My alarm did not go off.
Doesn’t that first line look like the title of an essay you might have been asked to write about in a State exam as a kid in school? Yeh… so I’ve got a good one for you.
The day of the Paris marathon, which I trained for months for, saved up all my pennies for and travelled across Europe for, my phone decided to have a meltdown. Or rather, it had smartly updated its time to local time when I first touched down in France on Thursday but somewhere between me going to bed on Saturday night and waking on Sunday morning, it had reset itself to Irish time, one hour behind.
Oh. Good. God.
Mammy to the rescue.
I’d arranged to meet the parents at hotel reception at 8am to travel to the race start and when I didn’t appear at 8:05, the mother came looking for me and upon hearing no obvious sounds on the other side of my room door, she started to knock a little more loudly. To say I springboarded out of the bed and into my running clothes in one motion is not an exaggeration. I have never overslept for a race. Ever. I’d organised all my gear the night before so it only took me 2 minutes to get dressed, grab my stuff and nip to the bathroom but it was a wee bit stressful. Brisk walk to the metro and to the start and phew…. Made it in time.
Adrenalin was banging around inside and it was not good for the nerves pre race or to be using up my energy stores but I’d made it the Champs Elysees and things were starting to get exciting.
As we came out of the metro station and turned onto the Champs Elysees where the runners were filing into their start waves, the view was awesome. All stress and worry just disappeared and I couldn’t help smiling ear to ear. Descending down the Champs Elysees into a perfect blue sky were streams of runners, with the Carousel at one end and the Arc de Triomphe at the other. Paris and symmetry – but it does have its moments 🙂
I was in the purple wave and was scheduled to set off at 9:20. Actually, we didn’t leave until after 9:35 because each wave was actually divided up into two – they let the right hand side go first, before then letting the left side go. It was a bit annoying having to wait so long but to be fair, the crowds were huge – 57,000 plus runners altogether – so it’s not surprising. Alas, once we got going, I didn’t care — running down the Champs Elysees in this incredibly beautiful city on such an incredibly beautiful day- what a feeling!
The First 6 miles of the course travelled down the Champs Elysees, around by Place de la Concorde, and then on to Rue de Rivoli, which brought us down by the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre. After all that grandeur, the course wound through the Bastille, before turning towards the Bois de Vincennes, an open park, which hosts the second 6 miles of the marathon.
I ran the first 6 miles slightly quicker than my goal pace but it was okay and I was conscious of taking it easy, staying relaxed and conserving energy for the later stages of the race. But it was warm and the sun was strong – I thought this was great at the time because (a) I’ve just come from Ireland where it’s been cold and raining and haven’t felt real sun on my skin for over a year and (b) This was the first 6 miles of a marathon (and in Paris) where everything seems wonderful and brilliant and you think isn’t the world just a beautiful place, aren’t we all so lucky to be alive and aren’t I just the luckiest person in the world to be out here doing this?! Ummm….
The second 6 miles in the park were a bit of a drag. I was fine for miles 7, 8 and even 9. In my head, my goals when running a marathon are broken down like this- to first get to 6 miles/10km – then on to 10 miles – then to 13 miles/ halfway – then 16 miles – then 18 – then 20 – then the last 10km. But on the Paris course, we’d already covered 10 miles, yet we were still in the Bois… I found I was getting bored and had enough of the Bois at 10/11 miles.
Once out of the Bois de Vincennes, we were into the third section of the course, which was essentially a 9 mile stretch along the Seine, before it heads into the Bois de Boulogne. I was still happy with my pace and how I felt while running and at halfway, I was going good guns. A glance at my Garmin told me I was around 1:55 for halfway which was bang on for what I wanted and was also around what I had been running in training.
I can’t remember exactly but somewhere between 14 and 16 miles, I started to really feel the heat. There had been some shelter in the first few miles on some streets, in the shadow of taller buildings, but along the Seine, there was none and as we were quickly approaching midday, the temperatures just kept on rising. I also hadn’t been expecting all of the tunnels along by the river, which ran under the roads – dropping you downhill before bringing you back uphill, of which I think there were at least 4. These played havoc with my legs and combined with the heat, they started to feel like jelly and I started to not feel so healthy.
