By Nicky Jenkins
FINALEMENT – PART 3 – THE RUN (LA COURSE), CASTLE SERIES, THE GAUNTLET (MIDDLE DISTANCE/HALF IRON TRIATHLON)
I love the way the French say “Courage”. It holds so much passion and meaning. I heard it a few times on the bike, and then on the run, loads… more than enough to bring a tear to your eye (several times when you’re an emotional dimwit like me). So what does it mean? Courage in the English sense of the word, yes, but a little more than that too.
“Bon courage” is a fairly general well-wishing expression. It can be used in many contexts where the person being spoken to is about to perform a difficult action.
There is no exact English equivalent. Often, but not always, “good luck” can be used in similar situations. The expression “bonne chance” also exists in French, but far more than in English, it carries the connotation that the person will succeed or fail due to purely external factors. In contrast, “bon courage” implies that success will be due to the person’s strength. “Bon courage” also implies some ordeal, some difficulty (though it can be the difficulty of day-to-day life). If there is a genuine ordeal in the person’s path then “bon courage” applies. [I looked it up on Google – strange, but it has absolutely no mention of how such a simple word can lift your spirits so high].
So, as I get off the bike and Withinshaw is cheering me on and taking photos, I am trying to smile but I realise instantly that the warm sunshine on my little cycle ride has developed into a blazing, suffocating heat. I’m not being dramatic (honestly), but it’s chuffing roasting. Chantilly is having it’s own little heat wave just as I’m about to embark on my half marathon. Lovely. Thankfully I remembered my running sun hat, I would’ve been lost without it. I hate it when you’ve got a sweaty, salty face and it all gets in your eyes – I can’t run with sunglasses on, they get steamed up and annoy me too much. So, pretty well hydrated, hat on, I set out on the run course. It’s a lovely little route – 2 loops for the Gauntlet – which takes you through the forest on the grounds, then through the triathlon car park?? (not so pretty but full of support from people in the shorter distances who’d already completed), past the racecourse, around a field, through an avenue of trees, past the most beautiful stable buildings, across the cobbles and back round into the stunning (and, thankfully, mostly sheltered) wooded grounds of the Chateau. Repeat.
The legs start cramping as soon as I set off but I know John is watching so I better smile and plod along at least until I get out of sight amongst the trees. “Steady away wins the day Jenkins.” 2km in and all of a sudden I am desperate for a wee. Bugger. Well at least we are in a forest, sort of. Only it’s not a very thick forest – mmmm. Find a tree, find a tree. I dash off into the undergrowth, as covered and out of sight as I can possibly be. There’s no-one around.. It’s the tiniest wee in the world! Feel better though. There was no-one around….Sure as damn it a poor bloke gets a good eyeful of my naked white ass as he comes around the corner of the trail and I’m mid shorts pull-up. Never mind. He’s probably French.
I trundle along. Thankful of the water at 4km and shouts of “Allez, allez, allez” and “Bravo” and “Courage”. People are so god damn supportive, especially the women. It was like I was some kind of heroine on a mission. Electrolytes and water at 8km and back into the Chateau grounds where, at around 10km, I find my lovely boyfriend waiting for me again. He runs alongside, in his denim shorts and bare chest with his little backpack on. We chat a bit and I’m surprised I’m not even out of breath. It’s been a steady hour or so and I am starting to melt in the heat. It’s so energy sapping. John makes some comments about how well I’m doing and how warm it is but I really couldn’t tell you what actual words passed our lips. He leads me through, still shuffling along with me, and shows me where I am supposed to be going to start the second lap. I pass a lady spectator who is waiting near the finish – she gives me some massive claps and a nod of appreciation for my task ahead and says some really nice things to me in French which make me well up a little. So emotional. The spectators are plentiful and there is huge support. John, still by my side, whispers some more sweet nothings of encouragement to me before the heat gets too much for him and he has to stop running and once again I am alone. I head up the one and only hill on the route but my little legs won’t carry me and I have to walk. I get to the top and am a bit confused as to which way I’m supposed to go. A marshal shouts me over and I have to run around, through transition and around again. It seems like a real pain in the backside, but the support from people in the transition area is second to none. They see the white number bib (indicating I am hardcore) and I get a little bit of a cheer. “Courage”.
The second lap is quite simply a blur. This was the most difficult but also the easiest part of the race – all rolled into one. I have battled the demons and I know I am going to make it to the finish, but I am fading fast in the heat and my legs are severely cramping. I drink as much water as I can stomach at the feed stations, start necking the gels, stand in the “douche” (man with cold water hosepipe) for as long as I can take it, chat to fellow competitors (who are also still trundling along), make French jokes as we pass the ice-cream van (which are so much posher in Chantilly). I run, I walk. Run. Walk. A fellow French gauntlet competitor tells me to keep going as he stops for a drink. You keep going too Monsieur, we’re not done yet. The sweeping support crew catch me up in the van at around 16k (only 5 left to go!!) – they are doing the rounds to make sure no-one is dying/collapsing in the heat. Thankfully I am running at this stage. I hear a laugh behind me and a very English, Southern, “This is what you get for spending all day drinking in the boozer”, as one of them is hanging out of the window of the van. [Strange coincidence, but we had actually met them in a bar the afternoon before *not all day drinking before my Half Iron]. Funny man. “Give us a lift then?” I squeak back. Equally as funny. After all the hilarities and seriously witty repartee, they asked a few questions to check up on me properly, I think to make sure I was still coherent (I’m OK. Struggling along, but OK. Legs have gone, but I’ll be right) and then they move on to the tall French man shuffling along a way in front of me.
As I enter the Chateau grounds for the second time, and the marshal on the gates (recognising me from round one) starts telling me in French that all good things come to those who work their backsides off (I think), I start feeling powerfully moved. Tearful and emotional. The French language is so beautiful. I have about 2km to go and I am a wreck. It’s all bubbling over and I have to have a word with myself. Not now Jenkins, you got this, don’t ruin it all by becoming a blubbering mess. I walk, and take some deep breaths, I spy people and I can hear the noise from the Chateau, Run it in Jenkins, run it in. Keep on keeping on. A passerby tells me (in French – there’s so many of them foreigners out there) that I “just” have a really short way to go and it’s “just”around the corner. He claps. “Courage”.
I know where I have to go, I know it’s not far, but it feels like miles away, and then I hear a cheer in the distance as the crowd goes a little wild for the tall shuffling French man ahead. Hold it together Jenkins, deep breaths. I come round the corner, sun blazing, Chateau in full view. There he is again, my man, waiting for me still, my support crew “extraordinaire”. He is full of awe, super proud and buzzing!! He runs alongside me again, up towards the Chateau, telling me lots of nice things which I can’t now remember. The crowd are mostly competitors who have already completed and are sat in the shade amongst the trees. “Courage, Bravo, Courage”, lots of cheering and clapping. I am trying not to cry as I pass, “merci, merci, merci”. And then John leaves me to do the last little lap around the fountain on my own. I spy the same spectator lady from earlier – she is still there and has this really proud look on her face! “Felicitations”, “Bravo”, “Courage”…more clapping..(I’m sure my Mum sent her) and over the finish line.
And that’s it. I’m there. I have a medal. I AM DONE. Officially Half Iron Chick.
A ridiculous 2h and 29 mins to do a half marathon.. But I DON’T CARE.
7 hours and 14 seconds in total. And what a roller coaster ride to get there.
It’s a benchmark.
Officially Half Iron Lady