A tale of two city marathons
One week and two of the world’s biggest city marathons – training for the challenge was about to step up a gear. These seven days would be an important marker for tracking our progress towards August.
Paris seemed unseasonally warm when I stepped off the Eurostar at Gare du Nord. A suspicion confirmed by the constant news reports announcing “Éte en Avril” (Summer in April). The Parisian terrain may be very different, but at least the weather was trying hard to imitate Corsica. I hadn’t packed sun cream.
Penned into the start corral with 40,000 other runners, it struck me that 1. There was a lot of nervous tension wafting in the air; and 2. That few race starts can match the grandeur of the Champs Elysees, in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.
Soon we were trotting off down the cobbles and fighting for shade as the morning sun grew in intensity. At the first drink station it was carnage. Jostling, pushing, hacking, swearing (in various languages), tripping, grabbing. This was only mile three. What should I expect by mile 20 when everyone really needed water and a sugar cube?
In spite of the narrow course, and the conscientiously parked cars which litter the course, I did start to get into stride as we headed east and out to the first park section. Large sections of the Paris course are devoid of spectators, meaning you are incredibly appreciative when people and bands do appear to cheer you on, but at the same time it makes for long periods of very little chat and the ambient soundtrack of trainers on tarmac.
Not having run in Paris before, there is plenty to look at, so the miles tick by reasonably swiftly, and having skirted the northern banks of the Seine back west and past the Eiffel Tower, we were soon within the last six miles. At this point obstacles to avoid now included strewn bodies. The heat was really taking its toll. The first energy drink station came at the 33km mark, by which time most people had been sweating heavily for three hours or more. My mouth was arid too, but I quietly congratulated myself for carrying a bottle of electrolyte drink for the first ten miles.
One final section of shadeless park, heat convecting off the road, and we were back within sight of the Arc de Triomphe and a welcome finish line.
Marathon one complete.
Initially my recovery was compromised by a couple of nights sleep on a bed that could at best be described as monastic. Devoid of support, but abundant in springs of varying height and stiffness, it was more an object of torture than rest. Until Wednesday my legs still felt like they had been used as a punch bag, until regimented use of For Goodness Shakes and solid sleep back in my own bed began to make me feel a little more spritely.
Then it was time to do it all over again back in London. Instantly it felt like a more civilised affair as we gathered in Greenwich Park. Although at this point my only point of comparison was the show of etiquette in the queue for a portable toilet. And by that I mean that a queue existed. And that people actually made use of the toilet.
It was hot again. Muggy, sweaty hot. The poncho I wore was entirely unnecessary and had turned into something of a conditioning suit. Sweating before the start wasn’t ideal. I swigged my trusty electrolyte drink. Shortly after 9.45am (a sociable hour later than Paris) I was sucked through the start line, like sand in an hourglass, and headed off on another 26.2 miles.
My tactics this time were simple. Run as fast as felt sensible, and hold on for as long as possible. As fresh as I felt, it was soon apparent that the impact of Paris hadn’t dissipated from my legs entirely, and shortly before half way my legs began to solidify, starting in my thighs and heading south below my knees. My mile times began to slip away, but thanks to a lot of gritting teeth and talking-to-self, the finish arrived inside 4 hours, and a full 17 minutes sooner than the week before. Chris had run as well and finished a few minutes ahead – we’d lost each other at the start.
Huge thanks to the crowds. Support all the way round was incredible, although the smell of barbecue which drifted across the course around 15-miles was a little cruel.
What can we take out of this week? The legs can cope with running two road marathons fairly comfortably, and although the hills represent nothing more severe than an occasional speed hump, it’s good to get some sustained distance under our belts.
The next step – A double crossing of the Welsh 3000s in one weekend in early May. Roughly 50 miles and over 7000 metres of total ascent.
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