Running the Paris Marathon: My First Marathon is done!

A belated blog post…

This time last year I could only run one mile before having to stop and walk. Not only was I unfit, but I also have mild asthma. This alone meant it never even occurred to me that I would be able to ever be a fitness fanatic, or even a casual runner.

Run the British 10k?

When someone suggested I run the British 10k for charity (Kidscape), an event set for last July, I was completely daunted by the idea. 10k is over 6 miles – a distance I could not even imagine covering. Low and behold, I signed up, and as I trained for the event my fitness got better and my asthma started to improve. I completed the British 10k in 59 minutes and, to be honest, wasn’t that puffed…

…How about the Paris Marathon?

When Kidscape approached me in September 2012 and mentioned the Paris Marathon, the idea of me participating made me laugh. I shrugged them off, but of course by that point the idea had been seeded in my mind. Two days later a completed a registration form and the journey had begun.

I found a marathon training plan on the Bupa website and tried my best to stick to it. I didn’t worry too much about the speed work, because I was only concerned with completing the marathon – I wasn’t expecting a fantastic ‘time’.

Marathon Training – up and down

The biggest achievement in my marathon training for me was my 18 miler in February. I ran around Hackney Marshes, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had been feeling a little low about the previous week – struggling through 15 miles slow jog with a loo stop half way – and it really lifted my spirits.

Then it hit me – an injury! I never in a million years thought that I would ever suffer a sports injury but there it was, and I couldn’t ignore it. It took three weeks of half resting and half training for me to feel able to run a long distance again. My next race was the Finchley 20 on 17th March.

Two twenty milers before the taper

The Finchley 20 (in Ruislip!) was great. It had a real local feel, and I managed to get round (non-stop!) in 3 hours 17 minutes, which means I maintained a pace of under 10 mins per mile. I was very pleased with myself! My aches and pains were of course heightened but I felt that if I could do the 20, I could do the Paris Marathon.

The next week I, perhaps foolishly, ran the Hyde Park 20 miler – in the snow and below-freezing temperatures. This one didn’t go so well, finishing at 3 hours and 21mins, but in my defence it was absolutely freezing and no-one enjoyed themselves that morning. At this point I had just 2 weeks to go before I raced in Paris, and the taper had begun.

To manage my muscle injury/weakness I had to do the following: drink a glass of milk a day, do exercises with exercise bands and half-inflated sports balls, and do thorough pre-race dynamic exercises to warm my muscles up. I even started drinking protein shakes – I thought these were just for hulk-type gym goers!!

The journey to Paris!

I travelled to Paris on the Friday evening before the Sunday race, and rested well. On Saturday, bright and early, I went for a mere 1 mile run around the streets of Paris. It felt horrible, slow, achey and tiring. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind that you do realise you have to do 26.2 of those tomorrow…

Preparations for the big day

On the Saturday, after getting my race chip from the Expo, I walked to the finish line, so that I could arrange a place to meet my spectators! It was strange seeing the quiet before the storm. In the evening, after a large pasta meal, I laid out everything I would need for the next day: race clothes, headphones, iphone arm band, arm band for gels, gels, water bottle, trainers and sports socks, ear warmers, an old scarf and three old jumpers. The latter items were because at the start line it would be cold, but as soon as I got going I would want rid of them!

paris marathon start line

The start line at the Arc de Triomphe

I got a very good night sleep and arranged a wake-up call for 6.30 on Sunday morning. I loaded up at breakfast with bread, jam, orange and grapefruit juice, and some filthy coffee (no tea available, of course, anywhere in France!) and set off on foot to the Arc de Triomphe. It was a very quiet, still and cold morning, but as I made the 20 minute journey I saw more and more runners wandering in the same direction. I arrived at the Arc de Triomphe and the crowds were already swarming around their ‘pens’ (divided by expected finish time), and the queues for the portaloos were immense. So glad I didn’t need them! The atmosphere was exciting, and filled with anticipation. People started stripping off their jumpers, and then felt the real chill in the air!

My 4.30 group

I was in the 4hr30min group, and minutes after we heard the Gun go off for the elite runners, we started moving towards the start line – guided by marathon volunteers. Somehow I got right to the front of the group, and was even holding the rope! As we were almost at the back of 40 thousand people, and the sea of rubbish we had to wade through was unbelievable! Jumpers, gel packets, bags, t-shirts and bin bags were just a few of the things littered all over the Champs-Élysées.

I was at the very front of our group, which once you think of it as 10 thousand strong, is quite an achievement. I was not going to make a mistake though – I knew that every first-marathoner speeds at the beginning and regrets in down the line. As soon as we passed the start line, at 9.45am, I got into a ‘slow’ pace as I knew it would be easier to maintain. Of course, later on, I would question myself about this choice! Hundreds of people overtook me, but I had one goal in mind – to run all the way to the finish. I didn’t want to burn out at the beginning.

Sight seeing?

The race is a bit of a blur, and of course I didn’t even look up at all the landmarks we passed, including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. My memories are a mixture of slipping over orange peel (yes, it’s more dangerous than banana. Fact), taking a whole handful of raisins in what I thought was sugar, spitting out the pure salt in revulsion, following runners going the same pace and enjoying the breeze that was thankfully present on what was quite a warm, sunny day. (I even got sunburn!)

I noticed that at various points of the route my body was trying it’s best to make me stop. First it was a pain in my thighs, then calves, then a bit of a headache, but ignoring them all meant my body stopped bothering me and just got on with it!

When I got to 20 miles – where apparently it’s common to hit the wall – I still felt strong. I wondered, and still wonder, how you can hit the wall with this message in your head: I’ve done 20 miles. I only have 6 to go

The last six miles

The last six miles were tough. Not because I was wanting to stop (though this did cross my mind on occasion) but because of all the walkers! By this point about 70% of people were walking. Slowly. In the middle of the road. Weaving in and out of them meant that I actually finished with 26.74 miles clocked on RunKeeper, instead of the expected 26.2! At mile 25.5 my body threw it’s last card down – a blister. I don’t even know how this happened – my feet were utterly smothered in vaseline and I had not experienced a blister for a few weeks now as a result of this technique. Instead of stopping me, it just meant I had to hobble a certain way – I can’t imagine what I looked like…

Getting to the finish line

Getting to the finish meant I was hit with a mix of emotions. I started crying immediately (well, after I’d stopped RunKeeper). There are awful ‘finishing pictures’ of me crying at the end, as well as video footage. I suppose what they expect is cries of joy but to be honest I was so dizzy I could hardly see. All I really clocked was that I had managed to keep hold of my own water bottle from the beginning, and that I was quite close to the correct meeting point.

The aches didn’t go away quickly. I managed to walk around Paris on Monday, but Tuesday was pretty tough.

Oh and I finished in 4hr31m08s. For all you time-conscious runners out there.

Paris Marathon finish high quality

paris marathon route

If I can do it, anyone can.