Where to start with my Marathon du Medoc 2017 experience? This is not a single day race. This is a week long race. So don’t sprint too early and be prepared for a marathon. And a Personal Worst (PW) time.
Wednesday 6 September
I arrived into Bordeaux by train, took the lazy option of a taxi to Hotel Continental by HappyCulture, and checked in. I had pre-booked a manicure and pedicure (I do like to have something pretty to look at while running!) so headed off for those, and then met the Travelling Fit organiser and a couple of other runners and their supporters at the other hotel for a quick hello. I also had dinner with J from Bendigo, while her husband recovered from his sickness in his room. She was a hoot AND what an inspiration! 14 marathons in just 2 years – AMAZING!
Thursday 7 September
Travelling Fit organised a day tour (walking only!) to Arcachon including Oysters, Prawns, Pate and Wine. Here we started the day with a walk up Europe’s largest sand dune, Dune du Pilat and amazing views over the sea and forest. The photo really doesn’t do it justice!
We also visited the Summer and Winter Towns, checked out a cute souvenir shop and I stopped for a baguette before lunch (since I’m not a fan of oysters or any kind of seafood, really). I also climbed a tower with a very loose spiral staircase for views of the city. The adrenaline to my thighs and all the stairs I’d already walked at the hotel and up the sand dune probably didn’t make this a great idea. Lunch was at the port, and I did enjoy the wine, but less so the oysters (although I did try three with a mixture of lemon juice and aioli). We rounded the visit off with crepes for dessert at a nearby cafe before the bus took us back to the hotel.
Our race packs were ready when we got back; they included our bibs, a poster (I’m really unsure why I’m even trying to get this home and uncrushed!), an energy mix to add to water, a vanilla shower gel and the race guide (mostly in French).
BTW, people do the craziest things in Bordeaux. Like allowing their dog to walk off leash down the grassy tram tracks with cars driving either side. Yes, the trams do operate.
Friday 8 September
It’s the day before race day! I joined a small group (just 4 including myself plus our Travelling Fit host) for a 7.5km run along Bordeaux’s Garonne River, across the Pont de Pierre, with its seventeen arches, the same number as letters in Napoleon’s full name, before heading back across Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas which opens to allow cruise ships into the port.
Otherwise, it was a pretty relaxed day, although the evening was busier with the pasta dinner. No tours so I did a tiny bit of shopping and prepared myself for the following day.
The pasta dinner was anything but relaxed! It started with an almost 2 hour bus trip (not the highway kind but the stop/start, left turn/right turn, and roundabouts kind) from Bordeaux to Chateau Livran, an hour of wine and aperitifs on the front lawn while we laughed at those already in costume, before prematurely joining the queue to head inside.
Once inside, ‘wow’ is an understatement! 1000+ seats at trestle tables, an enormous dance floor lit up in purple, the band already playing on stage and guests and staff absolutely everywhere!
To start the night off right, the MC (in French, of course) thanks and welcomes to the stage the chefs, next the servers and finally the wine servers (who receive the biggest cheers of all; and these get louder when it is announced that “the wine will now be served”). It wasn’t long before the table of Englishmen behind us (who were running as the Village People the next day) were sculling from the bottle. Interestingly, the Builder (and drunkest of the lot, and he just got messier as the night went on much to our table’s entertainment) is actually a good ballroom dancer as we saw later on the dance floor. I had to beat him across the finish line!
First course was a delicious cold tuna pasta, followed by a delicious beef lasagna, then a warm Camembert cheese and crackers, then dessert which was a weird rice pudding with a berry sauce (not my fav!) and wine… lots and lots and LOTS of wine! I moderated myself… or at least I think I did. I had two wines on the front lawn, and maybe 3 inside(?) And I had plenty of water. One for one measurements. I was running a marathon the next day after all!
Between the main course and dessert we were herded outside, wine in hand, to watch a stunning display of fireworks. I’ve never had that at a pasta dinner before!
Then the dancing started (or continued, depending on how you looked at it, I guess). There was the very popular conga-line which took over the room, and then song after song after song. The dancefloor was crowded and everyone was having a blast!
In no time at all, it was 11pm we were back on the bus to Bordeaux, which was a slightly shorter trip this time, and I was in bed by 12:40am (about 4 hours later than I’d usually be asleep by when running a marathon the following day).
