My last night in Paris; I anxiously packed all my bags & jumped into bed. I had been travelling solo for 5 days now & being my first time travelling overseas it had been such a thrill navigating my way through foreign countries some 17,000kms from home, yet an even bigger challenge lay ahead… I was about to run my very first full marathon the Marathon Du Medoc.
The alarm went off the next morning I sprung out of bed, got dressed, swung my 30kg pack on my back (yes rookie mistake packed way too much) & hiked it to the Gare Du Norde train station to catch the Euro Star to Bordeaux. The Eurostar was comfortable & super fast… I gazed out the window in wonder watching the changing landscapes & architecture as we sped closer to the south of France. I arrived at Bordeaux station 3 hours later & utilising some dodgy French managed to hail a cab & arrive safely at the gorgeous Hotel Continental. I checked in, met my room mate Bronwyn who was also running the Marathon Du Medoc & inspected the room. Stepping out onto the balcony to take in the view I immediately fell in love with Bordeaux, what a beautifully charming city. The elegant Hotel Continental is a 18th-century townhouse set in Bordeaux’s Golden Triangle just a short stroll from Opéra National de Bordeaux & Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux. It was a very welcomed change from the backpacker style accommodation I had become accustomed to.
Both exhausted from our travels Bronwyn & I had a quick “power nap” before heading out to meet the rest of the Travelling Fit crew for a marathon eve “Pasta Party”. In true French style the drinking starts the night before the race, at various “Pasta Parties” hosted through out Bordeaux. We joined the Travelling Fit crew for dinner by the river & fuelled our bodies with French pizza, pasta & copious amounts of magnificent red wine. A late night with an exuberant amount of wine is not the usual plan on race eve, but, when in France ??
To run any marathon for the first time is a great life experience in itself but the Marathon Du Medoc with its 42.2 km course through some of the world’s most famous vineyards including the infamous Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux France, made this a truly unforgettable experience. Not to mention it’s the craziest marathon on earth! Rather than the usual water stops, there are over 23 wine stations hosted by different châteaus and there is even compulsory fancy dress! That’s right a marathon that requires you to wear fancy dress (It’s Medoc law) drink copious amount of wine en route while tasting French delicacies including steak, croissants, oysters & ice cream! I almost couldn’t sleep I was so excited! I lay my race kit out, tiara, sparkles & all & finally jumped into bed sometime after 1.30am.
The morning of the race we got into to Pauillac around 8.30am making our way to the race line for a 9.30am start. Standing at the start zone with the Traveling Fit crew the atmosphere was unlike any other event I had ever experienced with over 8,000 people all of who were in fancy dress (The theme this year was dress to the nines) including a great number of men dressed in fishnets, ha! I heard a mixture of French, German, Japanese & American accents flowing around me but no matter what language you spoke everyone shared the same universal silly grin.
As I sit down & recall the event I am finding it hard to put in all in words because the experience of my trip & running my first marathon feels so surreal. The range of emotions that I experienced was so deep & vast however, I will try my best but be warned it’s going to be a long one… Here I was, in Bordeaux, France, on the other side of the world lining up to run my very first marathon. I had never run a full marathon distance before, 35kms had been my longest run. I don’t know if it was the jet lag, my slight hang over or just the fact that I was so absorbed in the energy & craziness of the crowd, I some how forgot the massive task ahead of me feeling pure energy & excitement as I watched people around me laughing, cheering & singing.
The entertainment at the start line was mesmorising, a giant silver ball suspended over the start line dangling acrobats on aerial silks twirling above the crowd to the tunes of Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” which crooned through the massive sound system, a MC then came on speaking French, I couldn’t fully understand what he was saying however recognising some numbers “trios, deux, un” & as quickly as I made the connection that it was a count down a large horn sounded & we were off.
The start was slow going & a little congested for the first couple of km’s but that was ok, this Marathon isn’t about getting a good time – it’s about having a good time & I wanted the “full Medoc experience” The official cut off time is 6 hours 30 (if you don’t make the cut off you don’t get a medal, eekk!), having been informed by Medoc Veterans since arriving: “The ideal finish time for those who are serious about the event is 6:29:59! No sooner” (You have A LOT of wine to drink after all)
We ran through the gorgeous vineyards of Bordeaux arriving at the breakfast stop around the 2k mark where tables of mini croissants, waffles, chocolate pastries & fruit awaited us. I had originally planned to use my gels (because that is what I had trained with) but, in the spirit of the Marathon Du Medoc “The Wine Marathon” I threw them away embracing the whole uniquely crazy experience by grabbing a mini croissant a bite of a waffle & ran on. Oh my those waffles were something special!
Another 5 minutes in I came across the first ‘official degustation’ at the Chateau-Lafite Rothschild (we had already stopped at an “unofficial wine stop” perviously, so the “23 stops” actually ends up being around 30 by the end of the marathon with all the unofficial stops included) The Chateau-Lafite Rothschild was the Chateau I was looking forward to the most! I took my glass of wine gave it a swirl, positioned it under my nose, closed my eyes took a deep breath inhaling the aromas, picking up notes of coffee, spice & cedar then holding my glass up to the light marvelled at the beautiful deep ruby / purplish colour. I watched the other runner’s downing their wine, some devouring two glasses before speeding off, nervously I followed suit, took a swig savouring the silky smooth elegance of what I guessed to be a Cab.Sauvignon blend & before the wine had even had time to hit my belly I was on the road again, funnily enough the band kicked into the last chorus of “back on the road again” as I took off, smiling at the serendipity of the moment I joined in on the chorus singing as I ran on.
