You might well be wondering why, after a pretty successful run in the French capital the day after my last, rather nervous blog post, I didn’t come straight back to write up my achievement and show off. Well unfortunately, the very next day, events took a turn for the worse and our stay in Paris was prolonged by almost a week.
I love Paris. It was probably why I chose to run my first marathon there. That and naïvity! I couldn’t get into the London Marathon, so assumed Paris would be the simplest alternative to participate in, completely forgetting all of the other events that run across the UK every year and which I now know all about! That said, I don’t regret running in Paris, I know all of the landmarks and the course is not only aesthetically pleasing but also well managed, well supported and (perhaps most importantly!) pretty flat!
Preparation was good, although I was nervous the day before (see previous blog…!), I was well rested and slept well. The day of the marathon was glorious, if a little warm, and after getting up about 6.30am preparation went well, right up until arrival on the Champs Elysées, where there was a huge queue to enter my starting pen, resulting in many of us being left outside as “closure” of the pen was announced over the tannoy. Stress ensued but eventually, we did all make it into the correct area, just before we were due to start…..
I had been advised by “seasoned pro” and part-time “coach” Pierre-Yves, to bring in a small, empty water bottle to the starting pen in order to relieve myself before the race as the toilets were impossible to access. I couldn’t bring myself to do this however (despite noticing others doing so perfectly comfortably!) and resolved that I would be fine, although the nerves weren’t helping! As our start time approached, I was positioned in the right hand “lane” of runners in the 3h30m block, but at 9am only the left “lane” was permitted to depart. As the right side continued to be held, some runners jumped the central metal barrier to begin running, and I spotted a free toilet! I jumped the barrier, duly relieved myself, and began running in relative freedom, with only about 30 people around me as I headed down the Champs Elysées towards the Louvre, ahead of the mass start of the right hand “lane”! I didn’t have any runners with 3h30m markers to guide me, but I had my Garmin watch, and that would do!
My race plan was simple enough, go at my natural pace (about 12.3km/hr) for 3 hours and try to cross 37km at 3 hours exactly. I knew I would suffer in the uncharted territory toward the end of the race and I needed time in the bank in order to hit my 3h30m target. The plan went well, I followed others around me at the same allure, keeping close watch on my kilometre split times on my Garmin and following the shortest route around the course I could! We ran through Bastille and out into the Bois de Vincennes and I saw the Chateau for the first time. Heading back into town I spotted a red British phone box and recorded my fastest ever half-marathon time. I grabbed small bottles of water at every station, drinking some, pouring some over me and sipping the rest for the next 3km before repeating the process again.
At 25km, I spotted my support in the crowd on the second passage through Place de la Bastille. Waving to my parents, Bérengère and her parents gave me a bit of a lift and I felt quite warm inside as I continued on my way, at the thought that they had specifically travelled and braved the crowds just for me. I crossed 37km at exactly 3 hours as planned, and, maybe as relief set in as well as the realisation that I could actually hit my target time, the pain began to take hold! I’d had just 3 sections of banana, no energy gels (I hadn’t used any in training!) and water, and was beginning to tire as we entered the Bois de Boulogne and I found myself in the midst of Rolland Garros – an area of Paris I hadn’t previously visited.
Suddenly I needed to walk. Although I could tell exactly how far there was to run from my watch, my brain was questioning how much longer I would be moving for. My stomach churned. I needed to dig deeper and I tried. I plodded on for another few KM and managed to walk only a little. The finish line should have been in sight, but due to a kink in the road it was not and mentally I found this tough! As I checked my watch I knew I needed to pick up the pace for as much of a sprint finish as I could muster to achieve my goal. I crossed the line and stopped my watch at 3h29m54s, at least that was what I thought I had managed…… I was positive I had pressed the buttons exactly on the timing pads but could I be sure? There was very little leeway….. Either way, I would have to wait for official confirmation and just try make my way through the finishers zone to find my family for now.
In the finish zone I was of course awarded my medal, and stripped off my soaking wet shirt to put on my finishers T-Shirt, in medium, which one of the officials further along informed me was too small, but I was too tired to go back and exchange! I grabbed at water, oranges, bananas, raisins, dried apricots and even sugar. I was shattered! My legs hurt, particularly in front of my thighs in my quads, but I was euphoric, ecstatic at my time. I needed to find my family and there was a mass of people outside…… Fortunately Bérengère had the wonderful idea of making the #StayStrongForOws symbol with her hand so I could find her! She led me to the family who congratulated me, and I almost collapsed! Taking on a warm protein drink, I was unable to move properly for about another half-hour. Overall though, I felt it was worth it!
The evening, with the official time safely and satisfactorily confirmed, was more leisurely and celebratory, involving a stroll around the Trocadero with B’s parents (wearing compression gear under my jeans – lovely in hot weather!), followed by a beer and then an evening meal with my parents and a relaxing sleep, still reliving the day’s events. On Monday my legs were still aching but getting better as we paid a visit to our favourite Parisian bakery (Du Pain et Des Idées) before splitting up for the day – my parents heading to the Panthéon, whilst B and I headed along the Promenade Plantée and back to the Bois de Vincennes to see the Chateau I had run past just over 24 hours previously.
Evening drew closer, and we were due to meet up again with my parents for a last-night dinner, joined by some French friends. Before that however, I offered B the unique opportunity to relive part of my youth by having a pint in the Bombardier pub, near the Panthéon. This was where my uni friends who were studying in Paris when I was teaching in Nevers used to hang out and also where we celebrated Powell’s 21st birthday when everybody descended upon the French capital for a knees up in 2001 (and Gareth Lucey slept against a door…)!
All was going well, I was still feeling smug and the sun was shining. Then Bérengère received a devastating phone call that changed that evening and many days to come. Her mother called explaining that her father had been rushed to hospital after suffering a severe heart-attack. The only thing we could do was get to the hospital as quickly as possible, so, finishing our drinks and informing my parents we would not be around for dinner, we boarded an RER and headed for Val d’Europe (near EuroDisney) where we arrived at the hospital in advance of the rest of the family and in an extremely anxious state.
Without wishing to go into details about his exact medical condition for reasons of confidentiality and sensitivity, I would just state that the attack was extremely serious and although today (Tuesday 21st) the immediate danger seems to have passed, the long term prognosis is still not certain and we remain very worried. Hence the reason that exactly a week ago, as my parents headed home on the train we were supposed to take together, B and I remained in Paris, checking out of the plush hotel we had reserved for the marathon weekend and moving into her Uncle’s one-bed flat in the South of the city. We spent five days travelling out to the East of the city by day and back late at night, by RER or Transilien train, and eventually made it back to Abergavenny on Sunday, although we may be returning to France very soon.
We did however manage to spend some further time in the city and finally found a good gluten-free bakery near Oberkampf, called Chambelland as well as some pretty local shops selling cheese and saucisson, as well as some nice markets.
The last 10 days have been full of highs and lows, and as always I am grateful for the support of those who travelled with me, donated to the cause and sent messages to us both. My parents have done everything they can to support us as usual and in France we have been looked after by my in-laws whom I now know much better than before. Naturally my training routine has suffered somewhat but my next event, the
triathlon on May 10th is more about learning technique than setting a time (unlike the marathon in Paris), and I am sure I have enough aerobic fitness in the bank to complete it. Either way, although sporting achievements are all well and good, at times like these, you really realise that family is the most important thing in life.
More photos from the race will be posted in due course.