It’s taken me weeks to want to write up this race. Even now I’m reluctant to put fingertips to keyboard and ‘get it out’. I needed to think about it. Please visit other runner’s blogs if you want the statistics of this race – how hot it was, how many ran, what the medal’s like.
This space is dedicated to getting to the heart of this race. I think it’s quite a beautiful one.
Why should you invest about 100 precious Euros in this marathon? What do we all expect for this? A PB? New friends? A grand experience? A lot of your race day experience is going to be dictated by preparation.
I wasn’t raring to go at Paris, but I was really ready to give 100%. By this, I mean my target was to run the whole 26.2miles without walking in (I’ve got history of doing this. Quite a few times. The last being London last year). Of course every one of us would love a PB at each marathon we run. I injured the long extensor tendon that stretches from my right big toe to my calf, so for the last four weeks before Paris I barely ran. Yes for my taper I was a faker.
But… my body was definitely rested, as three of the last four weeks before race day I didn’t run. There’s always a positive.
The mental stress of not being able to taper was horrific. Never get carried away with the positives.
What did this race mean to me?
Let’s not get ahead, I haven’t told you about how challenging prep was. After leading a group of my Friday runners in a lovely session on the trails I came home and felt a dull ache in the zone from the inside of my ankle up towards the bottom of my calf. That was the beginning of three weeks of no running RIGHT BEFORE race day. There’s no point saying the work’s been done, it’s in the hands of Gods or anything else to soothe a runner who can’t run in the last month of marathon training. Be honest – how would you feel… yep, like a juggernaut of running misery is hurtling right at you.
Watching other runners run when you can’t hurts you deeply. We are talking pain here. They’re feeling the air in their lungs, their hearts are pumping life through their muscles, the ground is giddily slapping against their feet, they’re feeling the adrenalin push of an interval just started, the weird crazy runner’s euphoria that even a 5K can give you. And you’re not. There it is. Nasty runvy. Nasty, nasty, nasty. That dark place in your nuclei, your muscle cells, your engine, your spongy brain cells.
Jealousy of another not for who they are, what they have, what you think they have, what they may think they have even though you know they don’t really have it, what they are, what they’ve done, what they’re about to do. Envy of their run. No one would kill someone from runvy. But you want to walk alongside them, accidentally push into them or stick one foot out and trip them up and say ‘Oh, I’m so, so sorry, did I stop you running? Here, let me help you up. You’ve twisted your ankle? Oh no! You won’t be able to run. SHAME.’
The human body is such a complicated organism. I was asking such a simple thing – perform under a huge amount of pressure on one day despite me and my broken foot being completely not happy or in a good place for at least three whole weeks. 21 days. 504 hours. 30240 minutes.
After those long winter runs, especially that awful one with hail and hills and the longest portaloo queue beforehand ever known to running woman, I was going to be climbing out of the washing machine of life as an injured runner and jumping straight into 26.2.
Yet after less than an hour’s flight from where I live I found myself in one of the world’s most beautiful, beguiling cities. As the Eiffel Tower came into focus from my plane I felt I knew it would all be alright, whatever happened.
If you’re planning on going to next year’s event you have to enjoy every moment. For just a handful of Euros you can sign up to the Breakfast Run the day before the race. A 5K in the heart of Paris with a finish line at the foot of the Eiffel Tower…it would have been foolish to pass this one by and it’s such a great way to spend your hard-earned Euros. And you get breakfast (a croissant) when you cross the line. Which is cake. Almost.
Don’t miss the 5K. Thousands of runners from all over the world snake their way past such iconic landmarks as the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Avenue Foch, the Trocadéro, to the finish where a traditional Parisian breakfast awaits. The runners waved their home flags and chanted for the whole route, as well as stopping frequently to snap some sensational selfies. Everyone was there to have fun and the atmosphere was both relaxed and electric. Being highly excitable it was a great start to the weekend, as I felt like I was running with thousands of other highly excitable people.
There were no barriers on the streets. I think I saw one marshal the whole way. We all just started, the streets were closed, then we got to the end, with a lot of noise in between.
By the time I got back to the hotel, after visiting the expo my injury was throbbing badly. I grabbed a bag of ice from the bar and spent the whole evening with the foot iced and elevated. If I was a religious girl I would have said a prayer to get me round.
My nerves started to buzz as soon as I woke up at 6am on marathon day to have my porridge pot. I would be running 26.2 miles from the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the Louvre, round the Place de la Bastille, along the Seine, through Bois de Boulogne to emerge at the finish. There are even views of Notre Dame.
Somehow I missed these though. Damn, I’ll have to go back next year and look harder.
