My 2nd road marathon is done. I was aiming for just under 3 hours 30 mins and I really wanted that time, but I couldn’t get there. I finished with a new PB of 3hrs 38mins and 43 seconds. I am reasonably happy but this race like many has a bigger story because this was my first race overseas and to understand how I ended up on the Champs-Élyées at 8.40am on the 8th April 2018 we have to go back to April 2017.
After completing the London Marathon, I was a broken man. I was tired and I didn’t really enjoy all of the experience to tell the truth. I was proud of my achievement but sad that I didn’t do as well as I wanted and that my body had let me down. As I started the healing on the Monday thoughts went to my next big race, (the great north run), and to how I was going to achieve a PB. Then I woke up on the Tuesday and started to think bigger. I decided I wanted to give this marathon lark another go, I wanted to prove to myself I could go faster and do it without any ITB issues. I decided I would enter the ballot for London again, but I knew there would be a very slim chance of me getting a spot. So I started to think about a backup. Then I remembered that Paris had just been a couple of weeks earlier and some of my friends had ran it. I remembered the photos of the race the post-race experience Shellie had taking her medal around the city. I wondered could I mix up a race with a little family holiday? This would be different, take poppy on a city break and enjoy a city I have visited many times for work but never been a tourist in.
That evening I was invited by my friend Paul, (who I ran and trained for London with), to the Petts Wood runners Marathon medal drinks, (where they celebrate everyone that has run a marathon or above over the last 12 months). It was here that I mentioned to him my idea, I told him the dates and he said, oh its Amanda’s birthday that weekend, maybe we could all go together. I was totally up for this idea as their kids get on with poppy really well, but he would have to check it out first and let me know. The next evening, we got the green light and booked our entries. How exciting is that, a marathon in a foreign country with a holiday too.
At this point I had put my goal on down as 3hrs 45 along with Paul, we were going to try and run it together. Alas during the couple of months post London Paul got injured and it really effected his running for the rest of 2017 and even into the start of 2018. At one point he was unsure if he was going to be able to run but he got to the root of the problem and worked on a fix. Then manged to get some decent training runs in which got him to the start line. Not in the shape he wanted but he was able to run. Anyway I digress…
As the year went on, several other friends also booked the race too and before I knew it we had a crazy gang of awesome runners chatting on a WhatsApp group. We shared our hopes and fears, our injuries and fixes, training and hydration tips. There was also much banter about dating, comedy race photos and a classic auto correct from “run” to “rub”, which meant from then on, we all went rubbing. We had good rubs, hard rubs, slow rubs and long rubs. Rubbing was life!
It started to feel really real though, I was doing my 2nd road marathon!
I had started my training in December 2017, I won’t go in-depth to it here but as the runs built, so did my confidence. I decided to reset my goal of 3.45 to 3.30 and moved to that starting pen for the race. In the lead up to I managed PB’s in a HM (1.32) and a 5K time trial (18.59), which filled me with confidence.
The nerves were still there though as I get with all races.
- Will I sleep ok?
- Will I have ITB issues?
- Will I have IBS issues?
- Can I do this?
I don’t think I will ever get over these fears but at least I know they are there and can try to manage them.
In the lead up to traveling, I secretly got more nervous. I had put a bit of pressure on myself as this was a big goal for me but the support from family and friends was much bigger than I have ever had before.
When Paul and I planned our trip I didn’t know if I would be able to have the Friday off. The race weekend fitted nicely in the middle of the Easter School holidays and with both Amanda and him being teachers, this worked really well for them. We both knew that we wanted to see some of Paris as well and I remembered wise words of the author Paul Hewitt, who said you should do this post marathon and not before, to save your legs. With this in mind we said, let’s go Saturday early and come back late on Tuesday. This way, we can have two full days of sight-seeing post marathon. LOL to walking round Paris whilst on post marathon legs!
Saturday 7th, came and before we knew it we were on an early Eurostar. After arriving we went straight to our Air BnB, located just south of the Latin Quarter, dropped our bags, got some food and headed to the Expo to collect our numbers.
To be able to collect your bib you need 3 things.
- Your letter of acceptance (sent a few days before)
- A Doctors certification.
Now if you are planning on doing the marathon, please pay attention to number 3 as it’s a right pain in the butt. It seems some doctors charge, some don’t, and some won’t even sign the paper work, (provided by the event), but you need it to get your number.
