How to sum up the Paris Marathon 2013 in a short paragraph?!
Springtime in Paris is beautiful, even though the early mornings were freezing. The hotel was great, and the breakfasts were brilliant! Every runner there was so friendly and there were no communication barriers as everyone tried out variations of every language. The support from the organisers and the crowds was uplifting. The route was awesome, taking in so many of the well-known sights and the live music along each bit of the route kept the pace going with enthusiasm. Try this amazing city and marathon experience – three days post marathon and I want to go back.
And so to the details. 2013 is my year for big things – I turned 50 in March and decided that I was going to do the London Moonwalk, Paris and New York marathons to bring my total to 10 full marathons for WTW and with a fundraising target of £2,000 overall for the three events.
I knew that Paris would be the biggest challenge due to the very fast finish time of 5 hours 40. Training went well, although I found it really hard as I was training on my own for the first time, and to get out with all the bad winter weather was very challenging. I was finding it difficult to get to the time I needed in training and I soon realised that this was a bigger challenge than I had at first thought. My long training walk of 23 miles was done in a snow and ice storm which lasted for the first two hours. In addition, I was carrying a ligament injury and the weekend before the race I went down with one of those heavy colds, which left me coughing my guts up every time I exercised or had a change of atmosphere.
Still I set off to Paris, with my partner, my WTW flags and banners and my bra, which was decorated as two Can-Can dancers. Abi at WTW had been fantastic with keeping in touch and so I felt that the office was supporting me even though I also felt very much on my own.
The Running Expo was well organised and all the necessary documentation was sorted quickly. The email system beforehand from the organisers was also very good and they were efficient at sorting problems out for me. E.g. my date of birth had been incorrectly sent and on the system I was only 25 (if only!!) but it was easy to sort out, so the final part of picking up my bib took all of 5 minutes.
There was an international 5km run on the Saturday, but I took the decision not to take part to give my cough a rest. Instead I took a photo opportunity in my bra with a large pink plastic Eiffel Tower that was in the hotel lobby, until the staff asked me to get dressed!! I think if there had been a team of us there, the atmosphere would have been a little easier! Anyway, the sights of Paris beckoned and we met up with some French friends, walked the streets, covered more than 10 miles and finally got to bed at midnight!
Up at 5.30 for breakfast, which the hotel then decided not to serve until 6.30. Not the best of starts. The day was clear, with blue skies and temperatures of 1C at 8am. This later rose to around 10C and I was a little pink across my shoulders at the end. (Note to self, use sun cream). We set off for L’Arc de Triomphe and found the place buzzing. Loads of different languages were being spoken and everyone was really wrapped up warmly in layers.
Queues for the loos were long, but that’s where the chatting to others started. I was in the last “pen” of runners, which was also the “pink pen” and we could hear the race start at 8.45. There was a lot of nervous tension. I had decided by now that I just wanted to finish, regardless of the time, and if the race was closed at 5 hours 40, then I would still cross the line and know I had done the distance. 50,000 runners – a lot of people, and it took just under an hour to get to the starting line. Other runners were amazed when I stripped off to my bra (with my WTW plastic cover over the top) and they all started clapping me! The start was all very well controlled, no pushing or squashing. Just very calm, and then it was off – over the line and the electronic strip on my bib started the clock!
The route went along the Champs Elysee, rue de Rivoli, La Bastille, Bois to Vincennes, all the way back along the right bank of the Seine, past Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and through the Bois de Boulogne to the finish at Avenue Foch. My fabulous team of supporters were waving the banners and flags along the route and I managed to see them at 4 different locations.
The race was such good fun and well natured. Other runners kept coming up to me and taking photos with their phones, or running in front of me and taking photos. I had taken the plastic cover off after the first kilometre as I had warmed up really quickly. Spectators would cheer and shout when they saw the bra, and I even had a film crew running alongside me at one point. The bra was the thing! And it felt good!
My biggest mantra when walking a marathon is to smile as much as possible and this helped. This wasn’t an easy race, in fact it was the hardest I have ever done. This was mainly because I was on my own and I wasn’t able to talk about aches and pains or comment on the route or have the supportive interaction that you normally have with walking partners. Things didn’t go so well between miles 19 and 22. I had to queue to get fruit and then the oranges made me feel sick due to the acidity and there were no bananas left. The road was really sticky at Powerade stations and slippy with orange peel being discarded by runners. The cobbled bits of the road hurt my feet. All things which had been fine earlier, but really got to me at this point. I had to dig deeper than ever before to find the mental strength to keep going.
And then at mile 22, the fog lifted and I found it all coming together again. It wasn’t easy as I was sore by now but a renewed energy came from somewhere. Part of it came from realising that I was now passing runners and I was walking at a good pace. At 41KM, the Beaujolais station approached and I was accosted by an elderly French man offering me a glass of wine – yes, it actually does happen – and so we skipped arm in arm for 50m while I drank it, he kissed me on both cheeks and then I left with the end in sight (well round the corner somewhere, but with the wine inside me, I didn’t care!)
And then the end was actually in sight. I saw my pink flags at the side of the road and went over to my fantastic supporters and collected some of them. I crossed the line with WTW flags held high, a smile on my face and in a time of 5 hours 38 minutes and 1 second. An official finish. And then the tears came.
The Paris marathon is an emotional event; it is an emotional city. And to be part of WTW is emotional. And the emotions are those of happiness, fear, hope, despair, pain, respect, elation and the love of life, amongst others.
Go to Paris, do this event. Even if your time is slower, you will get a medal. You may not get an “official race time” but if you cross the line you know you have done it – the Paris marathon!
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