Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Paris Marathon 2014 Race Report...

So after months of training, the time had finally come.  Race Weekend.

I'm glad I wasnt travelling on my own.  My brother, Steve, had come away with me and we was planning on having some brotherly time while we were away as its not something we get to do a lot of these days for various reasons.

It was a straight forward journey.  Mum kindly dropped us off at Ebbsfleet International and we were on the 10.40am train which got us to Gare du Nord in the centre of Paris around 1pm.  Down on to the metro, bought a "billet" of tickets (my old French Teacher Mrs Colwell would have been impressed that I even remembered what they were called) and we got to the hotel within 20 minutes.

The Expo

A quick check-in and drop off of the bags, we headed off across town to the Race Expo to pick up my race number.  I chose the hotel for its location, very close to the l'Arc de Triomphe, the location for the start and finish of the Marathon.

The Driscoll Brothers Selfie...Thats how close the hotel was to the l'Arc de Triomphe

We walked down to the l'Arc de Triomphe to pick up the Metro from Charles de Gaule Etoile, got line 6 to Pasteur (which gave us our first view of the Eiffel Tower as it crossed the Seine), then headed to Porte de Versailles, where the Expo was being hosted.

We timed our trip to the Expo pretty well as althoughh it was fairly busy, the number pick up was a sinch.  Handed over the medical certificate and the details form then they give you the number in exchange.  Then it was a case of looking at the various stalls and picking up any souvenirs.  I wasnt planning too but I could resist picking up an electric flame orange running top. 

As we went to leave, fellow Plum Robin got in touch to say he was at the expo too.  We met up and went for a drink in a cafe across the road from the exhibition centre.  Steve took one for the team and had a beer while us marathon runners stuck to Diet Coke and Tea.  We went our separate ways until Saturday afternoon.


Steve and I took in some sight seeing on Saturday morning.  We went to see the Eiffel Tower, walked up to Trocadero then got a double decker train down the Seine to Notre Dame.  Now that place is stunning.

Me and the Blackpool Tower...

We had lunch in a little cafe around the corner then headed off to Place de la Concorde to meet Robin and for the first time, the Wheelers, Flick and Jude.  After a nice walk down to the Louvre, we headed back to the hotel.  Chilled out in the room then went to grab some dinner in the local Italian we'd found just around the corner.  €8.50 for Penne Carbonara just 5 mins away from the l'Arc de Triomphe was a stunning success, especially as we'd be paying €10 a pint later on Sunday evening just across the road!

The rest of Saturday evening was quite a surreal experience.  Not having experienced the marathon prep before, it felt wrong to be going out but as boring as hell being in your hotel room by 8pm on a Saturday evening when you're away.

The Race

My alarm was set for 6.30.  I neednt have bothered worrying about not hearing the alarm as I was awake well before 6am. Unusually I wasnt nervous at all.  I ate my two Golden Syrup porridge pots by 6.30 and knew they'd be well settled by the time the race started.  It became quite apparent that our hotel was full of marathon runners as most were up and about by then, doing a light warm up in the street outside.  Popped some 400mg strength Ibuprofen tabs in the hope they'd keep the Runners Knee discomfort to a minimum and after the last bathroom stop, I'd popped two Imodium tabs too, just to ensure so emergency stops on the way around the course.  I didnt really want to be appearing on You Tube, Paula Radcliffe-style.

Steve wasnt planning to come and watch the marathon at that point.  He'd set his heart on doing some sight seeing of his own, which I dont blame him for at all but he said he'd walk to the start with me.  So we walked up about 8.15.  He took a few snaps of me at the l'Arc de Triomphe and we went our separate ways.

On the walk up to the start line...
I got in to the long queue for the porta loo and got talking to a few of the guys in the queue who were all English.  As the race went on, it was clear just how many English had crossed the channel for the marathon...it was an invasion! (and just as apparent now, being surrounded by people wearing finishers t-shirts on the Eurostar as I type this on my iPad!)

Goodness me, I wish I could erase the sight of what greeted me in that porta loo...and people wonder why I refuse point blank to visit Music Festivals.

I walked 300-400 yards down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to get into the starting pen.  I was in the pink pen, for those with predicted finishing times of 4:30 or more.  At the time of booking my place, I had no idea what time to expect so I had a reasonable guess based on my half marathon race time.

The organisers had got some DJs playing music and up on the platforms, they had some aerobic teachers encouraging the runners to warm up.  It was all good fun but most were focusing on their races by then and were deep in though or were ignoring it by listening to their own tunes through their ear buds.

Inside the starting pen...with the start line ahead and the Place de la Concorde in the distance

I was keeping a look out for Robin and Jude all the while but to no avail.  The organisers had staggered the start in 10 min blocks, holding back each pen until it was their turn.  As the time ticked on, we were walking nearer and nearer to the start line.

As you can see from the pic, bright blue sky and sunshine.  It was warm.  The forecast had been overcast and no sun.  It certainly wasnt the case here. 

