Let me begin by saying this ends very happily I had the best marathon experience I could have ever have wished for. I’ll try my hardest to keep to the real ‘meat’ of the marathon in my recap and I’ll talk about the days before and after a bit more in another post.
Day Before (briefly)
Ben and I had signed up for the Paris Breakfast 5km Run the day before the marathon as a ‘shake out’ run. I wanted to stretch my legs a bit having been on a plane and travelling the day before.
I won’t talk too much about this run as I want to focus on the ‘real’ run. But it was a fun way to start Saturday morning. However I was so nervous and I was over-thinking every single twinge. My calf felt tight (as it had done all week really) and I started to panic.
In retrospect our day before the marathon was textbook stupid. We ran 5km in the morning (albeit very slowly with lots of stops) and then walked a fair amount as we met up with some friends. They knew we were doing the marathon and we said we didn’t want to walk too much but I think as non-runners ‘not walking too much’ is all relative. In the end we did almost 30,000 steps. Not good.
For dinner we sought out a pizzeria and had a really tasty pizza. I went for a tuna, egg and vegetable one and Ben had his standard margarita.
I’m not proud of this, but that evening I went into meltdown. I was freaking out. Worst case scenarios were just filling my head. I was suddenly convinced I wouldn’t finish and would have to stop. I got very upset and panicked and Ben had to calm me down. Bless him, he ended up reading from the Paris marathon handbook thing they gave out at the expo which really helped. I did manage to fall asleep about 10.30pm though.
I was awake before my 6am alarm. We had stacks of time as we didn’t have to leave the hotel until 7.30am. I basically floated around the room in a dazed state. I had a black coffee and porridge that we’d packed from home. I even brought chia seeds with me to add to it.
Then we left. It took about 30 minutes to walk to the Arc de Triomphe, which was a nice warm up.
It was crazy because cars were still driving round, the road wasn’t closed.
My major gripe (of which I was aware of beforehand having read a few Paris marathon recaps) was that there were probably less than 30 portaloos. Ben and me stood in a queue for about 10 minutes before I started to panic and decide I’d use the ones in the actual pens (again, I’d found this out beforehand).
The weather was cool but not that cold. But I’d bought a huge hoody from a charity shop just in case.
Then Ben and me said our goodbyes and went to our respective pens. It’s laughable as I was in the 3:15 pen (Ben in the 3:45). When I signed up I was optimistic that I would be aiming for 3:30 but wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get held up so went one further. Now it was a joke as that wasn’t my aim at all.
When I got to the pen (now having about 40 minutes to wait until the start) I stood in the line for the SINGLE portaloo. I was lucky enough to have managed to go before the race began, but honestly it was a joke.
The sun was now beating down quite strongly and was right in our eyes. We started bang on time.
I had quite a structured plan of the paces I wanted to stick to (which I had written down, laminated and kept in my sports bra for the race). I knew it would be very tempting to blast it out right at the beginning, especially considering the speedy wave I was in. But I held on to my nerve and kept, thereabouts, to what I wanted. I was probably 10 or seconds faster but I was comfortable with that.
The sun was right in our eyes for such a long time it was quite hard to see around me. We ran past the Place de la Concorde, but again it was tough to see because of the sun. It’s funny because from mile 1-10 I was still convinced I wouldn’t finish.
I ran without music or podcasts and just tried to enjoy the first 10 miles. My first milestone I was aiming for was 10k because I knew my time would get pinged back to my parents at home who I’d signed up to receive a text for my times. Then my next milestone was mile 8 where I took my first gel (I held three gels in one hand and my wireless headphones in my other – this was fine as I don’t mind holding small things when I run though my hands got very sweaty).
There was lots to see and quite a bit of support (but nothing like I imagine London will be like; it reminded me more of a bigger half marathon level of support in the UK). Also the supporters seemed only to be supporting their significant others rather than cheering everyone in general. Though my name was on my bib, only two people shouted “allez Anna” the entire race.
At around 10k, when we got into a lovely park (after passing the Place de la Bastille and Chateau de Vincennes) I started to get very hot and thirsty. Luckily there were drinks stations at every 5km. I have another gripe with this. There were signs to say it was coming up but no real direction (that I was aware of) of which side of the road they were at. It was manic around there as well. My technique was just dive in with my hand out, catch the eye of a volunteer, grab a drink and get the hell out of there asap.
At first I just had a few swigs then binned the bottle. But later I realised I needed to hold the bottle and keep it with me as I’d get thirsty so quickly again and 5km was too long to wait for another.
At 10 miles I put my podcast on. I needed to take my mind off the running. The running was fairly easy, I was maintaining a nice comfortable pace but it was wearing on the brain. I was keeping a very close eye on my pace constantly reminding myself that though I felt great now I would feel terrible later at the same or perhaps slower pace. This really kept in check my speed. It would have been very easy to have gone faster at this point.
