Les Courants de la Liberté, Normandy Running Festival and the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Lest we forget!
For father’s day, we decided to take a family trip to France for a long weekend. Knowing the dates were close to the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings we chose to visit Normandy. A chance to pay respect to family and those who fought for our freedom, as you will find out. When planning the trip, we discovered the Normandy Running Festival on the same weekend. What a bonus, everyone was happy for me to enter one of the races.
Les Courants de la Liberté (Normandy Running Festival), began in 1988 in order to pay tribute to the D-Day Landings events. Le Marathon De Le Liberte was born. The following year La Pegasus was born and named after the famous bridge from which the race sets off. (The first bridge liberated by British soldiers from the Airborne Division). The festival now boasts seven events in total.
The Marathon de la Liberte (D-Day Landings Marathon) – A marathon which steers you through the major breakthroughs of the Normandy Landings. Juno and Sword Beaches, the Casino d’Ouistreham, and Pegasus Bridge, etc., adding a historical reverence to the challenge. (Limited to 3000 participants)
The Relay Marathon – Starting from Courseulles-Sur-Mer this race allows a team of four runners to discover the rural and maritime route of the Marathon de la Liberté.
La Pegasus (The Pegasus Half-Marathon) – This is one of the most popular races in Normandy and also a qualifier for the French Championships, boasting over 4500 participants each year.
The Crédit Agricole Normandie – This is a heritage discovery event, a shorter distance of 10km over flat terrain. The idea of this race is to enable more people to enter and to unite beginners and veteran runners in a single event. A friendly, open atmosphere run through the city discovering the major sights, the prairie, the castle, the city hall, etc. (limited to 5000 participants)
The Rochambelle – This is a 5km women’s walk/run in aid of the fight against breast cancer. One of Calvados’s (an area of Normandy) unmissable women’s events and emblematic fixture within Les Courants de la Liberté. Since the launch in 2006, this event has raised more than €1200000. Now it is the second most popular women’s race in France (in terms of numbers of runners).
The Rollers De La Liberté – A roller-blade race open to beginners and experienced roller-bladers aged 7 and upwards taking place in Caen on a cordoned-off, closed 2km circuit. Roller-bladers have to complete as many laps as they can within a two-hour frame.
The Foulées De La Liberté – The opening event which sees up to 4,000 children from schools in the Caen area open the festivities
The organisers of Normandy Running Festival state the running routes and festival are a great example of a tribute to the history and reflection of the region. This year’s event was even more popular as part of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the battle of Normandy celebrations across the region.
Due to the size of Normandy Running Festival, you had to collect your bib number on Friday evening or on Saturday. Free parking was available for all participants across the weekend in various sites near and around the venue. Collecting your bib was simple at the Parc De Expo. There were numerous stalls ranging from, other races to enter, to local produce, and sports apparel brands like Intersport.
On Saturday, when collecting my bib number, rollerbladers were arriving ready to start their race. I never realised rollerblading was so popular. In addition, a 6km run taking in the sites of the town was available for anyone to join in. The marathon pacers were using this run as a warm-up and had their pacing flags attached to their backs.
I was taking part in the Crédit Agricole Normandie 10 km alongside 5000 runners on Sunday also starting at the Parc De Expo.
Sunday came, so I made my way to the Expo. Navigating the way there was a little tricky due to the closed roads. It was a lovely day, blue sky, sunshine, not too hot nor cold. On arrival, there was a fabulous atmosphere, some participants very focussed on warming up and stretching, others upbeat, happily chatting to fellow runners and friends. The race started at 08.40, and soon it was time to line up ready for the official the warm-up. My recent calf niggle seemed to be playing up, in turn, this made me somewhat nervous. I thought best to take a few precautions, so strapped my leg with KT tape, and wore compression socks to be on the safe side.
The route and recap
As always, I lined up towards the back, ready for the off. Here I met three other Brits from Portsmouth (twinned with Caen) running club. They were here for a bit of a social and running for fun. Before the starting gun, we were all encouraged to sing the French National anthem, not once but twice. I don’t think the compere was happy with the first effort. The gun fired, and we walked and slowly jogged to the start line. To the left, there was a stage with vibrant music playing, and compere encouraging everyone. I have no idea what he was saying. I can speak and understand Spanish but not French. It was fantastic, everyone was so upbeat and happy.
The race left the expo, and we ran down a tree-lined boulevard next to La Prairie racecourse, a harness racing track. Trees gave shade, which was nice as it was quite warm in the sun. The route then headed towards the town where it circled back on itself in one large loop. Before entering the centre, some of the quicker runners were already on there way back along the boulevard. Everyone including us runners applauded and gave encouraging cheers as they sped past. The atmosphere was brilliant, one of the best I’ve experienced so far.
Eventually, we reached and made our way through the town, past the castle before looping back to the boulevards. A rock band was playing keeping the atmosphere alive. Shortly you reached the water stop at the 5km mark. The route then neared the Expo in the opposite direction to the finish. The roads were full of onlookers lining each side, in particular surrounding the finish straight. At this moment, you knew there wasn’t far to go, even though travelling in the opposite direction to runners on the final straight. All the spectators were cheering and praising us runners, it was all very motivating.
The course headed up an avenue which had a very slight incline towards the town hall. Nearing the town hall, a few runners and I thought this was the turnaround point to the final straight, but we were wrong. Instead, there was one last small loop in the town before you headed back. By this time, it was really quite warm and knew you had run a fair distance. A few of us encouraged one another and ran together towards the finish straight. In fact, throughout the whole race, everyone supported each other. The language barrier really didn’t matter, because as runners, we have our own language.
