Grenoble, Sunday 7 April 2019
I’m a traileur at heart so I don’t race on the road very often, in fact I find it pretty tedious and gave up aiming for a sub three-hour marathon a couple of years ago when I saw that the extra effort involved just didn’t seem to pay off, and training on the road meant I spent more time away from the trails.
However, there’s a lot to be said for running at high intensity on hard surfaces occasionally, making gains you just don’t get running on varied off-road, mountainous terrain so I decided to run the Grenoble-Vizille 22km road race. I wouldn’t say I was aiming for this as just a ‘training race’, but I did enter it to mainly force myself to go through a high intensity workout that I would find hard to maintain when training on my own. My secondary goal was to beat 1hr30 in what was 900m further than an official half-marathon.
The event attracts nearly 2,500 runners every year with a variety of way of running the point-to-point 22km from Parc Mistral in Grenoble, south to the historic Château in the town of Vizille.
Solo runners complete the whole 22km, but there are competitors who run as a relay in teams of two or four, and even several ‘rando’ courses with walkers setting off early on the course to reach the château at a more leisurely pace.
Although Grenoble is surrounded by imposing mountains on all sides, it is actually one of the flattest cities in France which means that the first few KMs out of the city, on closed roads were exceptionally fast, by my standards at least. Cheered on by surprisingly decent crowds of locals braving the Sunday morning drizzle we left the city limits on country roads and after the 4km mark hit the dreaded 300 vertical metre climb for the next 6km up to the nearly halfway point.
Normally I wouldn’t blink at the concept of climbing 50m per KM, but when you’re running at half marathon pace on paved roads, and you can see those roads stretching out and climbing into the distance it becomes quite a physical and mental challenge. The plan was to hang on and limit my losses and as the kilometres ticked by, my average pace continued to drop, but I was fairly confident I’d banked enough fast kilometres early on to be able to absorb them. My hill training seemed to help as well as although the pace slowed, I found it quite comfortable to settle into a rhythm at a slower speed and I passed lots of faster runners who were obviously struggling with the gradient.
Over the top of the hill I knew that it would be mostly downhill from there and the pace did pick up agian, but with 6-7km to go I could feel myself starting to flag. I hadn’t packed any gels, but had managed to find a couple of energy bars in the supermarket the night before. I had resisted eating any so far because at the effort I was maintaining trying to chew solid food was going to slow me down and I thought I could hang on until the end. I knew I’d have to take on a few calories though so nibbled on a few bites, while losing a few places to runners from behind as I struggled to gasp more air into my lungs and swallow the food at the same time.
Inevitably my pace for the last 4km stayed above the 4min/km mark but as I passed the 21.1km (half marathon mark) I noted that 1hr 26min 15s was a new PB, even though I’ve still never officially run a half marathon distance apart from on trail.
My final hope was to finish the race in a sub 90 minute time and I knew it was possible but was going to be very close. The final kilometre of the race runs through the beautiful gardens of the Vizille Château and there were lots of crowds gathered cheering us on, including Amy and her parents who I glimpsed in the last few hundred metres. As I turned into the finishing straight I could see the finish in the distance with the digital clock reading 1:29:55 – there was no way I could beat 90 minutes without a world record-setting final sprint, so I finally rolled over the line in 1:30:06, but was quite pleased with 39th place overall.