So we are finally back after spending 2 weeks on our own European Vacation (Chevy Chase would have been proud of all our shenanigans). There was Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Peters, The Sistine Chapel, The Coliseum, planes, trains and automobiles, and Kim’s very first earthquake. OH YEAH and then there was the Paris Marathon of course.
We arrived in Paris on Friday 2 days before race with the plan to stay off our feet as much as possible and adjust to the time change. Yeah great plan in theory, in practice, not so much. I mean it's easy to plan not to walk around Paris when you’re not in Paris but quite a bit harder when actually there. Oh well what are you going do. Okay on with the race info.
We hit the Marathon Expo on Friday and picked up our race kits and timing chips. It was a pretty good Expo overall. I got all kinds of information on other European Marathons, and then realized that they were all written in French... DOH!! Decent race kit with some samples and Saturday Pasta Dinner was included. Shirts were not tech however but were nice, well made T shirts. We decided to break down and buy a couple of souvenir tech running shirts. I thought about buying some gels but decided against it. All the gels were in tiny plastic tubes that reminded me of crazy glue instead of "normal" packets. Oh those crazy Europeans. Although maybe taking nourishment out of a squeeze tube would make me feel more like an astronaut. No problem I had planned ahead and brought some from home.
Saturday morning we headed out to the Breakfast Run which was a fun relaxed 5k put on by the Marathon. It was nice as I was able to run a bit and get the legs loose for the next day. Not much of a breakfast at the end however. Some water, bananas, coffee but no problem I had kind of anticipated this and had eaten before hand at the hotel. I was more interested in getting a short run in than the breakfast portion of it.
We returned to the Expo Saturday night for free pasta dinner. The dinner was okay. I had very low expectations as I know that in big races like this it's mass feeding time, a fattening up of the herd before the slaughter. The pasta wasn't great but wasn't bad so I will give it a tentative / reluctant thumbs up. Also it was FREE which is always my favorite part.
Got up on time after a pretty good sleep, ate breakfast and headed by Metro to the Start / Finish area at the Arch de Triumph. We spent a good half hour fighting our way through a massive traffic jam of people to get to the baggage check, dropped off our stuff and made our ways back to the starting corrals. I left Kim at her corral and headed further up to my own making it there with 5 minutes to spare. This seemed like being early unlike my first marathon where I was in the porta potty when the starting horn sounded and I had to sprint to get to the starting line (sprinting before the start of a marathon is definitely not recommended).
Weather was not bad for running, around 15 degrees, sunny, no wind to speak of but was somewhat humid.
The gun sounded and we were off….. well sort of. I had never run in a really big marathon before and with 37,000 runners Paris is definitely that especially given many of the streets are quite narrow by North America standards (more about this later). It took over 9 minutes of a slow walk to reach the actual starting line and good thing because the road was littered with hidden obstacles. Discarded runner’s sweaters, pants, water bottles, garbage bags etc. where everywhere and well hidden in the feet of the packed together crowd. I had been given a heads up about this before hand (thanks Sabrina) so knew enough to tread carefully here.
Once I actually got over the start line things picked up. I was able to quickly get up to speed or in this case over speed. I had vowed to not come out too quickly but realized by the end of mile 1 this was nearly impossible. The street was jammed and I sort of just went with the crowd. I mean I felt great so what if I was running a little faster then planned, what could happen (all long distance runners feel free to insert laughter here).
Oh oh, first minor glitch. I had pinned my gels to the back of my shorts as I had seen others runners do this. Less then half a km into the race it was clear that this was not going to work for me. The gels were bouncing up and down, flopping around worse then a freshly caught fish on the dock. A quick check revealed that one had already gotten loose and escaped. I pulled off the rest and decided to carry them by hand before they all got away. Astronaut food tubes now seemed like a much better option, damn me and my mocking.
Course was beautiful as we ran right through the heart of Paris starting just in front of the Arch de Triomphe. I tried to take in as much as possible but with the street jammed with runners you really had to watch the road. I remember almost hitting a barrier separating road lanes as I took my eyes off the street to look at the Louvre as we passed it. Talk about getting you to refocus.
I came into the first water station at 5k feeling pretty good. Water stations were every 5k on the course and were very chaotic with so many people trying to get to them and then back onto the course. Water was given out in bottles instead of cups so you could take the bottle with you and carry it for a while. There was no Gatorade / Eload type drink except at the 40k station which made my tightly clutched gels all the more important. Stations also had dried fruit (no thanks), sugar cubes, oranges and bananas.
