Posted by: vlibrizzi | September 28, 2009

Trois…deux…un…c’est parti!

C. ran in a 16 kilometer race from the Eiffel Tower to Versailles yesterday, so I invited him to guest blog about his experience. He was awesome…and beat his goal time by 7 minutes!

So, without further ado…

DSC_0168(This is “C.”) It had been a while since I had run any kind of race at all, but I remembered from my HS cross-country days the team pasta parties we used to have the day before a race.  So, V. and I cooked up a pasta dinner on Saturday night just to make sure that preparations got off on the right foot.




DSC_0170Sunday required a very early start:  we were on the 8:00 train in order to be on time to register and pick up my number.  But the pre-race scene was very cool.  The race started literally at the base of the Eiffel Tower, and only one block away from the tower there is a small stadium and track, where the runners were gathering to warm up.  Around 18,000 people ran yesterday, so it was a big crowd.  You can see a picture to the left — it was kind of neat to look up every once in a while and see the Eiffel Tower looming there as you stretched.



DSC_0194The start to the race (picture to the left, nice photography job by V!) was a little different than I’d expected; some of you who have run in big events like this will have to tell me whether this is normal or just another example of French inefficiency.  Instead of starting everyone altogether, they started a few hundred people or so every 60 seconds, complete with a race announcer counting down the last ten seconds of each minute (hence the title of this post).  This seemed fine at first, but around the 30th time I had heard the countdown it got pretty tiresome.  In the end, I didn’t start running until 10:55 despite the 10:00 official start time, and there were still plenty of people left behind me.





Paris-Versailles course

But once we were going, the policy around the start time made the race go very smoothly, because there was a consistent crowd throughout the course without ever feeling too bunched up.  The first few kilometers were nice and easy, with everyone settling into a comfortable pace.  I’ve pasted in the topography of the course in the picture to the left, so you can see that the first third of the race was pretty much flat.

You can also see, though, that around the 5 or 6 km mark we were all in for a very unwelcome change:  three kilometers of non-stop uphill, long parts of which were extremely steep.  Put simply, this was pretty brutal, though I did manage to keep going and pass quite a few people.  This also highlighted one of the nicest aspects of the race:  they had 15-20 person bands playing along the streets at key intervals, to prop up your spirits.  After a while of the hill only seeming to get steeper and steeper, I started to wonder how much longer I could take this — and then I heard a band playing in the distance!  Figuring that the band must have been there to welcome people to the top, I kept going.  So, thank you to those nice people in the village of Bellevue!

In the second half of the race, the pace really picked up.  Because of the staggered start, you were always in a more or less random group of people in terms of their speed, but it felt like people were being much more aggressive now that they knew the biggest hill was behind them.  The course itself is terrific for a race like this — lots of rolling hills that make it interesting / challenging, and very scenic wooded portions that also keep you cool.  The only not-fun part came around km 13, with another (shorter, but extremely steep) hill known as the “cote de cimetiere.”  I guess it got its name from a nearby cemetery, but coming at this point in the race it might as well have been because you just wanted to die.  That sapped a lot of energy.

DSC_0211But the end was near, and the last kilometer runs up the wide tree-lined boulevard leading up to the Chateau in Versailles.  You can see the palace from far in the distance, which is a nice motivator.  V. had taken the RER train out to Versailles during the race, so she was there near the finish line to get a few photos.  I finished with a time of 1hr, 23 min, 37 sec, which I was very happy with considering all the time lost on the hills, and it being my first race of this length.  However, this only landed me in 6,213th place — so, plenty of room for improvement 🙂  I don’t think the Kenyans are exactly frightened yet.



DSC_0227All in all, this was a great experience, and one of the most exciting things I’ve done this year.  I liked it so much that I may even run a longer race in Paris again in a few weeks!  V. is already talking up the Boston Marathon, but from 10 miles up to 26 seems like a long, long way…



  1. Congratulations! Your Dad read this before me, but both of us are excited for you, and equally certain that we could not accomplish this run. You looked great on your arrival in Versaille, as well as at the finish line.
    The hill a real Tom Seaver moment! Start preparing for the next race, even if the Kenyans are not threatened…….yet.

  2. Chris, you are a superstar! And yes I think the varied start times are prevalent in races in the US as well (but obviously, I’m no expert!)

    Congratulations on the successful run!

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