Published: May 1st 2011April 10th 2011
20 miles in and starting to feel it!
This is where this started to get tougher!
Not naming any names (Mandi) but a conversation with a friend back in September or October time last year suggested how good it would be to run the Paris marathon. Although I've never had a running bone in my body and always thought the idea of running just for running's sake sounded incredibly boring, I tried a few runs in my lunch hour with a few of my colleagues and it turned out I actually quite liked it. Fancying a challenge, and the satisfaction of applying myself to such a big undertaking and (hopefully!!) succeeding, I duly signed up. Unfortunately around this time the friend who will remain nameless figured that 26.2 miles is kind of a long way and decided that signing up for a marathon wasn't for her!
I started training in October, but there were quite long breaks for holidays interspersed throughout. Vietnam, Christmas and then the snowboarding season all got well and truly in the way! In fact, the week before the marathon I was away in Les Arcs on a boozy snowboarding trip (see previous blog!) with the guys, and although I had abstained from alcohol before and after the trip I'm not sure it
was the best of training - Paula Radcliffe certainly doesn't do it that way!!
My training had gone reasonably well, some runs I felt very strong, others running for 26 miles seemed an impossibility. I'd completed the Reading half-marathon a month previously in 1 hour 53 and really enjoyed the extra spurt that the crowd and the occasion give you. However, my main problem had been getting the really long runs into my legs, as I often found that I went off too quickly and so started to struggle after 15 miles or so. In fact the longest run I'd been able to achieve was 17 miles when I had been desperately trying to get up to 20 miles in a training run as finding an extra 9 miles beyond my furthest distance sounded like a very tall order.
My parents and sister had joined me out in Paris, and Steve and Mandi were attending a friend's wedding that had coincidently been scheduled the same weekend so I was hoping to meet with them at the finish line. After spending the day before the race carbo loading, race day was suddenly upon me and I was joining a
host of other runners on the metro across to the start line on the Champs Elyssess. The day was clear with no chance of rain, but temperatures were expected to soar later on which didn't bode brilliantly!
When my training regime started I had been aiming for a time of 4 hours or less, and thought I would be disappointed if I didn't achieve this. However, as my training progressing it began to fully dawn on me just how tough it would be to maintain the 6 2/3 miles an hour or so that would be required to dip below the magical 4 hour mark. Lining up for the race, 4 hours was still an aspirational target, but I knew it was more important to run within myself for the first half of the race to avoid breaking down well before the finish like I had done in my training.
After the magical starting mile as you and 38,000 others run down the Champs Elyssess towards the Places de Concordes it became apparent that the 4 hour pacemaker was going at a rate that was ever so slightly outside of my comfort zone and he began to edge
away bit by bit. Fortunately, I ran my own race and kept my pace, although I knew after about the first hour that the 4 hour mark was just out of reach.
My parents and sister had agreed 4 or 5 strategic meeting points around the route where I would hopefully meet them. They were fully equipped with a Swiss flag mounted on a long stick so that I could identify them in the crowd and track them down. It worked beautifully at Bastille where I first saw them, and each time I met them it was always such a boost and I think it was an important part of keeping me going strongly.
I made it to the half marathon point in 2 hours 3 minutes and was still feeling strong. From here the race ran along the north bank of the Seine, fully exposed to the strengthening Sun. Also I found that because there were so many bridges over the Seine, the embankment we were running along dipped to go below them and then inevitably rose to climb up the other side. After doing this 4 or 5 times I could start to feel it was
Relaxing after the race.
The Monday after the race Mandi, Sara and I wandered around Paris.
taking a slight toll, and when I met my family after 20 miles although my sister thought I was looking fresh I knew that my body was getting close to the point where it would start to struggle.
The breaking point finally came after 22 miles. It was a strange sensation as I wasn't at all out of breath, my legs just refused to keep propelling me forwards and ordered me to stop. For the next 3 miles it was a desperately torrid battle to try and keep running, there were several stops to walk for a period before finally being able to keep going. At this point any thought at all about the time had completely gone out the window in the searing hearing (apparently the hottest April 10th on record in Paris with temperatures over 26 C!) and I just wanted to get to the finish line so that I could stop running!!
I eventually dragged myself to the 25 mile mark, and at this point the willpower overcame my body's shouts of protest and I was able to run unbroken to the finish line – even picking up the pace in the last 500 metres
or so, so that when I passed my family and Mandi and Steve I almost looked like I was going at quite a good pace!
The official time was 4 hours 21 minutes 37 seconds and I had done it! There was no need for a foil blanket in these temperatures and I met with my family, Steve and Mandi to sunbathe in a small park off the side of Av. Foch drinking ice cold beer that was the best I've ever tasted!
Looking back on the event, it was such an incredible experience and one I'm really pleased to have undertaken – although I certainly wasn't thinking that round about mile 22. To push your body to run for that distance and for that length of time is an incredible challenge and I have the utmost respect for anyone who has ever completed a marathon – regardless of the time. How the professionals complete it in just over 2 hours is absolutely beyond me!
I don't think this marathon will be the first of many, but it was a really great experience and I'd love to complete the London marathon and that elusive 4 hour barrier
is still a compelling challenge!!