One of the biggest running events in Europe. I heard the guy with the microphone say that over a thousand american citizens ran the Paris marathon this year - largely outnumbered by the four thousands brits. Hey it's Paris after all!
First thing to be noticed is the quality of the organisation. Because this is France, everyone including me gets his bib number only the day before at the expo. The queue was easily over a 500 yards yet it took me less than half an hour to get everything. The easiest way to get to the start is to take the subway. When the train stops at l'Étoile (Arc de Triomphe), driver wishes everyone a good race since the carriage is packed with runners. People cheer, get to the surface and off we go to find the tents avenue Foch to leave valuables to smiling volunteers. Some of them can't speak english very well but they'll do their best to get you where you need to be. Which would be at the top of the Champs Élysées, in a sas with around 30,000 other people. It is possible to warm up in adjacent streets prior to the race but getting in the right sas at the last minute can be tricky considering the massive crowds.
I had registered with a target time of 4 hours, which meant it took a full 17 minutes to get everyone before me going. By then the looping black eyed peas track chosen by the organisers had been played 3 times. Motivation is maximal. Let's do this!
Make sure not to slip on the plastic jackets people leave behind and off we go. The first two miles to the Concorde (the egyptian Obelisk) are downhill. This means people will go out way too fast, pumped up by the athmosphere and the crowds lined up on the Champs. Fortunately the street is very wide so lots of space to overtake slower runners and get into a proper race pace. The next five miles are completely flat. The course basically goes through the entire city from west to east, a few climbs before entering the Bois de Vincennes, and then goes all the way back to the west end, entering the Bois de Boulogne (famous for its err, nightlife), before finally finishing on the lower end of Avenue Foch (where we left the valuables).
Food is available every 5 kilometers. I stuck to water and bananas and orange slices for most of the course. Towards the end there are more available options but more on that later. On a personal note, my training had been completely rubbish. I had managed to squeeze in two long runs three weeks prior to the event, and that was pretty much it. Total mileage for 2010 by then must have been somewhere around eighty miles, and I had no idea of the pace I was training at. Comes KM3, I check my watch and it reads 15:00. Woaw, that's definitely less that a 4hrs pace, let's see if I can hold on to this. So I make sure to get some orange juice and water and banana bits at every aid station and keep going. The crowd is still very thick, but the scenery is very enjoyable nonetheless. Tourists come to Paris for a reason. The city is beautiful. The temperature is absolutely perfect for running, it's just warm enough not to need longsleeves and the sun is shing on the various monuments that we pass. Rock bands, salsa dancers, firemen perched on their ladders hovering over the streets: the works. Lots of people cheering and lots of flags from foreign families that came to support their loeved ones. I think I've seen over 50 guys waving the stars and stripes and easily twice as much union jacks. Merde alors.
After exiting the Bois de Vincennes where the peloton tackled a few climbs, it is time to turn back and here comes the 13.1 mark. I had somehow managed to keep my pace and was pretty happy with myself. I had arranged with friends to come at KM22 to have my personal fan club feed me and tell me how sexy I am. I had banked on the assumption that the pack of runners would have become thinner by then. Big mistake. I failed to spot my friends who couldn't get to the other side of the street because the flow of runners was so dense (we had agreed I would stay on the left, and they were stuck on the right hand-side of the street). To make things even worse, the street is very narrow which makes everyone accelerate (not to mention the increased cheering) Then I heard someone shout my name but I just couldn't stop because of the flow, so in a reckless move my firends jumped in and sprinted to catch up and we finally all stopped a few yards further down the road. A lot more perillous than it sounds, not to be repeated.
So here I am, with a little less than half of the course left feeling good. I decide to stick to that pace and not accelerate, even though I was burning with desire to do just that. The next five miles aren't of much interest. the course isn't fast, there are turns and roundabouts and small climbs, but nothing big enough to kill off the mighty marathoners eager to see the Eiffel tower. And here it is in the distance, shining in a cool spring morning. But before that, les Voies sur Berge, which is french for "the road lining the river". If I recall correctly, there are 5 tunnels to go through, the first of which must over one kilometer long, it sure felt like it. In there, people will go insane and sing some very non catholic songs. At that time I was following a bunch of guys dressed as Gauls and it was absolutely surreal. However, the five climbs inherent to the aforementioned tunnels were NOT hilarious and idle chatter was becoming scarce. By KM30 I was starting to realise that keeping with 5:00/KM pace was not going to be so easy. By KM33 I hated myself for trying to trick my mind into thinking I was just doing the same old 6 mile loop around the park at home. But hey, pain is only temporary. I walked a food station for the first time with about 5 miles to go. They had wine and raisins and sugar and cheese and powerade, I ate it all and the world was a better place. Did I mention your name is printed on your BIB number? It helps a lot when random strangers call out your name and cheer even though they've seen thousands of mortified souls like you before.
With only 2 kilometers to go, I have absolutely nothing left in my legs, which I suspect were happily tearing my muscles down in order to find fuel to keep me going forward. Last "sprint" on the Avenue Foch. Finish time: 3:29:48.
Paris is a beautiful city and so is its marathon. Run it if you have the opportunity. :)