Thursday, September 06, 2012

the would be 5km Paris Marathon

Wow, didn't think things could get worse after my Disney beatdown, but they did. Ended up with Tendinitis in my foot (most likely a side effect of Lipitor, that my Doc seemed ignorant of). In any case I haven't been able to get in a full week of running since Disney, and maybe just a handful of runs in the last few months. Not a single run in the last month as I've been trying to recover. 

I was planning on running the Paris Marathon as part of my 10 year anniversary European vacation, but realized it would be a monumentally bad choice to try now and would most likely be a miserable and potentially painful experience leading to even more time off. But totally giving up the chance to run in Paris with 40,000 other maniacs, and with many of the big sights within the first 5km (Arc de Triomphe, Place de La Concorde, Grand Palais, Louvre, Musee D'orsay, Hotel de Ville, and the Bastille) seemed silly as well. So, I decided to run the first 5km and then go until the foot pain started again (typically @10km) and take the metro back to my hotel. 

What an experience. Obviously the sightseeing is exquisite, and well beyond any other race I've done. Nice race expo and kit, including a paris Marathon Buffwear hat (but the logo is upside down for some unknown reason), and a brilliant plastic Paris Marathon cut up garbage bag to wear before the race to stay warm. Race shirts are only for finishers, so tough luck there. But the race organizers are a joke, with aid stations spread 5 km apart, that only serve bottles of water and fruit, but no sportsdrink except for 1 stop at 33km. I asked the Powerade reps at the expo why they didn't offer the drink at every stop and was told "trop cher monsieur" i.e. they couldn't care less. So, I brought a race belt stuffed with gels that I never use even in training. 

Ran my 5k and was loving every moment of it, and with no tightness in my foot decided to keep on going. In theory the aid stations sounded like a nightmare, but in reality they were worse. I've never seen so much savage behaviour at a race as people jostled and shoved to ensure they got their only chance at a drink at fruit for 5k. Think of pigeons fighting over some french fries UFC style and you'll have an inkling of the repulsive behaviour going on. At least pretty much everyone threw their water bottles into one of the many bins lining the streets when they were done. But the fruit peels were discarded everywhere and trampled on to ensure that the cobblestone streets were slicker than a hockey rink. 

Saw new sights when I made it to Chateau Vincennes around 12 km, and started thinking that if I hung on til 21km I might be able to speed walk in the second half and finish under their time limit of 5hr 40 mins (and get my finishers shirt!). But in the meantime I was just taking it nice and easy (10 minute miles),enjoying the day, and never aiming beyond the next 5k marker. 

Hit 21km in 2:14 and was amazed that I felt so good. I hadn't really thought this far ahead though, never believing I'd make it so far, and had no clue where I could find Metro stops now if I needed to get home. By 30k, the lack of preparation started truly hitting and I was getting sore and stiff (but not in my foot). Pace was slowing down, but my only exit strategy now was either to wait for the sweeper bus at the back of the pack which would've been another 2-3 hours or get my ***** to the finish line. Gladly grabbed my powerade bottle at 33km and kept it with me for the next 6 km or so. I walked a good bit around here and considered walking in the rest of the way, but it honestly felt just as bad to walk as to jog, and I didn't want to be out there that long, so I started jogging again. At 39km, I just said WTF, and started pumping my arms to get the pace back up and started passing others around me thinking of trying to get to the finish line before all they had left were XL. I definitely wasn't 'running', but was happy to regain momentum. 

Finished around 4:50 and was thrilled to get a size L t-shirt (only L and XL left at that point, but they are much smaller shirts so the L fits me like a M), and a very thoughtful disposable rain coat (that I'm keeping), which again was a nice touch. Nothing else to speak of at the finish line besides the bare minimum of apples, bananas and water bottles (more Powerade too, but a little late at this point). Can't figure this race out, they offered a few amazing amenities and did some great things that many races should aspire to but were amateur hour in so many other areas. Even the on course entertainment was strange with some great acts; a dozen horns playing the spiderman theme was my highlight, to what often felt like the real band didn't show up today, so some kid walked on stage and just was practicing his chords. Not sure how they continue attracting such a large field when the London Marathon is the following week and they apparently do everything right. But, I guess London is the huge draw and is so tough to get into that the rest do Paris. 

For others considering this race in the future, it is a great experience if you are well prepared to handle their eccentricities. Entry fee was a nice and low 60 Euros on day 1 (but rises with applications) and there are plenty of hotels near the finish / start line (Arc de Triomphe area) to make it a convenient race. I had a good time out there, but I suspect (as counter-intuitive as this may sound) that if I was in marathon shape and tried to race it in well under 4 hours, I would have had a much worse time struggling with the aid station logistics that don't work well for a guy who typically sweats a lot. It's frustrating, but unfortunately since the race will continue to sell out, not a lot of motivation for the race organizers to match the service levels of other races.

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