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Race Day Ritual. Shattered. November 23 2011

It’s France’s fault really.

Typically, I have a pretty standard race weekend ritual.

Friday night: Eat pasta. Drink insane amount of water. Sleep 8 hours. Get up at least five times throughout the night. Promise not to drink so much water next time.

Saturday morning: Eat bowl of cereal. Arrive at race start one hour ahead of time. Eat banana. Stand in line for 30 minutes to use the restroom. Make my way to start line. Run race. Reward self with something unhealthy.

I know, I know. I’m not a dog and I’m not supposed to reward myself with food. The problem is I haven’t found anything that works as well as a reward. Maybe Apple products. I would totally take an iPad over a donut, but only if someone else is buying. Otherwise we’re keeping the rewards in the under $1 range.

All-in-all, my race day ritual is pretty standard. I’ve been racing for 15 years now and I don’t think much about it anymore. I operate on race day autopilot.

Enter the Lyon half-marathon.

The problem with Lyon is that it’s the gastronomic capital of France. The problem with me is that I love food. The night before the race we settle into a cozy corner table in a typically Lyonnaise restaurant. My race day ritual goes out the window as soon as I see the menu. A bottle of red wine, a slab of meat, and two crème caramels later, I’m half-heartedly wondering if I’ll be regretting this meal 10 kilometers into the race. I can’t decide and after the first bite of my crème caramel I don’t really give a damn.

Heading back to the hotel, I fall into bed determined to get a good night’s sleep and a more appropriate breakfast. Enter very loud drunken people in the hotel courtyard and French pastries. Both undermine my very best intentions. I toss and turn before stumbling out of bed the next morning and directly to a nearby bakery.

With my full concentration dedicated to my pain au chocolat, I lose track of the time. As do my rather nonchalant racing buddies. With five minutes to the start, we drop off our bags, and--being the overly optimistic person that I am--I get in line to use the restroom before my friends decide there isn’t enough time and drag me away to the starting line.

I have to pee so badly. In France, men can just stand discreetly to the side of the road and relieve themselves. I hate them. I run five kilometers absolutely certain that my bladder is seconds away from bursting before we turn a corner and I nearly run smack into a lone porta potty. I praise the heavens and enjoy the race a lot more after that.

I also start talking a lot more after that. My running companion is giving me that weak smile people give when they’re trying to be polite, but really they want you to shut-up. I stop talking and start composing the most amazing story ever in my head. Then I forget it all. Then I grab a bottle of water at the aid station. Then it’s kilometer 19 and I want to stop running, but I can’t because there are still 3 kilometers to go so I start imagining what I’m going to eat after my race.

When I finally reach the finish line, I’ve got my meals planned for the next 24 hours. I’m naturally skeptical of technology so I jump up and down on the finish line to make sure it reads my chip. I grab a Powerade. I don’t like Powerade, but it’s free so I grab it. I love free stuff. I’m allergic to dates (The fruit. I don’t have a problem with the other kind), but I’d probably grab them too if they were free.

After everyone crosses the finish line and we cheer in the first of the marathoners, we duck into a nearby pizzeria. I eat an entire pizza, a salad, and a crêpe. Then I convince everyone that what we really need is gelato. And maybe another crêpe.

When I get back to my apartment in Grenoble, I call my mom.

“How was the race? Did you run a good time?” she asks.

I forgot to check the results.

But I don’t even care because I’m still remembering my pre-race dinner and I decide I’m going to run all of my races in France from now on. Maybe I will only run in Lyon and I will subsist entirely on crème caramels.