My next milestone was 12 miles where I had my next gel. I didn’t feel I needed the gels but I was terrified of bonking later so took it regardless (in retrospect, I won’t take more than one gel because it made me feel quite sick). Then I aimed for half way (another point my time went back to my parents). I must say I can’t remember too much about the race at this point. My goal was purely just to keep focusing on a steady even pace and listen to the podcast.
There was a tunnel we went under and were in for a fair amount of time that I really did not enjoy. It was so hot and muggy that it was quite uncomfortable. It was also very dark with lots of psychedelic flashing lights. This made me feel even more sick.
My next mile stone was 18 miles. Psychologically I wanted to get there because this was where everyone says you struggle. Out of the entire race though I would say I struggled half way to 17 miles the most in terms of mentally staying on track. The effort of running was becoming harder, not in terms of fitness or lungs or whatever, but the pounding on my body. Suddenly little niggles were cropping up. I felt a tightness in my hamstring and my knee was occasionally niggling. But it never felt really bad or worrying. Just simply that by this point I’d been running well over two hours, almost three.
At 18.5ish I knew my time would have gone back to my parents (little did I know they were tracking my every 5km on the Paris marathon app). At this point I was actually feeling quite good and suddenly felt confident I would finish (I know this sounds ridiculous). As I closed in around 20 miles I started doing the maths for what time I could achieve. I knew I’d added on distance for my winding and just generally not running the exact tangent so I tried to estimate that.
At 20 miles I popped on some music. And let me tell you what a buzz that was! Suddenly my whole body got into gear and I was ready to go. The music really got me going and I was loving it. Hitting every new mile was a huge buzz. I ended up running next to a girl who was at my speed and we stuck together. I vaguely remember seeing people handing out champagne and dried meats but I kept focused and kept going.
The girl was brilliant. She really pushed me forward. At first when I was next to her it seemed a bit of a coincidence of pace, but then after waiting for each other at the drink station it was clear we were both helping each other (though really she was helping me). As I hit 25 miles I knew I probably had 1.5miles left. I started to lag a bit and told the girl to go on but she turned and said “no, no, stay behind me. Keep going”. In the end though her pace was too much and I thanked her and told her to go – she smiled and ran off, I wish I could have thanked her later. That last bit…was just like pure physical and mental pain; harder than I’ve ever had before. My pace wasn’t crazy but it was just such hard work. I got to the 26 mile mark and started counting down the minutes.
I turned round the corner of the Avenue du Foch and saw the finish. Head down, keep pushing. Every single single.
Then it was over.
I stopped as soon as I hit the line. Watch switched off. Relief. Accomplishment. Happiness. Sheer shock. 3:41:18
And then the zombie march began. Every one around me was stumbling, hobbling and crawling forward. I immediately rang my dad. He told me he’d been monitoring the whole way through the app (bless him). After grabbing a water I collapsed to sit onto the curb. I felt sick, dizzy and knackered.
After chatting to my dad a bit and getting an update on Ben (as he was also tracking Ben) I found my finishes t-shirt (small and it fits!), my medal (but of course) and a huge green tent/poncho. It’s amazing how cold you quickly become.
I floated around aimlessly. My legs were unbelievably achy, but nothing in pain (HALLALEUIGH!). Getting up from the curb was a feat in itself. A French guy nodded at me sympathetically as I attempted to get up.
I saw some funny sights as I walked forward to get out of the area.
It seemed anything went! I felt incredibly sick and foolishly had half a banana, which only made me feel so much worse. I kept sipping water and walking forwards. Then suddenly, bam, in the middle of the road were so many food carts.
I couldn’t even think about food let alone smell it. I tried to get out of there as quickly as possibly.
I knew Ben was a bit behind what he’d hoped so I went to our meeting point and laid on a bench.
Near the Arc de Triomphe of course. I was getting very cold at this point and was desperate to know how Ben was. I stretched a lot and kept my feet up and just waited.
Ben text me when he was done and after 30 minutes we met up. He had been aiming for a sub-four but after unexplainably tight quads from mile nine he missed his goal. He got a very respective 4:22:11. A very significant PB (by about 50 minutes!).
We both staggered back to the hotel grinning from ear to ear.
Done. Done. Done.
I’m so pleased. I can’t believe it went so well. I did enjoy it, it was tough obviously, but at no point did I think “I hate this” or “I hate running” or “never again”. I’d say my approach was first 10 miles ENJOY, second 10 miles IGNORE (trying to take my mind off the hard work), last 10k FOCUS. I kept to my paces, I made no mistakes and everything went smoothly. Thank god. Thank you for all your support as well
More to come on the Paris trip itself, the post-marathon experience and what’s next…