Time: 4:18:40 (PB!)
Gender position: 3,107
Category Position: 1,548
Despite the fact that I have been telling literally everyone I run into that I was going to be running Paris marathon, it hadn’t quite registered until race morning, when I hauled myself out of bed at about 5:30am, slathered myself in bodyglide and lycra, and haphazardly stuffed things deemed ‘important’ (race number, garmin, hotel key) into my bag. I left my hotel and walked the deserted Parisian streets – well, about 3 of them – to Naomi’s parents’ apartment for breakfast. Everyone was already up, and extremely dozy, as we stuffed breakfast food with as much appeal as cardboard into our mouths, and triple checked that everything was in order.
Once 7:30 arrived, Naomi, Rhona, and I, wrapped in our 5 euro men’s, long-sleeved white shirts, along with Naomi’s parents, set off for the start. It was quite chilly, and I was glad we had made the effort to buy a throwaway layer to keep us warm in the starting pens, as we were very aware that being non-elite runners, there would be a substantial amount of hanging around before we crossed the start mats.
Thankfully, the skies were blue, and the sun was rising fast – a welcome change to the overcast and breezy weather we had experienced so far in France. Before we knew it, the Arc de Triomphe was in sight, and the streets burst to life with fellow runners.
The three of us took advantage of the comparatively short toilet queues before taking some obligatory pre-marathon photos. It is at about this time, it finally sunk in that I actually had to run a marathon – an emotional experience I felt Naomi’s dad managed to capture perfectly while I was lost in my own thoughts:
Maybe the fact that my foot had been screaming the past few days as we had been walking about Paris (thanks to my own stupidity), or the fact that my training (or lack thereof) consisted of only one (as in, less than two) run a week – my long run – was playing on my mind. Spoiler: the answer is ‘YES’, these two things were most definitely at the forefront of my thoughts before the start, and I was not a beacon of supreme confidence at this point. Nevertheless, I shrugged off my lack of amazing preparation to smile/grimace/photograph badly with Naomi and Rhona:
After frantically putting our white shirts back on, we headed towards the start pens. Rhona, who was initially using this as part of her taper for the Highland Fling, had changed her mind and was now going for a PB after a favourable performance at the D33 last month. Because of the change of heart, she pushed to the front of the 4:15 pen with an aim to follow the 4 hour pacers. Naomi, on the other hand, was gunning for 4:45 or faster, and was aiming to follow the somewhat pleasant backside of the 4:30 pacer for as long as she could! In the past few weeks, I have only had a couple of simple goals for this race:
- Run the whole way
- Beat my time at Loch Ness (4:30:08 – those 8 bastard seconds!)
Goal 3 wasn’t really all that important to me, and goal 1 was going to happen even if I had to crawl, but I was determined not to walk no matter how much I was hurting. I hadn’t told anyone at the time, but my grandfather has stomach cancer, and a couple of weeks ago he was told he had anywhere from 1 to 7 weeks left. The reason for my visit in 2011/2012 was not just a family visit, but a visit to see him while he was still well enough to enjoy our company, and I couldn’t help leaving in floods of tears. The fact that he can still get up to have a few small meals, or potter around in the garden despite the pain he must be in makes me feel ashamed of complaining about a bit of muscle fatigue, and essentially I wanted to run this race for him. For me, stopping to walk meant failure, and that was that.
I decided to start with Naomi, so we kept each other company in the pens, which is just as well, because we were stuck there for an awfully long time. At 8:45 we heard the start for the elites, and then we danced to questionable tunes for the next 40 minutes wondering how long we had left, and trying to stop shivering (mostly, that was me).
Suddenly there was a forward surge, and Naomi and I excitedly stripped off our warm shirts and crept forward, only to grind to another halt after about 5 minutes. Stuck again, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re taking part in the world’s second largest (now official!) marathon. A French couple, distracted by my chattering teeth, took pity on us and started vigorously rubbing our arms to try and warm us up, but I resorted to picking up an extra layer from a pile of discarded ponchos, which served me well for the next 5 or so minutes.
Finally, we surged forwards again, and when the start line came into view I ditched my outer layer once more, and pressed ‘start’ on my Garmin just before I reached the timing mats. We were off!
The first thing that I noticed was how un-crowded we were. I mean, I know that some of the elite runners were already halfway done, and others had been running for nearly an hour already, and yes, the street we were on was pretty wide, but at the start I didn’t feel at all boxed in or as if I had to dodge people. I also noticed that the low sun was directly in my face, but I was happy to see it!
Naomi and I stuck together for about half a mile, before the adrenaline of actually starting dragged me ahead, faster than the pace I had planned to run. I was going to stick with the pace I had run my training runs at (especially because I have Edinburgh Rock ‘n’ Roll 1/2 marathon on the 14th), but I got bored of glancing at my watch and slowing myself down after about a mile, so I just ignored my pace and tucked in behind a couple of guys who seemed to be going at a similar speed to me. They may have thought I was some weirdo stalker, but I don’t understand enough French to know what they were talking about, so I’ll just imagine they were complimenting that chick behind them with effortless grace.
The crowds, from the start, were amazing. I didn’t think anyone would really be able to read the name on my bib, but I heard “Allez Rochelle!” shouted out regularly, and when you caught the eye of the person cheering, you couldn’t help but smile. In fact, I think I spent about 90% of the entire marathon with a goofy grin plastered all over my face as I took in the spectators, the landmarks, the costumes, the panoply of languages overheard (Yes, I just did). I think a special shout out to the pompiers of Paris is more than deserved, as the firemen made regular appearances along the course, even sitting atop a ladder that hung out over the runners like a bridge, cheering and shouting with almost drunken enthusiasm! The following photo is stolen shamelessly from the Runner’s World website, and shows what I mean, though they were not in this particular location this year:
Every mile, my Garmin would beep, and on the occasions that I actually heard it, I automatically looked down to see my pace for the mile I had just completed. Every time I looked down, it started with a 9, although I felt like I was taking an easy jog, and holding conversations with complete strangers whilst not at all out of breath. Not such a big deal, considering I’d only done about 13 miles.
