Trek and Run were supported during this event by;
Photos by Dave Sherman, Laura Kimberley and Maindru
As with many British participants heading to France for the Paris marathon our long weekend began at St. Pancreas station in London as we awaited the Eurostar to take us straight to the centre of Paris. Although Iâ€™d travelled to France a few times via ferry Iâ€™d never travelled to Paris and never used the Eurostar, and compared the fuss and stress involved with travelling by air it was a welcome relief just how simple the journey was! After passing through security and a short wait, we boarded our train and we were offâ€¦
Weâ€™d chosen to travel to France the morning before the race â€“ partly so we could fit in some sightseeing before the actual event but also out of necessity as I had to register and collect my race number at the Expo (more on that in a minute). This meant part of our first day which couldâ€™ve been spent sightseeing was instead spent travelling to the expo when the number couldâ€™ve just been posted out instead. But Iâ€™d imagine, similar to the London Marathon setup, a number of race sponsors and other companies pay a lot of money for their products to be featured at the expo and as a result weâ€™re likely to see this type of setup as marathon events continue to grow in size.
We arrived at Gare Du Nord a couple of hours after leaving London and headed off to our hotel which was a few tube stops away. Now Iâ€™m familiar with the London Underground so admittedly I was a little prepared for the metro but I was still surprised just how easy getting round Paris was with each line numbered and coloured, and clear indications on platforms about which direction to go. Tickets were cheap (â‚¬1.80 per single journey or â‚¬14.90 for 10 tickets) and while they use a similar tube map design, the numbered system and one-platform-per-line just works so well! We used the tube the whole time we were there and found navigating the city very easy, however it could be difficult finding stations from ground level as there were very few signs pointing towards stations, and most of the time you only knew were stations were by spotting the old fashioned ‘metropolitan’ signs at street levelâ€¦
The Paris Marathon expo:
After dropping our bags at our cheap and cheerful hotel on the outskirts of Paris we headed to Porte de Versailles where the marathon expo, or ‘Salon du Running’, was being held. Despite my worries about the queues and crowds Iâ€™d experienced at the London Marathon Expo a year earlier (they all advise not to visit on the Saturday!) the expo itself was calm, well organised, and once Iâ€™d handed in my confirmation form, medical certificate and had shown identification I was handed my number and posed for the obligatory â€˜race numberâ€™ photo.
After collecting a goody bag containing various items including a drinks bottle, bum-bag and product samples from various sponsors we passed into the main exhibition space. This area was dominated by an Asics sales area but it was interesting to see there were loads of event stalls (including triathlons) but only a few charity stalls â€“ the complete opposite to what Iâ€™ve seen in the past at Londonâ€™s Expo! As a medal magpie it was great to spot a display on one stall showcasing various Paris Marathon medals from 1989 onwards and to gain my first glimpse of the medal Iâ€™d be collecting at the end of the race the following day!
Thanks to the excellent Metro system, getting to the event was unbelievably simple. Our hotel was just 6 stops from the race start at the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es and thankfully the trains in Paris didn’t let us down as we arrived even earlier than expected, allowing plenty of time for me to grab a pre-marathon breakfast of a croissant with honey – a choice which is fast becoming my favourite pre-race breakfast as it’s light, tastes great, and seems to give me plenty of energy for the first few miles of the race.
Now I love trying out new methods of training so for this event Iâ€™d decided to try something a bit differentâ€¦ Rather than completing a number of long runs (who has time to run 20 mile long runs all the time!?) Iâ€™d chosen a new tactic, one which Iâ€™d heard some elite runners use, involving racing a number of half marathons leading up to race day. By using my TomTom Cardio GPS watches built-in heart rate monitor to monitor my heart rate during training Iâ€˜d discovered I could sustain 180bpm during a half which resulted in a high perceived level of effort, so my plan for Paris would be to keep my heart rate around 170bpm which should result in a low perceived level of effort and a consistent pace. The theory as good, but would it work in practiceâ€¦
As the race start-time approached I joined my 3h30m start pen and was pleased to see toilets and urinals in all pens â€“ especially considering some of the horror stories Iâ€™d heard about people relieving themselves freely in the Paris marathon start pens! The pens didnâ€™t seem overcrowded and were separated by folding screens which were rolled back as each wave were allowed through. As we waited an enthusiastic announcer led a warm up (much needed as the cloudy sky meant it was quite chilly) and I was starting to hope the weather forecast stating highs of 19Â°c had been wrong, although just before we started the sun started to peek through the clouds and it was clear we were in for a warm dayâ€¦
Although I was too far back to see the elites begin, a countdown followed by the sound of confetti canons signalled the start of race for the elite runners, and as they left Chariots of Fire started playing and the adrenaline started flowing!! Even though my wave was reasonably far forward, it took a while for the crowd to be released, but eventually it was our turn… The announcer counted us downâ€¦ â€œdix, neuf, huit, sept, six, cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un…â€ and we were off!!
