Paris Marathon, 6 Apr 2014 – Race Report

Posted: 8th April 2014 by mockjogger in Race reports
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Paris Marathon start wide co. paris marathon flight centre

The travel connections, like almost all the logistics for the Paris Marathon went like clockwork. I flew from Edinburgh to Paris on Friday morning before the race. Off the flight, RER to Chatalet, a couple of metro switches later and I was at the Expo in Porte de Versailles. There were no queues at all to have my medical certificate examined and my convocation stamped “medical certificate valid”. A few steps to the number booth, again no queues, I gave them my stamped convocation and I had my number!

expoThe expo itself was huge. Dominated by the major sponsors Schneider Electric and Asics, there were plenty of smaller booths offering apparel, kit and balms. I discovered that Air France had a Flying Blue Running booth and I took the opportunity to get some payback for years of flying with them by booking into their race-day lounge. Pre-race coffee and secure bag store; post race massage and lunch sounded good to me.

After spending about 45 mins cruising the expo I metro’d to my hotel in Montmartre and checked in. I’d gone budget, which meant staying on the 5th floor with no lift. But it was clean and located in a great area, so fair enough. I headed out shortly after, scored some spaghetti with smoked salmon and hit a gig at EspaceB.

On Saturday I met some friends at the Flea Market in Montmartre and had an excellent roast rib for lunch before heading over to the bag drop area at Avenue Foch to check timings to get to the race start. Then out for some lasagne and another gig, at Pointe Ephemere this time, which I bailed from early. I strolled back to the hotel sipping water. No alcohol on Saturday, I was getting my race head on.

Sunday morning the alarm was set for 6am, and true to form I woke up at 5.55. I had slept reasonably well and felt good. Apprehensive yes, but ready.

kitI had brought over cereal and dried berries for breakfast. Not that they don’t have such things in Paris, but because I know what works for me. So after downing a bowl I left the hotel in Montmartre at 6.30. A few stops on the metro took me to Charles de Gaulle Etoille, under the Arc de Triomphe. It was a bit of a trek to get to exit Exit 8 for Avenue Foch, but I emerged into sunlight, with a few fellow runners, right beside the exit point of the Finish Zone. Unfortunately the traffic flow police dictated that runners could not enter via the exit point, so we were sent round the side of the huge Finish Zone to enter at the mid point. The bag drop area was right there, but I ended up walking through the Finish Zone back near to where I had emerged from the metro, where the Air France lounge was situated. Anyway, I got there at 7.05, in plenty of time.

I made use of the coffee and toilet facilities and got talking with an Irish guy, Kevin, who was running his fifth marathon. For some reason best known to the gods of extreme optimism, I’d signed up for the 3’45 start pen. Turns out Kevin was in the same pen, so at around 7.55 we walked the 20 minutes from Av Foch to the start pens on the Champs Elysees. It was warm and sunny, the opposite of what I had read about for the race last year. I had an old shirt on over my running T-shirt but it was not really necessary. Emerging from a long, cold, dark winter training in Edinburgh, the rays were very welcome.

View back to the 4 hour pen

View back to the 4 hour pen

We arrived in plenty of time and the pen was sparsely populated. Kevin was heading to the front of the pen. Knowing that 3’45 wasn’t going to happen I decided to start from the very back and, for something useful to do, I joined the queue for the toilet.

A word about the toilet. The overall organisation for this race was first class. Except for the toilet planning. A pen of, what, around 8,000 runners and 3, yes 3 toilets? With a recommendation to be in the pen at least half an hour before the start? Plenty of urinals for the guys, but really, come on organisers. Ladies who arrived late were having to do their business at the side of the pen – no other way. Race director take note – you need 5x that amount of toilets along the side of the pens. The queue moved slowly and the 3’45 group had started advancing towards the start line when my turn arrived. As it happens, it took some time before starting to advance until we were crossing the line, so it turned out I had plenty of time.

