The Paris marathon was an amazing experience – just wonderful. So disorganized compared to the New York City Marathon last November but that’s Paris for you – and part of the charm. Over the next few days I met many Parisians who didn’t even know their city had just hosted an international marathon. Again, so unlike NYC where everyone knew and celebrated the event with gusto.
My goal was to break 4 hours, but despite being 84 seconds short, I felt very happy with the result. With a 28+ minute personal best (NYC), I came 13th out of 265 in my age group. The winner ran a time of 3:45.
While I thought the weather was perfect (11-21C), many Parisians, having just pulled through training in an exceptionally cold winter, felt it was way too hot. Apparently over 10,000 didn’t finish the race from a field of 55,000+ starters.
After our start from the Arc de Triomphe with arms pumping in the air to the blaring music it was such a thrill to be on my way running down the Champs Élysées, around the tall Egyptian Obelisk and green and gold fountains of Place de la Concorde.
After being warned not to start out too quickly, my plan had been to run a 5:40 pace for the first km and then 5:30 for the second before aiming for a race pace of 5:20-25. Even though I felt comfortable in those first 2km I had to keep slowing myself down when I saw I was under a 5km pace at times. I felt like I was coasting along nicely as I ran down the well known, Rue de Rivoli, passing the Jardin des Tuileries and Musee de Louvre on the right and Palais Royale on my left. I have included a map of the route with all the landmarks and the bois (woodlands) at each end.
Though no where near the number of spectators in NYC (2 million) there was still plenty of crowd support especially around landmarks such as Place de Bastille and The Eiffel Tower. At around the 12km mark spectators dwindled as we ran through the Bois de Vincennes. For the first time I felt like I had some personal space. I had been warned by Bruce Graham, who has been a great running mentor, that I would be passing a lot of runners in the first half and it was very true. There were quite a few bottlenecks throughout the whole event as many runners had started in corals with much faster predicted times than their real times. The Bois de Vincennes was one 5 to 6km stretch where I felt I wasn’t held up too much by other runners. Exiting the Bois was a different experience again. Spectators were crowding in and making our path even more narrow than ever. By now I had the courage to dive arms first between runners in front of me, spreading my arms apart to make a space for me to pass. Always with a loud French ‘Pardon!’ To excuse myself of course.
True to form – rather than the drink stations being exactly 5km apart as stated – they were positioned more randomly and often well over an extra 1km further on which was very noticeable when I was desperate for a drink. There were many lolly and fruit tables which proved to be a disastrous mix with the water sprays we went through. Quite a few people ended up with lollies stuck to their shoes and a few unlucky runners slipped on orange peel and banana skins.
Well past the Bois de Vincennes we headed back towards Place de Bastille. It was here where I passed the halfway mark that I had a psychological downer when all I could think of was ‘now I have to run that all over again!’ I had to do some serious talking to myself and get myself thinking ‘from here it is a new race’ and ‘you are just starting out’. Not long after, I had perked up a little and found myself running along the left bank of the Seine where I had completed several training runs during week before the marathon, starting from my hotel on Isle St Louis.
It was good to be in familiar territory, catching glimpses of Notre Dame on the left and Hotel de Ville on the right and further down, my favourite museum, the Musee D’Orsay. A little further on we passed the Tuileries where a lovely gallery, home to many of Monet’s great works, is situated – L’Orangerie.
Soon after this, my daughter Shannon, and friend, Lyn Wilson, observing the race from the Trocadero, were able to track me on the Schneider Electric Marathon App as I passed the Eiffel Tower. They were, of course, unable to spot me among the masses but they enjoyed knowing I was in the crowd at that moment in time and could track my movement as I ran further along with Jardins du Trocadero on my right side.
Soon after the Eiffel Tower I ran across the 30km marker. This is the point where a lot of marathoners experience ‘hitting the wall’ and indicates a significant loss of energy as carbohydrate stores become severely depleted. For some reason, possibly because I had been training for it using something known as ‘the glycogen depletion long distance training’, I was not severely affected by the marker and managed to push through at a good pace.
From 30-37 km I felt quite good (relatively speaking) and was happy with my pace. However, once I hit the Bois de Boulogne, a heavy fatigue in my legs kicked in. I felt as if the air I was running through had suddenly become thick. The last 5km were a struggle through the Bois. I knew our Parisian friend, Marie-Christine who lives nearby in Auteuil, was somewhere in the crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of me and this helped spur me on a little. I also knew I was so close to cracking 4 hours for this marathon, something I had really yearned for, but by this stage I had nothing left to kick me home. The last 2km were a real slog and seemed to happen in slow motion. It was such a relief to see the finish line, just before the Arc de Triomphe, not long after exiting the Bois.
Relief soon gave way to joy and happiness once I crossed finish line and the Paris marathon medal was placed around my neck. To my delight my daughter, Shannon, found me pretty quickly and I was able to revel in this joy and happiness with her. It was such an amazing experience and I have no doubt at all I will run another marathon – next time in under 4 hours!