I booked this race before I had my hip diagnosis. Flights and hotels were booked so it was an easier act to persuade my other half (and the generally sensible one in our house) that I was still going to do the race, if only as a final tick box to complete the Marathon, IM, Ultra collection. I promised that I wouldn’t overdo it 😉
Arrived in Paris feeling good, a couple of days of wandering around the city and Versailles left me a bit foot weary and the hip was niggling a bit (shhhh) but woke up on the Saturday after a night of pizza and red wine loading feeling fairly relaxed with a tingle of excitement and no fear.
Registration was in a marquee at the foot of the Eiffel Tower which was a short walk from the hotel, then a walk to the nearest metro station to get the train to Yves St Laurent which took about 40mins or so and then a coach to the race start in the middle of a big park. All very slick.
First impression, everyone is French! All of the announcements are in French, the signs are all French, even the toilets were French. (Composting toilets, go in with a bucket of sawdust – smell free, amazing). Mooched around the start for an hour or so drinking what was labelled as “English breakfast tea” (it really wasn’t) and madeira cake.
Lined up in the grassy start area and made sure I was standing about a quarter of the way back thinking that was probably where I was going to finish, 12noon strikes and the gun goes and we’re off! Many folks seem to be going a bit too quickly so just let them go and tried to keep to a steady pace, across the grass and then onto a hard trail. It was quite narrow in places, which was good for keeping the speed down. Next few miles were moderately undulating and pace bounced around between 7:55 and 7:40mm (with one at 7:26 tut tut) for the next few miles, a couple of short sections of road and a footbridge with lots of steps up were the only deviations from runnable hard trail.
I randomly asked a guy who pulled up alongside me if he was British, I’ve no idea why I did but he was, which was a pretty good guess considering that there were only 20 or so of us out of 1300+. (and no, he wasn’t wearing union jack shorts). He said his target time was 10hrs and I thought, hmmm, either he’s going too quick or I’m going too slow. I suspected it was the former.
I remember a couple of larger lumps of climbing but nothing strenuous at all, reeled in lots of people through that section and then down some steep steps and into the first aid station at about 14miles. I was feeling fresh and just added more powder and water to my 2 water bottles and off again. Bumped into a French guy who I’d chatted to briefly in the first stage and he said “that’s the easy bit over with”. How true that turned out to be.
Shortly after leaving the aid station, we were confronted with a long climb which was barely runnable for 50 metres or so and then it was hands on knees marching up the hill time. Very tough work then some sharp downhills on technical terrain and then another long march up a steep climb, and repeat and repeat and repeat. Still taking over people but it is small disparate groups now rather than a continuous flow.
Started to feel blisters on both my feet at about the 15mile point, oh well only 35 to go!
Not sure how long that went on for but it was pretty brutal and then I started to feel quite hot so was concentrating on rationing my drinks and managing the energy levels. The heat started to get to me about this point too but had a bit of a psychological lift at about mile 28 when I got my first glimpse (at the top of yet another hill) of the city and the Eiffel Tower which marks the finish line. The cruel organisers then detour you away from that view, up more steep steps and into the 2nd check point which stocked only water. Really flagging now and glad for a brief rest to top up the bottles. I realised that I was caked in salt by this point so popped an electrolyte tab into one of the bottles and off again. In the opposite direction to the tower! Bugger.
Relentless hill climbs follow, it was all becoming a bit of a blur by this point. I know that when I’m struggling at the end of a hot and long race I go deaf in my right ear and can hear nothing but my breathing rattling around my head. It is not a good sign. There’s still a long way to go and yet there it goes. I’m still passing the odd runner though and although my pace has dropped (and my Garmin lost the signal for half an hour in the woods!) I know I’m still on track. Lots of solo running now and having to keep a good eye on the markers. Feel sick. Another hill and the cramps start in the hamstrings so a change down in pace. Get going again and then the calves seize up. Bah. Find a manageable rhythm and stick to it up and down the sodding hills.
3rd checkpoint at 35miles (more miles than I’d done in any single week since September 2012!) and they have Coke! Lovely stuff. Couple of cups necked down. Had enough of gels and energy bars and can’t stomach anything solid now (despite the tempting array of cakes, fruit and nuts on offer). I sit down here for a couple of minutes and meet up with my French buddy again, quick exchange and I’m out again feeling a bit groggy but concentrating on just keeping moving.
The course is dotted throughout with people cheering and enthusiastically saying things in French and I engaged with them a lot in the early stages but I am now reduced to the odd grunt, wave and a mumbled “bonjour” as I shuffle past them up more long climbs. It is hurting now. Cramps are frequent, several stretching stops are required and my left ear has also gone and is now roaring with every breath. The salt in my eyes is making it hard to see and there are tears in my eyes from the stinging. I must have looked lovely. But I’m still running.
Keep moving forward and then at the final checkpoint at 42miles. More food on offer but I opt again for coke. “would you like some hot soup?”, “no thanks, but do you have a bicycle?” was my response. Only 8 miles to go!
Top Tip – putting coke in a sealed water bottle and then running through the woods with it creates a fantastic coke fountain over your shoulder when you vent it – huge fun and amused me greatly.
Dropped through the woods now and can feel an overall descent despite the odd undulation and suddenly, I am on the road and before long, I’m running along the Seine. A few miles to go, it’s starting to get dark, a small group of particularly speedy chaps pass me and I pass a guy who’s walking but other than that I’m running alone and making good progress and the pace has picked up. A few odd deviations and switchbacks as the course moves from one side of the river to another and suddenly there’s the tower! It’s still a good couple of miles away but what a lift that is. Really starting to work hard now, there’s a niggle in the back of my head that says these may be some of the last miles I’ll ever run so I’m going to bury myself to make them count. Really close to the tower now and starting to feel fairly euphoric, it will be close to the 8hr target and then…. The sadists send you off to the left, to a massive bank of steps, with an escalator running along the side of it which of course, you aren’t allowed to use – arrrghghghgh, the cruelty!
Dragged myself up the steps using the handrail, up ANOTHER set of steps and then on the road again up a hill and a sharp right turn. Shallow descent now for a few hundred meters and the tower is on my right, sharp left and into the finish area with a sprint finish in front of the Trocadero.
Exhausted, utterly spent and complete elation.
8:06:28 – 110th of 1320 and second Brit
Post race – body was fairly wrecked, difficult to eat, constant cramping, couple of hours sleep, lots of pain and shuffling about the next day to the airport and home. Back in work like nothing has happened.
Other people just don’t get it. That’s one of the reasons why I love it