Smiley Cam

Smiley Cam

Selfie With Determined Following Runner

Selfie With Determined Following Runner

I even had time to try out Smiley Cam. I wanted to record a pictorial feel from the race, but did not want to lug a camera round or take the time to stop and use it. So I acquired a Smiley Badge camera, strapped it to my wrist and off I went. The image quality is shit, but I have used a few pictures to give a runner’s eye viewpoint.

A quick stretch, a final advance, and accompanied by some cheering we were through the start gate. My first marathon had begun.

Champs Elysses In The Sunshine

Champs Elysses In The Sunshine

I have run a few shorter races, but nothing came close to matching the sheer scale and majesty of running down the middle of the Champs Elysees accompanied by 49,999 runners. It was simply breathtaking. The weather forecast had been for clouds and showers, but in the event the rain stayed away. The race started in bright sunshine, about 16 degrees and sun interspersed with cloud was the order for the whole day.

I had no real time aspirations for this race. I just wanted to get round in one piece and join the marathon club. The one thing I was determined not to do was to set off at rocket pace and blow up later, so I started gently. We were travelling in a slight decline over cobbles (although if Paris wants to learn about real cobbles it should come to Edinburgh). The first 3 miles took us round Place de la Concorde, down Rue de Rivoli past the Louvre and the City Hall to Place de la Bastille. Really stunning scenery. It was warm in the bright sunshine and like many runners I kept to the left of the course which was in shade. Also, I kept my head clear and my pace down.

Mile 1 – 9.15
Mile 2 – 9.39
Mile 3 – 9.27

can 6 rivoliAt this point I noticed the 4 hour pace group just ahead. I reckoned they must have sneaked up behind me and passed my when I wasn’t looking. Fine, I thought, I’m having a good time here. Around the 4 mile point I noticed that my Garmin was reading slightly long – just about 40 metres or so. That was completely understandable as the sheer volume of runners made it impossible to take a clean line, and there was a fair amount of dodging around runners with slower pace or different race plans. With the sun up I took some water at the first stop. Overall I made use of about half of the water stops during the race, but only took water, not energy drinks or fruit. As the course headed towards Bois de Vincennes, the Garmin reading stayed in my mind though. I began to think I was running too slowly. Idiot.

Mile 4 – 9.23
Mile 5 – 9.05
Mile 6 – 8.59

Chateau de Vincennes

Chateau de Vincennes

The 4 hour pace group had gradually built a distance of about 300m on me but I could see that they were now keeping a steady gap. I was feeling very comfortable as we passed another stunning landmark, Chateau de Vincennes and ran through the large Bois de Vincennes park. I began to zone out. The devil on my shoulder was whispering delusions of grandeur. The 4 hour pace group was maintaining a stationary gap, and they may even have been getting closer. I felt strong and, subconsciously, my pace increased.

Mile 7 – 8.54
Mile 8 – 8.50
Mile 9 – 9.03

The next section took us out of the park and back in to central Paris. My recollection of this phase is sketchy. I was just taking it all in and moving along nicely. Like all points in the race I was never alone. The course was heavily populated but not stifling. Crowd support had been patchy as we ran through the park but picked up again in both volume and noise as we got back in to the city.

Pompiers!

Pompiers!

Mile 10 – 8.56
Mile 11 – 8.43
Mile 12 – 8.52

As we moved towards the half marathon banner on Avenue Duaumesnil around Gare de Lyon, the crowd was noisy and very supportive – most welcome! I could see the 4 hour pace group coming back towards me. A quick glance at the Garmin told me the half marathon was up in 1’59’40. I was feeling really strong. Shortly afterwards I passed the 4 hour pace group. I knew they had started behind me but figured it couldn’t have been that much. Could 4 hours be on for my first marathon? We hit a sharp left at 14 miles with a certain amount of barging as some folks tried to cut the corner without looking inside. Then a sharp right and we were running alongside the Seine and past Notre-Damme.


