Warning – it’s a big one!
A sleepless night, 5am wakeup call, a missed train, a delayed tube, kids screaming on the eurostar, a hotter than expected Paris, and heavy bags left me tired, cranky, teary and exhausted on Saturday. The very last thing I wanted to do was trek across the city to the Paris Marathon race expo – but unfortunately, in order to get my race bib, that was exactly what I had to do.
Luckily, the whole experience was pretty straight forward. I handed over my medical certificate, collected my race number, and picked up a wee bag of goodies and information. The rest of the expo was hot and rammed, the Asics stall had a pathetic amount of branded women’s clothing, and no sizes left so I wasn’t able to buy a souvenir race tee – so after a quick wander, I was out of there.
Back at our hotel, I managed a quick nap, laid out my kit and headed for dinner with the other TNR marathoners. The 8 runners nervously chewed meals, while our supporters were a bit more relaxed. We wished each other well, and slipped off into the night to collect our thoughts and feelings for the race ahead.
After my terrible nights sleep and such a busy long day – I was thoroughly exhausted, and so I was incredibly thankful to sleep soundly and deeply right through to when my alarm went off! I slowly went about preparing myself for the race – including spreading Vaseline EVERYWHERE (the race booklet had very elegantly reminded us to “bandage our tits” and so I took no precautions). I marked up my mantra on one arm, and wrote the distances I would take gels on the other arm as I knew my brain wouldn’t be able to add the further on into the race I got. The temperature was already climbing, so I ditched my “race start throwaway clothes” in favour of the very fetching (but biodegradable) plastic bin liner that the race organisers had so very kindly provided us. I met Steph in the hotel lobby, and we set off for the start line.
The plan was to catch a bus, but after some garbled translation we figured that the bus had been diverted due to the marathon course, so we started walking. The race start was only a 20min walk from our hotel, and in the end – it was good to stretch our legs and shake out some nerves.
As soon as we hit the Arc de Triomphe we spotted plenty of portaloos, randomly found Lissy in the line ahead of us, and were sorted quickly and easily. A BIG tip for those complaining of no portaloos – DO NOT WAIT TO GO IN THE PENS. There are 2 portaloos in each pen, which is abysmal. But guess where all the portaloos are?? 200m up the road, in banks of 10, lining every single exit of the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t even stand in a queue, there was paper and everything!
The three of us skipped down the Champs Elysee and wiggled our way into the 4”30 pen, and then tried to move ahead as far as possible. It was rammed with people and you did have to watch your feet for discarded ponchos, clothing, and erm, bottles of unidentifiable liquid.
The atmosphere was fantastic – the sun was shining, the Arc de Triomphe was providing us an amazing backdrop, music was playing, people in apartments above were dancing on their balconies, and the excitement and nervous energy provided such a buzz. I was so glad to be with Steph and Lissy, especially when I let out the most maniacal nervous laugh!!
And then it was time. The 4”30’s were being set off, with the pen being split into two, and the right hand side heading off first, followed by the left. We inched closer, hit start on our watches…and were set off into the wide open street and the sun. Steph wished us luck and sped off, and Lissy and I fell into a comfortable pace beside each other. Before I knew it, the large 1km sign passed us, quickly followed by the 1mile marker. Oh my god, I was running a FREAKIN MARATHON!
0 – 5km – 32:28
5 – 10km – 1.06.02
The first 5km passed quickly and easily, I was people watching and taking photos and smiling and pointing out attractions. There were plenty of supporters and amazing musicians and bands spread along the course and it was just brilliant. I thought the kilometre and mile marker signs were really visible, and the organisers had signs which pointed out attractions in both French and English (which I amused myself by reading in a French accent) “And now, look to the right, The Louvre!”.
Along Rue de Rivoli and we came to Place de la Bastille, where I knew Jason would be. We waved and whooped when we saw him, and then quickly screamed as we ran smack bang into the first aid station!
We veered to the right hand side to avoid all of those who were picking up water, and it was lucky we did, because we literally ran straight into Zoe with her wonderful signs! It was so awesome to see our supporters early on, knowing that we would need them more as the race progressed.