Saturday 9 September
IT’S RACE DAY!! And I am unwell. Really unwell. And I need more sleep. I was woken by my alarm at 5:30am as planned, swiftly showered and dressed in my costume which I’d ironed the day before, and staring at two small croissants and a pain au chocolat by 6am. I can’t eat them. I try a sip of orange juice. It’s all I can stomach. I’ve never run a marathon before without breakfast. Leaving the food untouched, I join the 50+ others a part of the Travelling Fit group at the other hotel. I miss being in the group photo as I’m too busy throwing up outside. At least it was elegantly and privately done. I’m not so lucky the next time.
The 1.5 hour bus trip to the start line was a disaster but at least I’m not the only sick person today. One of the others (let’s call her S) throws up near the front of the bus in a plastic bag, but then in the row behind me another lady (called N) projectile vomits. It slightly hits me, and gets the back of my bus buddy (called L). There was no chance of ducking. Poor N has made a mess of her awesome Cyndi Lauper costume. The smell sets me off, and I just make it off the bus in time to be sick in a garden bed. N and I were at the pasta dinner last night, but S was not. We aren’t sure what’s set us all off. We re-board the bus, and while I throw up in a plastic bag before we arrive, there aren’t really any more dramatic incidents.
We’re at the start zone! Bus buddy, L and I are waiting in a queue for the toilets. We finally work out that A) it’s taking so long because the single toilet washes itself between each guest which makes it very wet, and a 3-4 minute process per person and B) there’s no toilet paper inside so we give up the queue and head for the field for a pre-race squat. That done, I throw up again (and get mooned a belly dancer’s butt) but manage to get the dry heaving under control with 2 minutes to spare before the race gun goes off. It’s all about the timing, people!
What a race start! As we follow our fellow runners down the start chute, we pass under a band playing IN THE AIR with acrobats hanging off of them. Craziest race start I’ve ever seen. The music continues throughout little towns, and at each chateau/wine stop there’s a live band playing or singing tunes. Sometimes runners are dancing, but always clapping and cheering.
The costume choices are insane, and not all Rock n Roll themed like the race! Hundreds of Village People, Elvis impersonators, an Eiffel Tower (being carried), Simpsons, belly dancers, Frenchmen, KISS (who had time to do makeup this morning!), bottles of beer and champagne. There are runners proudly wearing their national colours and symbols from Denmark, Finland, France and Spain. The variety amongst 8500 runners is never-ending. I went as an Elvis Presley fan-girl.
Then there’s the race itself. The atmosphere (excitement, fun, laughter, happiness, nerves) is off the chart, even before the drinking starts. But be prepared for a lot of stop/starts and weaving. The first was about 800m from the start line and I’m not even certain what created the bottleneck. Or the second one. The third was definitely for food and water though. And there was plenty of food! The water stations all included bottled water, cola, quartered oranges, fruit cake, chocolate biscuits, bananas, quartered apples, and some featured raisins and I think I saw sugar cubes at one point. Later down the track, there was cheese and baguettes, a whole oyster station, steak (which I didn’t see), corn and ice cream. These were intermixed with 20+ stops for wine at various chateaus. It was a mad rush for food and wine at every stop. The crowd was eager to be dined! Given the way my stomach had been this morning, I held off on anything but sips of water until 16kms when I discovered I was hungry. I tried a cola. When I kept that down, I added a slice of apple and since it also stayed down, I added a few more slices and a chocolate biscuit. But at 24kms I was hit again with nausea so went back to my bottled water until 40kms when I grabbed a delicious and cooling chocolate and vanilla ice cream. It stayed down! Woohoo!
My pink skirt lasted until 6kms in, then I decided it was too hot, my legs were sweating up a storm and I tossed it. The navy petticoat made it all the way back to the hotel rubbish bin. Not sure why I didn’t ditch it earlier! I was with L until about 8kms but we lost each other in the crowd and she took off, finishing in (a slow time for her) respectable sub 4 hours.
The weather was a mixed bag but at least it had a consistent pattern: sunny and hot, followed by a dark cloud, rain and wind for about 5-10 minutes which was enough to cool everyone down, before the sun showed up again to dry everyone off. It did make for some muddy pathways into the chateaus (and many of them had scrapped their pretty white stones aside so the runners just had mud to contend with).
