Race Report: Semi-Marathon Lège-Cap-Ferret
The morning of the Lège-Cap-Ferret half-marathon, I rolled out of bed to the sound of the race PA system being tested. Just across the street, the start/finish area was full of tents and busy with last-minute preparations — so close that for a very reasonable 10am start, I didn't need to wander over until 9:30 or 9:45! Happy that we’d gone to a grocery store the night before, I made some oatmeal and settled in with a cup of coffee to wake up.
The weather was cool at the moment, but was supposed to warm up by the end of the race — an unseasonable heat wave despite the persistent threat of rain. With no commute to speak of, I spent all my extra time debating between shorts and leggings, tank top or short sleeved shirt, wearing a rain jacket or taking my chances. I ruled out the t-shirt because my boyfriend promptly changed into an identical one (a hazard of running too many races together!) and matched the remaining sleeveless top with capri leggings. I wiggled into compression socks, braided my hair, and anxiously pinned on my bib, surprised I had some pre-race jitters even though I was running with no expectations and no time goal!
We walked over to the start line and gawked at the runners already gathered there — 1,300 runners may not be a lot compared to the huge races we’ve run here in New York, but they still fill up a little park quickly! We immediately ran into our "landlord" Valérie and her enormous fluffy dog. We chit chatted a bit, and she even remembered that I'm a vegetarian and asked if I'd had something to eat after our visit to the Conch the night before! I was happy to report her tiny kitchen was put to good use preparing my pasta dinner.
After seeing her, we wandered over to the port-a-potties and although the line was only a few people deep, we decided we might as well pop back to the AirBNB and use our own bathroom for our last-minute bathroom break. What luxury!
We considered our jog back from the bathroom with our warmup and joined the back of the mass of racers at the start line. I couldn't stop myself from looking all the other racers up and down: despite our casual approach, I was terrified we'd be out-of-shape Americans taking it slow, in a sea of super speedy athletes. Everyone's calves were enormous and their gear seemed top-of-the line, and on my previous trips to Europe I'd felt that every runner I crossed paths with was faster and fitter than me! I knew that couldn't be 100% true, and the self-selection of runners out at the crack of dawn probably tends to favor more intense athletes, but my competitive spirit was starting to rear its head here.
The starting gun went off and we shuffled forward until we could break into a run and cross the start line. The start/finish chute was lined with cheering friends and family, and while we couldn't understand a word of what they were saying, their energy was contagious and the dapper MC — complete red velvet top hat and 3-piece suit — kicked things off in style!
The first few kilometers (since we were in France!) wound through our neighborhood before heading out to a big park. We shot down local streets, followed the crowds of runners, and realized that not 5 minutes into the race we were about to run past our very own house. We looped back towards the park and sure enough, our rental car was literally parked inside the race course! We passed by our home base, ran through the park where the race actually started, and out towards the nature preserve where we'd spend most of our time.
Once the crowds thinned a bit, we realized we wanted to move past some of our slower companions (phew!). We weren't hustling by any means, but picked a slightly larger and faster pack of runners to keep us moving steadily. Through little back roads and cute neighborhoods we ran, and not far into the race a woman ran alongside me and my boyfriend.
"Are you American?" she asked. We'd been chatting in English, and stuck out amid a sea of French locals. "I am too," she continued as we nodded, "and I've never seen another American at this race before!"
We explained how we decided to visit LCF for the race, even though it was a pretty small event. Turns out, she was an American by birth, but married a Frenchman she met in college and had been living in the area for years! She told us how she and her husband were trail runners, and this flat course was quite a treat — part of the reason she picked it for her first half marathon. After a little more pleasant small talk, she sped up to keep on her pace.
The course's rolling hills and paved path made for really easy running, and we soon reached the first aid station. Unlike the hectic scene I've seen at big city races, with water cups flying every which way and Gu packets littering the ground, this station was a calm little buffet. Cups of water and full plastic bottles (with neat little flip tops that wouldn't get lost), carefully arranged paper plates of dried fruit, sliced bananas, and sugar cubes awaited the runners, manned by cheerful volunteers blasting pop music from their vehicles parked nearby. I did not also expect to see 2 liter bottles of Coca-cola, but that was also an aid station staple. I tried a sugar cube, and immediately regretted it — I'm sticking to dried fruit from now on! (Another near-miss: I learned at the next aid station to watch out for un-pitted dates!)
There were trash bags at the aid stations, but I noticed that any runners who took water bottles or had any trash held onto it until reaching small kilometer markers, instead of dropping it along the whole length of the racecourse. I was impressed with how considerate and efficient this was! Volunteers would have to come collect the kilometer markers later on, so consolidating trash was a really great (if unspoken) plan.
The course passed through dense forest and cleared areas, with some natural grassy areas and some that looked like they might deforested as part of a larger logging operation. It felt a bit like the Carolinas, and the heat and humid air also evoked the American South for me! The beautiful yellow wildflowers were a new sight, and reminded me I was somewhere else...