The course turned and became a bit less remarkable (but I had expected this, as I had read ALL of the race recaps I could find), and as we headed up a crowded incline a glut of runners surrounding the 4”30 pacer passed us. I hate being near pacers due to the people that cling on to them, I would much rather find my own space, so I was glad that one had passed. One of the runners who was in the glut read the Kia Kaha on the back of my tee – she was another Kiwi living in London, and it was so nice to have a brief chat before she headed on. I decided to try my first gel – and glugged down the 33Shake chia gel which was actually awesome. Taste and consistency wise I really liked it, but I did spill a bit over my hands which meant I was a sticky with chia seeds for some while!
We entered the Bois de Vincennes park area, which seemed to scream “PEE HERE”. Bare flesh was flying everywhere, as runners found trees and bushes and conveniently placed construction hoarding to squat or stand behind. I’ve always thought Paris had a stench of urine about it… blurgh.
10 – 15k – 1:39:20
15 – 20k – 2:13:46
The 10k mark came up and Lissy and I were still together. This was the first experience of the true carnage of an aid station – banana skins and orange peels and water bottle caps EVERYWHERE. It was like a slip n slide under your feet, so there was no choice but to walk gingerly through it. I imagine it might have been runnable for those in earlier start pens – but I found it just downright dangerous by the time I got there!
The park was gorgeous, absolutely stunning, and on any other day I would have taken a moment to think “I’m SO lucky to be running through such a beautiful park”…but the reality was, I hated every minute of that damn park. The sun was beating down on us at this point, and there was no shade at all. I could feel my energy being sapped with every step.
The Chateau de Vincennes and this awesome orange guy that I followed for ages
I hit the 15k mark, chugged down my first Torq gel and wondered how the hell I was going to get through another 25+ kilometres. The sweat had dried into salt on my face and was stinging my eyes, so when a table of buckets of water came out of nowhere like a mirage, I plunged my hands into it and tried to wash my face to stop the sting.
I had lost Lissy at the 10k mark, and I felt really lonely in the park. It was so early on in the race and I was struggling already. Negative thoughts were crowding in and I was really mad at myself for even letting them into my brain. I remember thinking “push those thoughts out your ears, positive, positive, positive”. I looked down at the saying marked on my left arm “She who is brave is free” which was half sweated off already, and I knew I needed to suck it up. I glanced sideways and noticed a lady walking a dog. The very same type dog that I had had for 14 years, who went to doggy heaven last year. It sounds totally ridiculous now, but it was “a sign” at the right time for me. Someone upstairs was sending me a dog to remind me of all the things I love, and now was not the time to give up!
We came out of that bloody hot sweaty park at 19k, and I could see the 20k archway ahead. I had been following a girl for some time, and I noticed that she has Schwings on her shoes. Immediately my thoughts went to my dear friend Charlie, who was running (with her Schwings) in the Manchester Marathon right that same very minute – I knew she would be thinking of us at some point in her race too!
The sun seemed to ease off a bit, and become less fierce as it clouded over. The breeze was such a relief, and I took another gel as I gingerly stepped my way through orange peels again. I sent a text to Jase, letting him know I was at 20k and would be seeing him soon. I clung on to the fact that he was past the half way mark, knowing that I needed some encouragement after a terrible second 10k.
21.4km – Half way – 2:22:15
I ran through the half way arch and glanced at my watch. My slowest half marathon time yet, but not by much – I was happy with the energy I was conserving and the pace I had been maintaining to get there. I was calculating that I needed to keep the same pace in order to get to the finish line and hit my secret sub-5 goal, but I would still have some time up my sleeve if the going got tough.
21.4km – 25k – 2:53:31
25 – 30k – 3:31:08
At 22k we hit the only powerade station on the course – a sticky mess of gellish liquid and plastic cups smashed all over the cobblestones. All you could hears is shoes sticking to pavers, and again, I didn’t have the energy to lift my feet in a run so I walked through the sticky mess. I turned the corner at Place de la Bastille, and I could see Jase ahead so I lifted my arm high, hoping he would see me.
