On Sunday the 3rd of April I took part in my first marathon abroad: the Marathon de Paris 2016. I’d signed up ages ago; a lot of running
friends had entered and I thought it would be a great way to see Paris and do some sightseeing! And with Cardiff Half Marathon the weekend before and London Marathon three weeks later (both of which are A races for me!), I’d already decided that I was going to take Paris steady and use it as a last long run before a decent taper.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing decent mileage including track, the odd tempo run with James Poole (Advent Running) and long weekend runs with my girlfriend Lorna and friends (River Runners, if you want to get involved have a look on their Twitter, Instagram and/or Facebook page).
A few months ago Lorna asked if I would run the marathon with her and having done a lot of the long runs together we both thought it would be more fun to experience it together! Her mum coined me the “donkey” as I’d said I’d carry water, gels, buffs and the GoPro for her in my Salomon bag! I think she was joking!
Lorna’s training had been going well; completing both the Essex 20 and Colchester Half Marathon in PB times so we set an aim of 3:20 which would be a 6-minute PB!
As race day dawned, I started to get more excited; I knew the atmosphere would be great as it’s the biggest road marathon in Europe with over 40,000 runners taking part. I was also excited for my friends Mark, Emily and Toni as Paris would be their first marathon! Jonny, Alan, Dean and Michalis had also been training hard and had set goal times.
We arrived into Paris Saturday lunchtime; we dropped our bags at the hotel (which had an epic view of the Eiffel Tower) and headed for the running expo to pick up our numbers etc. The expo was massive, the organisation was really good, we picked up our numbers and pacing bands and bought souvenir tees with no problems. Whilst walking around the expo we bumped into a few of the other Nike run club runners; Kyrstie, Dan and Ryan who were also there to take on the Marathon.
After the expo we headed to the Arc de Triomphe, which would be the start and end point the following day!
We wanted to check how long the walk from the hotel to there would take us in the morning but got slightly side tracked taking selfies! After a quick ten minute walk back to the hotel we went to the restaurant downstairs to carb-load on chicken and chips (& a cheeky pint!). We laid out our kit, stuffed the Salomon bag with our gels and all the other marathon necessities and then got an early night.
We woke up early, around 6.30am, had a quick shower, ate breakfast (wheetabix!) and then headed to meet the rest of the crew in the lobby & find Lorna a coffee! Everyone was feeling differently about the challenge ahead; some were quiet, getting in the race zone and others were running around going crazy after a coffee (Emily! Ha).
Coffee found, we headed to the bag drop in what we thought was plenty of time, however because of the attacks last year, security had been ramped up meaning huge queues to drop bags! Lorna, Jonny, Alan & myself were starting in the earlier (Paris marathon is a staggered start) so we had to run to the start to get to our pens in time! Just what you need; a couple of extra kilometres before a marathon! Luckily when I signed up I’d put a finishing time of sub 3:15, so we were let in the pen ahead of Lorna’s (3.30). Most of the runners in this pen had already started so we were basically in a pen on our own! We took a few more selfies, caught our breath and stripped off our extra layers whilst waiting for the 3.30 runners to come forward.
It wasn’t long before we were on our way! Knowing that 4:44min/km would mean a 3:20 marathon we started at this pace. The conditions were good to start with as it was still cool at 9 o’clock, however with the sun blazing down we knew it was going to get a lot hotter.
A few hundred metres into the race I turned around to look back and take in the shear volume of runners coming down the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe when we heard someone shout “Steve!!!” It was Michael Koball who I’d met whilst working at the London Marathon Store last year; he also races a lot and I’d been following his training on Instagram. Lorna just started laughing “we come all the way to Paris and you still bump into runners you know!” It is funny when you see a familiar face in a race; especially when you’re abroad; running is a small world/community!
Lorna and I were ticking off the miles comfortably; we’d had our first gel at 5/6 miles and were taking in a good amount of water, the bottles on my race vest meant we didn’t have to wait for water stations which was great with the weather being so hot. We knew our cheer crew would be somewhere near Bastile, around the 6 mile point so it wasn’t long before we saw Freya, Emily (Deans girlfriend) and Korina (Michalis wife) with the #BartPack/British/KenYan flag. There’s a story behind this flag but I’m not going to go into that now! It was great to see them and gave us both a life. We knew the next time we’d see them would be just after the half way point so this gave us another goal to focus on.
We went through half way in 1:40ish, Lorna was feeling good, holding pace at 4:44min/km. I was keeping her entertained by trying to capture all the sights with the GoPro, handing her water, gels etc (I may have taken a couple selfies too!) and the next few miles flew by. We were soon coming back past our cheer crew and heading out on to the long straight along the River Seine towards the Eiffel tower. After 14 miles or so Lorna could feel a slight niggle in her right leg, we continued at our goal pace and thankfully it subsided after a couple of miles.
Running along the river from miles 14 to 19 was beautiful but hot; the sun was now on our backs and the temperature had hit over 20! There were also a lot of slopes as we went up, under and other various bridges and tunnels. We ran past the Eiffel Tower around mile 18 and I couldn’t resist another selfie and GoPro video; it was the first time I’d ever seen it and gave us both a boost! We got to the 20 mile marker on pace but Lorna knew she couldn’t hold it any longer; it was just too hot so we started to slow to 4:50 – 5:00min/km pace. Surrounding runners seemed to be struggling more than us as we were still passing a lot of people. This was good but at the same time it meant we had to weave and stray from the green racing line a fair bit.
Going into the last 5k we knew it would be a tough slog; Lorna had run it previously in 2013 and warned me about the ‘park of doom’; the beautiful sites and cheering crowds were gone and we were left with a very quiet and run down park! Not the most motivational surroundings to get us through!
With a mile or two to go we knew we weren’t going to run sub 3:20 but with Lorna’s PB standing at 3:26 we made an aim to better that and enjoy the finish together! Focus adjusted, we set our sites on the finish! We passed Jonny who’d unfortunately suffered with blister/feet issues in the last half and gave each other a cheer (I think I remember something about beer at the finish!). We turned a corner out of the park and before we knew it there were crowds and cheering again; we hit the 200m to go sign and sprinted to the finish line, crossing the line hand in hand in 3:25:33.
Considering the hot conditions we are both really happy with the result. Being well inside the GFA time means Lorna can do pretty much whichever races she wants to do in the next couple years; whether that’s London again or Boston etc.
I’m certain we would’ve gone close to sub 3:20 if it had been a cooler day so I’m excited to see how quickly Lorna can get. I’m so proud of her for getting a PB and pushing herself when it was hard work. But most of all we had a great day together and have so many memories and selfies recorded on the GoPro!
Overall the group were happy; some had to settle for times slower than they’d originally wanted but I think everyone did really well considering the tough conditions. It’s always annoying when you train for a race for so long and don’t get the time you want but it goes to show we can’t control conditions on race day so sometimes goals and expectations have to change.
Post-marathon we re-grouped and chilled on the grass near the finish line and enjoyed some champagne (once we could get into it!) We then demolished a couple of baguettes on our way back to the hotel. Myself, Lorna, Michalis and Korina decided a shakeout walk was a good idea so we took a trip to the Eiffel Tower.
Holiday over; my attention is now on the London Marathon next Sunday. I’ll be enjoying the taper until then. I hope that those of you that are going to be with me on the start line are feeling ready! And remember to enjoy it; you’ve done all the training so don’t forget to take the day in!
I also can’t finish this post without saying a big well done to Ash Tehrani who smashed out a 3 hour marathon in Paris, the SDW 50 the week after and has Boston Monday; what a legend!
See a lot of you soon