Anyway, we both got our numbers quickly. It’s here I have to point out something funny that happened along the way. Somehow, I became French! On your race bib it has your name or nickname plus the country you are from. Mine said FRA and this was pretty funny as I speak almost zero French! I was then French Jon!
After we got our bibs, we were then given funny little backpacks. Not sure what these are for but, hey its free stuff.
Then we went to the wall of names. This was pretty cool. Finding that I was not last on the list is great. bottom row but definitly not last!
The next thing was even cooler, they had set up a cheer poster designing area and our kids were there busily drawing away. So, Paul and I went to the Asics store and purchased souvenir tech T-shirts. Not much else there tbh but this was good. Around the expo we found quite a decent number of other things to look at but the kids were getting bored so we headed out to get a drink (more water for us, juice for the kids and beer for the mums).
I think it was at this point it dawned on me how warm it was. I had seen the weather reports, but it was definitely in the 20s!!!
I guess I was kind of hoping for 12c or something on race day but it looked like this wasn’t going to be the case. I didn’t panic too much though as I had already planned to run with my Nathan Hydration vest, which carries 1.8L of water in the bladder, 800ml of Electrolyte in soft flasks and plenty of gels.
I had shorts, sunscreen and sun glasses. Nothing to be worried about right?
Saturday night, Paul and I took the kids for dinner then chilled out while the ladies went out to celebrate Amanda’s birthday.
I slept ok but it’s never going to be perfect pre-race and in a new bed, right and my Friday night sleep was also a bit broken. Race nerves!
I woke up at 5.30 feeling excited, ate my Bagel, filled the hydration pack with chilled water and the bottles with electrolyte. Then off we went, a 35 mins metro ride to the start. It was really cool seeing all the other runners, seeing the nerves, the excitement of race day on all their faces. There really is something special about the lead up to a big race.
It was a bit of a walk to the bag drop and toilets but as we were nice an early the lines were not long, and the sun was rising over the Arc De Triomphe leaving a beautiful hazy feel. I ran into Chris Green, which was fab, it was his 1st marathon and he was nervous but I was so excited for him, I wished him well and we parted ways as he was in the 3.15 pen. Weirdly, the best thing though is my bowels felt good, which certainly allayed those IBS fears and for the 1st time in as many races I felt ready too!
As the clock hit 8, we started to wonder towards the starting line, Paul and I said our goodbyes and wished each other luck. It was starting to warm up now, (no need for that bin liner), and the line for the Pen took me over 15 mins to negotiate. Once inside though and found a great spot with loads of room to do a simple standing warm up as our starting time approached. In Paris they now have a wave start with about 5 or 6 mins between each group which I think helps get everyone off smoothly.
We crossed the line a little late 8.45ish but starting was great as it’s a gentle downhill on the Champs-Élyées, you do have to watch the cobbles though, as there are a few missing and I did see one-woman trip, but she was ok.
My plan was to start off easy at about 5.10ish pace for a few KMs to let my legs warm up, this had worked well on my training runs and I knew I could pull back 30 secs later if need be. I stuck to plan, enjoyed the start and the sights, slowly easing up the pace to around 4.55 KMs. I felt comfortable and was enjoying the support, so much shouting of “Allez”, totally speaking my language!
It continued to get warmer though as we raced through the city to the first Park, 10km in. It was at this point I felt the urge for a wee, which is a standard runner thing, I have come to understand. I contemplated holding but common sense took over and I was in a park, so it was pretty easy to dive behind a tree. I did that and was back on course in 30 secs and feeling much more comfortable.
As we left the park I had the best surprise, on the left-hand side was our little cheer squad: Gillian, Amanda and the kids with their sign. What a boost this was as I wasn’t expecting to see them until much later on the course but it was an amazing thing and the kids were really excited to see me too.
Now pretty much at the start I was overtaken by a 3.30 pacer, I had kept him in sight for the whole time as I knew this would help me a little mentally. I didn’t want to run with the pacer though, as it can be too crowded but it’s a nice comfort blanket to have. After my pit stop I made an effort to slowly catch up with him by upping my pace to 4.45-4.50 KM.
The route then started to head back into the city, we passed the “Semi” sign and I felt good, I think I had about 1.5min buffer on the goal time. A couple of things had been bothering me though.
- My Garmin was buzzing for each Km way earlier than the markers and it was getting further and further with each one. I was then doing maths in my head based on the markers. I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but I do, so it’s annoying.
