently that was a big mistake! Standing at the start, it seemed like maybe only 1 in every 20 or so runners was dressed like a runner. The rest were dressed as gladiators, crusaders, bananas, superheroes, or Disney princesses. (That last option was particularly popular with the men, go figure.) In fact, for the first few miles of the race, I found myself running behind a guy dressed as a fairy princess who was wearing a tutu and leotard… but the leotard was riding up and his butt cheeks were just hanging out and proud. Too funny!
I didn’t really care too much about what my time would be, and although I checked my watch a lot during the race to see how I was doing, I really just wanted to see how I did when I wasn’t pushing myself. I hoped that I could finish in a respectable 1:30 or less (for a 9:00/mile pace), but it was less about wanting a good time and more just me hoping that I hadn’t lost as much of my running/endurance fitness as I feared. I clocked around an 8:15 pace for the first two miles, and it felt pretty easy, but I also know that I have a tendency to go pretty fast out of the starting gate for long races, so I didn’t know if that pace would hold.
In the meantime, I just enjoyed the scenery on the Promenade des Anglais where we were running. So many gorgeous buildings! And the palm trees reminded me of running the Sevilla Marathon at about the same time last year. I was so happy that the day had dawned with clear blue skies and big white puffy clouds – that’s my favorite running weather of all, and it was definitely a far cry from the 60% chance of showers that Weather.com had been predicting.
I was really pleasantly surprised to find that the race had both kilometer markers and mile markers – I had been expecting only the former. Nice touch for those (40) of us visiting from the US! I kept going back and forth about whether to count down the distance remaining in miles or kilometers, since one sometimes felt shorter than the other. (5K done and 11K to go seemed a lot better than 3 miles done and 7 miles to go, though I do realize they are the same thing.) And of course, being a Rock N Roll race, there were bands every few miles that made the time pass even more quickly.
I really liked the course setup in terms of breaking things up as well. We started right in front of Theatre de Verdure on the Promenade Anglais, heading west along the coast until about the 5K mark. Then we turned around, going back down the other side of the street all the way back to the start. Around mile 4, there was an aid station with the usual water, Gatorade, oranges… and bananas and sugar cubes and straight up unsweetened milk chocolate squares. I guess that’s the French “eat real food” version of Gu for fueling? 🙂
After crossing the start, we began another out-and-back on Quai des Etats-Unis that was about 2K and took us around the Port of Nice, up a quick (but steep) hill, and then back to the Theatre de Verdure, where we did a quick circle before returning to finish on the Place Massena in front of cheering crowds. The daisy-chain design made each section pass very quickly; I only wished that the Port of Nice had been our first out-and-back instead of our last, because the hills in that section were a bit tough at that point in the race. Fortunately, my fellow runners were wearing some great costumes that easily distracted me from being tired!
It was a good thing that there were some distractions, because I found the second half of the course to be a lot tougher than the first. Just after we passed back over the start (around the 10K mark in the race), we headed up a slight hill that would take us around the war memorial. It wasn’t terribly steep, but it was long and steady, so it took some effort. Luckily, with less than 4 miles to go, I knew that it couldn’t be more than about a mile of uphill before we’d have to turn around and head back down!
It turned out to be far less than that – prob only about 1/4 mile up, and then we were passing the war memorial on the left and a stunningly beautiful view of the Mediterranean on the right. We turned left around the point and then came downhill slightly to circle the port. We were now completely done with the final “out” section of the race; just the “and-back” was left. And there were only 2 miles to go total!
Unfortunately, these final two miles were tough. Rather than retracing our steps, we circled a bit until we came to what was pretty much the only major hill in Nice – up the base of the Parc du Chateau de la Colline, on a pretty steep grade to a cemetery, where we then got a nice downhill. It reminded me a little bit of the Boilermaker race in Utica, NY – except here, there were less than 2 miles left in the race, so I forced myself to just keep going and not take a break. Looking at my watch, I saw that I was doing much better than I ever expected on time – and instead of just barely hitting 1:30, I was actually on pace to finish around 1:25! Still, I didn’t care that much about my time, and certainly wasn’t trying to set a PR or anything. I “pushed it” in that I didn’t take a break when I kind of wanted one, but overall, I was still just mostly running strong and steady.
