Monday, April 7, 2014

Paris Marathon 2014

About five hundred meters after passing the starting line and I have to pee - again! Story of my life... My throat's already pasty too because the electolyte-maltodextrine pre-race drink I had was a little too sweet and I had no water with which to wash it down. Probably for the best anyway, since that would have made we want to take a pit stop even more badly.
Fortunately Cyril is in the same state, so we take advantage of  the trees lining the Champs-Elysées away from the crowds to take a tinkle before hitting Place de la Concorde... Now we can really settle into the race. If that's even possible surrounded by about 42,000 other runners.

At my last race, the Défi des Jubilés, we were 250 taking off at dawn from a small Swiss village in mid-October. Actually, that's more or less been the case for most of my runs in the past few years, except for the now mega-crowded CCC and TDS of the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail machine.

Still, my excitement at participating in my first big city marathon overcomes my natural claustrophobia. Also, the race start was well staggered so that immediately after the start line we fanned out across the boulevard with ample space to settle into some kind of groove.
The weather is beautiful and I'm very happy to be wearing my trail hat. I also have my superstition buff, compression socks and a windbreaker around my waist so I don't have to wait an hour at the arrival to pick up my bag. And I have my new Salomon waist pack with a fruit&nut bar and two jelly bars to test, so I'm feeling relatively at home.
The miles really slip by at first. Cyril and I are on target for a 3.45 finish. I keep saying this is just a good hard long run to train for the UT4M in August and also to see what it's like to run a road marathon after five years migrating to mountain runs, and coming off a dislocated shoulder - but I have been training well, and with all the long trail runs I've done I am hoping for a good finish. 3.45 would be my PB by 7 minutes...

So... past the obelisk at Place de la Concorde, down rue de Rivoli... Nice touch by the organizers: a big sign post pointing out "Louvres museum on your right" (there'll be a few of those, but actually never when I need it most; I mean, the Louvres and especially the Eiffel Tower are a little difficult to confuse with any other monument...)
The course certainly isn't flat, but I actually like that. Change of tempo from time to time... We enter the Bois de Vincennes and the Chateau of the same name where I was incorporated into the French army (with long hair and before being shipped off to the French West Indies for 16 months of rum, pot and scuba diving).

Around mile 14 I start looking for my wife and kids - and see a former work colleague instead. No chance to find out what he's doing there, just a quick salute and on we go.
Still on target, maybe edging more towards 3h50, but feeling good and time is just flying. I can feel my legs, which annoys me to no end, but the kink in my left hamstring is behaving itself more or less, and I figure I can keep going at this constant speed. The bands are great - a rather heavy French-accented rendition of the Cranberries, and a spot-on cover of Highway to Hell... But it's the several Japanese drum bands along the way that really get me going.

Just after mile 16, around Pont Neuf, I suddenly hear someone shout out my name: I see my friend with whom I staying telling me that my wife and kids are on the other side - I veer off to the right, forgetting the sea of people behind me, and almost cause a few accidents. But I have to say, after bad-mouthing marathoners for the past few years for being such a self-obsessed bunch, all I got was a tired and (understandably) exasperated but very polite "be careful!"
So I give my kids a hug and kiss then take off along the sidewalk - then backtrack again realizing that I hadn't actually acknowledged my wife's presence.

No worries... Going strong. Legs hurt though, that's very annoying. More than on much longer trails. I keep telling myself that it's not surprising, with all this constant pavement pounding at the same tempo... But I have finished marathons in the past with little memory of pain. So: annoying.
Then we hit this long tunnel. I'd read about and was afraid I might get a bit claustrophobic, but it's not so bad, particularly since there's techno music playing with strobe lights, which gives it a distinct rave/night club feel. Not sure everyone appreciates that...
Still, nice to get out of the tunnel, it is getting a little hot. Now the weather has clouded over, which is actually refreshing.
Ah, the Eiffel Tower on my left. Good thing the sign post pointed it out, I might've missed it.