In all my nervous haste I hadn’t noted the name of the wine I tasted, NO!!!!! oh well, it would remain a tantalising mystery to which the name does not really matter, as in the words of Maréchal de Richelieu “I have discovered the wine of Château Lafite to be a delicious, generous cordial, comparable to the ambrosia of the Gods of Olympus” (1755)
I arrived at the 5km marker feeling good, knocked back another wine & ran on. The wine stations came thick and fast for the first 10kms, it was really quite a surreal experience drinking wine whilst running, what was technically, a marathon. Then all of the sudden… it hit me! I needed to pee, but wait. I hadn’t seen any toilets yet! Oh no! What if there are no toilets??? How can they have no toilets!!?? I looked around in a panic scanning the rolling hills & vineyards for a portaloo & then it dawned on me…. Ohhhhhhh thats why everyone is sneaking off into the vineyards. Just as I was about to admit defeat & go “al a natural” I found a port a loo, Phew. I jumped in the cue but the line was so LOOOOONG, I would find out later on that it was indeed the ONLY solitary toilet on the whole course. I waited in line for 15 minutes & thought to myself I was missing out on valuable wine tasting time & worried about the cut off time, so aborted the line up & snuck off into the fields (but shhh let’s just keep this our little secret)
Feeling relived & a little amused I ran back on course having a little giggle to myself, realising I was a tad drunk by the time the rain hit & it was coming down hard! The temperature was around 25 C, the humidity was thick & I was drenched in sweat, I welcomed the rain as it brought with it cooler temps & washed away the caked on salt. My smile turned into a slight frown of concern as I pondered the fact that this was a marathon & I still had a heck of a long way to go! My soaking wet shoes squelching as I ran through the windy gravel path over the cobble stones, through mini creek crossings & washed out roads. My ankles were feeling quite tender as I had only ever ran “road races” & trained on road or flat gravel, my body wasn’t accustomed to the uneven terrain.
Around the half way mark the wine was sloshing around my tummy making me feel a little queazy, this was the the long stretch of road in the middle of the course with no wine stops. Medic vans scream by us on the way to rescue runners who were not fairing so well. I was luckily enough to have Erin, a girl from the Travelling Fit crew running beside me at this point & some friendly banter helped me shake off the queasiness, coming good just in time as we entered into the second half which greeted us with more châteaus, delicious red wine & entertainment! The rain was still coming down hard so we decided to grab some shelter at the next Chateau, spotting another member of the Travelling Fit crew with the same idea, we joined her chatting excitedly about our adventures while taking in the atmosphere, watching the band & enjoying a couple extra cheeky reds. After a
After the sky’s cleared the colours of the landscape seemed even more vibrant than before, the sunlight danced off the glistening green leaves & deep purple velvety grapes. Running through these gorgeous vineyards & enchanting little medieval villages gave me the sense of being suddenly transported into a romantic French impressionist painting or the pages of a eloquent old world, Wordsworth poem. It was just one of those moments you know will stay etched in your memory for ever. I took in a deep breath absorbing this glorious moment feeling utterly blessed! The romance of that moment was abruptly interrupted as we ran up behind a guy running in a g-string. My attention then fell to his almost mesmerizing hairy but cheeks bouncing up & down, all I could think was gosh that is going to be some uncomfortable chafing. We overlook the cheeky french man with a smile & ran on.
More stops followed, at km 18 and 20. I started drinking water with my wine but was also mindful of the lack of toilets on the course! As we came up to km 30 fatigue began to creep in as the gravity of running a marathon fuelled by wine & cheese hit me, by the time I’d ‘hit the wall’, I was nursing a hangover, suffering a severe carbohydrate deficit & fending off dehydration. My quads & glutes felt like a tightly stretched rope that was about the snap at any minute.
But with a band playing at every turn, the great support & huge smiles from the crowds, high fives & sassy comments from fellow runners, the gorgeous scenery including enchanting chateaus that looked like castles from a fairy-tale book I easily found that little bit extra inspiration I needed to carry on. “Just one foot in front of the other, keep going, don’t stop, can you believe it… your running in France, this is amazing! you can do it!” I chanted to myself.
I hit the 36km mark & threw my arms up in celebration, well, in reality it was actually more like a limp flailing of the arms… This was new distance PB! After struggling up a huge hill shortly after Erin & I managed to get into a decent rhythm for the last couple of kms, crossing the finish line together in 6:29:16. Couldn’t have timed it better! We were presented with a medal in the shape of a bow tie… cute!, a splendid commemorative satchel, a souvenir bottle of wine & piece de resistance… a wine cup with a holder that goes around your neck (that one has come in very handy!)
I made it!! It’s impressive to survive running a marathon whilst sampling wines from some 23 chateaus plus the “unofficial wine stops” but to have been able to experience all that & still have made the cut off time, was an amazing feeling! This was my first marathon & it was perfectly on time, Marathon Du Medoc time that is! The veterans would be so proud!
It had been a long day, I could no longer feel my legs & was unsure if they would ever work properly again & yet, undeniably, I’ve managed to have one of the most bizarre & brilliant experiences of my life on this this glorious day of Sunday 12th, of September, 2015, in Bordeaux France. The day I became a marathoner.
So for my first ever marathon, I broke all the rules… Stay hydrated, nothing new on race day, avoid alcohol, get a good nights sleep, eat a balanced breakfast & make sure you’ve trained in your race kit. Pretty simple right? Not when you are running the worlds craziest marathon! And to be honest I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
It was then back on the bus to celebrate, with you guessed it, more wine! We had a glorious night out in charming Bordeaux; sharing food, wine, stories & laughs. We must have been running on pure excitement because to my surprise we didn’t get to bed till 2am that morning, what a day!
Renne has a great running blog. Please check it out at Running with Renee