It was around the halfway point that I spotted an IRN BRU vest up ahead, a sure sign that I was approaching a Scot! Sure enough, Fiona was a Scot, who happened to be living in France and running the Paris marathon for the 3rd (at least) time! She mentioned the tunnels/underpasses as being the worst part of the race (at around miles 16-18), but confirmed that there should be no other nasty surprises on the sensationally flat course. As visual evidence of how relaxed I was feeling at this stage, here is one of my official race photos that just happens to feature the IRN BRU clad expat chatting away with me:
Aside – I am convinced that part of my delirious happiness was due to being bathed in actual sunlight after possibly the shittiest spring I have experienced thus far.
Splits (miles 1-13):
1 – 9:47
2 – 9:47
3 – 9:34
4 – 9:42
5 – 9:46
6 – 9:37
7 – 10:05
8 – 9:44
9 – 9:44
10 – 9:51
11 – 9:24
12 – 9:29
13 – 9:37
Eventually, I lost Fiona, and continued on my way, dorky grin and all. Water/refreshment stops were every 5k, and apart from the first one, I think I swooped by them all to pick up a bottle of cold water, which I would carry with me until the next stop and then replace (I am a fan of cold liquids). I also indulged in most of the goods on offer – a couple of banana halves, some (delicious) orange segments, a couple of sugar cubes (because, why not?). The only negatives about the refreshment stops would be the fact that they were all heaving with runners, so it was more of a sideways dodge towards the tables, and then a sideways dodge back out to continue running, which sucks on stiff hips, as well as the obvious perils of wet orange and banana peels strewn about the ground, especially when the ground happened to be downhill cobbles. I watched a man completely crash out ahead of me, and I swooped down to retrieve his water bottle as he recovered. It was rather spectacular (and I can say that because he was OK, and carried on).
At about mile 16, we veered downhill to run alongside the Seine. It was fantastic running under all of the bridges with crowds of people on them cheering us on. It is also about this point that my quads started to hurt, just like they did during Loch Ness. What. The. Fuck. Thankfully, I am rather stubborn, and ignored the pain. Also, as I was looking up at the spectators on one of the bridges, I heard someone shout, “Go Rachel Go!” and spotted Naomi’s family cheering fiercely from above! I shot them a smile and a wave (and was told later I looked completely relaxed), and carried on, waving at all the boat passengers on tourist cruises that happened to be going past at the time.
We also reached some underpasses, which affected the satellite signal to my Garmin (hence the rather erratic splits for mile 16 and 17). The inclines coming out of the underpasses actually weren’t that terrible, and I smiled (again – there was a bunch of smiling) when I realized that was the worst of it! The masses of cheering crowds as you ran up the slight incline might have also helped. At this point, the quad pain was still pretty bearable, and I continued on at a similar pace.
Splits (miles 14 – 18)
14 – 9:49
15 – 9:45
16 – 14:04 (underpass)
17 – 5: 19 (average pace for miles 16 – 17 would be 9:42)
18 – 9:46
From about mile 18/19, the course started getting narrower, and more and more people decided that stopping suddenly in the middle of the course to walk was a fabulous idea. This meant a lot of highly painful ninja-esque dodging just to stay upright and facing forwards. The crowds, whilst still amazing, also started to encroach on the course (to the extent that at one point I spotted spectators on the blue line that measures out the marathon!). This also meant my split times started to suffer a bit, but in all honesty, they probably would have started to suffer at least a little without the added bonus of navigating a human obstacle course. Because quads.
Splits (miles 19 – 23)
19 – 10:19
20 – 9:54
21 – 9:53
22 – 10:29 (ouch)
23 – 10:04
As soon as I passed the 23 mile marker, I just kept telling myself that I only had 5k left. 30 minutes, tops. That’s nothing! I tried to speed up, but noticed no great change in my pace. I was really suffering now, but considering I’d come this far, there was absolutely no way that I was going to stop to walk. At this point, some grunting commenced.
Miles 24 and 25 were a bit of a blur, and we were running through a park where spectator support was thinner than it had been, but that was OK, because I was saving my finale for the final mile (obviously – it would be stupid to bring on a finale at mile 4). In the spirit of the Breakfast Run the day before, I decided to ‘represent’ one last time during my Paris jaunt, and as soon as I passed the mile marker informing me that I had completed 25 miles, out came the flag-cape for a victory mile!
Out of nowhere, we were onto cobbled roads surrounded by swarms of people cheering. There were some enthusiastic “GO USA!” cheers (and a snub from a group of Canadians I waved to), and the announcer even gave me a shout-out as I crossed the line nearly 12 minutes faster than my first marathon. As I had my Garmin switched to display pace and heart rate, I had no idea how I had actually done (though I pretty much knew I’d run a PB), so I was absolutely delighted to switch over and see the time:
Splits (miles 24-26.2)
24 – 9:52
25 – 9:56
26 – 10:11
.2 – 9:30
I stumbled through the finishers’ area, collected my medal, t-shirt, some powerade, and a banana, and headed to our prearranged meeting spot to find Rhona (who finished in 4:05:xx, smashing her PB), and await Naomi (who finished in 4:39:xx, also crushing her PB). Three finishers and three PB’s made for three happy ladies in need of celebration:
And celebrate we did! I have rarely tasted a cheeseburger as good as the one I inhaled that night, and I anticipate equal or greater pleasure from my cheesburger after the Texas marathon next January!