I have decided to join my 3rd running training group (for a town of only 30,000 people I think we have a least 5 which is pretty cool). This one is the CMBM – Chamonix Mont Blanc Marathon. They were hard to get a hold of – they used to be part of the Club des Sports of Chamonix, but political disagreements meant the two organizations are now separate (but still on ‘friendly’ terms) and they have no website anymore (there is one for the race, but not for the training group). In fact, reading the race site I would have no idea a group of people existed to train together for this event. But I’d heard rumours, and then confirmed them by asking around.
I already go to a group based in Les Houches (meets on Saturdays), and run with 3 other women every Friday. The CMBM running club were also the originators of the Chamonix Mont Blanc Marathon, (now mostly organized by the Club des Sports with participation from the CMBM) which is a largely uphill mountain marathon along with a completely uphill half-marathon (this is a yearly event and their 10k was my first foray back into racing 3 summers ago) and a 10k ‘introductory trail run’ as well as a children’s fun run. They also participate in organizing the North Face Ultra Trail, the new Trail des Aiguilles Rouges and something called the Monstre Dure which is done for charity and is a very good excuse for running hill repeats … it’s a how many times can you run up the ski hill and back in x hours kind of event.
So this running group focus is going to be on long distance mountain trail running, which is my thing right now. I knew of them before but was a bit intimidated to join them for whatever reason (image that they are all greyhound slim 6 minute mile ultra marathoners speaking incomprehensibly fast French or something sat in my mind for about a year and made me reticent to seek them out). In fact they are a diverse group, with older and younger members, with some quite seriously competitive amazing atheletes (Vincent Delebarre, a previous winner of the North Face Ultra Trail and top finisher in this year’s Trail des Aiguilles Rouges) and others in their 50s and 60s who are there regularly and just keeping fit. The CMBM meets on Wednesdays and seems to first of all be gigantic in comparison with the other groups I run with already (30 people showed up in the pouring rain last Wednesday) and secondly it’s the only one which is an ‘official’ French association.
In France, if you create an ‘association’ you can run it (not for profit) with a bank account and membership fees as well as a ‘charter’ explaining your purpose, tax free without a whole lot of hassle. This is how this club is organized. The other advantage is that since it is an officially registered sports association, once you join you must go for a medical exam, and then you are given an official licence(number) as a club racer. This allows you to easily use this number to register for races here in France (or elsewhere), which famously all races (even 5 and 10Ks) seem to require a ‘certificate medicale’, without requiring you to go in and get another check up or copy of the certificate every time you want to join a race.
So today was my day for the medical. Another cool thing about France. Guess what – the check up was free. Not because of French social security (they never asked for my Carte Vitale) which would have been cheap anyhow (my last one was €26) but because the checkup was run by a doctor associated with the running club, who works at ENSA – L’Ecole Nationale de Ski et Alpinisme (which is the place in France to become a mountain guide or ski instructor). My guess is they are using the data gathered for statistics they keep on athletes in general.
The exam took about 25 minutes and consisted of being weighed (my least favorite bit), measured for height, some odd analysis of my body position (you stand up on a box with a mirror at an angle underneath and he checks if you have spinal curvature issues, bowlegs etc.), a measuring of resting blood pressure and pulse, an electro-cardiogram and a VO2 max test done in ‘submaximal’ fashion (they have a treadmill and mask there but I get the impression this was only used for elite athletes in training) using a stationary bike with a heartbeat monitor. This was a 12 minute test with graduated ‘watts’ of effort required, all while cycling at the same medium rate of 60-70 turns/minute.
The verdict was that for my age (in my 40s) I had excellent endurance (from my cardiogram – not sure what they look at there as I did not get a copy of it), a decent resting pulse (67 which I think is down from when I started distance running a couple of years ago – I think it used to be around 75), my blood pressure was good (120/65), and I had an OK VO2 max of 40 (this factored in not only the numbers from this sub-maximal bike test but my sex, age and worst of all my weight which is my weakness). Well – on some sites any number over 38 for my age is considered ‘superior’ but I look at this in comparison to competitive athletes (78 for Joan Benoit) and will stay with judging it as ‘OK’.
In conclusion I was told the measurements were all very good save one thing – “Vous etes trop lourde. Est-ce que vous avez mal aux genoux?” – My rough internal translation – “Good lord, you are a fat ass – do you have problems with your knees?” No, not at all I told him, in the 2 ultra marathons I’ve done with 4500m of uphill (14,670ft) my favorite part continues to be running the downhills as fast as I can. OK I was told, you are in excellent shape for endurance, but it would be best if you can lose some weight.