I had text Jase to tell him I needed him to walk with me while I took a gel. I needed a short walking break, and I needed to talk to someone. I knew I was over half way, and my body was feeling reasonably good, but it was going to get TOUGH from here on. I sucked back a gel, took a voltarol and chatted to Jase as we walked to the 23k marker together. Suddenly Lissy was beside me and I picked up with her again, happy to see my marathon buddy.
The course took us down along the Seine at this point, and the sights were a delight to my eyes. I could spy the Notre Dame, and loved the view of Musee d’Orsay over the river. The crowds were thick, lining the bridges above, and drummers and bands helped us keep pace easily. Up until this point, I had felt a bit like the bands were always on a break when I got to them – but these guys needed some serious endurance to keep up the drumming for 6ish hours!
The sights along the river was enough to distract me from the pain in my legs and feet, until we got to the tunnels. The brief downhill into a tunnel was too quickly followed by a steep uphill out, which I tried to run. My lower back was aching and I swung my workplay bag around to the front to try and ease it. The other part of my body that was in excruciating (and unexpected) pain were my shoulders and upper arms. It turns out you use these a LOT more than you think, and upper body strength is something I had neglected to train for!
The BIG tunnel at 28k seems to have divided runners. Last year it was a long dead soul-less horror to endure for over a kilometre. I give kudos to the organisers for listening to this, and putting in a light and sound show, it was like 3 disco’s in the tunnel. I danced to “Night Fever” by the BeeGees, and I think there was a Michael Jackson song too. I personally loved it, it distracted me from the fact that the tunnel went on and on and on (but I have read that others hated it). We popped out (UP another ramp, ugh) and there it was.
The Eiffel Tower.
I’d caught glimpses of it before, but now it was on our left in all its glory, and seeing it was just epic. I was trying to take a selfie with it in the background, and “Chariots of Fire” came on my playlist. Initially I thought “it’s too soon for this song” but actually, it fit. I’d plugged in my headphones at the 25km point, but wasn’t really tuned in to anything coming out of them until this point.
Through these kilometres along the river Lissy and I had kept each other in our peripheries – sometimes she was next to me, sometimes she was behind me, sometimes she was in front of me. We were running our own race, but I had comfort in knowing she was nearby too.
30k – 35k – 4:09:13
35 – 40k – 4:48:29
I sucked back a gel at 30k and thought “thank god, only one more of these sickly sweet things”. I had taken to grabbing a bottle of water at every aid station and either topping up my handheld bottle, pouring it over my head, or washing down my gel with plain water. I was on my second nuun tablet, but it was making me feel sick, so I tipped it out and decided to just go with water from here out. I knew Jason was racing across the city on the metro (and running himself!) to catch me at the 32k mark, and I decided I would empty my pockets and offload my workplay bag to him. All I needed now was one more gel in my pocket, and I was good to go.
Jase was up ahead and he jogged beside me as I talked to him about how I was feeling. I was hurting a lot at this point, but also feeling proud that I only had 10k to go. One more hour, I could do this, I WAS doing this. I pushed on, and re-joined Lissy as we entered the final park.
Things go a bit blurry for me here, the pain in my legs starting to cloud my brain. My injured foot had started to niggle too – not a lot of pain, but just noticeable. I tried to use my “think of one person each kilometre” strategy but I couldn’t even focus enough to do that. “The world’s greatest” by R Kelly came on, which was a song given to me for the race by my friend Kaylee, and that got me through the 35-36k mark. Lissy noticed a woman with a sunflower on our right (Steph’s parents) and neither of us could even speak proper words, we just kind of yelled “sunflower” and waved at them.
Immediately after Jase appeared again on my right, and there was a hill, and there was pain. Jase could see I was struggling so he ran with me, getting me up the hill. I told him how badly I wanted to walk and he said “it’s ok, it’s ok to walk, let’s just walk”. We got up the hill and past the 37k mark and I only had 5k to go. I handed my sunglasses to Jase, turned up my music, and set off to nail those final kilometres.
