"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Thomery 2 Mile Race & Cap Gris Nez trail run - July 2023 - France

My 2-milers were going amazingly well through lockdown, when I was focussed on short distances and interval training. Through a bit of divine grace & good fortune, I'm now running further and on tougher terrain without my notorious tendons and calf muscles playing up, so while that's something to celebrate, the downside is my speed has gone completely. I ran around a 12:30 equivalent in Thomery last year (I say equivalent because the course is very slightly short) and I was hoping to hit something similar on my 2023 visit, but it was against the background of a 55k trail run a few weeks before and no shorter/faster training sessions.

We lined up as usual under the trees just a mile or so from our new "temple" in Thomery near Fontainbleau, with the ground firm after a long, dry spell and conditions near enough perfect. I was hoping Mridanga would grab some photos as per usual but he was on start/finish/stopwatch duty so I've got no pictures this time. What I can clearly remember though (while writing this a couple of weeks later) is the cheerful anticipation at the start line and the slow and cautious start I made to the race, seeing as I was not that well warmed up. That was clearly a cue for Gianluca to take the lead and be the frontrunner, a task at which he duly obliged. After him, I was running flat out trying to keep him in range and behind me I guess it was Suswara and Ascharjya. Notably, Rasmivan also ran this race after several years out of running, but he wisely didn't try to match his old race pace. Later he said he suffered no ill effects but he still plans to stick to cycling for the time being.

For the first lap as the woodland flashed past on either side, I was just ten metres or so behind Gianluca and things felt pretty controlled. As we came into the last section back towards the road, he cut loose and the gap began to widen. It kept on widening and I had no answer to his accelaration, so in the end I came in half a minute behind and when I crossed the actual 2-mile mark (beyond the agreed start/finish) my time was 12:44, well down on 2022. Anyway, it was an exhilarating race on a lovely course and I felt good afterwards. I resolved there and then to try and get myself back in race-shape while at the same time keeping up the longer runs. Is that possible? Will I have to try running a high weekly mileage like I did years ago and see if my legs can take it? With a triathlon in September my target race of the year, I think the only option is to stick to 2 cycling days a week, 1 swim day and 3 or 4 run days, with one of them a long session and one a shorter interval or tempo run. Then what about an off-road session, as I'm going to be tackling Helvellyn and that means being Fell-Fit? I don't know - I'll just try and put all those pieces together and see if I stay in one piece or fall apart.

Later in the day after the 2 miler, we inaugurated the statue of Sri Chinmoy in the walled garden. My abiding memory of that day - with meditation in the garden and also a walk-past of the statue - is of overwhelming gratitude that I had somehow made it into that enclave. Billions of people on earth and somehow I got to be one of the handful meditating in such an incredible place.

After Thomery, our journey back to the UK was spread over 2 days, with a walk around the chateau grounds at Chantilly and a stay overnight on the Opal Coast near Les Deux Caps (Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez). I was out of the door early for a 2 hours 15 mins trail run, hoping to make it to Cap Gris Nez and at least get a sighting of the other one. The trail began on the edge of the village and led along the clifftops and alongside windswept beaches. Here and there, I saw the remains of gun emplacements and pillboxes - the german Atlantic Wall from the 2nd world war. I was surprised these had all been left intact, but somehow this whole coast has become a monument to the 1940s and the grim days of occupation. I began to compose spontaneous lines of poetry about it, but none made it as far as my notebook - that's the problem with inspiration coming to you on a bike ride or long run, it's usually forgotten by the time you've finished!

Approaching Cap Gris Nez, I had to detour inland because of footpath erosion and then rejoin the coast beyond the village - here the views over the beaches were dramatic, with Cap Blanc Nez in the distance and England's white cliffs clearly visible over the waves. I kept up a slow but steady pace and turned on my heel at just over the 1-hour mark so as to get back in time to check out of our Air BnB - there's always something to get back for it seems. Mind you, at least that makes me hold a steady pace.

My return route took me back down the coast and up to Cap Gris Nez itself, where I had to run on the approach road, again to avoid the closed-off footpaths. The Cap was another windy promontery with amazing views but the cloud had rolled in and that view of England was lost in the murky skies over the channel. I scanned up and down the coast to see if I could see any migrant boats but there was nothing - from the UK media you get the impression they are launching every few seconds, but of course the reality is never what you've been led to expect from the news. When the cloud does lift, England looks so close, it's hard to believe it's over 20 miles across the shipping lanes to Dover.

From the village in the shadow of Cap Gris Nez, i decided to take an inland route across the fields back to my starting point, to make a loop of it rather than retrace my steps. Fortunately the whole area is criss-crossed with waymarked paths, most of them rough, chalky lanes that you could probably tackle on a gravel bike or even a car. This made the going easy, and wayfinding no problem. I passed more massive, concrete batteries from the war, grim and forbidding presences brooding in the corners of fields. At one point a heavy shower came over and I had a chance to whip out my new Montane jacket and test it - top marks for keeping the rain off that's for sure. The hood flaps a little when it's down but I guess it will come seriously into its own if I get in a proper storm sometime.

My pace stayed fairly even and I finished the run feeling strong - so who knows, maybe I'm in reasonable shape despite the poor showing in the 2 miler? It was a real treat to immerse myself in the delights of the opal coast, a little-known corner of France as far as tourists are concerned but great for running. Probably a great cycling area too, if you can pick a day when the wind is not so fierce. There were moments when I dropped down of the cliff paths into the sheltered fields where the peace was deep and tangible and the land itself seemed to sigh contentedly.


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