I have a goal this year. I want to run a sub four hour marathon. I've worked hard, lost weight and run 20 miles in a time that indicates I am capable of achieving this ambition. I ran a PB at Paris last year and really enjoyed my race, so had psyched myself up for a repeat performance this time.
The trip started well, I arrived at St Pancras and discovered that I could upgrade my seat for very little money. Arriving in Paris I went straight to the Expo to collect my race number and try, unsuccessfully, to avoid the temptation of so many pretty, shiny running related goodies! I bought a pair of compression tights, some t-shirts, a fridge magnet, some no tie shoe laces and a cap. I went past the stand giving out free Haribos several times...
From there, I went to my friend's house in Saint Gratien. I had persuaded my old university friend that he should run a marathon and this was to be his first marathon. I kept thinking that this was a much better marathon to do as a first one than my first marathon in Abingdon. The atmosphere and the crowds would be much more exciting! We hadn't seen each other for a while so there was a fair amount of catching up and chatting to be done.
On Friday I went sight seeing! I love Paris - but dispute the self proclaimed tag of 'the most beautiful city in the World.' It does have many stunningly beautiful sights, but it is also pretty grubby, with ankle twistingly uneven pavements littered with doggy land mines! I try to see one new 'thing' every time I visit, so after a trip to Shakespeare and Company and an excellent steak frites sitting outside I went to visit the Musée Carnavalet. A lovely museum, located near Notre Dame, that details the history of Paris. Unlike the better known museums it was virtually deserted. I spent a couple of hours wandering around trying to decipher the French labels!
Saturday morning meant that it was time for the Paris Breakfast Run. A 5km run from Ave Foch to the Eiffel Tower with coffee and croissant at the finish. I had thought about running the new Bois de Boulogne parkrun but decided to leave that for another trip. The weather for this run was perfect, overcast and cool. I crossed my fingers that the weather forecasts were wrong and that the weather would stay the same for Sunday. I ran with my friend, a nice gentle leg stretch with a bit of a sprint at the end. I ran and took photos and chatted to marathon buddies and strangers. Great fun!
Then it was back to Saint Gratien to take it easy for the rest of the day, a trip to the supermarket to stock up on Haribos - you can't buy a Happy Box in England and every home should have a Happy Box! Dinner that evening was not what I would have chosen - but that is part and parcel of staying with friends. Let's just say, I don't usually eat cauliflower and chickpea curry and avoid spicy food the day before long runs! I slept badly, woke up with a burbly tummy about an hour before my 6am alarm went off and lay looking at the ceiling visualising how I would feel finishing the marathon. I got up and got dressed - leaving the house as quietly as possible. My friend's start time was an hour later than mine, so there was no point in him coming in with me.
Security was much more in evidence than last year. Hardly surprising in light of recent events! I went through the security, queued for the loo, discovered that buffs serve as excellent face masks to mask some of the odour of a portaloo, came out of the portaloo, took one look at the queue and rejoined it! Just in time logistics. In this second visit to the loo I realised too late that the pocket in my running shorts was not closed - as my Shot Blocks fell into the toilet bowl. Not good. But not a lot I could do about that really!
I went to the starting pen and managed to find a group of people speaking English. This group included an American lady who kept telling me that this would be easy as she 'did Ironman,' that this was 'just a walk in the park' and wasn't going to be an 11 hour day so what was there to worry about. I wanted to get away. The Champs Elysées is an excellent place to start a race. Long enough, and wide enough for us all to start from the same point (unlike London). As soon as we were off I reminded myself that the start was slightly downhill and that I had to make sure I didn't go off to fast, I didn't. I felt fantastic. I was going to bloody do this! At about 2.5 miles I saw a sea of blue and yellow on the right hand side - it was the Hatch Warren Running Club support crew. I was on the other side of the road, so I veered across shouting 'Hello Hatchies!' and was met with a roar of support.
On we went to the Place de la Bastille, more cobbles and the first water/food station. In light of my dodgy tummy and the fact that I'd lost my Shot Blocks I decided to eat whatever I could grab (bananas and raisins) and to grab some water to replenish my water bottle. I noticed a pain in the balls of both my feet at around 5 miles - but decided that there was little I could do about it, my laces were not too tight - I had no idea what was causing it, but apart from the occasional really "ouchy" moment it was manageable. I had 2 pace bands with me, one for 3.49 and one for 3.59. I was hitting the times for the faster band with about 30-45 seconds to spare, but I felt really strong at this point. I passed a runner in a Macmillan cancer top soon after this - he recognised my KRR top and called out to me. We ran together and chatted for several miles, his pace was slightly slower than mine, and I was conscious that was itching to go faster - so we parted company.
