Most marathons I have completed I can’t wait to finish. Usually my pre-race plan has gone out the window and I’m hanging on trying to save some dignity for the finish. However the Marathon du Medoc, held in Paulliac, one hour north of Bordeaux, France, is not a normal marathon and is more like a wine tasting costume carnival that I wanted to go on forever. The international run has been held in early September for the past twenty nine years and the costumes have a theme each year, with the 2013 theme being ‘science fiction.’ I have had a previous flirtation with the event in 2010 when the theme was ‘Superheroes’ and I had made it to Paris with my un-original Superman outfit. After having paid the entry fee and accommodation in Bordeaux I had to return to Australia for a funeral after my 93 year old father had peacefully passed away. Consequently I felt the Medoc was unfinished business and by good fortune 2013 was my time.
Most days of our lives usually pass uneventfully, with one day being pretty much like the other and we hope to move through life peacefully and enjoyably, if possible. But there are rare days when you don’t want them to end and you feel as though you are experiencing life with such intensity you need time to process what you have been through. I have run the Comrades 89k ‘Marathon’ in South Africa twice along with the Two Oceans 56k ‘Marathon’ and put the Marathon du Medoc right up there with them. As I am a runner I’m purposely ignoring all the other amazing experiences life throws up and expect that other runners reading this will agree that we share an activity that releases us from the banality of everyday life.
The day begins in Bordeaux by rising at 5.30am for a 6.30am transfer bus to Paulliac, with the sun rising as busloads of costumed runners excitedly try and imagine the day ahead. Although the run begins at 9.30am and our bus arrived at Paulliac around 7.45am, the time flew until lining up with the other runners at 9am. Everyone is checking out everyone else’s costume, with approximately eighty percent of the field of eight thousand dressed for a party rather than a marathon. Although the theme for 2013 was science fiction, with plenty of Star Wars, Star Trek, Green Men (and Women), Avatars and just general Aliens, such as myself, there were a number of French Maids (Japanese men in particular), Superheroes (left over from 2010?), Village People Construction Workers and Pirates. Some of the Green Men were wheeling flying saucers, Trekkies were wheeling the Starship Enterprise and the pirates had their own ship.
The start area was buzzing with anticipation. Runners looking anything but were packed along a street front and being entertained by acrobats swirling about above our heads on trapezes that were attached to large balloons. The announcer was revving up the crowd with chants that I couldn’t understand (it was in French, after all) and people would spontaneously burst into songs followed by applause.
That half hour will go down as the best pre-race buzz I’ve ever experienced. Everyone is taking photos of each other, pointing to something/someone whose costume they think is amazing and wearing the biggest smiles I have ever seen prior to an event.
Once the run was underway I found it hard to imagine that my fellow runners in elaborate costumes and make-up intended running a full 42k marathon. One of the incentives to keep going was the anticipation of wine tasting when passing through the forty or so Chateaux throughout the figure eight course. The run took place through dirt roads beside vineyards, some bitumen, loose stone pathways leading into each Chateau and through small villages where the locals hung out of their windows and the kids lined up for high-fives. Bands were playing in most Chateaux as well as along the course and after the initial scramble for the first taste of wine for the day at the 2k mark, things settled down when we realised there was plenty of wine to go around. My wine tasting race plan was to swirl and spit, but after my first attempt at this strategy I was left with too strong a taste in my mouth. Consequently I began a series of one mouthful here two mouthfuls there until I was feeling quite relaxed by the half-way mark. Some Chateaux proved very popular, with Flash Gordons and Aliens jostling for a taste at Chateau Lafite Rothschild (26k mark).
There was a lake at one Chateau after half-way and some runners had peeled off their costumes for a quick swim. Speaking of peeling off costumes, I noticed people struggling to de-robe from more elaborate outfits to irrigate the vineyards – toilets only being available when you reached a Chateau. The highlight for me among many was the last 4k of the course, which was a long straight stretch to the finish beside an estuary. Runners were treated to freshly shucked oysters, champagne, entrecote cut into small pieces and cognac (I can’t believe I missed the cognac stand – just what you need at the 40k mark of a marathon). Approaching the finish everyone received a stick of ice cream after checking their costumes in a strategically placed mirror in the middle of the road. I made sure my finishing photos included me sucking on my iceblock, as that image summarised what was the theme of the day – running for enjoyment. All finishers under 6 hours 30 mins received a medal and a bottle of red wine in a commemorative wooden case. However everyone who ran that day took away memories of an amazing experience that will last far longer than wine and trinkets.
Thanks to Travelling Fit for making it easy to participate in such a great event – a race bag was waiting at the hotel TF had selected in Bordeaux when I checked in as well as transport to and from Paulliac on race day – along with registration, of course.