A week later, it is still hard to believe that I finished Marathon de Paris. That a four glasses of wine-deep impulse-registration ended with me standing in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. That I coincidentally already had tickets to France when the marathon was being held. That I am physically at a place where finishing another marathon is in part of life.
In the heat of the race every feeling, every emotion, and every thought is simply brighter. And the moment you cross the finish line it is as if you have woken from a dream. You have photos, times, a shirt, a medal to prove that you were there and that those hours actually happened.
And yet, though you were surrounded by thousands of people and watched by thousands of pairs of eyes, it is up to you alone to believe it.
I hope that as I continue to run, I never lose this feeling of sheer awe and wonder. That I never take 26.2 miles for granted. I run because I can, but really I run because the process of training for and running the marathon is my willing journey into and through the refining fire. I run to become the best version of myself.
When I dream at night, I dream of being a marathoner.
On April 7 I woke up at 5:00 AM, which is pretty much my Universal Race Wake-Up Time.
Getting ready for the trip, I had shoved all of my running gear into a backpack to carry on the plane and had packed a breakfast (oats, raisins, granola, pecans) for myself as well. Since I have yet to stay in a hotel room when I am traveling the night before a race/long run that is equipped with a microwave, I’ve pretty much perfected the oats-soaking technique and worked off of that. I also dumped about half a container of caramel yogurt into the lot that had been sitting on the windowsill overnight (AKA our makeshift refrigerator) along with a cup of Starbucks that I had sourced the day before. It’s impossible to overstate the wonders of drip coffee on race morning.
I have to say, this really was the best morning-of. Between texting/chatting/tweeting/e-mailing with everyone back home who was about to tuck in and cruising the tweets and snaps via #ParisMarathon, I was just so…full.
I also did a bit of pre-race inscribing. I don’t know what it is about distance racing that makes me want to put things on my body, but I’m done fighting with it. Give me a permanent marker before the sun is up and let me be.
At about 7:45 AM, we decamped. Dad walked me down to the St. Michel metro station, which was just a few blocks away, and I was off. There were so many runners riding along with me that by the time we got to the stop at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, the cars were absolutely packed, which I expected. The mood was very festive, and yet everyone was silent. I was thankful to have found a seat next to a lot that I think was from Denmark.
Which brings me to my next bit: we had great bibs because they had your nationality on them as well as your name. The vast majority of runners were French, but it was fascinating to see who hailed from where.
After getting off the metro, it took me about 15 minutes to get out of the station. Charles de Gaulle-Etoile is a relatively large station to begin with, but it made even more sense when I emerged into the light to see this.
As I flipped back through the blog, I noticed that I never shared this tidbit with y’all. About two and a half weeks before the race, my right foot was throwing a fit. So I hopped on the bike for a week to rest it up, because the hardest work was already done. Miraculously, while we were in Paris, my foot felt fine as did my runs through le Jardin du Luxemborg until April 5. At which point, suddenly things were The Worst again. So even though I was extremely calm, I was not terrifically confident.
So anyway, I got into the rose corral at the top of the road. During registration, you had to select a corral and I chose 4h30. Had I really thought that through, I would have bought myself a bit of extra time on the course and selected 4h00 or 4h15, but thankfully, I didn’t have any problems at the finish of the race. All is well that ends well.
I would say that by the time I got there (8:10), the corral was 2/3 full so, I hopped into a line for one of the two potties in our corral knowing that there would be a serious wait. I had read that the bathroom situation was abysmal for this race, but it’s hard to believe that a major marathon would only provide two porta-potties per corral until you see it with your own eyes. By my math, I’m fairly certain that the ratio of bathrooms to runners for all corrals was 1:2200.
Thumbs up for that.
I found myself next to a Canadian expat living in London who immediately told me that she didn’t trust her training (what I didn’t tell her: If you don’t trust the work you put into a race, you probably are not going to finish) and asked me if it was true that they stopped giving out medals to the finishers after 5:00 (what I didn’t tell her: that was numero uno on the list of shit I had no intention of finding out ever).
We were then joined in line by trio of Texans, one whose sister-in-law actually lives in Plymouth. Because home always finds you where you are.
Mid-conversation with this lot, It was at this point that I realized there was no french class role-play for what I was about to ask the women behind us.
Me: Parlez-vous anglais?
Ladies: Blank stares.
Me: Est-ce-que illegal pour urniation public ici?
Ladies: Uh..pee pee? Ici? C’est illegal. Mais (offers me her jogging poncho).
Me: (I refuse the poncho and smile)
The gun time for the race was 8:45, but since we were in the back corral, we didn’t get released to walk down to the start line until about 9:35.
As I was still standing in line for a bathroom at that point (it had been an hour with no end in sight), I walked over to the curb and popped a squat to log my first public urination ever on the Champs Elysees.
Blessedly, I had brought a wad of TP because I had assumed that if I ever did make it to a bathroom, it would be completely out.
Y’all know me. Keeping it fancy.
And as soon as the other women caught on to what I was doing, I was joined by throngs of them.
I wish I could romanticize our walk down the Champs Elysees when they released us to the start line, but honestly, at some points we were walking over a 6″ bed of toss clothing and at other points we were dodging ponchos that runners had been shitting in. So mostly it was a minefield and not so romantic at all, because we were all looking down instead of up.
Pro: Even though it was a bit chilly at the start, we had a cloudless sky and a forecast of 50 with winds at 4 MPH. It was honest-to-God perfect race weather.
I was on the left side of the corral (it split in half) as we approached the start line, and they released us first. I crossed the line, started my watch and said the Shehecheyanu.