Start to 10km – 48minutes 51seconds â€“ Average HR: 167bpm â€“ Feeling: good!
As the race began we headed out along the cobbles of Avenue des Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es and if Iâ€™d needed any more encouragement not to start fast, this was it! Iâ€™ve never been a fan of running on cobbles as theyâ€™re possibly the most joint-punishing running surface you can encounter, however the avenue was nice and wide so at least there wasnâ€™t any sign of congestion and we had plenty of room to find our pace.
I have to say this initial stretch was one of the most amazing sections of a city run Iâ€™ve ever encountered, and made for an awesome start to a long distance race with crowds alongside the road and Parisâ€™ history all around us. At the end of Avenue des Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es we reached Place de la Concorde which now houses a Luxor Obelisk, a gift from Egypt, but which once held a guillotine during the French Revolution where a number of important figures were executed in front of cheering crowds including Louis XV and Queen Marie Antionette. However today the cheering crowds were out for us and there definitely wasnâ€™t any time for me to lose my head, so I pushed onâ€¦
As we ran we passed through Place de la Bastille and alongside The Louvre (helpfully indicated by a giant sign announcing ‘On your left, The Louvre!’) and although we didn’t pass the iconic glass pyramid, running past this absolutely huge structure really was breath-taking and the building itself seemed to go on forever.
As the clouds dissipated and the sun came out it started getting warmer and thankfully buckets of water every 5km after the 2.5km mark had been set up for people to cool themselves. Sponges in these buckets wouldâ€™ve been ideal, but instead they contained plastic cups. This meant some people scooped water with cups and some with their hands, however a number of people were using the cups to drink the water which was stomach turning considering the number of sweaty hands which had been in there!
10km to 20km – 49mins 34secs â€“ Average HR: 171 â€“ Feeling: great!
As we passed Parisâ€™ Zoo under a huge 10km inflatable milestone marker, we left the inner city and entered the first parkland area of the course â€“ the Bois de Vincennes. The zoo was quiet at this time of the morning but it was great being able to see and hear the animals whose enclosures ran alongside the road, and it felt strange suddenly entering this area filled with green considering moments earlier weâ€™d been passing through one of the busiest cities in the world!
After runningÂ the tree-lined avenues alongside the zoo we passed the impressive ChÃ¢teau de Vincennes, a huge 14th and 17th century royal castle, and entered the Parc Floral de Paris along Route de la Pyramide and unfortunately this was where the race support started to wane. Now Paris has a reputation as a major city race with a low level of support so Iâ€™d been surprised about just how much support weâ€™d seen during the first 10km, but while the support during this section was minimal, the tree-lined avenues were a strange escape from the city environment Iâ€™d been expecting to run throughout the course and it resulted in a nice few miles of peace and tranquillity â€“ a complete contrast to the experience Iâ€™d have towards the end of the race but more on that later!
As we moved towards the 20km inflatable archway along Avenue de Gravelle we left the woodland and headed back into the cityâ€¦
20km – 30km – 53mins 34secs â€“ Average HR: 176 â€“ Feeling: amazing!
Before long we were heading back towards the inner city and as we turned onto Avenue Daumesnil we passed through the 21.1km/13.1 mile half-way marker and I really was feeling great â€“ my method of training had worked like a charm! We followed this road until it turned right onto Rue de Lyon, and the July Column with the statue of the Genie de la Liberte (Spirit of Freedom) at its peak came into view as we headed towards Place de la Bastille for the second time.
As we passed the Bastille Opera on our right the crowd support began to grow again and at this point we turned right towards the start of a section alongside the Seine â€“ a section I really loved because as well as enjoying the coolness of the riverside we again passed some of Parisâ€™ best sights including the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and Musee dâ€™Orsay and eventually the biggest attraction of them all, The Eiffel Tower, came into view as we headed along Voie Georges Pompidou alongside the river.
Unfortunately at this point I shouldâ€™ve kept my enthusiasm in check as I was about to unwittingly ruin my pacing plan! As we reached the 17 mile marker and I spotted the 3h30m pacer in front of me in the distance… Now I knew none of the pacers had passed me so this meant not only was I running well for my time goal, but I actually had time in hand! How had that happened?! Suddenly I found myself trying to catch up with this pacer with a plan to stick with him until the end but of course as a result of speeding up my heart rate quickly climbed to 180bpm and my â€˜heart rate pacingâ€™ plan went out of the windowâ€¦
30km to 40km – 59mins 29secs â€“ Average HR: 178.3bpm â€“ Feeling: tired. And then the wheels fell off…
As we passed the 30km mark a huge display of a brick wall had been set up with the statement â€˜The 30km wall â€“ smash through it!â€™ This initially made me laugh as I thought â€˜weâ€™re not even at 19 miles yet â€“ the alleged â€˜wallâ€™ is at least a few miles away â€“ but little did I realise my own personal wall was coming up pretty soonâ€¦
Just after the 20 mile mark we entered the Bois de Boulogne and after having such a great race so far I was gutted to find myself gradually slowing more and more until that horrible moment when my body came to a complete full stop and I had to do the worst thing you can ever do during a marathon… I had to walk! In my head I tried to convince myself that I was just trying to bring my heart rate back down to 170bpm, but let’s face it, that method of running had been left by the Seine and in reality I’d just pushed myself too hard and run out of steam. Maybe it was the heat getting to me or maybe just plain tiredness from lack of distance training, but wherever the reason my body decided at 21 miles it was time to take it easy and wave â€˜au revoirâ€™ to my personal best!