Then it was our turn.  Allez Allez Allez was the cry.  Over the timing mat, started both Garmins (I was wearing both...just in case!) and this sh*t then just got very real.  I was running a bloody marathon.  Then the nerves kicked in.  Dont go off to fast, dont go off too fast.  I was running dead on my 9:30 min/mile pace.  Lovely.  Oooh, was that a twinge in my calf?  No, you're panicing, relax.  Another 200 yards and my calves were definitely twinging.  They didnt like the cobbles whatsoever...and nor did my feet.  I had a stinging sharp pain in my left foot even before I'd hit Place de la Concorde, only a mile out.  This really wasnt good.  Around the needle and the cobbles turned to tarmac.  Instant relief.  The left foot was still sore but the calves had settled down.

The next few miles went by in a blur.  Concentrating on holding pace while looking out for used orange peel and empty water bottles is par the course for a marathon but I was being overly cautious.  I'd already planned that I was going to run straight past the first water stop at 5km (3.1m) as I was carrying 2 x 700 ml bottles of High 5 4:1 with me on my bottle belt so I moved well wide to svoid the congestion but people were already walking by then which really surprised me.  Cobbles, water and orange peel do not mix and there was already casualties receiving medical attention for cuts and bruises. 

Now the next thing that sticks in my mind in recalling the race was a stunning lady runner, tall, blonde, absolutely ridiculously good looking.  She was flying past all of us...then all of a sudden she veered off to the right, off the road.  Wondering where she was going, my eyes sort of followed but when I realised she was pulling down her running shorts, I quickly fixed my eyes back on the road.  That was something that was new to me.  Nature will call, as I found with the occasional attack of stomach cramps during training, but during the race, privacy goes out of the window.  If someone needs to go, they just will. You wont see ladies queuing up for the porta loos.  Thats dedication for you.  Come on, using the porta loo could cost you another 30-60 seconds on your race time!

Anyway, back to the race...

The Paris Marathon Route...
Somewhere in the first 5 miles, Robin had caught me.   He'd been screaming at me for about a mile but I was so into my Ministry of Sound playlist at that point, I hadnt been paying any attention.  He looked in pieces.  When he explained he'd been running at break-neck speed to catch me up to say hello, I felt pretty bad.  We had a brief chat, just talking about the race and how we were feeling and then he told me to go on and he gave me a pat on the back and wished me good luck.  It was the last time I saw Robin.  He'd been struggling with a foot injury for the last few weeks and only the week before he couldnt put any weight on it, so its was a miracle in itself that Robin made the start line, let alone get to the finish in one piece.  Ear buds back in and off I went. 

The first checkpoint was the 10k timing mat, at Bois De Vincennes in the East.  When I'd seen I'd clocked 59:11 for the first 10k, I knew I'd probably gone off a little too quickly.  The calves had settled, the quads felt ok and on I went.  The knees were a little sore but that was to be expected.

I felt reasonably ok from 10k through to half distance at 13.1 miles.  Just after halfway, the organisers were finally dishing out some PowerAde.  About 3 sips worth in a plastic cup.  I tried to take a swig but ended up spilling it down my top like a cretin.  I've got no problem drinking out of a bottle on the run but out of a plastic cup you're just asking for trouble.

From halfway through to Mile 17, it got progressively slower.  I could feel myself flaking. I was desperately trying to stuff more and more jelly babies into the system, got some water and was guzzling from my own High 5 filled bottles but I was done for halfway along mile 16.  I got my head down and pounded on, telling myself dont dare look up, just keep running and the miles will eat themselves up.  By pure chance, I did look up at one point and I saw my brother screaming and waving on the other side of the road, so I took a detour, gave him a high five and he ran along side me for about 20-30 yards.  I remember I told him I felt like shite but he said keep going you big fanny or something to that effect.

At that point, the road dipped into a tunnel.  Now this was a surreal experience.  Bright sunlight, to pitch black darkness...apart from disco lights and a DJ playing the most deafening dance music.  It was awesome.  However, bearing in mind the temperature, with that many runners in the tunnel, it was beyond warm.  I've got no idea how long that tunnel was but it seemed to go on forever.  You couldnt see your hands in front of your face.  You certainly couldnt see anything on the floor.  If there was an empty water bottle laying there, you were done for.

[It turns out that I've since read that Princess Di died in that actual tunnel.  Its a bit creepy knowing that now but am sort of glad I didnt know beforehand but I find just a tad distasteful that the organisers thought turning the tunnel into a nightclub was a good idea...although it did break up the boredom of the tunnel.  Surely they could find a way to avoid the tunnel altogether?]

It was a relief to get out of the tunnel and see the Eiffel Tower on the left but by that point, my legs were gone.  I looked at my garmin and my average pace was 9:40 min/mile.  I knew I had to speed up but I just didnt have anything left.  The worrying thing was I still had 9 miles left to run.

