As the, erm, ‘fairly rotund’ man boasted to us in the Métro for the second time that “No, I’ve never run a half marathon before, but I ran 15 miles up and down hills in 1h20 last week”, my mind drifted away from his lies. Instead, I wondered why, once again, Pippa and I had spent the entire day knackering our legs out walking around the entire city the day before a race, and hoped that the dull ache would die down by the morning.
A dozen or so hours later, I was in the Parc de Vincennes to the East of Paris, shivering away in the shadows of the leafless trees. The frosted grass gave the park a beautiful appearance at this time in the morning but by #@# was it cold to stand around in in a tshirt and shorts. Having got there far too early (an unusual occurrence for me), there were only so many stretches and warm-ups I could do to warm up and pass time. I was also only vaguely motivated to loosen my muscles as I knew they’d inevitably just tighten up while we stood in the cattle grid for 20 minutes before the start.
By far, this was the best organised event I’ve been to in terms of pre-event communication (even by my standards, it had the right amount of “anal-ness”), clear transport information, a fast and efficient Expo to pick up bibs, it was easy to change starting groups, lots of toilets (!), proper marshalling of the starting pens, water bottles rather than cups as you go around, quick online results etc. Having been to quite a few poorly organised events, it really makes you appreciate the good ones. So, whoever was in charge of organising this one: well done, you have my seal of approval! (which is quite some accolade…)
Anyway. Dressed a little like a Knights Templar on a Crusade (even though we were there during Paris Fashion Week, the real reason was that I was running for the French Red Cross), I set off just behind the front line with my head poking out above other the other runners, as usual. This ‘extra head’ gives me an unusual build for a reasonably fast runner. Add to that the fact that my physio pointed out that “I have no bum muscles” (glutes), it’s seemingly a miracle I can make it around in under 2 hours. Anyway, at least I now know what to focus my core exercises on…
Peering back at last year’s results which showed a few dozen runners under or around the 1h10 mark, I knew this race would be fast and assumed that we’d all set off like arrows. By some little miracle, it was actually quite a sensible start as the narrow roads limited the overtaking which could be done.
After the initial overcrowding, the first half of the course was more or less downhill. It mostly went through the suburbs before hitting the more touristic Paris: first the Place de la Nation then the Bastille, where Pippa was basking in the sunshine waiting for me to go by. When I spotted her, I decided to run a slight angle towards her which isn’t normally an issue. This time however, the runner in front of me slowed down to check his watch and got his feet tangled in mine. Thankfully, he just kept enough balance to avoid grinding his teeth on the cobbled street using some impressive arm wailing. Oops. Me? Totally fine. Ha. But yes, oops – he wasn’t best pleased with me and, although he was partly to blame too, I did feel a little bad.
The next few kilometres were through the nicer Paris arrondissements. After around 8.5km, I reached the Croix Rouge Francaise support team and I now know that 20 identically dressed crusaders running towards you with drums and shouting (encouragements) make you run bloody fast! In the 50m or so I ran past them, I must have overtaken half a dozen people and ran my fastest sprint of the day! Had there been that kind of support the whole way round, I would have easily finished in under 80 minutes. Or 40 come to think of it.
By this point, we were getting nearer to midday and the sun, which was out in its full glory, was starting to heat the runners up. Like dogs, we all started following each other into the shade on one side of the road or another. I poured water over my head which, combined with the hair gel, had its usual effect of making my already-heavily-scratched sunglasses even more impossible to see through. Thankfully, running is a fairly straight forward activity.
After we ran along the river Seine for a while then past the Bastille again, the heavy grind started and the second, uphill, half of the course started. The climbs weren’t particularly steep but they were (or at least seemed) pretty relentless: a king of faux plat as they’d say in France. The worse bit was around the 13km mark where I dipped over 4min/km for the first time. After that, I forced myself to use those non-existent butt muscles a little harder for the last 5km back inside the Parc de Vincennes (which was less bitterly cold by then).
Unsurprisingly after all these hills, my second half was significantly slower although it wasn’t for a lack of trying as I sprinted towards the finish line in under 3 minutes for the last kilometre (I’m still not quite sure how)! All in all, another 2 minutes were knocked off my PB and a really enjoyable, well organised, run.
And, as for any sensible person, all that was left to do was to jog 12 km back to the hotel with Pippa as preparation for the Rotterdam marathon next month as part of my own crusade on this goddam sub 3-hour target…
Time: 1h21.17 (335th/34,879)