By 16 miles, I was starting to feel it getting a bit tough – my energy levels were just sapped and it just felt really tough going and far more than I would normally feel in training. Just in time, I spotted my Mom jumping up and down cheering me on from the sideline so I ran over, gave her a high five and was boosted along! It was great seeing her there and I really needed it at that point.
I hardly ever entertain thoughts of quitting a race and I’ve yet to not finish a race of any kind. But that day, I honestly did. In hindsight, I completely underestimated how much extra energy it would take out of me to run in that level of heat. I had come from running in a climate where most days, I could still see my breath when running, to 21 degrees and clear blue skies. It’s a huge difference and the toll it takes on your body when running, is substantial.
I made sure to drink as much water as I could tolerate and threw the excess over my head and face to help cool me down, which I think helped. There were also firehoses at various intervals, spraying the runners with welcome cold water! Unfortunately, there were no energy drinks along the course, so I was relying on Clif shots, jelly babies and Honey Stinger Energy chews to get me through. I’d had enough of Clif shot by mile 19 so moved on to the others after that. The race also provided fresh orange segments and half bananas which while great were also crazy dangerous – the combination of fruit peel, spilled water and cobblestones at the water stations was lethal with people slipping and sliding everywhere. This was not helped on the day by the number of dizzy and woozy looking people who stopped for a moment to take a break in the heat and were then being bowled over by runners diving for food and drink – it was pure survival at the water stations!
Mile 20 – I was still on target to get under 4 hours by mile 20 at about 2:59:44 (ish) but at that stage I knew it was going to just be about finishing. It all just felt like hard work and I was puffed. As we ran the last 10 km through the Bois de Boulogne, I was in that horrible headspace where I felt like this race was never going to end. Of course I knew that it would and in hindsight, I look back and say it was only 10km, but on the day, it had felt like the predecing 10 or so miles had taken ages and now another 6 miles… marathons are just so fricking long 😉
From 16 miles to 26 miles, I noticed more and more people walking, stopping and every so often someone lying on the ground, in the recovery position, wrapped in an emergency blanket being attended to by ambulance services. The conditions seemed to have caught a lot of people unawares and I just hoped everyone would be okay. Sometimes, it really genuinely is not just okay to not finish the race, but a good decision.
Mile 26 – finally!!!! Out of the Boulogne and into the crowds surrounding the big cobbled roundabout at the end of Avenue Foch and…. I couldn’t see the finish line but I knew (hoped to God) it must be near. And then there it was. Big smiles, little sprint and a triumphant box in the air as I crossed the line (never done that before but I did feel like Rocky for having finished that race!)
The End. I meandered through the finish area, picking up my medal, tee-shirt and post-race water and fruit, before going to find my parents at the Arc de Triomphe.
We grabbed a sandwich and a coffee (tasted glorious) on the Champs Elysees before Dad and I headed back to the hotel for a bath (for me) and a nap (for him!) I had the nicest bath, more coffee, some chocolate and did some gorgeous foot elevation while reading a few chapters of my book. That evening, we had dinner at a nearby french restuarant, Les Enfants Perdus, adjacent to the Canal St Martin. Fillet steak, wine, chocolate fondant and other forms of sinfully delicious food attended the party in my mouth that night. Wonderful service, delicious classic french cooking and good company made for the perfect end to the day.
Reflections: I found the race really tough. I loved the first half. Paris looked beautiful – I know everyone says this but it’s actually true – like, really, how many pretty buildings can you cram into one city? It’s a joy to look at, honestly. But in the second half, I couldn’t have cared less where I was (sorry Paris). I’m glad I did it and that I finished it. It was not a PB day but at the same time, it was one of the toughest races I’ve ever done and because I kept with it and finished it, I feel like it’s one of my best. I earned every stitch of my finisher’s tee-shirt and now I can wear it with pride. That’s all I ever want from a race.
Makes the days of chocolate fondants that follow taste even better.
And croque monsieurs.
Nerdy Data Bit:
8:30, 8:37, 8:25, 8:50, 8:53, 8:35, 9:01, 8:40, 9:00, 8:57 – 10 Miles Total = 1:27:28 8:28, 8:44, 8:54, 9:03, 9:11, 9:03; 9:26, 9:33, 10:12, 9:42 – 20 Miles Total = 2:59:44 9:38, 10:46, 20:33, 10:19, 9:57, 10:22 – 26.2 Finish Time = 4:05:06
Did you run the Paris marathon last weekend? How did you find it?