An Emotional Marathon in Paris

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.

Before the off (nervous)...

Before the off (nervous)…

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!

Chateau de Vincennes

Chateau de Vincennes

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.

My unofficial time...

My unofficial time…

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.

My official time!!

My official time!!

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!

WP_20150412_007The 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.

The remaining stones of the Bastille.

The remaining stones of the Bastille.

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.

Chambelland

Chambelland

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

Returning home.

Returning home.

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.

For those who are interested:
My official Marathon Photos taken by the event organisers can be seen here.
My official Marathon Video provided by the event organisers can be seen here.

More photos from the race will be posted in due course.

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A Nervy Night Awaits….

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who has sent me messages of support, whether on Twitter, Facebook or by text, and/or donated on the JustGiving page, I really appreciate all of your support. It’s great to know that so many of my family and friends – old and new, near to home or far away – are behind me! Thanks for supporting me, and naturally the #StayStrongForOws campaign as well.  I’m also lucky to have the support of my parents, my wife, and her parents in Paris itself and was glad of the distractions on the train on the way over, despite one card player having a seriously bad case of wandering eyes (no names…….he knows who he is!!!).  

 So many questions are already running through my mind…..should I eat this, should I drink more….or less? Walk more, or not at all? How will the start go tomorrow? Will I be hampered by slower runners who will ruin my time? Will I struggle insanely toward the end….? This is my first marathon after all, as regular readers will of course know, and the unknown is perhaps the biggest worry of all.  Although last night wasn’t a great night’s sleep, I seriously hope tonight will be better, even though it probably will not be entirely restful! This trip is all about 3hours and (hopefully!) 30 minutes tomorrow so if things don’t quite go to plan, I’ll have to try to roll with the punches!

  

The hotel we have chosen is very comfortable with some lovely views over Paris by day and by night, and it is also very conveniently located for tomorrow’s race start, although a little far away from the Gare de Nord and the Salon de Running, where I needed to collect my number and timing chip this morning.

 

  In the Salon I had a small dispute as I wished to amend my target time down from 3h45 to 3h30.  Eventually this was agreed, so I suppose I’d best note let these people down either now! We also found my name on the “Wall of Runners” – a bit of a gimmick, but when in Rome….(or Paris)!!

The rest of today is very leisurely, in fact a little boring! Having returned to the hotel, with lunch of salads, cheese, apple and some gluten free biscuits, my feet are up and the TV on, although sadly only showing rolling 24hour news in the absence of Canal+ which has coverage of the Racing Metro match!  

 So here we go…..a calm evening, massage, good meal, hopefully a good sleep. Followed by an early morning, lemon ‘tea’, beetroot shots, energy bars, stretching, warm up massage, short metro ride and a nervous wait in a pen…….and then, time to go….  Who knows what the next 20hours have in store…..hopefully I shall be back with some good news on social media right about then!

Disney Doesnae Help Marathon Preparation!

What a week that was!  I hardly remember where or when I last wrote a blog, things have been so hectic recently!  Indeed the days have been long, the nights short and the training completely different to the plan I had so diligently been following up until last Friday!

With the trip to Paris starting last Sunday meaning the half-marathon in the programme would be impossible, I duly swapped out my Friday rest day and ploughed through the weekend schedule a day early, popping in the rest day on the Sunday instead to allow for the travelling to France…..which was where the real fun began!!  In mind I had a “rest day” on Monday and a couple of shorter, sharper runs on Tuesday and Wednesday…..which completely metamorphosed into something entirely different!!

WP_20150331_025In Paris, I was working partly with Paul Turner Sport, and partly with Sport Experiences, running the Junior Rugby Festival at Disney and Meaux Rugby, west of the city.  From arrival, the work was pretty much non-stop, which was fine, but the plan for a restful Monday without much exercise became totally impossible!  Day one of the tournament was complete chaos as two teams were stuck in traffic and I was responsible for reorganising almost every game in the schedule.  This involved belting WP_20150331_024at full speed around all of the team coaches, dotted around two pitches 300 metres apart, with their players to update them of the plans.  I was wearing my Garmin and on this “rest day” I managed to clock up over 21km of what was effectively interval training!

On Tuesday, after very little sleep, I met many of the team of coaches I helped to organise for the WP_20150331_008very first time.  A great selection of ex-players, some international and all with a good sense of humour.  For me, the day was no less busy and again I had walked more than a half marathon by the time the day was out.  In the evening I was exhausted but I felt it was important to socialise with these guys I had been conversing with for several weeks and so I popped into Disney village and had a couple of beers with them…..and one or two tequila’s, courtesy of Alix Popham’s influence!  Despite the 3 hours sleep before Wednesday’s work, it was all great fun and thoroughly enjoyable to meet some real characters!

WP_20150401_004Wednesday was a slightly slower paced day, running the finals and clearing away before finally sharing a beer with the clubmen of Meaux who had worked tirelessly to support us all week, and a phenomenal bunch of Welshmen who had been refereeing the games and providing some great banter at the pitches.  At the presentation event, I arrived too late to meet Jamie Roberts, but Luke Charteris was still on hand, and had brought the signed Racing Metro jersey we are offering as a prize in the #StayStrongForOws prize draw.  Much appreciated, and he even posed for a photo to help publicise the draw which will hopefully raise a good amount for Owen and his family.

WP_20150402_001As we returned on Thursday, I ruminated on the fact that training had not gone to plan at all this week, but despite not formally running to schedule, I had certainly kept my legs moving, and much of my work had been in interval sprints.  Indeed, my whole body was exhausted and I knew the light run I had planned that evening would not happen either, after a long drive in heavy traffic, and a need to try to recover as quickly as possible, not just from the lack of sleep, but also from the poorer diet!  In fact, since I’ve been home, I’ve been pretty much treating windburn, eating (healthily!) and sleeping….a lot!!!  This morning (Saturday) I returned to the training plan with a 35 min run and certainly I felt the tiredness in my legs, but the split times were pretty much OK and it felt good to get moving properly again.  Overall, I hope no fitness has been lost and if I recover well and sleep/eat sensibly this week, then all should be fine by the time we travel back to Paris in less than a week!

Positively though, this week has brought the arrival of two new pairs of trainers!  Before I left for Paris it was apparent that the previous pair I bought less than two months ago, and run about 380 miles in, had had enough!  The inner lining on the heel was worn through, and the soles sloped and were providing far less cushioning.  I took the decision to buy new ones in time to wear for a week before Paris that would give me the best support for the race itself.  It is hard enough to run 26.2 miles without suffering from using old kit, so this seemed like a good investment, and by Thursday they had arrived, in time for my run today, and the four (yes, only four!) I have left before the big off.

Just one week to go then, and I can feel already that sat in my hotel room next Saturday evening I will be pretty nervous.  Until then, I’ll try to take my mind off things…..chocolate anyone?