I have one last "loving it, time is flying, easy-peasy, sub-four hour finish" moment and then suddenly I don't want to be here anymore. I just want to stop and walk, but then it would take forever to finish, and my self-esteem notwithstanding I have a train to catch back to Geneva at 4.11pm. But the pace is definitely slowing and I start to grumble. "Now I know why I stayed away from marathons for five years," I tell Cyril. "Most beautiful city in the world, so they say, and I'm bored!"

Mile 21. I feel my body going into fat-burning mode, so it's not like I'm hitting the wall - but actually, in hindsight, that's probably exactly what it is, all those negative thoughts... And I think I really don't like running on sore legs, which is weird when I think of all my races. But somehow nine hours into the CCC, after 25 miles (and a few hills) into the race, when I felt compelled to run between La Fouly to Champex when the course was flat for seven or eight miles, I had no problem. I don't think my legs hurt as much, but I must have been feeling them to some degree...

So it's all mental. At the CCC, I had a goal - finish, and, if possible, in decent shape; here, I know I'm going to finish but couldn't be bothered to push myself to finish in the goal time. It's all about speed, I'm thinking, and I don't like speed. That's why I like long trails where essentially a finish is never guaranteed. But as soon as there's an issue of speed, I get lazy.

Of course I'm grumbling to Cyril who tells me to quit whining and get on with it. He won't let me walk, so I drop a bit behind and sneak a few fast walks when his not looking. But he catches me - I tell him to go on without me, but he's not having it. Much better man than I...
The fact that all the water stops are on the right means I have to extend my recovering arm each time to grab a bottle or wet my cap - and that starts to make me mad too.

Fortunately, it doesn't last too long. When we hit mile 23-24, I finally stretch out my stride again and hit a more decent tempo. I don't want this to go much over 4 hours. Question of pride, I suppose. And probably because 3 miles doesn't seem as far to run than 5 did twenty minutes ago. But also I know that I'll hit much darker spots for many other reasons on my trails this year, even the desire not to be there (which is what happened at the TDS), so I better get used to snapping out of them.
Cyril is happy to see me bouncing back (and relieved not to put up with more whining).

A mile later, I start thinking about working on my speed when I get home. I have 15 years of basic endurance training behind me, so it should be quite beneficial. And apparently it will even help me on the long runs. But just the thought of doing sprints, hills and fast tempo runs for an hour is exhausting... Then again, I started doing some of that before my accident, and it was actually fun in a way. Certainly spiced up the training. I still have to get my head around it, however...

So anyway, all these thoughts jumping around in my head and suddenly we're about half a mile from the arrival. Not that we'd know it, we're still in the woods... Ah! there we go - Cyril and I grab hands and raise our arms. After all that so called "I don't want to be here" business, I'm feeling quite ecstatic and happy at finishing - almost like my first marathon.
I suppose I'll be coming back for more. Next time, I won't underestimate what it takes to keep going at the same target. Very good training. I mean, on a long trail, when it gets tough, you just slack off, eat some salami and wait for it to pass. At the least, you tell yourself that you're preserving your energy for later. But in a marathon, there really is no "later", you're done in four hours pretty much, but those last six miles, if you really want to give it your best, are a beast.
A lesson in humility.

I think I'll reconsider my recent desire to test myself on some of the (relatively) flat 100-mile runs in UK like the Grand Union Canal Race (actually 145 miles...), where there also probably a tendency to try and do a lot of it running. An anathema to me - and now I really can't comprehend how anyone can run for 50, 100 miles... Until I can, not much use in registering. But I'll get there hopefully - we'll see how it goes at the UT4M. I've always liked new challenges.

Anyway - Paris marathon over. And all in all, a very pleasant (though a bit claustrophobic) big city marathon experience that I'd like to repeat. Rome, London... Not Geneva next month, however. I'll go with a 50k trail run (with 8,000 feet of elevation - yes, I like my elevation; I realize now, however, that though it certainly adds to the time it takes to finish, it doesn't necessarily add to the physical difficulty).

Really nice medal to finish. You don't get medals in trails. Not sure what anyone really does with them, but they're nice.

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