Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Reconnaissance of the French Riviera Marathon ... and then my very own England v Germany

"The Riviera ..., on every street a gay casino,  where continentals sip their vino .... and leave their fortunes to chance
                                                  The Riviera ..., where matrons draped in Paris fashion,
                                                  Prolong the twilight of their passions,
                                                  in mad pursuit of romance!."

Who sang that? ... answer at the end.

The annual holiday migration of a thousand miles south from the normally slate grey northern English skies and accompanying brown seas down to the blue of the Cote D`Azur gave an opportunity to check out the course for the Nice to Cannes French Riviera Marathon later in November when, hopefully, it will be a little cooler than the 32 degrees we arrived into mid August.

Kicking off from the far end of the the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, all along the shore and the big sweep of the Baie Des Anges on the left, passing the grand art deco Hotel Negressco on the right and then down passed the Airport, I realised that you can probably see the first 20 miles of this marathon laid out before your eyes? Not sure that'll be a good thing on the day but with the course running as flat as an iron, it'll be all about clever pacing to try and break the monotony of the trip. And of course looking good whilst doing it!. Although not terribly convinced that a Lyke Wake Race shirt is relevant to this trip.

Apart from the sea being a constant companion on the left, the route winds through the vacation resorts of Saint-Laurent-Du-Var with its huge wave shaped hotels, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Villeneuve-Loubet, Antibes, and then along the Bay of La Napoule before the rounding of the Cap d`Antibes and finally Juan-Les-Pins, Vallauris, Golfe-Juan and the scamper along the Boulevard du Littoral, passing around the Pointe Croisette and the final finishing strait along the Boulevard de la Croisette and the flash bulbs in front of the swanky Hotel Carlton.

On an incredibly hot afternoon, the temperature really did climb as we completed the last six or seven miles and the route was jammed with holidaymakers, as expected in August: This heat really was a problem. It's a bugger when it takes you 20 odd miles in a hire car before you discover how to locate and work the air conditioning controls and take control of the environment but at least we now know the way.

Our base for warm weather training was the tiny area of Le Royal - Canadel and Cavaliere around Cap Negre in the commune of Var on the coast, just a little way further round from the cape of St Tropez.

Made famous over 100 years ago by Sir Henry Royce who had a house built - La Villa Mimosa - in Canadel to convalesce and escape the English winter, this section of coastline remains very unspoilt and contains many perfectly undulating lanes and paths which hug the quiet coastline - invaluable experience for running in the main event in just a few months time.

Royce was a man who, having survived what many thought would be a terminal illness, continued to live by the motto "Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble" and on that basis I really did get some value runs in ... this wasn't just a holiday even though the days runs were dissected each evening over such local dishes as La Bourride, Une Blanquette de Poisson, Pave de Saumon and of course the Bouillabaisse ...

Selectively washed down with an occasional Chateau Minuty or a fine Magali, but these were rare digressions from the serious business to hand: the legwork.

The chosen training route followed the coast track from Cavaliere to Le Lavandou passing many secluded beached coves and villages along the way:

... and very rewarding it proved.

The track itself followed the bed of the old railway line but unlike its UK ex railway line from Whitby to Scarborough via Robin Hoods Bay, this one was smooth tarmac and is a dedicated cycle / walking / running pathway - views out to sea on the left and steep woodland hillsides to the right.

La Fossette being typical of the five or six coves passed during an out and back 15K

And so on to England V Germany ...

The early morning regular 10k and 15k outings for Lady M and I were accompanied by several local residents along with a few holiday runners who were also taking the opportunity to get some training in ... a young German couple had become part of the regular group covering these routes; having all the kit and wearing Garmins, they were clearly the most serious.

On the final early morning run I went out alone ... a reasonably paced 10K for me and on my return just prior to the hill ascent, the dimly lit tunnel and then the big downer back into the village I saw him. My German colleague, also alone, completing a set of hill reps. He was at the foot of the hill setting his watch for the return and he turned, saw me and smiled. And waited. Being the older runner by about 15 years enabled me to put my experience, and gamesmanship, to good use during the next 10 minutes and so as I approached the hill, slightly increasing both cadence and tempo, I was ready. The German timing watch was clicked and with a nod of recognition we both climbed the hill together on our final holiday outing back towards Cavaliere.

On the outward journey, about half an hour earlier, I remembered seeing an elderly man at the top of the hill sweeping pine needles and other leaves into a sizable pile onto the side of the track. As we approached the crest this would be just around the left hand bend prior to the tunnel entrance and so I eased to the right of the path allowing my opponent the inside left line should he wish to try me at this point. he covered me around the bend (thankfully not in the horse racing sense) and took the bait.

Hitting the now significant pile of leaves and the attendant sweeper he lost his footing and the lead and I swept into the tunnel with a cackle - a full 15 yards ahead and headed for home.

Being a younger man, quicker and obviously a road runner, he was soon on my shoulder as we emerged from the flat gloom of the tunnel into the blinding sunlight of a Provencal dawn and the downhill section to the village. This was the quickening: A perfectly still morning saw two runners, one in a red, black and gold vest framing the Imperial Eagle whilst the other sported a fluorescent orange Round Rotherham 50 2012 shirt, both hammering down the quiet path to the finish.

Road runner he may have been but he hadn't ever tried to climb Trenet bank after Chop Gate, nor has he climbed out of Crimsworth Dene in Calderdale nor even the pell mell of uneven ground after Stoodley Pike: there was only ever one winner and the old git had him by a full yard at the road junction. I held my hand up and he "high fived" me with a laugh and headed off. I "clutched the badge" in celebration and with the Garmin beeping away, wondering what on earth was happening, I was led to a chair in front of the Boulangerie by the proprietor who mistook all these gestures and beeps for a man in the early stages of heart trouble - especially now the colour of his face matched his shirt.

Sitting in the chair as the waves lapped the shore I basked in a rare success and watched the stir of the village. The sun climbed above the pine trees and shone down upon the sea, the white mica rich sand, on me and my chair; a chair that will now remain forever England. .... "Cry God for Harry ..."

The singer of that song? ... Blossom Dearie .. of course

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