Preparation is essential and I asked my Angel Cards for guidance – why not? This is what they sent me…
With such a magnificent backdrop and so many historical landmarks the miles flew past. The aid stations were aplenty and the marshals all shouted: ‘Allez, allez!’ Even before the start at 8:30am it was warm. I know you’ve probably forgotten what that feels like but I mean as warm as a normal summer’s day in England. Being hosed with fountains of water by local fire fighters was a lifesaver for many. Temperatures reached 25 degrees Celsius – challenging for any runner, however experienced. Despite the ample water stations, sponges and hoses I saw more people collapsed on the side of the road then in any other marathon.
There’s a short stretch of cobbles at the beginning and though not long, they were enough to irritate my foot. From the end of mile 1 I knew I was going to have to focus right until that final step over the finish. I concentrated on keeping my head up, feeding off the crowds, the music and other runners. I didn’t weave or go up and down curbs, rather I slowed when it became extra crowded (this happened the most at the half way stage for me) and tried to move with the flow of runners rather than against it. Waves of jazz drifted over the course (there were over 100 bands along the route). I felt really moved at one stage as I listened to the music. I think this was as I was moving into the delirious stage towards the end, emerging from the parklands into the last stretch in the sun.
Looking up and around and taking in the changing route helped the miles slip away. I avoided constantly checking my watch. You hear about bottles under your feet at Paris, but the organisers have worked hard to educate runners to bin their bottles at targets staggered after each aid station. Yes I did feel I was ice-skating on a banana skin at one stage and a big hefty man clipped one of my ankles as I came into the second to last water station, thrusting me up against the drinks table! Both times I skilfully managed to keep on my feet. All that strength and conditioning work really paid off. All in all, sharing the route with 50,000 others felt very civilised. Most importantly, this is a flat and fast course, with no hidden hills in the last six miles. Thank you Paris for this alone. Expect your race to be very busy though, with little room to manoeuvre at certain parts. The half way is a big pinch point, and in the latter parts the crowds are in the roads cheering you on (think Tour de France), which again makes for a narrow route. By that stage you don’t really care.
Paris Marathon is not only incredibly well organised, with a heart that beats in the most romantic city on this earth, it has a soul. The race organisers have a vision of offering more than just a ‘good’ race; they want you to have an ultimate experience. Recycling, a carbon neutral footprint, inclusivity…Paris is leading the way on all of these crucial factors that will ensure the survival and evolution of all the big city races.
I had an animal in my head the last six miles. I normally try to encourage other runners walking or struggling but I ignored them all and my mantra was ‘Just keep going’. I felt awful but I had to focus on just not stopping. And I didn’t.
For all these words I really could have used just one: Paris Marathon felt stylish. Compared to London it’s much more visually stunning. Obviously the weather was amazing. The expo is, I think, better than London.
Running a marathon has got to be the best way to discover a city. The wide boulevards of Paris, the imposing 18th and 19th architecture, the ghosts of Renoir, Picasso, Manet, Cézanne looking down from Montmartre at the strange sight of so many people thrumming their own beat with hundreds of thousands of feet. It’s a race you’ll never forget. I find I have very much fallen in love with the Marathon de Paris.
Next year’s race date: April 8th 2018 Enter here
I know I said I wasn’t going to give you statistics. I was lying
42,500 finishers in 2017
250,000 spectators along the route
37% running their first marathon
25% women (come on ladies!)
1,759,869km: total kilometres run by participants in 2016 (that’s to the moon and back, twice!)
3,000 runners in the Paris Breakfast Run
After Paris I was left with thoughts that had nothing to do with running. It was five years since I ‘ran’ a marathon and four years since I determined to try one, after my dad’s death. I didn’t even realise this. I literally hadn’t thought ‘how long since’… It was quite a shock to realise five years of life had gone by.
It was such a hot day – so hot that I stayed in an ice bath for ten minutes once I got back to my hotel. And so hot that I was taken back to the day of my dad’s funeral. The memory of dipping my fingers deep into the urn that held my dad’s ashes, taking a full handful and holding him within one hand, before I lay the ashes into a river. How can your parent become a handful of ashes? There was a tiny bit of metal within my hand, must have been from his coffin. It took so long from that day to achieve the marathon again in some senses I felt flat and very inconsequential post race. Time has moved on. If it takes that long for the next one I’ll be a Vet50!
Spring marathons – the ones that got away
I’m not the only runner who didn’t have a great lead up, or race day experience, in their spring marathon. So how do you deal with this?
When I got to stage of almost crying in my taper (I said * almost *) I did one thing that changed my whole perspective instantly. I entered another marathon. After two weeks of fretting about how I wouldn’t make it to the start line, how I wouldn’t be able to ‘race’, how little marathon pace I’d done, I could start focusing on something else. You can do this too if you’re marathon journey has been scuppered, or if race day goes haywire and you’ve been left on the marathon finishers rubbish heap. Do it now, it makes a massive difference to that negative voice in your head.
P.S. Can I just ask – does anyone actually ever do really good training, really good races and manage to dodge these life issues that seem to magnetise towards me like an alien to Area 51 ?