Two music bands stood playing near the town hall. What an excellent position for them to be located as you passed them twice. When approaching the final stretch, again the spectators were vocal and uplifting. As you neared the finish, lively music was playing, a local team of children were waving pom-poms and the compere encouraged you right over the line – It was just brilliant!
The finish was right by the expo and race village. After crossing the line, you walked for no more than a minute and were funnelled through two marquees. In the first, while waiting in line to collect your limited edition anniversary T-shirt, you could help yourself to water, bananas, oranges, and dried fruits. It’s a shame there was not a medal for the event. I would have loved to add one to my collection, especially being the 75th anniversary of the d-day landings. This would have made a lovely memento and keepsake.
In the second marquee, you could savour delightful regional products provided by Bienvenue en Gourmandie. Afterwards, and on exiting the marque, you were back at the race village at the expo. People were grabbing a bite to eat and drink with friends and family. Even though still early in the day, I had a sneaky small beer. The race results were printed and placed on the Exposition’s building door. A little later on, they published the times on the website. Also in the village were several selfie stations where you could take an official finishers photo.
I really enjoyed the Normandy Running Festival and experience of my first race in France. Some of you will know, when starting running, I made a promise to try and run one race abroad each year. This came about after living in Barcelona for nearly a decade, as one of my regrets was not travelling more while in Europe. So what better way to visit cities and places I have not been through running, and why not!
I finished with a time of 01:12:36.
The Crédit Agricole Normandie was an enjoyable and very well-organised event, had a fantastic uplifting, and encouraging atmosphere. I would definitely do it again, or try one of the other races. I’m going to give the Normandy Running Festival a score of 4.5 out of 5 on the Runiversity of life™ Runometer™.
Route and elevation profile
As mentioned previously, we had some Geanaelogy interests to our excursion, and so we decided to take the opportunity to visit the following places.
Tilly Sur Seulles Cemetery and War Museum
The first stop on the list was Tilly Sur Seulles War Cemetery to remember the fallen heroes of Normandy. We came here to acknowledge family, friends, allies, and the Commonwealth nations who joined Britain in defending its freedom, and values. Lest we forget.
Here is a gravestone of my 3rd cousin Lance Corporal Joseph Miller, of the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment who died at the age of 25. They were fighting to free the French civilians from the German military occupation who had taken over Normandy. Miller received a posthumous Military Medal for bravery in battle – “.…Lance Corporal Miller of No.17 Platoon, whose leadership of his section and whose individual gallantry helped greatly in the capture of the wood and earned for himself the M.M – These are merely some of the many Dorsets who performed brave deeds in fighting for the high ground at Point 54.”
We then headed to the museum of the battle of Tilly Sur Seulles and the surrounding region a short drive away. Fortunately, we were able to meet the curator. He was very welcoming and we explained our connection to the battle of Tilly Sur Seulles. As a consequence of the visit, we will be supplying the museum with a high-resolution image of our relative along with the citation he received for his military medal award. This will be placed on display for all and future generations to see.
The next stop was Arromanches, to see the Mulberry Harbour. These are the remarkably large concrete blocks you see in the water on the coastline, called Phoenix Caissons.
My Great Grandfather, a former WW1 Royal Engineer, was one of a number of men in a team making the caissons. He was sworn to secrecy about what he was doing. However, he did mention to the family at home, that they were so large, and could hold more than two double-decker buses. He could not imagine what he was making, or what they could be used for. (The photo does not do them justice, they are huge).
Phoenix Caissons were made in the U.K and towed all the way across the channel to Normandy beaches. Here, they were sunk and used to create a harbour. (Before the allies could capture enemy ports)
The first Phoenix was sunk at dawn on June 9th 1944. By June 15th, a further 115 had been lowered to create a five-mile-long arc between Tracy-sur-Mer in the west and Asnelles in the east. The caissons allowed for the provision of reinforcements and supplies to support the allied invasion of mainland Europe. At Gold Beach, the harbour was used for 10 months after D-Day, where over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tonnes of supplies, were landed before it was decommissioned.
In fact, a few miles off Thorpe Bay, Southend, you can see a Phoenix Caisson here in the UK. It was being towed from Immingham, on the Humber, to Southsea on the South Coast and unfortunately sprang a leak en route. After signalling to HMS Leigh at Southend, it was towed round into the Thames and allowed to sink. The caisson is now split in two, the larger of pieces is around 35m long and the smaller 26m long. The width around 10m, and height approximately 6 m, to give you an idea of the size.
Also, on the way to Arromanches, we tried to see the, new 2019 British monument for D-Day. However, unfortunately it could not be seen, it was fenced off in a wooden crate. Therefore, we will have to make another trip. Perhaps for the 80th celebrations and if still running I will try one of the other races.
This was our final stop on the journey back to the UK. We broke the journey midway for Lunch on the coast. Our place of choice, Le Tréport, a lovely small fishing port and marina.
The town nestles at the foot of white cliffs similar to Dover. Here there is harbour and pebbled beaches all in close proximity. The main street was full of seafood restaurants with outdoor dining. A church dominated the skyline on top of a hill. On the other side of the port is the old town, mainly residential, filled with colourful houses, some of which line one of the beaches. After lunch, we headed to Calais to grab the Eurostar and return to the UK.
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