Thanks go to Harriet Betteridge for this account of her Paris Marathon experience.
Throughout my training for Paris I had felt that I wasn’t as focused and prepared as perhaps I had been when training for past events. This lack of preparation was demonstrated when, attempting to go to the expo to collect race numbers on the Saturday, my friend Olivia and I tried to get into a conference about becoming a teacher, failing to spot that the marathon expo was, in fact, in the next building along. Sadly, we weren’t allowed into the teachers-to-be conference and we resigned ourselves to the marathon. After being pointed in the right direction, we collected our numbers and all the other paraphernalia that comes with an expo including a free thimble of wine from the Marathon du Medoc stand (that is a great race by the way – if you haven’t done it, you should; if you have done it, I’m sure you will be doing it again).
The rest of the Saturday was, in the main, spent carb-loading. Luckily, Paris is great at carbs. (Unluckily for Olivia the vegan, many of those carbs also contain delicious non-vegan butter.) Bread, croissants, pizza, sweet potato, ice cream (that is a carb, right?!), crisps and biscuits were all devoured. Bed time came around and I went to bed feeling bloated.
A night of not a lot of sleep (why is it that you lie there worrying about not having getting enough sleep and telling yourself that you’ll have a much better race if you just go to sleep, but it is impossible to actually go to sleep?) was followed by an early breakfast – more carbs – at around 6am, and then a quick ride on the metro which took us to the Arc de Triomphe and the start of the race.
A further example of the lack of preparation: Olivia and I, having very successfully found a short-ish queue for the loos, trotted off down the Champs Élysées to our start pen. Upon arrival it suddenly dawned on us that we were the only people with bags. We had, somehow, forgotten that we needed to go to the bag drop. Luckily we’d left plenty of time before out scheduled 8.35am start and so we headed back and past the Arc de Triomphe to the bag drop which was thankfully very efficiently organised.
After another obligatory loo trip – this time involving an even shorter queue due to other runners declaring that one portaloo was “too disgusting” to use (they have obviously not been to Glastonbury) – and we were back in the start pen and ready to run. And off we went…
I had, optimistically, thought that if I was having a great day and everything went to plan I might be able to manage 3:25. It turned out that I was not having a great day. I was hitting the right pace for the first few kilometres but knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up and by the first water station at 6km in, I decided to scrap that and go with plan B: sub-3:30. The first 10km of the route is along biggish shopping roads and past a few notable sights such as the Louvre. After that the route takes you into the Bois de Vincennes, a nice park with some welcome shade. I was through the half way mark in 1:43:35 and, although my legs were feeling heavier with each step, I thought that there was a chance I could still get a PB. Shortly after half way I spotted my personal cheer squad (aka Tom and Olivia’s boyfriend Phil) for the second time and that gave me a welcome boost.
The route then takes you onto the path alongside the river which is pretty flat and fast. By this time, the sun was doing what it does best and the cloudless sky meant I was starting to feel pretty hot. My legs were really starting to complain, with my quads and hip flexors getting tight and uncomfortable. “Focus on enjoying yourself,” I told myself, “you are supposed to be doing this for fun”. A spectator had clearly had similar thoughts, holding up a sign saying “you paid for this”. I tried to relax and gave up on worrying about my time.
The last 10km of the route is mainly through the Bois de Boulogne which had been described in a blog that Olivia had read as “a death march”. From the moment she had read this out to me I was determined to enjoy the last section of the race. Loving to run in the countryside meant I was surely going to enjoy being in a big forest. And I did. A small incline, some more words of encouragement from my cheer squad, and I was in the Bois de Boulogne and on the home straight. I managed to maintain my pace, despite the legs really complaining by this point, which meant I was overtaking quite a lot of runners who were struggling after 20 miles or so and this spurred me on. Some mental arithmetic coming out of the Bois told me I was going to need to run a significant 400m PB to get under 3:30, which clearly wasn’t going to happen, but I crossed the line in 3:30:35. Delighted.
Stretching, sitting down and a carb-free lunch (other than the beer, of course) with much post-race analysis took up the afternoon (with a shower, a nap and an ice cream thrown in there for good measure). Paris was our huitre, as they say, for the next 36 hours before the Eurostar deposited me back at my desk at work on Tuesday morning.
Would I recommend Paris marathon? Yes. The race was well organised, bag drop worked smoothly, plenty of water on the course (although the water stations could have done with being stretched over a longer distance and on both sides of the road), the route took in lots of sights and was flat. The spectators came out in droves, although they seemed content standing and watching rather than actually cheering (the Brits and Americans stood out with their wildly enthusiastic cries of encouragement). A few individuals didn’t seem to notice that the marathon was taking place, walking straight across the route without seeming to look at all at whether they were in anyone’s path. C’est la vie.
All in all a great race, even if mine didn’t quite go to plan.