I'm back. We got in on Friday and then I was in DC for a family Easter.
Here's a recap of Paris. These next few days may be a little crazy; hopefully I'll get back a regular blogging routine.
Our week in Paris was awesome.
Combining vacationing and marathoning is something I highly recommend.
Activities like climbing up Montmartre to Sacre Coeur and taking long evening walks in the City of Lights provide an excellent post marathon recovery regimen, and place the marathon into a larger gallery of experiences and memories.
However, just like traveling abroad requires adapting to some adversity, likewise be flexible when running marathons abroad. In hindsight, I might have added some 1 a.m. workouts to my training regimen to prepare for the jet lag that hit me harder than I thought. Italian restaurants are not what most people look for when dining out in Paris. And then there is this business about kilometer splits.
You’ll also realize that American marathons pamper runners way too much. In Paris there was one porta-potty per corral, probably a ratio of about 1:1000. I was staying in an apartment right off the Champs-Elysees about 500 meters from the start and I ran back there to do my pre-race business. At refreshment stops you get bottles of water that you unscrew yourself, half bananas that you peel on the go, and orange wedges. Watch your step if you are in the back of the pack, and don’t be looking for that Clif-Shot stop at mile 18.
The runners also seemed to take themselves less seriously, with a good number of runners in costume or carrying banners. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Paris Marathon, organizers distributed floppy yellow Gilligan’s Island type hats, which many runners actually wore. My goal was to beat anyone with a floppy hat on, but I don’t think I was successful.
This costume bit was a problem at the start. Although I was supposed to have a “preferred start” and had to jump through all kinds of hoops to prove myself eligible for it, guys (less than 20% of the runners were women) in all shapes and sizes and various costumes managed to start before me. So the start has me running downhill on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees, around the Place de Concorde, down the Rue de Rivoli past the Tuileries and the Louvre in conditions that are really claustrophobic - passing guys dressed as waiters (holding up trays with wine bottles and glasses) and the like, and also negotiating around regular “islands” of spectators who inexplicably plant themselves right in the middle of the street.
This chaos is probably a blessing in disguise as it forces me to start slow. First 5k goes by in 19:12. I’m at the Place de Bastille and finally getting elbow room. I take the traffic circle here and almost run right into the water stop located right on the tangent. Note to self: be prepared for anything.
The shape of the course is basically a long flat oval, going through the center part of the city for the first 10k (next 5k go by in 18:37) and then turns around in the Bois de Vincennes, a big park on the east side of the city. Here you get woods and some solitude (and a chance to recover if you missed the porta potties) and some gentle inclines. The third 5k chunk went by in 19:22, the fourth in 18:53, and then it was through some East Parisian neighborhoods and up to the half mark (21.1 in km’s). On leaving the woods the crowds pick up a bit and at the half point they funnel the runners so that you are forced to go through a big inflatable arch single file.
Halfway split was 1:20:23, meaning I’d have to negative split the second half of the marathon to beat my goal time of 2:40. I get cheered on by Joan A., who runs with the PAC club, who is the sole person besides my family I know who is anywhere near this race. By this point my head is starting to feel out of sync with my body, akin to the beginnings of an out-of-body experience, that is likely from jet lag. The course now goes west along the Seine and I mark off the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre (again) and various bridges, as well as a series of tunnels that we go through that feel like rolling hills in and out of darkness.
At this point I’m still passing folks on a regular basis and for awhile play tag with two other guys who are doing the same thing. For some reason, in addition to putting bib-numbers on the front of their singlets, many runners also put a bib with their names on their back. I’m not sure why they do this, other than so I can curse by name the stream of runners who abruptly cutting in front of me throughout the race. Must be a French thing. Nevertheless, the next 5k goes by in 19:03 and the 5k after that in 18:58. I’m now at 30k and across from the Eiffel Tower. Cindy and Tony are here to cheer me on, as are a bunch of “amis de parque” who are dressed as squirrels and acorns and trees. My head is feeling really heavy and my neck is starting to hurt from supporting it (yes, I know this is weird), but I’m starting to entertain thoughts of 2:40 again.
I eat my second GU (I was smart and packed my own) and take my only water of the race. I did just as I watched the others do: unscrew the cap, pour out some of the water, and then drink. But I’m not practiced at it and my stomach doesn’t receive it well so I give it up. Somewhere around here mile 20 hits and I know there won’t be a big kick happening today. We are now in the Bois de Boulogne, the big park on the west side of town at the other end of the oval. I find people to hang onto, but get that feeling where I know I’m slowing but there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Next 5k confirms this as I hit 19:21. Now comes the disadvantage of counting kilometers; I have no clue as to what my finishing time will be.
Just run, the time will take care of itself.
All marathons, regardless of place or culture, are hard at this point. The park seems endless. Kilometers are supposed to be shorter than miles, but there are also more of them. The 40k mark finally comes up and I see the last 5k went by in 19:39. My legs ache, I just can’t get my head placed to where it sits comfortable on my neck, and, as we hit the Avenue Foch for the last 2k and a little bit, I’m done. Interestingly, the French cheers (and the crowd support was solid except for the wooded areas) almost exclusively consist of two words: “allez” (go) and “courage.” At this point in the race, I take the latter to heart.
I’m a bit disappointed to see the finish line clock turn over to 2:42 in the distance, but I know I have a shot to go sub-2:42 with my chip time. One last burst up a small incline and I cross the finish in 2:41:52 – a PR by about 20 seconds.
I’ll take it. A PR is a PR, and I now inch down to become a 2:41 marathoner. I look back and can’t think of anything different I would have done differently in the race – all went steady until the last 10k, and the difference was in just not having that final kick. Whether that was due to gaps in training or to jet lag or to biorhythms I’ll never know. Gives me something to focus on for next time.
Did I say this marathon doesn’t pamper you?! The end was very businesslike – give us back the chip, here is your medal. No congratulations or other praise is put forth, and for my part I just keep walking. I look to get a massage and see, too late, that the massage tent is also the first aid tent and the folks who are popping blisters are also those who are rubbing down legs. It feels like a M*A*S*H tent in there and I just keep walking, looking straight ahead and thinking of a happy place. I meet up with Cindy and Tony and that they are the only ones I have to debrief with; I have met no one else who speaks anything but French.
We walk back to the apartment we are staying at, past the L’Arc de Triomphe and up the Champs-Elysees where the start was. All traces of the start are gone and it is a busy Sunday morning down Paris’ storied thoroughfare. This leaves my memories, which will mix in with the sights I see for the rest of the week as many portions of the marathon course become woven into a rigorous week of sightseeing and an unforgettable trip.