Terry Welsh has been sunning himself in the South of France and couldn’t resist the lure of this local race. Just to make us feel jealous, he has sent this report:
I flew off to do this race while vous were getting soaked in the Blaydon.
Chateauneuf-de-Grasse is a hill top village in the high country above the French Riviera. You take the bus from Nice and are driven to where the living looks easy. Prosperity without pomposity, style without swank.
You get off the bus and walk up to the race headquarters in the old village square. There is colour everywhere. The blue Mediterranean, down below, le Cote d’Azur, blue skies stretching to mountain peaks where you can see the shine of white summer snow. All around, the lustrous plants of Provence, rich and thriving mimosas, anemones, carnations, lotus and tall Alpine pines.
Everybody looks happy, everybody looks healthy. There are Mademoiselles who smile at you and little kids who you can imagine do not know what the colour grey is and who know rain as the gentle warm water that sometimes comes down in the evening to feed the gardens.
All of the marshals and the race organisers look like they have been hired from the Sun Bronze Model Agency in St Tropez. So in that way at least, it’s just like Weetslade.
But then there’s the race. It’s like this. Easy at first, downhill on the road. Then turn a corner, a long heavy uphill slog, still on the road. You pass one of these electronic temperature signs. It says thirty one degrees. Then you turn again to go downhill. But you are in a medieval village and you have to run down stairs down a back alley.
Turning again, and you are running upstairs, up a staircase, through narrow medieval streets with people coming out of their front doors and trying to squeeze by with their poodles. They make you run through the middle of people’s plant pots. The residents of the Chateauneuf alleys all seem to cultivate container gardens, growing gleaming red and blue flowers in terracottas and putting them on display, all over the place, brightening up the steep stony escaliers. Past the graveyard, up more stairs and into the cheers of the village square. But that’s only 3k; you have to go round again. And it has gone up to 32 degrees.
I finished the 6k in 39 minutes. I could not have gone round a third time and lived. I was 52nd out of 63, fourth in my age group and the top 3 in each age group won great big trophies. I have the local paper with a report of the race. It says that the race was une epreuve. (ordeal). It bestows on the runners the title Les courageux de l’asphalte. I’m going to get a coat of arms and a shield so I can write that on them in big letters.
It’s worth running at Chateauneuf. After a while, selective memory will take out the heat and the exhaustion and leave a film in your head about a pleasant run in a very nice place. It will feel good on cold wet training runs on February nights through Byker.