I hit the halfway point on target for 3.48 and still felt good. I was going to get my sub 4, I was sure of it! And then we got to about 14 miles and the heat and my stomach got the better of me. I had a loo stop. The sun was full on now and there was very little shade. The sapeurs pompiers were out with their hoses to spray us down, but the relief was fleeting. Now everything that I had enjoyed about he marathon last year seemed to irritate me this year. The crowds encroached onto the road, in the absence of any barriers and very few marshals there were several points where the course narrowed dramatically - at times you could not get more than three 'runners' running at the same time - and this meant slowing to a walk. The water stations were like running through fruit salad - avoiding slipping on banana skins, avoiding colliding with other runners as everything was on one side of the road.
Did I mention it was hot? It was very hot. I was aware that my pace was slipping and I chewed through the 3.49 pace band so I could discard it, why aren't pace bands edible? That way you could have a consoling snack when it all goes tits up! I needed another loo stop. This was not good.
At around 16 miles the race goes underground. A long underpass that had some sort of essential oil aromas wafting through it in an attempt to mitigate the stench of pee. The lack of satellite reception meant that I couldn't really rely on my Garmin for accurate information. This wouldn't have been an issue if there had been mile markers every mile - but they were intermittent. I plodded on. Coming out of another underpass (shorter this time) I was losing the will to live when I heard a cry of 'There she is!' and somehow knew that the shout was for me. I turned and saw the Hatchies again. It was just the lift I needed at that point.
On I went, it felt hotter than ever. At 30km there was a 'wall.' Hoarding on either side of the road with bricks painted on it. It said '30k wall' on one side and '20mile wall' on the other side. I run in miles not km, I had lost satellite reception for long enough not to know how accurate my Garmin distance was, and here was a sign saying I'd run 20 miles! Yay! Only 6 and a bit to go! And then about half a mile later there was the 19mile marker at the side of the road. Despondent does not come close to describing how I felt about being 'robbed' of over a mile. I know that if I had thought about it I'd have realised that 30km isn't 20 miles - but maths while running isn't my strong point.
On we went, eventually getting to the Bois du Boulogne. In my memory this was close to the end - but in reality you spend miles and miles in the Bois. And the spectators are few and far between. I'd kissed goodbye to sub 4 hours now too and was feeling very sorry for myself. Then I realised how many ambulances I'd seen, how many people were being looked after by the Red Cross, and thought that at least I was still upright and moving forward. I overtook one of the 3.45hr pacers at some point in this long, soulless stretch of running - so I wasn't the only person having a bad day! At around 40km I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the Ironman running American lady from the start pen. I decided that she would not be finishing in front of me, so concentrated on running rather than shuffling for the last couple of kilometres (more cobbles, and did I mention it was hot?)
Finally there were supporters again! I was nearly there! Back on the Ave Foch with only 195m to go - I picked up the pace, desperate to get this purgatory over with. I crossed to line and smashed into the back of another runner who had come to a dead stop the minute he stepped over the finish mat! I got my medal, retrieved my bag, texted Husbando, misread a text from him (I thought that he had come over to surprise me and my heart sank when I realised that I had totally misunderstood what he was saying). I walked along sobbing. I was so disappointed with my time (4hrs 6mins). It felt as though I had thrown away a perfectly good chance at a PB.
I retreated to a friend's hotel room for a shower and a sob, and a chance to update Facebook! I found a silver lining - I'd caught the sun, so have made a start on my summer tan, but that was about the only positive I could find. After showering I felt a little better - cooler anyway, and struggled into my new compression tights which I topped with the lurid green finisher top. I was glad that I'd remembered to bring my FitFlops with me as I wasn't sure my feet would fit back inside my trainers! The Hatch Warren supporters were close to l'Arc de Triomphe and I bumped into them on my way back to the race village, I thanked them for their support, had a hug and burst into tears again! Then, having had a look at the marathon tracker app, I thought it might be possible to get to the bottom of the Ave Foch to see if I could see any of my friends finishing, so set out and walked almost to the end of the avenue before I realised that I wasn't going to be able to battle my way through the crowds to get close to the front, and that I'd probably missed most of them anyway!
I trudged back up Ave Foch and decided that I was really rather peckish! I found somewhere to eat, and texted my friend to tell him where I was. Another steak frites with a large beer was called for! It was very good. I chatted with other marathoners while I waited. One bloke, who thought he recognised me (and may well do as he belongs to a Reading based running club) had missed his target massively. When his mum asked him what went wrong, he said it was more a case of, 'What didn't go wrong?' And that seemed to be a theme; lots of people not doing as well as they'd hoped.
I was halfway through my meal when I spotted my friend approaching the restaurant. I jumped out of my seat and ran, yes, I really did run - surprised myself too, towards him, nearly knocking him over as I gave him a hug! Then I bought him a beer, shared my Café Gourmand with him and talked about his first marathon.
Two days later, back at home, and with a couple of recovery runs under my belt, I am still disappointed. It gives me some hope that lots of runners were 25-30 mins adrift from their target times, but I worked really hard in the build up to this race, and felt that I had a really good chance of achieving my objective. Ah well, there are other races! On a positive note I have now run 10 marathons (OK, 8 marathons and 2 ultras!) so I reckon I have the marathon bug!