We’re writing this blog post from the Eurostar whilst eating our final pan au chocolat and wondering when on earth we’ll be able to run again (our legs, as expected, are rather stiff!)
We’re both proud medal bearers from the Paris Marathon- here’s how we got on:
For the weeks leading up to the marathon I was feeling rather apprehensive. Training had gone well, and having got a few PBs along the way things were looking on target for my sub- 4 hour marathon. Unfortunately, my legs weren’t feeling that way. Although my previous back pain issue seemed to be under control, my left knee was hurting and my legs felt heavy. I knew it was more than just maranoia, so I rested up for race day, feeling slightly dubious about what the outcome would be.
We arrived in Paris on Friday, accompanied by our parents, and met our running buddies Lizzy and Richard, along with their families, when we got there. We headed for the expo straight away to collect our numbers and to avoid the crowds. This meant that we could enjoy a day in Paris before the marathon, carb-loading, sight-seeing and trying not to exhaust our legs too much. Cri and I went to the Wallace and Gromit exhibition (much recommended!) whilst Bex and our parents went to the more cultural Louis Vuitton Foundation to see a new art exhibition.
On Saturday night we went to a local Italian to ingest our final carbs before heading to bed for an early night. The race started early (and even earlier for the speedier runners in our group), so we left the hotel around 7.30am and jumped onto the metro to the start.
The before photo:
It took us about 30 minutes to get there and when we arrived at the Champs Elysees we were greeted by a sea of runners and their families. There was a great atmosphere but a severe shortage of any Paris Marathon staff or signs, which was rather frustrating. We had no idea where the bag drop off was, so walked around aimlessly for a while, until someone kindly sent us in the right direction. En route we queued for the portaloos (for about half an hour- argh!) and then started the long long walk to the bag drop. It must have been at least 15 minutes, and even though we’d arrived in plenty of time, missing the start was a serious possibility. We arrived in our pen with just a few minutes to spare – phew!
Once we were in the pen we were very excited – music was blaring and there was that pre- marathon buzz that no other event can mimic. It was great to have the girls there with me for moral support, and after a few selfies and a count down in French, we were off!
We all separated pretty quickly- we had different pacing strategies so hadn’t planned to run together, and before I knew it I was running on my own.
Almost immediately I knew this was not going to be a sub- 4 hour marathon. Everything felt heavy and stiff, and although I tried to convince myself I just needed to warm up, I knew this was a bad sign. The first half of the race was actually a bit of a blur. Instead of enjoying it I was concentrating on the fact that I wasn’t running as well as I hoped I would be, and wondering how on earth I would finish. I was constantly looking at my Garmin, which was not showing the numbers I wanted, and was feeling rather despondent. By 6 miles I felt like I’d run 20. My back and knee were both hurting and it just felt like such an effort when at this stage in the race it should have felt easy. If this was a run at home, I would definitely have called it a day.
But it wasn’t a normal run, it was the Paris Marathon, so I kept on plodding hoping it would get easier. It was great to see my parents en route- it’s always so nice to have something to aim for during the race, and looking out for them kept my mind active, and the adrenaline and excitement of seeing them kept me going for another few miles afterwards. By the time I saw them at mile 14 I was feeling a little better- I was over half way and still running, so finishing it was looking more realistic.
I was now running along the Seine, and that’s when it hit me that I was really running the Paris Marathon- it was a beautiful sunny day and the views were just amazing!
We soon entered the first tunnel at mile 16. This was actually pretty cool- DJs and strobe lighting made what could have been a rather boring stretch of the route really fun and different.
At this point, my Garmin said “lost satellite,” and that’s when I had a marathon running epiphany and decided to take off my watch. Looking at numbers that I didn’t like every 5 seconds was completely ruining my enjoyment of the race, and looking at it certainly wasn’t making me any faster, so I shoved it in my bum bag and carried on with the decision to just enjoy the race and do my best.
Taking the watch off was the best thing I could have possibly done. I felt like a massive weight had been taken off my shoulders and I when I exited the tunnel into the glorious sunshine, to cheers of “Allez Jessica,” I couldn’t stop smiling, and suddenly realised that this is what marathon running is all about. I was soon running past the Eiffel tower, which was just incredible, and I realised I was finally, genuinely, enjoying myself.
I’m not sure if it was my new positive attitude or just coincidence, but as the race continued my back and knee pain eased off a little. I was soon in the second park and although it lacked the atmosphere of running along the river, it was actually quite relaxing, and before I knew it I was in the dreaded final 6 territory.