- I was catching up to the pacer up way quicker than I expected and before long I was right behind him in a tight street full of people following. It’s at this point I made the choice to try and overtake, which was really tricky as the street was narrow and had loads of parked cars. It took a bit of effort to do this and in hindsight I think it was a mistake.
Anyway, I was past the pacer and cruising along as it continued to get warmer. I had stuck to my gel plan though and was taking water and electrolyte when needed. I did feel the heat getting to me a bit but not terribly. Then the route took us into this tunnel and at first I thought yay, out of the sun but no, it was just humid and there were loads of weird spooky sound effects playing which were kind of annoying and the tunnel went on for ages! When we came out it was on to the side of the river and all I can remember thinking was when will I get to see the Eiffel Tower? I knew it would be on my left hand side but it took an age to come and as we started the go up and down and up and down all these under passes. Then at 29KM ish I noticed my pace began to drop off. Not massively to start with but it was consistent, and it started to bug me. I was excited to see the tower but this elation was soon gone as I started to struggle a bit more. My pace hit a 5.29 around 34K and at this point I knew I was in for a fight.
The rest is a bit of a blur to be honest but looking at my Garmin map, we entered the 2nd park at about 34k, yay only 8 to go but this is where the real shit storm happened. At some point I decided I need to enact the 20 secs walk then back to running policy that I used in London as my legs felt heavy (or did they) and the heat got to me a bit. I hated this park, it was boring, there were people cycling in the way and I literally said to myself the following:
“fuck this shit”
“Why did I sign up for this”
“what the hell was I thinking”
“I have two more of these things to do” – talking about road marathons
To crown it all: “Running is bullshit”
But I kept going, walk 20/30 secs then run about 800m or something. Not really sure but it was working, even though whenever I was walking people were talking to me in French because of course I was French! It was also during this time that I mentally gave up on 3.30 totally. I was then working to an adjusted goal of sub 3hr40, my silver medal. I think at about 37K my water ran out but there was an aid station, so I stopped and grabbed a bottle, which I drank while walking, which you had to as all the bottles just had open tops. Anyway, I drank half a bottle and kicked off again. 1Km later I got a stitch! A what, jeeze, what else, lol.
I think though, this was a turning point, somewhere around 3.5K to go. I found some calm in the madness. Knuckled down and did what I needed to do. Yeah, the last two KMs were my slowest of all but I ran to that finish line determined to by happy and proud of my achievement. I was sad but happy, if that makes sense? It’s such a weird feeling.
After finishing, I was just spent. My left shoulder really hurt, legs were tired, and I just needed to see a familiar face. The medal lady spoke to me in French, the T-shirt lady spoke to me in French, the bag drop lady spoke to me in French.
I laughed and tried to explain but I think just gibberish was coming out.
Then my mate Steve messaged me and after some comedy walking and getting kind lost I just collapsed on a curb and pin dropped where I was. It was lovely to see Steve and his wife Georgina. It’s amazing what a friendly face can do at a time like this. I briefly ran into Hannah at this point, but she was on her way to see James Shoulder, who also PB’d. I then messaged our group to see if anyone else was around. I found Carlie, (who PB’d as well), was just around the corner, well 300m away which is tricky on wobbly legs but I needed a hug and to chat. So, I went off to see Tarik and her for what was a lovely chat. Then Chris joined us, (he totally smashed hit 1st), and I started to finally settle down. We shared stories of our adventure on the mean streets of Paris. It’s these moments that what make it such a beautiful thing. I had forgotten what a shock to the system a marathon does. I think you block it out over time and as your body heals the pain fades.
It wasn’t the goal time and it annoys me more now than it did then. Can I do better? I hope so, if I have it in me after Race to the Stones I am going to go for it again in Berlin and I am excited about that prospect.
What do I need to work on?
My mental strengths for sure. I have thought long and hard about that turning point. Could I have run all the way? I honestly think I had fears. Fear of failure, fear of collapsing, fear of DNF and it was easier to settle for that time rather that push on.
I need to look at working on when it gets tough, pushing those fears aside and run to the finish line. I am going to need help with this, not sure how but I have time to figure it out and enough amazing people around me who I can work this out with.
I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who messaged me with support before and after the race, I have so much love for you and it meant the world to me x
The best thing about this trip was being able to have a running holiday with my family and friends. We celebrated Sunday night with cheese and wine. Then Paul, Amanda, Gillian, the kids and I explored Paris for two days.
I took my medal on a tour and didn’t care what people would think when I held it up in front of the Mona Lisa.
I had run a marathon.
Marathons are hard.