With my youngsters (Vida & Ziggy) both in the northern hemisphere, actively attending to the duties of “Gappies”, I am busily restoring the house to an eerily tidy state and keeping in touch with them (isn’t Skype wonderful?). The family’s finances will improve (temporarily!) but I have to confess that I’ve almost had enough of the quiet… I am most certainly not short of things to occupy me, but I do miss them! One of the things which I have finally done, is completed this and I thought you just might be interested. If not, well, I guess that’s why the ‘delete’ button was created.
At last….my Paris race report! As I’ve observed to several people already, whoever designed that city, really had a marathon in mind. Early April is a perfect race date, too: while the weather can do anything, on 7 April 2013, it was cool, but close to perfect for marathon running. Starting in about 1-2 degrees; it warmed up to a high of about 5-6 by the time I arrived (after an eventful run – more below) at the finish line. Good thing that the snow which greeted me on arrival in Paris a mere 3 days beforehand, was not evident…
The hard facts: 39,967 competitors participated in the 37th running of the Marathon de Paris with Schneider Electric as the major sponsor. The men’s winner: 22 yr old Kenyan Peter Some 2:05:38 (PB); the women’s winner: 24 yr old Ethiopian Boru Tadese 2:21:06 (PB & women’s race record). Luckily for them there seemed to be enough port-a-loos in the elite start corral. Back in the rather more sedate 3:30 pace group’s start corral, things were different. There was an acute shortage of toilets and, with 5 minutes to go till the start gun for the able-bodied run, there were about 20-30 women in each of 4 queues for the loos. Two French girls & I decided this was simply not on, so we made for the gutter….one of the French girls suddenly grabbed me by the upper arm, flashed a particularly impish grin, reached into her race bum bag and, to the collective delight of many a (some, by now, cross-eyed) female marathoner, pulled out & unfurled a sparkling gold foil heat blanket! She held it aloft, I grabbed the other corner and we held it up as a modesty screen, to the sound of the French girls proclaiming : “La Toilette D’Or”! The fact that there were spectators on the other side of the crowd control fence, meant absolutely nothing to any of us runners, we all dropped our daks in the gutter, smack bang in the middle of the Champs Elysees, without a second thought! I will confess to a wry smile the next day, when I walked – very slowly – past that spot, at the thought of the antics which had gone on, right there, the previous morning, in the shadow of such well-known fashion icons as the Louis Vuitton flagship store, Cartier, Pierre Ricaud, Christian Dior, the uber-trendy Nespresso Boutique, Fendi, Chanel Jouillerie, L’Occitaine en Provence, Balenciaga George V and many others….and there we had dropped our racing shorts and ….peeeeed!
The course description woven into this report is dedicated to all Francophiles: thousands of runners started off down one of the most famous streets in the western world, the Avenue des Champs Elysees, some 200 metres past the Arc de Triomphe, in an easterly direction. We ran around the Place de la Concorde, along the Rue de Rivoli and onto the Rue St-Antoine, around the Place de la Bastille, past the Chateau de Vincennes and, in a big 10K loop, towards and through the Bois de Vincennes. It was in the Bois de Vincennes that events took a turn for the not-so-good, as my Parisian run was not without adversity. One fact (especially relevant to anyone reading this who is a marathon runner & may be considering Paris) – water stations in the Paris marathon are provided only every 5 kms. Quite Spartan: it means that they are damn popular spots! Everyone wants to make very, very sure that they get their water, as one’s next opportunity is not for another 5 kms. Statistically, I guess I was in line for some sort of an incident (Paris was my 9th competitive marathon since 2009), so, at one level, it was not a shock, but a pain nevertheless. My goal in Paris was a 3:30 marathon. The headlines are that I started off brilliantly, went through 10K in 48 mins and was still at that pace at the 15K drink station (in the Bois de Vincennes). I was reaching for a water bottle from the table to my left when a Frenchman collided into me from the left (I’m still not sure how that happened, but happen it did!). Although we both managed to stay upright, we did stop momentarily, which caused a tres grand homme courant, to body slam into me from the back and send me flying to the ground, landing first on my chin. My glasses flew off my face, both knees firmly planted in the bitumen of the (otherwise quite lovely) road through the Bois de Vincennes….
Sadly, although I now had not one, but two Frenchmen on my back, neither of them was well-mannered and there was no champagne involved….The one on top got up and just ran off, the other had the good grace to drag me up by the elbow & attempt to attract the attention of a volunteer at the drinks table, to no avail. Mumbling something in French, he, too, ran off. I snuck back out on the course, retrieved my prescription sunnies and was insanely relieved that, despite being bent, they were not beyond retrieval. I coaxed them back into shape and the first thing I saw through my slightly mangled but still functional glasses, was a blind runner and his guide. What a shot of perspective! I had a stern talk with myself along the lines of: “So your chin’s throbbing, big deal, you don’t run with your chin; your knees are bleeding, so what? That runner will never see!” & “You came to Paris to run the marathon, not to feel sorry for yourself!”, that sort of thing. I did momentarily lose it & indulged myself by cussing like a trooper, hurling the water bottle onto the ground so forcefully that it bounced back up, higher than the person next to whom I had chucked it….However, gladly, the need for disciplined running (!) overtook me and after the Stern Talk With Self,
I kept going, reasoning that I would simply not be able to run if it were the case that I had broken something. I emerged from the Bois de Vincennes and continued onto the Ave Daumesnil to the half way point in 1:45 and was still feeling sort of OK. However, I have to concede that it was tough (especially when I got all these looks and stares from the thousands of spectators, complete with “Ooooh la la….la pauvre…!”). The course then continued in a westerly direction, past the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, along the Tuileries Gardens and the Musee D’Orsay just opposite, the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower.