Admittedly the scenery wasnâ€™t doing much to help either as although Iâ€™d enjoyed the earlier woodland section, this time I found myself missing the sights and sounds of the city and without much in the way of landmarks there also wasnâ€™t much support along this section. To put it bluntly, I was bored of the Bois and the longer I stayed in it the worse I felt! As I hit the 23 mile marker I was desperately trying to convince myself there was ‘only about 5km to go’ but by that point my body had given up and I knew it was ‘walk/run/walk/run’ from here on… In fact, it seemed to be the same for a lot of people around me as they walked or dragged their feet as they tried to run. It was clear the weather had caught a lot of people by surprise and I was feeling their painâ€¦
40km to finish – 20mins â€“ Average HR: 177bpm â€“ Feeling: Disappointed!
As we passed through the 40km archway Iâ€™ll admit I was kicking myself to move faster and get to the end, but unfortunately we were still in the Bois and we wouldnâ€™t be leaving it until the 26 mile marker, and despite me trying to convince myself that there was only 2.2km to go, I was very much aware that there was still 2.2km to go and my body really wasnâ€™t happy with that â€“ itâ€™s amazing how far a kilometre actually is when youâ€™re knackered, in pain, and well and truly fed up with your surroundings!
As we finally left the Bois at 26 miles I was glad to see the support was building again, but the long open miles really had taken their toll and even as the finish line came into sight, as much as I wouldâ€™ve loved to push for a sprint finish I was done, dusted, knackered and relieved to be so close to the end! I eventually dragged my overheated and tired body over the line in 3h47m, over 1h40m after the raceâ€™s winner Mark Korir had crossed the finish line in 2h05m, and 17 minutes after the time Iâ€™d hoped to achieve, and Iâ€™ll admit that while I was gutted about being unable to run sub-3h30m or even beat my previous PB of 3h38m, the crowd at the finish line and faces of all the supporters snapped me back in to the frame of mind of why I do this. Why I love running so much and why the buzz and atmosphere at these mass-participations events will always keep me coming back for more.
Of course another thing which made me grin from ear to ear was the moment I collected my Paris Marathon 2015 medal â€“ seriously one of the best pieces of race bling Iâ€™ve ever received and one Iâ€™ll cherish for years to come because letâ€™s face it, Iâ€™d earnt it!
Looking back now I really could kick myself as my race had been going great up to that point but I think in a way I created my own wall by trying to speed up at such a crucial point in the race. When analysing my TomTom MySports profile after the race (shown below) you could see clearly how my HR jumps to over 180bpm at 17 miles, a heart rate zone which the software describes as â€˜sprintâ€™ effort, and it stays there for the following 6 miles until I eventually ran out of steam â€¦
As well as being able to view my stats on TomTomâ€™s MySports software post-race the Aso website showed all of my running stats taken from my chip time at various points of the race. Again this showed how my pace had been excellent up until the 20km mark but had begun to slow from that point forward which I found quite surprising!
As usual I’d kicked myself as I crossed the finish line thinking ‘you had a PB so close and you let it slip away again!’ however looking back at my race performance a couple of days later I have to laugh at myself and be glad that I can take the event for what it was, an amazing experience and one which I’ve, yet again, learnt lessons from which will only serve to make me a stronger runner. Although Iâ€™d hoped for 3h30m I hadn’t gone into the event dead-set on achieving a PB (I’d expected to finish around the 4 hour mark with my HR/Half Mara training plan) so 3h47m was much better than I’d expected, and I’m actually grateful to still be able to achieve a time that’s only 9 mins slower than my current PB when my training and nutrition was, in hindsight, pretty shoddy for such a huge challenge! I’ve also learnt that while the heat had affected me during the final few miles, again this issue could’ve been avoided by making an effort to train during hot weather rather than opting for cool early morning training runs whenever possible. Let’s face it – English weather is terribly unpredictable so why not train for the worst case scenario!
With all this in mind, despite just how poorly Iâ€™d performed towards the end of the race I think I can still consider the Paris Marathon a huge success in terms of what Iâ€™ve learnt from the experience, and besides my shortcomings it really had been an amazing race and one I think every runner should have on their list of ‘must do events’, if not at the top above London! This year 41,342 people took part in the event making it one of the most popular marathons in the world and entries (that’s entries for real places, not a ballot) have already opened for their 2016 event, so don’t waste any time and sign up now while there are still spaces!
Sign up for the 2016 Paris marathon at: http://www.schneiderelectricparismarathon.com/us/