by Terry Welsh
What is your favourite training run?
Mine is along La Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France.
It’s about 10k if you run from the eastern headland of the Bay of Angels. A giant compass sets you away. After 5k, you turn where rocks are replacing the beach on your left and run back again. I’ve been doing a timed solo run on La Promenade at least once a year for eight years now.
At home I have a big picture of La Promenade des Anglais above my kitchen table. I can look at it and reminisce and dream about running in the sun.
This month, on Saturday morning, July 9th I completed the run in 1 hour and 11 minutes. Three minutes down on last year. But it was boiling hot and my bad knee was acting up. It was still good to be there.
While I was running I made up a training run report in my head. I wasn’t able to write my usual website report on a race on the French Riviera this summer. So I was thinking about writing a training run report instead, singing the praises of La Promenade, possibly the most famous and spectacular seaside promenade in the world.
It is a glorious place to run. If you ever get the chance, try it. You will end up with a warm Riviera memory that will stay in your head and that you can play over on cold winter nights and in the years to come when you are sitting in your care home.
The surface is smooth and solid, no jarring. For three straight miles there are no steps, no curbs, no holes, no loose bricks, nothing to stumble over. You cross no roads, you pass through no gates. You can measure your time and distance out and back using lamp posts, pergolas and palm trees.
There are always loads of people on the Promenade, even at my mad dog running time in the noonday sun. Runners range from young long legged gazelles to fat old biffas. You can try and catch somebody up front and maybe get caught by a relaxed speedster before you get there. It’s like a personal Parkrun with special effects. You share the promenade with roller skaters, skateboarders, Segway riders, velo blue cyclists, and people just strolling. There are families with little kids and pushchairs and veterans with sticks and an assortment of dogs. Whether they are running flat out or lying in the sun on one of the blue deck chairs, everybody looks completely laid back.
On one side of your straight route are beaches with names like Beau Rivage and Le Bambou bordering on a deep blue sea. On the other are grand buildings like the Hotel Negresco, the Museum of Asian Art and the Palace of the Mediterranean. The ambience is cool, classic and refined. With the exception of McDonalds, there is no commercial brashness or seaside tat.
And there is the sun, Toujours le soleil, And lots of satisfied smiles.
On the Saturday when I was running they were putting decorations up for the Bastille Day celebrations
I may have seen Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel on the Promenade on the Saturday morning when I was running. The police know he was there on the 12th and the 13th. He wasn’t there to run. He was there to research how to get his big white lorry onto the Promenade on the 14th so he could run over as many of the people as he could. He thought it would be good to crush lots of little kids. I may have seen some of his victims on my training run.
Everything that I have said above about how good the Promenade is for running would apply to what he was looking for. The straight course, the absence of barriers, and the crowd of happy people made it an ideal place to drive a lorry with the intent of multiple murder.
On July 14th me and my travelling companions were drinking in a bar a few miles away. We could see the fireworks on the Promenade. Just before the attack we moved away from the door because a strange cold wind suddenly chilled the front of the bar, a chill like I have never before felt on the Riviera. Was that the Devil coming in from the sea ? Whether it is something in the dark matter and the anti matter of science, or a mutation in our DNA and our consciousness not yet understood or maybe even the Lucifer of old fashioned religion, there is something warped and horrible in creation that makes somebody want to hire a lorry and do what Bouhlel did . It also makes some people want to celebrate what he did. I don’t know what it is and neither do you.
There are many people who lost family, lovers and friends on Le Promenade des Anglais on July 14th. Several members of Marcigny Athletic Club were there on a club outing to a track meeting and they lost their chairman. All I lost was the feeling of innocent joy when I think about the Promenade on my training run Saturday and that doesn’t really count.
I do know that, apart from those in Nice, more than 1,000 other people have been killed in terrorist attacks around the world this July so far, (Wikipedia’s monthly List of Terrorist incidents). Thats normal for any month now. Most atrocities outside Europe don’t make the news. And somebody is plotting horrible attacks at this moment. They are maybe thinking about places beloved by you and I and how to smash them. That is the real world.
I want to get back on the Promenade next summer and for many summers. I want to do my regular timed training run. I want to do it because it is fun, it lifts up life. Simply, it is good. Just like all our favourite races and training runs. Something to support and celebrate and tell people about.I hope there are lots of people running there on future summer days. They will not be unaware of what happened on Bastille Night 2016. But they will be enjoying themselves. And that is also the real world.
Thanks for reading this far. There have been a lot of whirling and confused thoughts and feelings and rubbish going round my head since last week. It’s done me some good to write some of them down.