It is seriously cool running in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower….
The Parisian crowds are just great: very, very vocal, heaps of live bands; European marathons seem to do that particularly well! The fact that one’s name & country is on each runner’s bib, is really great. It seems to me to be a relatively simple step for race organisers to undertake and engenders massive amounts of feelgood factor. We left the banks of the Seine at the 31K mark, to be well and truly in the Bois de Boulogne at the 33K mark. The last nearly 10K is eaten up by the roads through the Bois de Boulogne with a magical finish at Port Dauphine in the Avenue Foch. I ended up with a time of 4:00:52 (damn those 52 seconds!). My chin swelled up to the size of a small prune and my knees were pretty gross, with blood streaking down my shins…and into my shoes which were a fairly unappealing shade of dirty pink. A big 30 minute fade in the second half, but what with the collision, I console myself with the thought that it’s an OK result. Not to plan, but then, that’s the lot of the distance runner. Just think of some of the Boston field this year, their race certainly didn’t go according to plan.
I consoled myself – several times – in the back end of the race, with this thought: “The quicker you finish this, the faster you’ll be able to get to the medical tent, where they’ll be nice to you! They’ll have to be nice to you.”. The Parisian crowds are very, very encouraging and the names on bibs meant that total French randoms called out encouragement along the lines of: “Ginta! Allez! Allez! Allons-y!! Courage! Courage!….” or, in my case: “Ginta! Australia! Allez…(spectator’s gaze drops to my knees) ….Oooh la la….”. I also got a lot of “Ginta! Australia! COURAGE!!” Well, I did finish, I did get to the med tent, and they were nice to me. After washing off the gunk and cleaning up both knees and my chin, they pronounced (no doubt because they are possessed of x-ray vision) that they didn’t think that I had broken anything. “Great!”, I lamely thought – my knees were swelling up as I watched them…. (Happily, the opinion about my knees being OK has been echoed by Bruce Caldwell, a Sydney orthopaedic surgeon, since my return.) A thoroughly charming French podiatrist in the med tent asked whether he could look at my feet. Being in no real hurry to leave, I consented. After a (very pleasant!) examination – more along the lines of a mini-massage – he proclaimed: “Your feet are very fine, very good – you even have every of your toenails!”. Sadly, in conscience, I then had to leave the med tent and make way for other runners, some of whom were on stretchers. The elusive & magical 3:30 marathon will have to wait until Chicago in October (the Redemption Run)!
The running gods had smiled on me upon my arrival in Paris as I had met a couple of extremely pleasant Kiwis on the bus from the airport to the city. Casey Plunket – very speedy tax lawyer (Paris in 3:01, since then Casey has run Wellington, NZ m’thon in 2:55!) – and his mother, Merran. They very kindly invited me to join them & a bunch of crazy Kiwis for post-race drinks at the interestingly named (but very swish!) ‘Hotel California’. A very friendly gesture, and, although it took me about an hour to hobble/walk the 2 kms or so to get there, I did need to keep the legs moving as whatever be the fate of my knees, things would only be compounded by stiff muscles…(this turned out to be a good move). Those Kiwis are a very fine bunch and it was delightful to have some company. On my return to the hotel and to what has to be described as a slightly disappointing, fairly off-hand, cool reception by the hotel staff, I applied the RICE (rest, ice, compression & elevation) strategy. An indication of the off-handedness of the hotel staff: I rang the desk later that evening (a Sunday night in a small hotel, totally not busy) & asked whether someone would please bring me some ice. Nothing doing! I had to schlep downstairs & get the ice myself…
There was at least one other Sydney Strider in the event, the exceptionally quick Craig McCredie, who I’d met in London. Craig had a great run and did a PB: 2:29! Awesome stuff, just amazing. Sadly, although Craig & I had unexpectedly seen one another training on the streets of the northern beaches in Sydney, I did not see Craig in Paris (not surprising, he’s far too fast for me when racing). He came 2nd in his category and 43rd overall!
I did this Parisian trip by myself. It was a most unusual and pleasant experience to be able to ‘do Paris’ wherever, whenever and for however long I wanted to. Nevertheless, the downside of solo travel is highlighted in situations such as that in which I found myself on Sunday evening. You can imagine how very, very grateful I was to have the comfort (and mobile number!) of my dear friend Helen McKenzie’s sister Evelyn (who has made Paris her home). I’d had a lovely, chatty dinner with Evelyn the evening before the race. After the event, I related to her my tale of woe – she was especially supportive and helpful. Despite resting, icing, compressing and elevating them, both of my knees swelled up to the size of small melons on Sunday night. As I went to bed, wondering how I would fare in the Walking Department in the morning, it was a blessed and very real relief to know that if things were really desperate on Monday (my last full day in Paris) I could contact Evelyn (and she’d be nice to me!). Happily, however, without setting any land speed records, I was able to get about on Monday and even – very slowly – attend to a few retail assignments.
As for Boston this year…devastating. I did Boston in 2010 and still regard it as one of the all-time great runs. It was especially creepy watching the news coverage of Boston 2013 in our family as the spot where the bombs went off, is the very spot where David, Vida & Ziggy (then 15 y/o) were standing in 2010, trying to get a glimpse of me finishing the race. I have several photos, taken by them, of the finishing stretch, of that very spot. And the time on the clock (4:09) corresponds pretty much with my Boston 2010 finishing time (3:36). There, but for the grace….
I’m now in harness for the 5th (of 6) in the WMM (World Marathon Majors) Series – Chicago on 13 October 2013.
Bring it on!