I ran the first half reasonably well (except for struggling to get my head around the stop/starts and the lack of competition involved in this race. These continued until the end as runners would slow to a walk into each new wine or water stop), and passed the Travelling Fit spectators/supporters and mascot Skippy around the 20km marker. After the first half, I walked at a very brisk pace until the finish. My aim was to enjoy the vineyards, the atmosphere and still finish in the 6:30 hour cut off, and not allow my stomach bug to take my medal from me. There’s no DNF in me! I was caught up by N’s partner R after 27kms (he’d ditched his Boy George costume by then) and walked the rest of the race with him, except for the last 500m where we jogged and weaved past runners taking photos to the finish line.
The male winner finished in 2:27:06. While I’d have loved to have won my weight in wine, I wasn’t even close to winning!
I finished in 6:24:20, a Personal Worst, on purpose! And was 4931 out of 7913 finishers. Quite a few people were swept away by the finisher brooms (seriously, it was a cart carried by runners, filled with brooms!). Out of the Travelling Fit group, N and S dropped out at the half way mark, J had picked up a chest infection so she also dropped out at this point and R was swept away with the brooms.
Did I beat the Friday night drunk Village People Builder though? I don’t know!! L said she passed them about the 9km mark and they were drinking again then, and Builder wasn’t looking so hot shot.
Once past the finish line, it’s time to queue from the all important prizes. First, there’s the cute red guitar medal, then for the women, a single rose (mine was yellow!), then a record round branded bag, a bottle of wine in a beautiful branded timber box (as I found out, the wines seem to be from different vineyards and vintage) and lastly a branded plastic cup and lanyard for more drinking. No way.
Since I’d made the most of the course, I only had a short time available to find the Travelling Fit host and group of spectators and other runners before hobbling back to the bus. No massage for me, but I did have time for a short sit and chat. Naturally it rained on the hobble back to the bus so N, R and I took shelter until it passed. We made it back to the bus with 10 mins to spare before departure. Plenty of time to change out of my wet and muddy shoes and socks and into dry thongs.
Unfortunately, one couple in aerobic leotards did not reach the bus. We assumed they were lost or had forgotten the cutoff but they’d decided to make friends and party on into the night. It made for an interesting adventure as we left them behind at 5:20pm. With their bags and money on the bus and their phones out of charge, they befriended a random bus driver to return them to a random spot in Bordeaux, and followed this up by befriending a random Syrian refugee to help them locate their hotel.
I did walk the stairs to my room; faster than the lift. But it was a struggle. After such a big day, I had a quick dinner and crashed out early. But dreamed about the memories…
Sunday 10 September
After 10 hours of sleep I’m feeling much better! But I pack two spare plastic bags for the bus trip just in case. I didn’t feel awesome, but no puking today. It’s the last Medoc Marathon activity; a relaxing 10km walk around the vineyards tasting wines followed by a four course lunch at Chateau Livran. I’m regretting now not tracking the walk on Runkeeper. Oh well. I did the walk, I tasted some wine (is it really bad to say I haven’t found a favourite in Bordeaux yet?). There aren’t many snacks while out walking so keep that in mind before you head out. I also didn’t have breakfast today.
The lunch was as fantastic as Friday night’s pasta dinner. Too much food, too much wine (which our table kept refilling at the tank) and lots more dancing to first African American music and then Latin American songs! I skipped the wine this time; my taste buds were not loving it. That concluded the official activities; we were back on the bus to Bordeaux; this time with everyone who’d left Bordeaux that morning on the same bus.
Best sight today? I was going to award it to the 50-something guy at lunch who hadn’t realised the fancy dress was during the marathon. He looked like he’d come from a 1970’s porno, without the moustache, but with the Fabio-long and wavy hair. But what made him very unique was the gold poolside shorts he was wearing. But wait. There’s more. These pants were practical! Someone had sewn pockets into them!
But my real winner for the day: A guy who looked like Wolverine (massively wolf-like hair) wearing what appeared to black leather pants and nothing else (yes, bare chested) walking down the road (not on a footpath!) towards our bus as we headed back to Bordeaux. No idea why. Pretty sure I didn’t imagine him.
Would I do this again?
Hell yes! But I’d bring a bunch of happy-go-lucky mates and skip the pasta dinner. I’d also prepare myself better for a leisurely day of wine tasting with little jogs in between. And pack a camera with a long lasting battery as my iPhone barely took any and died 12 mins before the finish just tracking the run.