42.2km: Paris Marathon 2019
April 14th 2019: 5 weeks after the Barcelona marathon. 5 weeks after walking the final 20km of my 1st marathon with nausea and stitches. 5 weeks after telling myself repeatedly during the 42.2km "No way am I ever doing this again!". Yet here I was, standing in the final starting group of the Paris Marathon on the Champs Elysees. No idea what to expect; but the words I had read the day before of actor Will Ferrell in my head "Running a marathon is not a question of whether it will be painful, but when it will be painful." Inspiring words that were about to change my marathon experience!
The start time was 10:20am. With 55000 participants, the starting gun first went at 8:15am that morning. In the 4 hr 30 min + group, we were last to start, just as the elites were preparing to cross the finish line on Avenue Foch.
I knew I was as ready as I could ever be. The Barcelona Marathon, while painful, could be considered a training run - I had covered the distance, 42.2km. I was consistent in the 5 weeks between each marathon. I ate relatively well, I slept well (even achieving 9 hours sleep the night before...not easy with 2 kids under 5!). I had missed no planned training - no injury or sickness. I had continued with 3 days per week training. reaching 30km and 25km in two long runs as I tapered. Even though the 30km was one of those tough running days, I did it.
Race morning: standing at the start line, tears trickled down my face when the pre race speakers reminded us of all our families and friends cheering us on the sides and on the app, but that "today is about none of them. Today is about you, and only you". My husband had said the same to me that morning. This wasn´t about anyone else. It was about me and the 42.2km of pavement I was about to run.
And so we were off. Running down the Champs Elysees, through Place de la Concorde, and over to Opera. There were parts of the run that were slow. At one point, around the 3km mark after Place de la Concorde, I found myself behind the 5 hr 30 pacer. I had no idea how, as they should have started after us (I was at the front of the 4 hr 30 group). I then thought I took a wrong turn and was redoing some street! I kept moving forward, and eventually figured the start must have let both the 4 30 lane and 5 30 lane out at once.
Meanwhile, that group was so big it was blocking the road and impossible to pass. Further up the road, we had similiar issues; this time the spectators had crossed the metal barriers placed for the marathon and were on the road. Basically the road was narrowed so much it could only take 6-8 runners wide and we had thousands of runners trying to get through. While the spectators had the best of intentions, it was a dangerous situation as runners were packed in where they shouldn´t have been.
Then a cyclist crossed the road, at its most narrowest point. I nearly fell over his bike! This was part of the course in Paris: many participants complained on the lack of marshalling on the route, with rollerbladers, cyclists, kids on scooters crossing in front of runners. Just Parisians living their lives, but marshalling would have helped significantly. Fun runners, out for their Sunday runs, were then joining in in parts of the marathon and literally blocking the way: taking the narrowest part of the road on corners, where the marathon runners were trying to come up on the inside. While I am sure great to join a few km of a marathon, it was impacting the flow of actual marathon runners and causing some frustration.
Apart from that, the race was well situated. I had memorised the route which proved a great help. I knew we would have circa 9km in a public park from 11km-20km, then we would run along the Seine for 10-12km, before again reaching a park which would bring us the final 8km, 800m from the finish line. This was super helpful to know, as no where in any of the marathon guides did it indicate where the toilet facilities would be. For sure, there were aid stations every 5 km, so water was no issue, but the toilets were not all linked to the aid stations from what I could tell. They were in unexpected places, so you could not prepare for where they would be.
With two long stretches in public parks, the scenery was a beautiful mix of historic Paris but also with an aspect of openess and greenery. There were many short inclines matched by declines, and in recent weeks I had discovered hills were my friends: they helped loosen up my legs for running on the flat. So as we hit the various tunnels on the Seine, going downhill to climb uphill coming out of them, I started to pass many runners keeping my pace consistent around 6 min 30 per km.
I was first keeping myself slow, to save energy. Then I decided at 5km, what was the point? I could end up walking from 30km, so I did the pace I wanted to, and kept moving. From 15km-21km, I was at a consistent pace and was encouraged knowing my family and friends were monitoring the app; they would all be waiting for me to naturally slow, so as I hit 25km and 30km, keeping a good pace, it gave me more and more confidence knowing they would be virtually cheering me on.
There were tough moments between 32km-38km, where I took a breather at the water stations to fill my bottle, but the words of Will Ferrell kept returning: "Running a marathon is not a question of whether it will be painful, but when it will be painful."
I was passing many runners who were walking, and I felt their pain: that was me in Barcelona. Struggling to make the finish line. I now know that Barcelona was one of the greatest marathon achievements I will ever have: completing 42.2km when the odds are against you, when physically your body says no, when you are reduced to walking making a finish time in Barcelona of 5 hours 20 mins. Barcelona made me a marathoner.
As I hit the 4 hour mark, I was clocking 34/35km, and I realised I had a sub 5 hour in my sight, and not only a sub 5 hour, but a sub 4 hour 40 mins. But if Barcelona thought me anything, it was you don´t know whats going to happen next. SO I kept focused, buckled down, watched the km marks and kept my pace. As I suddenly saw the 500m mark, I was 4 hour 32 on my garmin. Then the 350m marker. And the 42km marker. And there it was: 42.2km, crossing the finish line at 4 hours 35 mins, 45 minutes ahead of my Barcelona marathon time! At that moment, while surrounded by fellow marathoners, it was just me and that finish line, marking one of the most memorable moments in my life!
Refuel Stops: Every 5km, but not necessarily on the 5km mark. I recall nothing for the first 7km or so, and then the refuel stops came at odd kms. Vittel water was all I took. There were no gels or energy foods provided. Pretzels, Tuc biscuits were on offer.
Inclines: There were many inclines and matching declines. The toughest was around 32km, just before we hit the second park. That was long and slow.
Course Design: This was a single loop of the city, with two long periods in public parks.
Race Entertainment: The entertainment ramped up significantly as we got into the final 20 km of the race
Facilities: Oh wow, they actually cleaned the portaloos at the start line! But as mentioned, there was no indication when or where on the race toilets would be, so it was not possible to plan for the next toilet at xkm, etc.