Marathon de Paris : Race Recap
Crowds, cobbles and classic sights
Well, the fourth marathon is in the bag, and while not the fastest is likely to stand out for some time as my most enjoyable marathon. There isn’t one thing that I can pinpoint as being ‘the thing’ that leads me to this conclusion, just a bunch of things that added up to be an all round great race. I got a time I was happy with, without having to thrash myself to do it, leaving me to actually ‘experience’ the race. The course was brilliant even though there were some sections that weren’t great. It was crowded for the entire race, but that meant there weren’t any lonely sections. And the weather, well for racing it couldn’t have been much better.
Anyway, before the race came the day-before-the-race. Lovely Girlfriend and I arrived in Paris on Friday afternoon, meeting up with my running buddy Mark and his Lovely Fiancée who had arrived that morning. We went to dinner and had some pretty amazing duck, and met a good uni friend of Mark’s Lovely Fiancée as well. On the Saturday it was running expo day so Mark and I went to pick up our race packs while the girls did some shopping (Mark’s LF to buy clothing to fill in the gap while their airline found their lost bags), my Lovely Girlfriend to go the Saint Germain food market.
After Mark and I had done our race packet pickup (and taken a cheesy photo), we joined our better halves and did some sightseeing and a big walk through the Faubourg Saint-Germain area and back along to the left bank. Paris is a beautiful city and despite the marathon the next day it would have been a crime not to walk around and see some of the sights. By the end of this four hour effort our feet were a little sore but we figured it wouldn’t do too much to hurt our race. I mean, it’s Paris! You can’t sit in your hotel room with your feet up the whole time. Marathon or not! Dinner was at a good Italian pace that some other runners had sought out, including a work mate who I didn’t know would be there (who went on to finish his first marathon in a very nifty 3:22 – awesome effort!)
I awoke early on Sunday to find bright, sunny skies and 14C temps for the start. Perfect running weather, though the prediction was for slightly warmer and more humid near the end of the race. Mark and I met at my hotel, it being only five minutes from the start on Champs-Elysées and used out spare time to relax in the lobby, finish our hydration (and use the hotel loo) before we walked down to the starting area.
While it was evident from the crowds that this is a BIG race (50,000 registrations), the start line organisation was very well done and we were able to get to our corral easily and without much fuss. Toilets were few and far between, but the hotel was very close to the start so we didn’t need the porta-potty and were able to just use the porta-urinals that were well provided. I’m not sure what the lady racers had to do though…
The start was on time and the splitting of the waves meant that we were able to move off down Avenue de Champs-Élysées really easily and with very little crowding. Turning around at the 1km mark you could look back up to see the crowd of runners following. Quite the sight!
Once through the turn at Place de la Concorde the road narrowed and the running became crowded as we all made our way along the side of the Jardin Des Tuileries and past the Louvre. Neither Mark and I were particularly concerned about the crowding, figuring it would even out by the 5km point. It didn’t, and it made the water station a scrum. People were pushing and shoving a bit to keep their space and protect themselves from falling, the whole thing being compounded by some who got their bottle and started walking, with others trying to angle back out and around them to get back running. I guess this is the bane of being a mid-pack runner!
The crowding continued as we headed past Bastille and into the first ‘hill’ of the race. It turned out to be pretty mild and bode well for the rest of the race, and the supporters were deep and vocal around this point. Heading out towards the Bois Vincennes for the first of the ‘park’ running segments we climbed again and had another aid station scrum before passing the stunning Chateau de Vincennes and turning downhill into the park proper.
The next few kilometres were a mix of open roads and little crowding and some very tight sections where we found ourselves watching our feet and those around us rather than enjoying the park surroundings. This time around we were unsurprised by the scrum at the water station and figured it was going to be like this every time and just kept pushing on. Heading down the hill to the park exit I was really starting to notice my hip. I was obviously covering for my glute tendinitis and my hip was paying the price. It wasn’t bad, but more of a presence outside of the ‘normal’ muscle pain you would expect as you head into the half marathon territory of a race.
