Heels over Head: Say cheese and bite through le mud

2014-07-20 15:00

Running comfortably downhill is something I’ve given up trying to achieve in this life.

Give me an uphill and I love it, but only until facing the downhill that complements it.

Seeing the bottom scares me way more than facing the top.

As for running in mud? Well, I didn’t even know it was possible until I saw the French at it, and now the rest of my useful running life is too short for me ever to approach mud-running nirvana – at least in the upright position.

For there I was on my derrière (excuse my French) in the mud on the downward slopes of some mountain in the Alps in the south of France – for the third time in just under two seconds.

It was unclear whether my French running companions doing the 30km Trail Faverges race were laughing at or with me.

My knowledge of French doesn’t quite go that far.

So I remained seated for a while, grinned and waved them on, grunting in an elegant French-like way, hoping they’d understand I was fine.

I felt like an imposter, doing this run knowing as much of la langue as of Alpine sludge.

The previous night – while Germany ran politely over the French in a World Cup match – an unseasonably wild thunderstorm meant we were knee-deep in the wet dirt, in some places even as our path was flanked with sheer drops of mountain.

Do you think the French – with their dead-serious expressions and trail-running kit to kill – were phased? No.

They didn’t so much as utter a word even in the deepest slippery slidiness.

Actually, they didn’t seem to notice the mud at all.

(Kindly spectators did, however, shout: “bravo”, “allez”, and “courage”.)

Perhaps the secret lies in using skiing-like leg movements when negotiating mud, and a devil-may-care attitude when thundering down the hills.

I could probably ski to save my life but the opportunity has never arisen.

Instead, I improvised using the South African wind-pump manoeuvre to negotiate the mud: swing arms about wildly while wetting broekies and hoping for the best.

It worked – I didn’t lose so much as a shoe, though I did see a few million other runners cautiously overtaking me in the process.

I also made the apparent faux pas of grunting when the mud got too bad.

French people are too classy or stoic to sweat the small stuff – but my Huguenot ancestors were exiled by this lot a few centuries ago and proceeded to trek barefoot across the Drakensberg.

I’ll cry out if I want to.

By the time I got to the halfway mark, I found a mountain slope so green and full of little white flowers, it looked as though the Heidi and Peter story had been set there.

I was just grateful that, by then, we had left the fat, happy cows behind.

One – let’s call her Daisy, the one with the curious grin on her face – had run with us for about 10m before giving up and retreating to chew more cud with the herd.

We were rewarded for our efforts with an array of cheeses, cold meat, dried fruit, crackers, cake and Coke.

This helped slide me down the mountain in style.

I can confirm I do dirty French races for the refreshments.

Bravo to that.

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