Surprisingly, those last 6 miles were my most comfortable to date. Usually I find them an excruciating torture, but perhaps because I’d set off quite slowly, or because of my new fuelling strategy, they weren’t too bad. From mile 20-24 I felt fine, and was maintaining a good pace, even overtaking quite a few people. However, in the last few miles I got lazy. I knew that if I pushed it I could get a PB, but I think i’d lost my competitive edge, and just couldn’t be bothered. I wanted to walk a bit, even though I knew it was costing me time, and I wasn’t even in that much pain. But, walking is what I decided to do, on and off, until I crossed the finish in 4.07- exactly the same as my last marathon!!!
With hindsight, it was probably a bit silly to give up near the end, but really, what does a few minutes matter? It was my favourite marathon to date, I only wish I’d taken my Garmin off sooner.
After eating about 300 orange segments, collecting my T-shirt and medal, I stumbled across Cristiano who was waiting for me. He’d completed the marathon in 3.20- what a hero!
We waited for Bex and Lizzy to cross the finish line and after a detailed, and slightly delirious post- marathon debrief, we headed back to the hotel to get showered and start the celebrations!
So, Paris Marathon, were you worth the effort?
Well, Paris Marathon, where do I start? I’ll begin by saying that I absolutely loved it and that it was the most enjoyable and scenic marathon I’ve run. I’m so pleased that I made the last-minute decision to give it a go, and still can’t quite believe that I managed to run the entire route unscathed. The experience was far better than I could’ve imagined and I can now safely say that running marathons for the experience of taking part is so much more enjoyable than doing it for a time. Without the pressures and expectations brought on by PB hunting, it’s a completely different experience and one that really lets you soak in the event. If I ever do a marathon again, then I’ll be entering with the same attitude. I finished in 4.33, 40 minutes slower than my PB, but I finished smiling and on a complete high, which can’t necessarily be said for my previous efforts. I’ve also been struck by how powerful the mind can be: I was not in a fit state to be running but my mental grit and positive attitude really did drag me across the finish line.
At the start line the atmosphere was incredible. We were probably the most excited ones there, grinning like goons and dancing along to the music that was pumping out of the speakers. Starting with Jess and Lizzy definitely gave me a confidence boost and made the start quite special. My initial aim was to make it to the 14 mile mark where I knew my parents would be, and then pull out if my knee was hurting too much or if I’d hit my ‘wall’. Once we started running I was almost immediately separated from the others, who set off more speedily than I did, but in some ways I felt relieved that I wouldn’t be holding them back, as I knew they had trained so much harder than I had. The first 3 miles whizzed by in a flurry and I quickly saw my support gang for the first time, which gave me a massive boost. I then set myself the challenge to get to the 14 mile mark, where I would see them again. It was after about 10km, when I hadn’t had a hint of pain from my knee, that I started to think I might just make it after all. I was a quarter of the way, so I just had to do that 3 more times… easy!
By the time I reached half way I was almost in tears, this time not from exhaustion but from the knowledge that I knew I could cross the finish line if I just kept on plodding. For the first time, I was actually enjoying running a marathon and it was so refreshing to be able to take in the atmosphere and the sights without endlessly staring at my Garmin. Miles 13-16 were probably my favourite as we were running along the Seine and the crowd support was incredible. I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower surrounded by bright blue skies and thinking, ‘THIS IS AMAZING!;
Bananas and oranges en route made were hugely appreciated seeing as I had come with no fuelling plan (or any plan, in fact) and the Nakd bars I had packed promptly fell out of my pouch as soon as I opened it. I chomped on the fruit whenever it was on offer, and hoped they would give me the energy I needed to get through.
I continued to feel pretty good up until about mile 22 when the fatigue began to kick in. I was low on energy, my legs were very tired and achy and there was a noticeable lack of supporters in the park. However, I knew the end was only 4 miles away and that I would get there more quickly running than I would if I gave into walking. I promised myself that I wouldn’t walk as I knew that once I did, my willpower would immediately diminish and that the last few miles would be even more difficult. The miles seemed to go on forever, quite literally, so when I finally reached the 41km sign I had lost perspective of how long a kilometre was and didn’t realise how close I was to the end. The finish line quickly came into sight and I was completely overwhelmed when I crossed it. I couldn’t believe that I had actually done it and that my body had been able to carry me for 26.2 miles. I found Jess, Cri and Lizzy who had all done amazingly, and we had a euphoric post-race debrief before slowly making our way back to the hotel.
So Paris…The crowds were immense, the route was absolutely stunning and the atmosphere electric. I’ve heard bad things about Paris Marathon but apart from the lack of loos at the start (about 10 for 50,000 runners?!), I thought it was amazing.
The after photo:
We celebrated by drinking champagne (obviously) and dining at Bouillon- Chartier, a 100 year old Parisian Bistro. The perfect end to our running adventures in France!
Thank you so much for all of your support and lovely comments, both on the blog and on social media, it really means a lot!
JESS & BEX