The kilometers passed quickly. Maybe because they're so much shorter than miles? We talked about every topic imaginable — from elementary school days to the secret lives of the runners around us to our vacation plans and my concerns about being the slowest runners here. We decided that I'd been misreading some "fashion" signals and felt self-conscious as a result. The European runners I'd been seeing had appeared quite elite to me, both because they were speedy individuals and because they'd all been outfitted like professionals, which is rare here in New York. We started to think that similar to how casual European fashion is still considered one step classier than American style, perhaps it's normal for casual runners to outfit themselves with higher quality gear, and my American eye interpreted that as super intense, instead of just well-fitting and top-notch. My knee started to feel a bit stiff around halfway through the race, but funnily enough, that's when my underused muscles really loosened up and I sped up without much effort! Even though the boyfriend took a casual bathroom break, we easily negative split the race.
I don't think our little increase in speed made much of a difference for the drivers stuck in traffic where the race course crossed a main road, though! We could hear their horns blaring before exiting the forest to cross back over to the waterfront near the end of the race. When we drove into town we suspected the bike path visible from the road would be part of the race course — we were exactly right! But again, unlike bigger races, the LCF Semi took a low-key approach and had volunteers holding traffic so runners could cross safely, instead of closing the road entirely. Here's hoping the honking was supportive and meant to cheer us on, and not just angry drivers wanting to get out of the way.
Once we crossed the road, we knew we were nearly done. A light drizzle began, which felt great after nearly two hours on our feet. (Told you we were taking our time!) We picked up the pace a bit, passing runners one by one and starting to see more families waiting to cheer on their loved ones to the finish. And from their repeated shouts of "Allez!" we picked up our first French word, too. Well, I re-learned it. As a competitive fencer in high school and college, the command "allez" was actually the starting command for official matches, so it was a familiar-but-forgotten word!
We passed the 20 kilometer marker and with just one more to go, kicked it into high gear. We weren't going for a PR, but the excitement of the race's finish was too much to resist! We wound along the Arcachon Bay and through people's backyards, the tiny road lined with houses and faster runners who returned to cheer on the back of the pack.
And suddenly, one of the spectators was screaming something about meters at us. Were we nearly there? 100 meters to go? I knew my GPS had some additional distance logged, and boyfriend's had gone absolutely haywire, so we couldn't verify how much we had left to run — time to sprint!
We flew through the next few minutes, until boyfriend turned to me and gasped "I can't keep this up!" I barely managed to respond "Me neither!" before we slowed down, thought a bit harder about how long it had been since we passed the 20km marker and realized — the spectator must have been warning us about 500m to go, not 100! A perfectly natural distance to holler at passing runners, and one we completely misheard (or misunderstood, as I'm not sure I know "500" in French anyway!)
With just a few minutes left, we dodged around other runners and towards sound of the finish zone. Neck and neck, we rounded a corner and were in the familiar park and finish chute. Now, 100m to go! We sprinted down the home stretch and through the familiar arch.
Being a little race, as soon as we were across the finish line, we were free! No long finisher zones or corrals to deal with. We walked towards the beach in search of something to eat and drink.
The first tent we came to was essentially a larger version of the aid station snacks — with the key additions of pound cake and paté on bread. So French! I stuck to almonds, banana, and some cake (I just ran a half marathon, ok?) while the boyfriend sampled the fancier food. We soon ran into our American friend, who was delighted to have finished her first semi! I'll bet she'd been at the finish line for 20+ minutes before we even got there, and maybe even took a shower. Did I mention there were showers? How civilized!
After stretching and having our first round of snacks, we walked over to the bigger tent where hot food was being served. Everything was a bit confusing, and not just because of the language barrier — but eventually I ordered a baguette with cheese and a glass of wine, and boyfriend ordered a full meal of fresh steamed mussels, French fries, a fruit tart, and a beer. I darted home to grab a sweatshirt as the rain continued a bit, and we settled down to eat.
The food was incredible! As my grandmother would say, "Hunger is the best sauce", but I still think that brie was rich and the bread was fresh to a point that it would be considered gourmet and expensive here — not just a 3 euro snack. Cheap food here seemed much higher quality than what we were used to! Even the wine, more of the same type given out with race t-shirts, was a cut above the junk wine I would expect at an event like this at home.
The awards tent was full of statuettes and enormous bottles of wine, and when the microphone kicked in again we saw the same impeccably dressed MC take the stage. Having wolfed through most of my sandwich, I wandered over to take a photo. He was giving an award to a girl who was drenched in sweat (or rain) and though I hate myself for saying this so bluntly — she really didn't look like she belonged on the awards stage. Weird, I thought, but maybe she's a lot faster than she looks! Who am I to judge how fit someone is? She looked a bit bashful, and as she left the stage the MC started to introduce her male counterpart. I didn't understand a word of his intro, until all of a sudden, I did: escargot.
The MC was giving out the Snail Award for slowest finisher, I realized. I could hardly believe it, and checked the poor girl's bib against the results list later on to confirm. She'd looked so sweaty and tired because she'd literally just finished the race when they brought her on stage!
On one hand, recognizing a finisher who has worked hard but isn't necessarily the fastest is kind of cool — but I can't imagine getting a "snail" award feels very good! I would have been absolutely mortified, though perhaps all the rest of the announcement was more personal and made it less cruel than I thought.
The awards continued on, and the rest of the finishers (rested, showered, dressed) received statuettes and giant wine bottles. An inspiration for next year, for me! For now, I'm happy with my mini-bottle and my adventure — but maybe I'll try to win something bigger next time around.
More miles, more words, and more wine coming up soon! Cheers!