Oh… oh. glitch number 2 appeared just after the first water station. I passed the station took a sharp left hand turn and then came to a complete stop behind the runners in front of me… hmmm. Talk about a strange experience. The race had come to almost a total stop. We had turned onto a narrow street that was only maybe 50 meters long and then turned back onto another street this had caused a major bottleneck reducing the speed to slower than walking pace. This cleared up as soon as you turned the next corner but cost around a minute, I vowed to make this up over the next few miles (oh wait wasn’t I already running faster then planned).
Race route continued out past la Bastille and into a large park that took us past Chateau de Vincennes. We looped around the park and then headed back in to the heart of the city again and the half way point of the race. By this time it had begun to get hotter out but still not too bad. I still felt pretty good and was keeping a steady pace. I had hoped that things might thin out as runners spread out over the race course but it was just as crowded at the 21k mark as it had been at the start of the race.
Crowds and fan support were really great along the course with people cheering you on almost everywhere on the route and it seemed that more people jammed the sidelines the farther you got into the race.
Race route continued back into the city passing close to Notre Dame Cathedral and then hugging the bank of the Seine River from the 25k mark for the next 8k. This included passing through 3 underground tunnels. Two of these were shorter and you were able to see the end of the tunnel once you entered it. The other one was much longer and was very hot and humid inside, you couldn’t see the end of it for quite some time. The French runners were chanting something in unison that echoed loudly in the tunnel. Sorry I have no idea what they were yelling but it was very entertaining nevertheless. As I came out of the last tunnel close to the 30k mark I wondered how Kim’s race was going so far. I also noticed that I was starting to tire but was still holding pace pretty well. At 30k my time was a PB faster then my time in any 30k race. That would be great except for the fact that I still had 12k to run.
The route from 30 to 35k took us along the river past the Eiffel Tower but on the opposite side of the Seine and then moved father east into another large park. Somewhere along this stretch I began to slow down.
The last part of the Paris marathon takes you through this park and then finishes at Ave. Foch back in sight of the Arch. For me the last 7k became a struggle to try to keep running as I got slower and slower. My early fast pace had finally caught up to me turning my legs into jello and causing bad cramping in my right hamstring. Unlike my first marathon I didn’t hit the wall but the cramping in my leg killed any chance of finishing fast.
Somewhere between the 35k and 40k water stations I saw an extra station. They were giving out some kind of cake (huh?) and cups of what looked like apple juice. I passed on the cake but grabbed the juice in chugged it. ARRGGG it wasn’t juice it all but some kind of alcoholic cider (I think). Not exactly what I needed at that point, that will teach me to take unknown beverages from strangers.
Finally I rounded the corner out onto Ave. Foch and down to the finish line. It was just as crowded at the end of the race as it had been at the start which is pretty unbelievable. It was so crowded in fact that I had to wait in line for about 10 minutes just to get my chip taken off. Here is a picture of me crossing the finishline. I leave it to you to find me.. kind of like the runners version of Where's Waldo
I got my finisher's medal, a rain poncho (they give them out instead of blankets) and some food and then found a curb to sit on for awhile. I thought about getting a massage on my legs but the lineup was massive so I took a pass on it. I hoped that Kim’s race was going well and that she was enjoying it. The finishers area was a zoo but very well managed. Numerous and I mean numerous people were sprawled out in the middle of the roadway either being attended to by emergency personal or other racers. I walked past one guy lying on his back, his eyes were cloudy and staring off into nothingness. Some other guy was asking him if he could see him, pretty scary stuff. I was glad it wasn’t me.
I rested on the curb for awhile and then I went up as close to the front as I could to watch others finishing and to wait for Kim to finish her race. I hoped she wouldn’t be in staring guy condition. After watching people come in for a while I saw Kim off in the distance running for the finish line. Way to go Kim on finishing your first marathon. She looked to be in pretty good shape so we got some food (more food for me) and sat down to eat. While we rested we watched some poor guy who was walking along pass out on his feet and smash face first into the road. He was out for about 10 seconds and then came to as other people tried to help him. Poor guy’s face was really cut up. I reminded myself to make sure I sat down if I started to feel dizzy.
The Paris Marathon is a great race in a fantastic city. As with most big races not really a race to attempt to run a PB due to how crowded the course is but besides that an amazing experience. The race organizers have to be commended for how well this race is managed and run. I would do this race again in a second. Great course, great organization, really great fan and city support.