The Paris Marathon is now somewhat of a tradition for Allison and I. It’s 6 years today since our first visit and it has gone from an alternative after missing out on the London ballot to purposely going there and this year was to be our 4th race there.
There are many reasons to love the Paris Marathon – the Breakfast Run in the build up, the wide streets to run in, the sightseeing tour you get along the route, the atmosphere around the race and hey, it’s a weekend in Paris! Our first visit taught us that there aren’t many escalators on the Metro and so every year, we’ve booked a hotel within a short walking/shuffling distance from the start and finish.
Following the cool temperatures in the Breakfast Run, marathon day was a different story with bright sunshine greeting us when we woke up. We knew the forecast was going to be warm and so it was a case of hope we can get finished before it gets too warm. With the sun screen applied, croissants and coffee consumed, it was time to head out to run. Extra security meant that entry into Avenue Foch to drop our bags off took a little bit longer with everyone being searched but that was ok. There were even police marksmen on top of the Arc de Triomphe!
After my umpteenth visit to the loo (every marathon runner will understand this), we headed to the Champs Élysées and to our starting pens. I was due to run in the sub 3:15 pen but that group, along with the 3:30 one had already gone so I went into the 3:45 group. This was fine as I thought my time may be closer to this than my original predicted time. Besides, if I was to run quicker, it would be nicer to mainly go past people rather than have everyone go past me!
I was slightly apprehensive on the morning of the race of blowing up later in the race and struggling in the last 10k but actually once I started running, I instantly knew I would be fine and so was able to relax much more. My plan coming into this race was to run comfortably, feel in control of my pace and have something in reserve for later on, as I did at Inverness Half a few weeks ago. I also decided on a strategy of taking a gel every 5 miles until 20 then one at 23 miles and also to take water at every station along with a slice of orange, walk for a few seconds and start running. Allison uses this strategy and the walk bit at the water station is useful as there are lots of orange peel on the road so the ground can become very slippy. At the water stations at Paris, you also get chopped up banana, raisins, sugar cubes (which is actually a great idea) as well as the orange slices. I remembered how amazing they were after last year’s race when I ate lots of them after the race so this time I decided to have some during the race.
Everything seemed to work well as I felt really comfortable and found myself slowing down to stay in control of my pace. I had thought about going easy in the first half and being able to run quicker in the second half but as I had only reached 19 miles in training once, I wasn’t sure if that tactic would work. I went with it anyway. At 15km, coming out of Bois de Vincennes, there is a nice downhill section so I took advantage of that, passing a few people while enjoying the recovery that running downhill can give you (if you get it right).
I was really surprised at how well I was finding it. Running with no target pace or time is very refreshing! I found myself speeding up between 15 and 32km when we were running next to the Seine and through tunnels under the bridges. I have never consciously started speeding up between 16 and 19 miles in any marathon before! Allison and I had joked about taking a selfie with an orange slice smile as we passed the Eiffel Tower and it wasn’t until we got close to it that I remembered and decided to go for it. The 30km water station was directly across from the tower so I couldn’t resist grabbing a slice and taking the photo!
The section where I speeded up, was the very section where I found myself slowing down last year when I was pushing the pace to go for a time. Last year felt tough going but this year felt so much easier and it felt nice to make up for last year’s struggles.
I remember getting to mile 20 and beyond and still feeling pretty good. I was focused so much on the road ahead of me that I almost ran past Roland Garros Tennis Arena in the Bois de Boulogne without noticing! I remember that section being tough in each of my previous marathons there, willing the miles to come to me but this year was much nicer though lack of training caught up on me and I started slowing down. I still felt good and it was great to have more musical bands and cheering stations as a distraction.
We were winding up in the last part of the race and saw the familiar sign of the Tag Heuer photo point where you get your photo taken at 41km and if you agree to it, they automatically publish your photo to your Facebook profile, which can be a form of sadism if you’ve seen race photos before! The great thing here, like the other photo points along the route, is that you can clearly see them coming so you have a chance to wipe your face and put on your best smile.
Because of the way the route runs, you can hit mile 26 and still not see the finish line! This is because when you leave the park, you have to go round a roundabout before taking a right onto Avenue Foch and then you see the finish line ahead of you. For the first time ever, I felt ready to speed up as I passed mile 26 but knew I had to wait until I could see the line before going for it but actually found myself speeding up as we went round the last corner and then speeded up again in the last 100 yards or so to the line. I did it! I was also delighted that I had run it exactly the way I wanted to!
I made the most of the post-race orange slices, the sugar cubes and banana. For that moment only, they were the best food ever! My official finishing time was 3hrs 49mins and 50 seconds. I was delighted with this given my level of training for this event. It was way off my fastest but it is another step along my journey towards being able to run as comfortably as that AND run faster than 3hrs 15mins in order to get a good for age place in London in the future.
I would like to go back to London again but want to earn my place there. For now, Paris is my favourite Spring Marathon and at the time of writing, we have already signed up and looking forward to returning to the beautiful city in April 2017.