Mile 13 – 8.45
Mile 14 – 9.04
Mile 15 – 8.57

Along the Seine (co. Visit Paris)

Along the Seine (co. Visit Paris)

The Seine section was most notable for two tunnels. Both were set to be quite dark and the organisers had designed a weird sound and light show at the mid way points, with some electronic music and what appeared to be an old-school disco ball with coloured lights. That, combined with the cheers of runners bouncing off the walls and the collective humidity of the runners who had been there before me, made for an eerie experience. My Garmin lost synch in both tunnels but was able to find itself again shortly after we emerged, figure out what it had missed and make the appropriate adjustments, so the lap times stayed consistent. The other effect of the tunnels was to introduce a slight decline-in and climb-out variance to was a fairly flat course overall.

Mile 16 – 9.07
Mile 17 – 9.20
Mile 18 – 9.17

A Welcome Cool Spray

A Welcome Cool Spray

At mile 18 the organisers had put out a sign saying “Here it is, the Eiffel Tower” with an arrow pointing left. I duly looked left, but I remember thinking I don’t want to waste energy trying to get a photograph. I was still moving along well, but was starting to feel a little tired. I told myself that I had run this distance several times in training, but the devil on my shoulder was now whispering “yes, but not at this pace”. Doubts started to creep in. Not about whether I would finish, but about whether I could hold on for a good time. Around mile 20 there was a drink station and many runners took a walk break. Apparently at this stop there was an animation about The Wall, but I was concentrating on avoiding banana skins and didn’t see it. The section leaving this station was very narrow and folks who were trying to keep running were having to navigate round the walkers. I kept running. I had never run this far before and it was becoming tough.


Mile 19 – 9.45
Mile 20 – 9.45
Mile 21 – 9.44

From 20-21 miles I told myself that I was just one normal 7 mile run away from glory. But each step was starting to be a challenge. I tried to keep moving along but knew my pace was dropping. The Wall. I gritted my teeth and held on. This was not enjoyable. I felt I was entering survival mode. I know it’s a cliche, but my legs really were turning to jelly. I could seriously feel them wobbling. I shook my arms and hands and they felt like jelly too. It was weird, and not funny. My pace was dropping but I was determined not to stop, I wanted to complete the distance running. But then, around mile 23, much to my annoyance I got cramp in my left leg and had no choice but to stop and stretch. For a few moments I thought that was the race over, but after a stretch and a 30 second walk I was able to start running again, albeit at a reduced pace. The 4 hour pace group passed me, compete with motivational commentary from the pace team. But what struck me most was that they didn’t just pass me, they rocketed past. It was like there were two parallel universe races, with the 4 hour group moving in one time and me in like the opposite-of-bullet-time. I was running in slow motion and there was nothing, nothing I could do about it.

Mile 22 – 10.38
Mile 23 – 12.26
Mile 24 – 11.27

This was hell. OK, I was not in pain, there was no agony but I could barely keep a jog going. People were passing me from all directions now, clearly part of the same parallel race that the 4 hour race group was in. I cursed my arrogance in the second quarter. With a jolt I realised that I was running with my head down. I was just following the blue line, or the white line, whatever I could find. We were running through the Bois de Boulogne and I knew the end was not far away, but I was just looking for the next mile marker. Then, with a mile to go, my other leg decided to cramp, and I had another stop-stretch-walk sequence. Sheer stubbornness told me I was not walking across the finish line and I started running. With the finish line in sight I even managed to pick it up a little.

Mile 25 – 11.30
Mile 26 – 12.23
Last bit (0.44 miles on my Garmin) – 10.44 pace.

I have read many blogs and articles about finishing a marathon. Several mention how emotional it can be. Not for me. For those last couple of miles I just had one thought – get this over with. When I crossed the line, the only emotion I had was relief, and the only thought in my mind was that I am not doing this again.

