Long before I entered The Lakesman, I had entered Paris Marathon this spring, with the original aim of a sub 3:30 run. Obviously, since entering it, circumstances have changed considerably, and the winter has been a heavy one of swimming, biking, and less running than I’ve done before but on much more tired legs. Based on the training I’d been doing, I was cautiously optimistic that a PB might be possible on fresh legs, and coach Chris agreed I could go for it.
I ventured to Paris on the Friday with James, and after registering and picking up my number, resisting the temptation to buy ALL the kit at the expo, and learning how the Metro works (it’s essentially the Tube but with a lot more stairs), we settled down in our Airbnb in Montmartre, which whilst cheap, was a nice cosy studio flat handily located near two Metro stations.
Saturday rolled around, and it was time for the customary Paris Breakfast Run, which was like parkrun, but bigger and following a tiny pickup truck blasting cheesy pop around the streets of Paris to the Eiffel Tower. Jolly good fun all round, and a nice gentle shake out of the legs after a few hours cooped up on the train to London and then the Eurostar the day beforehand.
The Breakfast Run was already super hot, and that was starting to worry me, because I prefer racing in cold weather, but I’ve been working on trying to suck it up since I started training for the Lakesman, so I tried to relax, soak up the sunshine in the Jardin des Tuileries (an excellent place to sunbathe, even if James does now resemble a stripy lobster) and focus on the task in hand- eating my own bodyweight in French patisserie et boulangerie. Definitely the best way to spend a sunny Parisian afternoon!
After a giant bowl of pasta in a local Italian, relaxing over a Batman movie and some Milka cookies, and sorting out my kit and how the hell to get to the race start on the Champs-Elysees, I had an early night and tried to chill out despite the rising temperatures. Easier said than done!
Race day dawned cool and sunny, but the kind of cool where you know the moment the sun comes up properly it will be bloody boiling. Porridge shovelled down and kit bag packed, we headed down to the finish to hand in my bag, and then down to the Champs-Elysees to get in my starting pen- what a mess! Despite leaving loads of time, the pen entry was pretty chaotic and we ended up late in, but fortunately the race didn’t start without me…
As usual, I’d set a range of goals the week before the race:
A- between 3:35 and 3:40
B- sub 3:45 for a London GFA and decent PB
C- survive the race hopefully with a sub-4
Once the race started, the first few miles were pretty steady, but coming out at a comfortable 8:30min/mile pace, but it was clear that running much faster probably wasn’t going to happen, so I decided pretty early to shoot for my B goal, rather than put the hammer down, completely overdo it and end up DNFing or completely missing a PB. As the race wound through some of the tourist attractions of Paris, I was enjoying myself, despite the rising temperatures and absolute carnage of the water stations. I was smothered in sunscreen with a visor on, and my tactic of taking on water and pouring some over my head at each water station was keeping me feeling relatively alright. I hit halfway at 1:50-1:51, so bang on target and pretty happy with things.
The second half was a bit less scenic, with the famous tunnels proving a bit demotivating, runners starting to walk everywhere (not tidily to one side, but ON the green racing line, grr!) and some even starting to collapse, I suspect from overheating. The second half wasn’t pretty for me, but it wasn’t as ugly as it could have been: Paris kept the beautiful sights coming sporadically, especially passing the Eiffel Tower at mile 18. That said, each mile was feeling tougher, and the water stations seemed to be getting further apart, with more co-ordination needed to dodge the mountains of bottle caps, discarded bottles and orange peels contributing to the slippery danger, and I’ll be honest, I thought about binning a PB effort quite a few times.
Strangely, it was a Pink song stuck in my head for the latter few miles that got me through- lyrics about how ‘just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die; you’ve got to get up and try, try, try’ seemed pretty apt in my dead-legged state! That and having a firm word with myself, followed by ‘it’s just a parkrun left now Marsden, don’t you dare fucking start walking’.
Eventually, the endless parks section finished, and once I was into the 26th mile, I knew as long as I kept running, I had my Good for Age time and a decent PB in the bag. My eyes began to sting, and only partly because they were full of salty sweat. I’d done it; I felt like shit, but it was over, I’d toughed it out, and I hadn’t just written the race off because the conditions didn’t suit me. I crossed the line wobbly and nauseous, and pretty quickly remembered why- I’d done a great job with gels and water, but had I taken any electrolytes? Had I hell as like. I felt like Jonny Brownlee with no Alastair to save me. Fortunately I managed to stagger through the finish funnel, collecting my (properly sized!) race shirt, medal and a few bottles of water, as well as my bag, and settled in on a kerb to take on some electrolytes.
Once I located James, we shuffled off to the nearest McDonalds to speedily replace my lost sodium, and noodled back off to Gare du Nord to await the train home. Where I promptly learned that I wasn’t appearing on any of the race trackers or results, despite the results for the race numbers adjacent to mine being online.
To cut a long story short, I don’t know yet if this story has a happy ending: I know I ran my GFA time, as my creaking hamstrings and agonisingly painful quads will attest to, but at the moment the organisers seem spectacularly disinterested in fixing my time for me. In fact, until I contacted them, they weren’t going to admit that my result is missing because my timing chip didn’t work on the starting line. Never mind that as organisers they promised accurate race timing when relieving me of the best part of £100 for my race entry.
So, I look on Paris for now with mixed feelings, the champagne bottle firmly still sealed in the fridge, the medal solemnly hanging on the nail with my others, and the race tshirt stashed in a drawer somewhere, but a head full of lessons learned and confidence in my own ability to tough it out when the conditions aren’t my favourite. To be continued…