After we finally hit the downhill, we came back out to the Pointe de Rauba-Capeu, and I again saw the gorgeous war memorial ahead of me. (At this point, though, I didn’t know quite what it was – I only learned about it the next day on my bike tour.) The combo of the gorgeous architecture, the bright blue sky, and how great I was feeling was incredible, and I got an amazing runner’s high – just in time to start heading slightly downhill and back to the start. I was in the final mile of the race!
I hit the 9 mile mark with 1:17 on my watch, which shocked me. That was much faster than I expected to be! I now wondered if I could really push it in this final mile in order to finish in 1:25? But even though I thought it would be fun to finish in 1:25, I also recognized that I really didn’t care all that much. I had set out to do this as a fun run, and I had had so much fun running it. Getting a great time wouldn’t make it a better experience; it was already about as great as it gets.
But I dutifully switched my phone from playing Jillian Michaels’ podcasts over to playing inspirational music – and as usual, I got a great pick me up from Fun’s “Some Nights.” With a huge smile on my face, I flew down the slight hill and tried to pick up the pace even a little bit more as I passed the start line and circled the park toward the finish. Now where exactly was the finish? My Garmin said I still had 0.2 miles to go, but I had thought that the finish was right next to the start – and yet, we were running away. That said, I didn’t much care – there were crowds all around (since this was one of the official Festival du Carnival events), and I loved the view of the ferris wheel ahead of me as I headed down the home stretch.
We turned left onto Place Massena, where metal barriers led us around a little U-turn with crowds all around. After making the the turn, the finish line was straight ahead of me – and I gave it a little extra kick to bring it in strong. After crossing the finish line and checking my watch, I couldn’t believe it – I had finished under 1:25, somewhere around 1:24:35! I found out in the official results that it was actually 1:24:32, or only 11 seconds shy of a PR. Oops… guess I should have pushed it harder rather than taking it easy.
After the race, I leisurely walked the short distance back from the finish line to my hotel, cheering on some runners as I went, and then hightailing it out to my balcony to get some sun and watch the race from there. (So cool that I could do that!) When I took my sneakers off, I found out that my feet hadn’t gotten any blisters, but the thin socks and older sneakers I was wearing meant that they were kind of sore from the pounding on the concrete – so I slipped on my pair of PR Soles that I’ve been meaning to test out for a really long time. (Stupid races getting canceled/me getting sick!)
The PR Soles look kind of like Adidas shower shoes, but then they have an egg-crate-mattress-looking hard foam bottom that is really comfortable on tired feet, and they’re meant to be worn post-race to help your feet recover. I wore them all day on Thanksgiving when I was standing around the kitchen for hours, and loved them then, but this time around I felt that my feet were too tender for the firmness of the foam. Surprising to me, because I thought they’d be perfect! However, I found that they were great the day after the race, when I still had some soreness in my feet/calves but the balls of my feet weren’t totally tender to the touch. I’ll be keeping these, though probably continuing to wear them only in private if my fashion advisory board has anything to say about it 🙂 That said, they are awesome for standing for long periods of time – I think I’m going to keep them by my standing desk in my new apartment once I move in.
Anyway, PR Soles aside, I’m really happy with how the RNR Nice went. I didn’t go into it expecting to do well, and I surprised myself with just how speedy I was, without it being too challenging or so much effort that I didn’t enjoy myself. It’s been more than three months since I’ve done a race, and I was starting to think that I was over it, but maybe it was just another break in my running journey – because now I’m really excited to get back to some distance running. March 1st, I’m currently signed up for the Army Marathon, and now I’m thinking that maybe if I run around 16-18 miles this weekend, I might actually be prepared to finish that one without it being a complete disaster. (Or without dropping down to the half or skipping it entirely, which were the other two options I was considering.) I’m starting to realize at this point that no matter how burned out I get or what else is going on in my personal life, running is what resets me and makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. I just need to remember that so I do it more instead of backing off the races!