The Finish Zone

The Finish Zone

I collected my T shirt and medal, both of which are great. The medal in particular is a really nice design and well made. I made my way back to the Air France lounge and sat down with a few bottles of Vitel. I tried a Powerade, but it made me gag, so I put it away. I couldn’t face any food. I stretched a bit then sat with my legs crossed watching in some amazement as my calf muscle did a kind of Alien thing, visibly rippling away under the surface. I began to think I was hallucinating. Then I went over to the massage tables and the masseuse stretched my legs again and massaged some life back in there. I began to feel like a human.

t shirt medalSeveral bottles of Vitel later I went almost instantaneously from “can’t stand the sight of food” to “where’s the cakes?” and started hoovering up the calories. I stayed in the lounge until they were making “its time to go” signals, before making my way back to the metro and home.

As I write this post, two days have passed. Perhaps my initial thought not to do this again was a bit hasty:) I am going to run another marathon. I believe I got my nutrition and rest right for this one, but I need to review my training plan, which did absolutely nothing to prepare me for those last few miles, and I need to have a proper race plan which does not have me pushing on in the second quarter. I don’t know if I can do a marathon in 4 hours, but I’m not finished trying yet.

Official Result

Time: 4’15’53
Position: 21,390 / 39,115
Gender: 18,706
Category (V2H): 2,596

champagne medalPostscript: I arrived at the Air France lounge at CDG Airport two hours before my departure. Unlimited champagne made for a second marathon of the day. I couldn’t resist decorating a champagne bottle with my medal.

  1. Great effort Mike! Despite your time not being what you had wanted, 4:15:xx for your first marathon is excellent. Some seasoned marathon runners can only dream of that. I like the sound of that Air France race lounge. Did you get that because you’re a Flying Blue member?

    • mockjogger says:

      Thanks Danielle. I’m happy with the time; in hindsight I would be even happier if I had achieved it with a steady pace the whole way and finished like a human rather than a zombie. The Air France / Flying Blue thing was a great result, particularly the massage right after the race. I’ve been a member of that program for years. They charged 10K miles for the lounge, which was a bargain in my book. There were about 20 folks there. Apparently Flying Blue Running sponsor some other events with flight discounts so I’ll be keeping an eye out.

  2. Congratulations, Mike! Welcome to the club! 😉
    That is a great time for your first marathon and you should be very proud. The first attempt at marathon distance can be full of surprises for many people and I don’t know one regular common-or-garden runner like us who got everything right on the first attempt. You never know what your body is going to do on race day, especially when it’s running for 20+ miles for the first time.
    I really enjoyed your write up and it brought back many memories of last year for me. Paris is a very special race, so what a treat to have it as your first! I’m very glad to hear you’ll be back for a second crack at the distance. Be warned though – a small Scottish club marathon is an experience worlds away from Paris, especially when you’re deep in the hurt locker!
    Recover well,
    RWR

    • mockjogger says:

      Yeah, I am a member of the club, aren’t I 🙂 I found out a lot about myself on the day and have even more respect for the distance now. I’ll take all that into the next one which, I hope, will be Edinburgh in 7 weeks. My only worry about the smaller club events is getting lost – if it wasn’t for the blue and white lines to concentrate on over those last couple of miles I’d probably still be meandering round Paris.

  3. Rachel says:

    Despite cramp at a couple of inoportune moments, you survived your first marathon in a very respectable time, so bravo! Like RWR, reading this brought back fond memories of last year’s race, and your write up is only serving to convince me to sign up again soon – especially as my boyfriend might actually join me as I’ve recently bulllied him into leaving the country for the first time in our 6+ year relationship!
    Rest up, and I predict you’ll soon be hunting for another marathon to give sub-4 another crack. 🙂

  4. […] have sometimes felt completing the distance. I had never experienced that. Crossing the line in Paris, all I felt was relief. After Edinburgh, I was numb. This time I was simply shattered. But when […]

  5. Richard says:

    Thank you for your blog. My daughter today is running the Paris Marathon and for me reading your blog is an insight into how it may be for her running her first marathon. My best wishes to you especially if you are running along with her today.
    Richard