Last year’s 20km had people suffering from heat stroke. This year, it was hypothermia. Nothing like a little variety to keep those race organizers on their toes.
Saturday dawned dark and dreary, a steady rain pounding down on the pavement. Ugh. As the day wore on, though, the rain let up, and then finally stopped. I pumped up the bike tires and Luc and I headed over to Vidy to pick up our race packets. Luc had signed up to run the 10km to fill a sports requirement for his IB.
When Luc took off at 17:20 or so, it had just started to drizzle lightly. I still had an hour to wait until my race started. I met up with my running buddy – we had a pact to get through this together – and found Brendan, who was also doing the 20km. I had brought a down vest and an old rain jacket, and decided to keep the rain jacket on for the race.
We took off at 18:22, hopeful that the rain would let up. It didn’t. My physician caught up with us in the first couple of kilometers, and we had a nice chat. He’s my buddy’s physician too. I felt very healthy out there, running in the rain talking to my doctor.
My buddy counted down the kilometers. Only 15 more to go! 10 down! I saw Brendan tearing down a hill at about 16km for him (only about 8 for us) and he looked good. My friend’s husband was somewhere around the halfway point, cheering madly for us. I felt fine. I felt like I could run like this forever! Not fast, just loping along. The rain didn’t bother me that much, aside from the occasional need to hop a puddle. Very nice. We didn’t talk, like we usually do out on our runs, but that was okay. We got up to the cathedral and ran along the orange-strewn cobblestones through the old town, happy to have reached the apex of the race. It was all downhill from there.
Downhill and into the wind. At about 16km, things started to get old. The rain intensified. So did the wind and the cold. My hands and legs were getting numb.
At 17km, we passed a sign indicating there would be a shower ahead. A shower? Sure enough, there was an enormous snowblower sitting alongside the course. Would have been nice last year, but this year? Overkill. The entire race had been one long shower.
Those last three kms really dragged. We barrelled our way to the finish, and slogged through the muddiest field I’ve ever slogged through to get to our bikes. I took my soggy raincoat off and put the down vest on, then somehow managed to get my fingers to work enough to put the raincoat back on over it. Brendan’s fleece had been taken out so I knew he had finished.
But why was his bike still there, locked to mine? Did he forget the combination? I figured he had decided to jog home. I didn’t stop to try and find him, because I just wanted to get home as fast as I could. I had been fantasizing about a warm bath for the last five kilometers. I needed that bath! My frozen fingers somehow managed to turn the dial on the lock. I locked Brendan’s bike back up (it is a nice bike) and took off. My fingers lost feeling about halfway home, but I didn’t dare stop. The rain was pouring down my face, my legs were pedaling away on autopilot. Home. Home. Home.
I staggered in the door and stripped off my coat and shoes and socks, dropping them to the floor in front of the door. Is Brendan home? No. Luc was home, showered, in front of the computer. He had run a good race. Marc and our two houseguests had taken over the kitchen, fixing a late dinner. It was now about 9:00 pm.
Where was Brendan?
I urged Marc to go and try to find him. He was skeptical. How could he find Brendan in this weather? He could be anywhere! I wasn’t up to dealing with the situation. I was shaking violently, my whole body vibrating with cold.
I got in the shower, eagerly anticipating the warmth. But it wasn’t warm. It hurt. I turned the temperature down, but even at lukewarm, the water hurt my legs so badly all I wanted to do was get out of there. I dried off, still shaking, got dressed in my warmest fleece (two layers) and, still shaking, got a thick wool blanket from the closet. Still shaking (did I mention I was shaking?), I curled up on the couch and gratefully accepted a cup of hot tea from our Danish houseguest-turned-nurse Martin.
While I had been trying to shower, Brendan had called – he’d commandeered someone else’s cellphone when he discovered I had come and gone leaving his bike locked up behind me. (He couldn’t get the combination undone with his fingers frozen.) Marc and the other houseguest, guitar-wonder Doug, had gone to pick him up in the car.
When he arrived, he was shaking just like me, and laughing – “that was crazy!” He headed up for his own version of the shower from hell. Doug and Marc lit a fire in the fireplace, and I went over, still shaking, to sit in front of it. Finally, after the tea and the fire and the blanket and a couple glasses of wine, I warmed up enough to stop shaking, and we all enoyed the delicious dinner they had prepared. Doug played guitar for us late into the evening.
I read in Monday’s papers that the female winner had to be treated for hypothermia – in fact 20-30 people were treated. Oddly enough, I wasn’t sore at all the next day. Maybe extreme cold is a way to prevent post-race soreness? If so, I’ll take soreness any day!
Brendan ran the race in 1:30, and my buddy and I clocked in at just over 2:00. Brendan had been waiting for us for a half an hour… but at least, in the tent, he’d been dry.
I hate to end on a cliché, but sometimes it’s called for. All’s well that ends well.