As we exited the park and started the westward run back towards the finish the roads thinned again and the crowding returned. There wasn’t a huge amount to look at so we just kept plugging away at the km’s with pretty consistent paces. You could see a lot of people were getting tired and there was a greater ‘urgency’ at the aid stations as people took advantage of the bananas, raisins and sugar cubes to recover their energy. So much so that someone felt the need to swipe my banana from my hand, leaving me to turn around and get another. I was a little pissed about this, I mean, I was thinking ‘we’re all in this together’ and it wasn’t like it was the last piece. I just think whoever it was figured I was next to the table and could get another while they were on the outside and couldn’t deal with the fight. Anyways, Mark and I continued on and got a second look at the Bastille as we turned towards the river.
Once on the river we swiftly dropped down onto Voie Georges Pompidou to run right along the edge of the Seine and began what was by far the most beautiful part of the race. Sights included Ile St-Louis and Ile de la Cite along with a fleeting glance of Notre Dame Cathedral before we entered the long tunnel that tracks along the Seine. This tunnel was a hiccough in the otherwise pleasant scenery and was the lowlight of my race. Not because it was slow, in fact I upped the pace in the tunnel just to get out, but because it was hot, very dark and the electronic music and club-like light show did little to lift the spirits as we trudged through almost a kilometre of long tunnel. Popping out the other side we were again greeted with stunning Paris scenery for the entire length of Voie Georges Pompidou, following the river around past the Eiffel Tower. Seeing that tower slowly getting larger as I headed towards it was a good boost to keep going along the undulating boulevard as my hamstrings started to complain and my hip started to tighten.
At the 30km point Mark and I got separated when he got stuck in the scrum at the water station. I kept looking back but couldn’t see him anywhere so kept running. It turned out he was only about 25m behind me but I couldn’t see him and he didn’t want to try and sprint past the crowds to catch me, so I slowly pulled ahead. Turning off Voie George Pompidou the race headed uphill slowly and the road thinned. A lot of people were hitting their wall at this point and I started to pass people by the dozen. Knowing what happened in Mallorca when I pushed too hard too early, I kept my pace and heart rate in check and decided it wasn’t me that was accelerating, everyone else was decelerating. I did some maths and figured that a PB was already gone and that the original goal for going under 4:00 was still doable if I just kept the paces. My hip by this stage was a good solid dull ache, nothing acute, but at that point where you know that a trip or a fall could be too much and injury a possibility.
At the 34km point the race turned into the park and up the last hill for the race, a slow rise for about a kilometre before the generally flat section in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne. Here the crowds were very thin and I noticed the pain really starting to set in and my pace dropping off. I banged another gel and kept pushing to keep my pace as fast as I could go for my heart rate. I hit the 37km point and knew I had the finish in the bag and would go under 4 hours if I kept my pace under 6min/km, and the game became about seeing if I could keep pushing out 5:30/km’s to go in with a 3:55. As I started to push I found that I just didn’t have more to give and I had to instead push just to keep the same pace. One more scrum at the water station and then it was the last 2.2km to the finish. I had to get some pretty serious positive self talk going to keep up the pace and while it wasn’t a sprint finish I did manage to eke out a few seconds of pace in the hope to get into the 3:57 range but it wasn’t to be. Official chip time of 3:58:00, 14,626 out of 39,115 finishers.
Overall, I was very happy with my race. I really don’t think I could have paced it much better, it’s the closest to an even split I’ve done. For that, I have Mark to thank. Whenever I was opening the taps he would let me know I was speeding and I would rein it in. This stopped me from dropping below 5:20/km pace which would have certainly led to a ruined race in the last stages in the park.
The race itself was excellent and I would recommend it to anyone as a destination race. If you’re a mid-pack runner then it’s not necessarily a good race to try for a PB due to the crowding and slow water points, but geez it is a route filled with interesting scenery in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
And finally, thanks so much to everyone who commented on my blog and Facebook page for your support in the lead-up to the race. You’re awesome!
Happy running everyone!
Get Going, Get Running!