I’ve written before, somewhere on this blog, that you can’t negotiate with a marathon. When you get to the start line of a 26.2 mile run you’ve either done the training or you haven’t. I hadn’t.
So let’s not make this run report about my race – disappointingly slow and very much more complete than compete – and let’s look at what the Paris marathon had to offer…
The weekend starts with the marathon expo and number collection. Getting a race pack was easy (assuming you had all the necessary paperwork; convocation, medical certificate, passport, 2 references and a photocopy of your butt) and the team on the desk where exceptionally helpful when I wanted to change my start pen thanks to my lower expectations. The rest of the expo was the usual brands, all big stands and flashing lights, but very few bargains and of course everything was in French! The food court was far from impressive too so we soon left and found a lovely Italian for some traditional French pizza.
Come race day and getting to the start was incredibly simple. No Metro closures or diversions so my train went from 100 metres outside the hostel to 100 metres from the start line at Arc de Triomphe…except I then had a 20 minute walk to get to the baggage drop anyway! Worth noting you can only access this from the far end of Avenue Foch so Porte Dauphine is a better station to aim for. Once finally in the marathon set up though everything flowed smoothly and I was soon in the starting pen watching the clock.
I’d heard horror stories about being held in the pens for ages and people urinating in the crowd etc, but there was none of that. The different waves of the marathon had staggered start times, so no one was trapped in the pen for more than twenty minutes or so, and there were plenty of toilets available. The front of my wave went off exactly on time but as usual it still took a couple of minutes for the back of the pack to cross the start line.
The route takes in much of the best of Paris. Passing the sights of the Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, Bastille and bois de Vincennes (with an insane man-made mountain for the monkeys and goats in the zoo!) the first half of the course is mostly well supported. I had the pleasure of sharing these 13 miles with two friends, Malc who is well in to 70+ marathons now and Rachel who was seeking a hefty PB. They were an absolute delight to run with, I hope to do it many more times.
Turning back towards the city you soon reach halfway and the banks of the Seine. It was here that I let Malc and Rachel go, after sitting with them at 4:30hr pace I knew I didn’t have another 13 miles of that in the tank so I made the choice not to push to hard and risk blowing up completely. It was strange to suddenly be running alone, but following the river for a few beautiful miles, again with good crowds and loads of amazing bands playing brilliant rock covers, it was nice to just take in the atmosphere for a while. Once I knew I was on for a slow run I took the time to dance my way past a group in a tunnel playing Proud Mary and stopped to hi-5 a band covering the blues classic Sweet Home Chicago!
After the elation of the river comes the relative loneliness of Bois de Boulogne, also site of the first Paris parkrun (I’m sure other sites will follow), and despite the best efforts of Paris’ gay running club to brighten up the miles this section became a slog. I imagine if I’d been fitter and more comfortable at this point actually the tranquility of the parkland would have been lovely though! Again I relaxed all thoughts of time and chatted with other runners to while away the miles. I heard several stories of people running in memory of loved ones, a couple on their honeymoon and a Frenchman declared in broken Franglais that men of our size shouldn’t be marathon runners then promptly stopped. He almost broke me, but actually I just got angry and powered through the next mile! I’m sure I’ll revisit that comment in a future blog post though…
Out of the park and it’s a short dash to the finish through crowd-lined streets. Once over the line the same efficiency from the start line sees you with medal and t-shirt in hand and back to the baggage claim in moments. I missed the water bottles at the end, and after running 26.2 miles in 20+ degree heat I could have done with one! Luckily my ace support crew were soon on hand with a bottle of fizzy cider to spray in victory and quash the thirst. (Kudos to the crew for getting around Paris and being on hand with motivational signs, hi-5s and even a cheeky glug of wine exactly when it was needed! Best support crew in the world!)
The marathon was mostly brilliant; the course was interesting, varied, not noticeably hilly but there were some very quiet spots where some people may have struggled. There were also sections of cobbles which we don’t often run on, but they weren’t really an issue. The biggest concern on course was the feed stations, which were plentiful and well stocked but also a minefield! There were orange segments and bananas, chopped but not peeled, so there were fruit remnants all over the floor. Those cartoons of people slipping on banana skins, they are very much based on fact! It was impossible to go past the feed stations and next hundred meters at any kind of pace for fear of landing on your arse!
That aside though, Paris marathon was fantastic, and the city is beautiful and well worth a visit. In fact I think I’ll be going back there soon for more tourism, and who knows, it may even be for 9th April 2017!