La Boucle de Cagnes – France, 6th June 2015

It’s been a while but here’s another masterpiece by Terry Welsh:

This month, I did something on the French Riviera that I never thought I’d do there again.

I ran in a race. La Boucle de Cagnes. A 10k road race, starting and finishing at an athletics stadium, superbly organized by the local club.

I have run many times in France and in recent years, on the Riviera. But following injury , training has been limited and I have to restrict what I do now. I ruled out ever racing on the Riviera again, and went there on holiday this month with the modest goal of a moderate jog along the Promenade.

Then I discovered that the French had put on this race only two miles away from where I was staying. This felt like deliberate in-your-face provocation. They seemed be saying enter and get wrecked. Or don’t enter, and feel like a miserable chicken.

No option really. There is nothing big or clever or heroic about entering a race when you are unprepared and unacclimatised. If you have the running bug, you cannot not enter. When provoked, nothing can induce you not to run. It’s like sending an alcoholic on holiday to the Oktoberfest and asking him not to drink.

On the day of the race the temperature went to thirty five degrees. My travelling companions thought that I was somewhere between totally stupid and completely mad. I listened to my body like the physios tell me to. It said it didn’t want to go to the stadium. I went. No option.

Once at the stadium,  good feelings started to flow in great big waves. I found again a lost connection to everything we all love about running and racing.

For a start the organisers , US Cagnes are obviously a friendly smashing club. Their happy volunteers were everywhere, helping out in the stadium, welcoming runners and as I saw later, extensively marshaling and giving out drinks on the road. It was no trouble for them to sort out a daft Englishman with broken French to enter and to look after his bag. With club races there is always this sense of a common cause and a commitment to nothing more than making sure that runners have a good time. At best, you feel part of a great big worldwide family of club runners. If US Cagnes ever enter a team at Weetslade, I’ll pay for their entry.

Then there was the atmosphere in the stadium. This was a small club race with 442 runners. But there were supporting races for children and their families cheered them on. There was an excellent band playing. There was a mass warm up for the 10k to loud music. There was a big table full of trophies and a podium for their winners. There were energy drinks companies giving away samples. All around was the vibration of a  carnival  in the summer sun of Provence.

We all lined up on the athletics track to start the race with the commentator working the crowd in the stands and the band in full swing. This was the Riviera, so a lot of the runners were ludicrously beautiful French girls with shining skin and slender club vests from places like Cannes and Monaco and St Tropez.

The course was once round the stadium then up and down undulating roads on two sides of a river. This was not through the grey Lowry landscapes that we usually have to run through. These landscapes were painted by artists like Cezanne, and Matisse and Renoir, and by Picasso in his Joie de Vivre period.

Their palettes contained the  Riviera colours of bright yellow and bright violet and they splashed them on to vivid backgrounds  of green and blue. These were the colurs that we ran through, cheered on in French by the roadside crowds .

442 is a great number for a race. Just enough to always be with a small group but never to get lost in a crowd.  Enough to aim to pass a runner 40 yards ahead before you reach the top of a hill. Then to be passed by two runners before you get to him. And then to surge past all three at the summit. If you know how good that feels, then imagine how good it feels after you thought you would never do it again.

The finish was from heaven. Round a bend and you see a gentle slope down a hill to the athletics stadium in the valley below. Down through the crowds at the entrance to the stadium, then once round the track, surrounded by wooded thick green hills to finish in front of the  grandstand.

At 67 minutes my worst ever 10k race time and only 32 runners behind me but what the hell. The craving was satisfied and I was on a high that completely outshone dehydration, sore legs and general nackeredness.

That is what getting your kicks from an addiction to running is like.

Do you know of a recreational drug that can deliver a better sense of well being than running in a lovely race can ? Or one that can deliver hallucinations as good as the real images of La Boucle that are now planted in my memory?

If you do, put me in touch with your pusher.

If you are addicted to running now, hopefully you will be getting highs like this for  years to come.

The worst piece of medical advice I have ever been given regarding decisions to continue running or whether to do a race is “ listen to your body”. That’s daft. If I did that I wouldn’t get out of bed until it was time to go to the pub. You have to listen to your soul. You have to feed it. It’s your soul that tells you to go and soar like an eagle. Or plod round a 10k course. And as the wife of the man who wrote Imagine said, “ when you’re dead , you don’t take nothing with you but  your soul”

La Boucle de Cagnes     410   Terry Welsh      67.23