Regular readers may be vaguely aware (I think I might have alluded to it once or twice?!) that on Sunday I was set to run in the Paris marathon.
After months of training, lots of new kit (all totally necessary of course), a number of practice races, miles of long Sunday runs (and post-run Sunday afternoon snoozes) and a series of physio sessions, I headed to Paris on Friday, fit, healthy and injury free.
I was there with a group of four friends and our respective families; five runners among over 40,000. With me were my running buddies and marathon veterans the Twins in Trainers, Jess and Bex, Jess’s husband Cri and R.
R and I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday and, after dropping our things off at the hotel, headed straight to the Expo at Porte de Versailles to collect our numbers. We were cutting it quite fine, getting to the Expo not long before it closed, however we managed to make it, just about. Arriving in the exhibition hall with all of the entrants’ names written up on the wall was so exciting; being at the Expo I really started to feel part of something great and it was amazing to see so many like-minded people, all of whom had been through the same months of training to be here that I had.
We collected our race packs and even had time for a brief wander around the stands, (which made me want to buy a whole host of running goodies), before it was time to leave.
We had supper nearby, at a little restaurant just a few minutes stroll away. We were ushered in by a rather insistent but harassed waiter and sat at a table at the back of the restaurant, where we were totally ignored for a good fifteen minutes. When the food arrived it was delivered with brusque irritation and a nonchalant Gallic shrug. It was the sort of service that you kind of want in Paris – a style that would send you running elsewhere, but in France it sort of seems part of a more authentic experience, besides, the food was good and hearty.
On Saturday we spent the morning wandering around Montmartre and enjoyed a trip to the Sacre-Coeur.
After a delicious lunch of dates, avo, orange and a mixed leaf salad, we practiced the route to the start of the race, at the Arc de Triomphe, making sure we knew our way and how long it would take. We had a quick nap before supper, which we had at a nearby Italian restaurant, so that we could all stock up on carbs.
I rose early on race day (around 5:30am), had a breakfast of oats and a banana and got ready to go. We all met in the hotel reception at 7:15 am to head to the start together.
It was a glorious day, all sunshine and blue skies, but holding in it the potential to get very hot. There was a pleasant chill to the morning air however, and I think everyone was holding out hope that it would linger for a few more hours at least.
Our pre-race preparation wasn’t quite as thorough as it might have been as on arrival it wasn’t immediately apparent where the bag drop was and there was no one around to direct us. After a slight panic we eventually got some directions from another runner, sending us off a good few kilometres away from the starting pens. We made a toilet stop en route and, as is always the case at such events, were stuck in a queue for an age meaning that we arrived at the pen, having fought our way through masses of people, only just in time for the start.
It was so nice being in the pen with Jess and Bex and while we only ran together for a short distance it was so uplifting to have people to share the exciting starting experience with.
The first few miles evaporated under my feet; I could hardly believe it when I reached the 5km mark, where my parents were watching and cheering. I was feeling strong and happy and riding on the back of all of the support and cheers from the sidelines. Plus I was in Paris! In Paris and running a marathon!
I hit the half marathon point in about 2 hours 2 minutes and continued to feel pretty strong to mile 17. I wavered a bit from 17 to 18 however. It was getting really hot and as the route headed into a tunnel the air became so close and humid. Not long after the last bridge, just before the Eiffel Tower, I had a gel and some water, letting myself walk as I sipped it, and made a loo stop, before starting up again. I pushed on to 22, letting my pace drop, but crossing the 20 mile wall with the kind of euphoria you can’t imagine – I knew at this point this was the furthest I’d ever run!
I tried to convince myself to mentally reset from mile 20, telling myself that I was just running a 10k, no big deal right? Or not. My body just wasn’t going to be fooled. 22 to 24 felt long but manageable. This part of the route was through a park on the west side of Paris and it was so pretty I alternated between distracting myself with the scenery and just keeping my head down and plodding on, but I swear the distance from 24 to 26 was longer than two miles! In my head I knew it was no distance at all. Two miles, pah! I wouldn’t even have counted that as a training run at home, but now it was the longest two miles of my life. I could feel my form falling apart from 24 to 25 and let myself walk a few steps as I saw my fellow runners do the same around me. But I was adamant that I would run the final mile and hearing my name cheered from the sideline spurred me on.
As I crossed the 26 mile mark I almost cried with happiness and as the finish line drew closer I was totally euphoric.
You see, what I’ve never admitted here is that I’ve never been totally sure that I could run a marathon. While other people have professed faith in me, this is something that I’ve never really believed myself. Until now. While I love running, on Sunday I proved to myself that I am actually a runner.
And as soon as I crossed the finish line I knew it was something I wanted to do again.
When I started training the girls told me I’d become addicted to marathon running and I never believed them, but I was wrong.
I loved the whole experience, the event, the training, everything. I know it’s a cliché to say it’s about the journey, so I’ll try to resist, but it certainly wasn’t all about the one race. I learned how to run 9 miles comfortably, then 12, then 15, then 18, then 20, something I never thought I’d be able to do. The longer races I’ve done, (and my new 20 mile PB at 3 hours 4 minutes), would have seemed impossible only five months ago. And while the long Sunday runs have dictated my weekends for some time, they have also given them purpose and a sense of achievement.
I walked in a dazed state from the finish line to collect a medal and t shirt and picked up some banana and an apple that was on offer. I met up with Jess and Cri by some miracle, especially given the number of people around, and Bex also found the three of us.
We headed back to the hotel to shower and spent the evening sipping champagne and red wine, eating plenty and discussing how our various races had gone at an old Parisienne bistro in Montmartre.
It was a perfect conclusion to an amazing day.