I think I made it to 38k before it all kind of broke down a bit. We were back in a park, it was bleak and there were hardly any supporters. I’d lost sight of Lissy when I walked the hill with Jase. It had clouded over significantly, and the bottle of water I had poured over myself had made my top cling to me uncomfortably and I shivered a bit. So many people were walking, and in 3’s or 4’s and it was so hard to get around them. Spectators were walking in amongst runners (walkers) and it was a battle to find a clear path. It was bleak, and eerily quiet. I weaved in and out, but tears stung my eyes and I felt myself get overwhelmed with defeat. I told myself I could walk to 39k, and then start running again – then it was only 3k to go!
At 39 I started running again, I made it to the final aid station and a wonderful man told me I could do it, and handed me water. I washed my face in the buckets. But my legs and head were mush, and I slowed again. I was looking at my watch and calculating that I had 22 minutes to run 3k to get the sub-5 hour marathon that I secretly wanted. On a normal day, this was more than do-able. But I knew my pace was shocking at this point, and that I would have to REALLY push to make it. I had an internal battle with myself – could I, or would I be able to push it enough to make it there in time? Would I push so hard and then miss it anyway? Or was I just feeling so bad that I needed to let the time go, and just put one foot in front of another?
I thought about my body. I thought about how I hadn’t run in 5 weeks due to injury. I thought about how I had made it to 38k’s before my body and mind went AWOL. I thought about how proud I was to just be there, running, despite it all. And I decided I didn’t care anymore about that sub 5 hours. The finish line was close, I was exhausted physically and mentally, and I would get there regardless. This marathon would always be special for being my first marathon, I had come here to enjoy it, and I wanted to finish it that way too.
40k – 42.195k
I ran-walked my way to the 41km mark, and then pulled out my phone. “So much pain, but I am going to run this home” was the message I sent Jase. I turned a corner and Jase was there, suddenly running beside me, talking to me, telling me I was there, this was the finish, it was over, I had made it. I don’t remember what I was saying to him at all, it was all blurry, I think I shook my head to try and clear my vision and see the crowds ahead of me.
Jase took my water bottle from my hands and gave me a pat and told me to run to the finish line, and run those last 200m I did. I wish I could slow that whole moment down, take time to look around and see the faces lining the finish line more clearly. But I heard Steph yelling from the sideline, I saw the clock and the arch ahead, and I forced my legs ahead towards it.
I was a marathoner.
I must have looked pretty bad, because almost immediately after I crossed, a marshal grabbed me by both shoulders and looked into my eyes and said “Are you ok” and I nodded. I hobbled sideways and grabbed onto a fence to take a few breaths, to take a few moments. The tears I had expected didn’t flow, but they pricked my eyes.
After the daze had lifted, I walked though the finish chute, collecting my t-shirt (these were very small sizes, and the larger ones had run out boo), a poncho, my medal, water, powerade, some orange slices to suck, half a banana. We had pre-arranged to meet at Exit E, which seemed soooo far off, but eventually I saw Steph and her family through the fence, and Jason. I sat down on the grass and the tears dropped from my eyes. I was there, I was done, it was over.
My marathon buddy Lissy appeared and there were hugs, tears, and photos all around, before we all parted ways for hot showers and sustenance (not that I could eat anything for many hours later).
That night, a few of us met for a celebratory drink and to share race stories. I sat and listened, still in a daze, still unable to process that I had run a marathon that morning.
Even now, writing this, it doesn’t feel real. I feel proud, but I also feel numb – like I can’t quite believe it happened at all. I look at the results and see my name, I see the photos, watch the video – but it’s like having an out of body experience. Was that really me? Did I really do that? All I have is sore muscles (nowhere near as bad as I thought) and a couple of blisters to remind me that I really DID run 42.2km.
Oh, and a really big medal
Who else ran their first marathon in the weekend? Congratulations to all the Team Naturally Run ladies who smashed their goals, and best of luck to those racing this weekend!