I was following the 5:00 pace group at this point because I really had no gauge on how my legs were going to feel after hiking around the city for a week, or you know, because I did nearly all of my training for this race on a treadmill. After looking at my training log, I can tell you that I logged a grand total of 10 runs outside. Also, I’m really glad that my training strategy worked, but seriously, don’t be me.
The first few miles were a blur – running past the obelisk, the Tuileries, the Louvre. It was beautiful and I was busy being my own worst enemy. You know those runs where you can’t escape yourself and a mountain of self-doubt? Yes. That.
Until Mile 2, where I saw massive yellow sign on the course that had quite a bit of enthusiastic German written on it and a depiction of a giant snail. I will never know if that sign was pro-or anti-snail, but to me it was a sign from God, since there were probably only about a hundred signs on the course total. So I threw my iPod on, said a prayer that the battery would last longer than 4 hours and got going.
At the 10k-ish mark, we entered Bois de Vincennes, which was at one point the royal hunting grounds before the construction of Versailles.
We ran through the trees, past the lakes and in front of the palace there.
This also the point where I broke away from the 5:00 pacer. It didn’t feel terrifically slow, but my legs were feeling just a bit better than that, so it was time to bid Monsieur Lapin adieu.
Shortly after one of the water stops in le bois, I had a nice conversation with a couple of ladies from New Zealand as we ran past the (closed) zoo, which involved all of us speaking a bit of broken French before we realized we parlez-vous-ed anglais.
Emerging from the park, we found ourselves at some sort of high point and were able to enjoy a nice downhill for a spell as well as a great view of the city.
At Mile 10 or so, I pulled off my pink top – I am positive that the temperatures were above 50 at that point because I felt like I was roasting.
I also took a number of snaps of the blue line (and my shadow with it!) as I ran, which is an incredibly cool Marathon de Paris tradition. So what is the blue line? The blue line is how they mark the marathon course throughout the city the day before the race and it remains until it is washed away or worn off by traffic.
Shortly after the half-marathon point, I found Kristen who was one of my Texan friends from the start line.
She and I ended up sticking together for the next five miles or so as we ran back towards and along the Seine.
Oh look, Place de la Bastille in the distance.
Notre Dame. In the distance.
This is also the point on the course where we started running under bridges and through tunnels, which gave us a decent amount of shade and a bit of an elevation change. The Marathon de Paris course is relatively flat, so a bit of terrain here and there was welcome.
And, best, The Eiffel Tower.
Kristen and I ended up separating (she got struck with a cramp) shortly before the Mile 18 water stop, which was also the point at which I found my parents, Sally and Vicki.
Dad insisted on taking some snaps and I ditched my pink top with them.
I was feeling just massively gleeful and exuberant at this point. Probably because I felt good. Probably because I had just spent the last hour running past the Bastille, Notre Dame (I finally saw the flying buttresses!), past Musee d’ Orsay, the Tuileries again and with a nice view of the Eiffel Tower for ~2 miles. It is so truly impossible to explain how painfully beautiful this course is and how incredibly distracting all of it was.
The course started to narrow here, partially because spectators were crowding the course (I think we were down to about half of the road) and partially because as we came up to the 32km point, we were starting to move into a massively residential area and in the direction of the Bois de Boulogne, which is the woods/park/garden on the west side of the city.
There was also a lot of traffic here because there were just loads of walkers from earlier corrals who had (bluntly) awful races and were waging a war of attrition with the idea of finishing.
What I can say about Mile 20: I did not hit the wall. After having so many truly wonderful long runs during this training cycle and such a great 20 mile run leading into the race, I was legitimately terrified that my luck would run out during this race and that I would be in a physical or mental situation that was untenable.
Instead I said The Lord’s Prayer, remembered the words, “Let us run with perseverance the race set before us,” and understood that I was going to finish the race running. That I had already written my own story, and that it was up to me to claim the finish that I wanted and the finish that I deserved.
To feel so mentally strong and so confident at that part of the race made such a difference in how I ran the last 10k of the race.
At Mile 22, I would hit the wall running and realize that I still had two more Honey Stinger Chew packets attached to my person at that point than I should have. #fuelingfail
Did it really matter? Absolutely not.
Around this time, I realized that situating the last three-ish miles of a marathon in the middle of a wooded area makes it look more like a death march for most of the participants than a foot race. See also: running on cobblestones this late in the game is massively painful.
From here on out, the race is somewhat of a blur. Since they marked every kilometer AND every mile, that made the time pass a bit faster, but what really fueled me was running to Mile 24. I knew that once I got there, I only needed to run one more mile before I could start celebrating.
So, at Mile 25, I gave the marathon medal being dangled over the course a kiss, took a sip of red wine and enjoyed the ride.
At 42.195k, I raised my arms into the air with the Arc d’Triomphe in front of me, said the Shehecheyanu again and stopped my watch.
Official Time: 4:54:06
There’s not much to be said about the finisher’s chute, beyond that it is massively long, and that instead of doling out heat sheets we received honest-to-God ponchos. I ate a bit of banana, grabbed a couple of waters (all of the water on the course and the chute was bottled), and chatted with a woman from Finland and another from New York.
As Mom and I were walking to the metro station from the finish line, I mused over the irony that after bike-training all summer to recordings of the stages of the Tour de France, I ran through bits of the final stage.
Everything comes full-circle.
Including my participation in the French hot bath (recommended in the Marathon program!), because those people do not believe in ice.
Race of my life.
And when I dream at night, I dream of being a marathoner.