It was at that point, I realised the dream of a 4:08-4:10 was gone and it was about hanging on in to the end.  I had to finish.  The miles seemed to be getting longer and longer.  The Eiffel Tower was still on the left, this cant be right, I should have run past it by now but it was still there.

Miles 17-20 were along the Seine and we had to run down and up a number of underpasses.  Fellow Plum Gary who run Paris last year had warned me that they'd drain you after 17 miles and he wasnt wrong.  Each one seemed to get harder and harder.  It was a relief to get to Mile 20 and into the Bois De Boulogne.  The tree cover gave some shade and the temperature seemed to drop a little but it was still very warm.

Miles 20-25 was hell.  I cant begin to describe what my body was going through, let alone the thoughts going on in my head.  By this point, people were stopping, exhausted or reduced to walking pace.  I'd lost count at the number of runners on the side of the road throwing their guts up.  I felt my groin tighten right up at Mile 22.  It was so sore I was having doubts I would even finish then but I kept running.  My average pace was dropping.  I was up around 9:50 min/mile pace by then and it was creeping up and up yet there was nothing I could do.   In the end, I thought it best not to look at the watch at all.

Then mile 26 came up.  The crowds were getting bigger and you could here the cheering, the clapping, the noise was like a wall of sound hitting you in the face.  Round a little chicane in the road and then the finish straight came into sight, I could actually see the bloody finish.  Allez Monsieur, Allez Monsieur.  The support along that final stretch was incredible, something I've never experienced before.  You sort of get sucked into the finish line.

I crossed the line in 4:24:31.  Nowhere near the 4:08-4:10 I'd planned for but I'd finished.  I'd actually run a bloody marathon.  26.2 miles.  Smashed.  Well not quite smashed, more slapped in the face with a wet kipper.  I'd bloody well done it.  The pain had gone.  I was sore, dont get me wrong but the pain of the previous 6 miles was gone.  Well maybe not gone...as you can see from my face at the finish line (see right hand side of the pic below!)

I picked up a bottle of water, got given a finishers t-shirt and a green poncho to keep me warm and then I got the medal stuck over my head by one hell of an attractive french lady.  Bravo Monsieur.  

The medal and finishers t-shirt
On the way out of the finishers section, my brother was waiting for me with my special prize.  A can of Kronenbourg.  Now those of you that know me well and have been reading the blog for a while will know that I havent had a beer since 21st December in preparation for this marathon.  So it was officially beer o'clock...and jeez did it taste damn good!

Beer o'clock
As you can see from the Strava report, my pace went from Mile 17 onwards, with 22-25 being the real killers of my pace.

The other Strava report, the HR analysis tells an interesting story.  In all my training runs, I'd spent the majority of my running in Zone 2 but for some reason, probably the heat I would suggest, my HR was much higher than I expected it to be, thus probably why I flaked so early!


Back to the hotel, the longest wee in history (it was so long, Steve had managed to boil the kettle and make a cup of coffee in the time it took me to finish, must have been a world record), ice bath, laugh at Everton beating Arsenal then out for some food...and some liquid refreshment...

Post-race liquid carbs was the order of the day.  €10 a pint though?  Ouch!

The Paris Marathon was a great first marathon experience.  Of course, I was a little disappointed initially at not getting the time I wanted but it really does set me up nicely for the next one.

A marathon is a huge learning curve.  I didnt know how my body was going to react to going beyond 21 miles.  I will get better with experience and there will be things that I will do differently.  I will carb load properly beforehand.  I need to work on my race fueling.  I'm not sure jelly babies really do it for me.  I've now got some time to experiment with the pressure off.

I need to improve my pacing.  I need to try and run to the blue line as I ended up running 0.27 miles further than I needed to (according to the Garmin).  What with spending the first half of the marathon zig-zagging around slower runners, taking the longer way around bends because of congestion, learning to negotiate water stops better....the list goes on.

It all comes with the experience. As much as it hurt, I loved every single minute of it and cant wait to do my next one...as long as the knees hold out :)

In three and a bit years, I've gone from an 18st lazy, exercise-shy, beer drinking takeaway eating monster to a 12.5st marathon runner.  Since 2011, I've rode my bike from London to Paris, I've smashed my half marathon PB of 2:45 set in 2008 by 49 mins to clock 1:56, I've rode London to Brussels and now I've run a marathon, hopefully the first of many.  I'm proud to be where I am in a relatively short space of time and I'm loving the fact I can buy clothes in M & L again, rather than praying the XXL is big enough every time!

I'd like to say a big thanks to my brother Steve.  It wasnt the most exciting weekend for him, with me not really being able to do anything pre or post race but it was good to have him there with me.

Check out the Garmin Data here



  1. Brilliant race! And brilliant time! Well done!! Seems so strange seeing the photos - bringing lots of memories back of running Paris last year! Hope that beer tasted amazing!!

  2. Thanks Sarah. Especially as reading your 2013 review inspired me to sign up for 2014!!!