by Kate Johnson
This time I was nervous, really nervous. I had run 2 marathons already but this time the pressure was on. I had been running faster and longer than ever before and I felt like a ‘real runner’ for the first time. I had completed the MK 20 in 3 hours 31mins taking 28 mins off my previous time. I had a real chance of being able to run a sub 5 hour marathon as long as I could keep running the whole way. The main challenge was that everyone else knew I had been running well and were expecting results. I had never run a race abroad before so I had no idea how the flight, hotel, food and water would affect me. The week before hand I really felt the pressure and struggled to eat and sleep and by the time Friday came around my nerves were completed shredded.
Andrew and I had made the decision to fly to Paris mainly because the flights were available when we wanted to book them and they were cheap for leaving on a Friday night and returning on a Sunday night. First time for everything! So after eating all the chicken, rice, bread and pasta in the airport lounge (thank you work for the access!) we boarded the flight. It was only then that I realised I had no book and no DVD player which are two things I never travel without.
We made it to the hotel unscathed and I fell fast asleep something I was thankful for. I had decided to go to the Expo early as I was concerned that I would have an issue with the medical certificate required to run. We arrived at the Expo and breezed through all the checks, quick look at my medical certificate and passport then handed over my bib and race pack, I need to stop worrying about the little things! The Expo is similar to London and I found my name among the 54,000 entrants printed on the wall and we took a few photos and had a quick wander round. I wanted to get out and see the city as I hadn’t been to Paris since I was a child. We decided to keep the walking to a minimum by seeing the sights that were closest to the Metro Stations. We made it to Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe and The Louvre before I decided I wanted a nap. I am the Queen of Naps, I can sleep anytime, anywhere, literally any table and any chair. We went back to the hotel where I fell into a coma style sleep.
I wanted pizza for dinner so off we went to search of pizza and the other things that I needed milk, bottled water and a banana. I always eat the same thing before a marathon as I am sure most people do!
Race day dawned warm and sunny, yet more challenges to deal with! Sunglasses on and suncream on before breakfasting and leaving to go to the start line. The bag drop was well organised and it was great to walk past the finish and see where I was going to end up later in the day. We walked round to the start which was on the Champs-Elysees. Andrew said he was going off to do some sightseeing and then would try to catch me in the later stages of the race and left me in the 4:30 hour pen. I wandered about looking for a familiar face which in a race of 54,000 is a fairly unhinged thing to do, however I stumbled upon Emma Lilley from Redway Runners. We had time for a quick chat before the start of the race.
The race was started in waves to make sure there were no bottle necks on the course. We got under way and the start was down hill and most people went out like leopards chasing a gazelle on the Serengeti. I knew the heat would affect me so I let everyone else go out and stayed at about 11 min mile pace. The route went down the Champs-Elysees and past the Place de Concorde, the Lourve and the Bastille. It was great running through a big city and the tall buildings offered a lot of shade. After the Bastille the course went out towards Chateau de Vincennes. The race entered a park where the support was more sparse and the course was starting to go uphill at a slight incline I was starting to wish there was a bit more to keep me distracted. I was running well and the KM’s and miles were dropping away.
At 11 miles the course started to go down hill and back into the city. The weather was starting to get warm and I needed some shade. 10 % of the entries were from Brits so I could hear voices on the course which was comforting as I am a really social runner and don’t like running alone so much.
Back in the city I was feeling better, I could run in the shade and my race was going well so I was happy. Everything was working and I was inching my way to the halfway point. I hit half way in 2:22:42 and felt good but I wanted to see a familiar face and was wondering if I could really run the second half as well as the first or was it all going to fall apart after I hit 20 miles?
At 14 miles I saw something that completely unravelled me. It was a guy who had finished and was wearing his medal and finisher T Shirt. Not only had he finished and got out of the chaos of the finish he had managed to get back to Mile 14. It completely threw me and I was trying to refocus my thoughts when I saw Andrew at the Bastille. It was great to see him and know that he thought I was doing well. From the Bastille the course goes along the river and the course was packed. The aid stations were well organised with fresh fruit, water, sugar cubes and huge hose pipes to keep the runners cool. One thing that really bothered me was that the course wasn’t cordoned off and people felt the need to cross it with buggies, small children and motor bikes! Seriously?
The course went into a couple of long tunnels along the river at miles 17 and 18, this was the Paris Canary Wharf. My Garmin stopped working and I got agitated. I caught up with Jason Charley (From LFR) at this point and his family and supporters gave me a big cheer. In one of the tunnels I could hear some really awesome music and flashing lights. The organisers had turned the tunnel into what can only be described as a nightclub! Full sets of lights, a full DJ booth, it was just like Tiger Tiger on a Thursday night. This removed the frustration over the Garmin and lifted my spirits and as I came out of the tunnel I saw Andrew again. I was at 18 and feeling great. I tried to keep my pace nice and steady.
I ran past the Eiffel Tower and down the Ave. President Kennedy and hit mile 20. Right 10km to go, two parkruns. You can run 10km easily you do it all the time I told myself. At 20.5 I got horrendous cramp in my side, it wasn’t a stitch, I had no idea what it was. I panicked. I was all alone in a city I didn’t know and my sub 5 hours Marathon was slipping away from me. I slowed down to a little trot but refused to walk as I am insanely stubborn. I was hoping that the cramp would be relived and I would be able to breathe again. Luckily it sorted itself out and I could speed up again, but it was a reminder that this was a 10km race with a 20 mile warm up and the work was just starting. Most people around me were walking. I took the oatmeal approach which is focus on whoever is in the deepest hell possible. I felt insanely guilty, but I wasn’t going to quit now having got this far.
I got to mile 22 and saw the Roland Garros tennis centre. I knew this was near the end as Andrew had mentioned it a few times in the past 24 hours. I knew I was nearly there and was keeping a close eye on the pace on my Garmin which had recovered from the tunnels. I hit mile 23 and I was hot. I was in the park there was little shade. I could feel my skin was burnt and the salt from the sweat was making me itch. I had less than 3 miles to go but mile 23 felt like its own 10km. I have never been so glad to see a mile 24 marker. 2.2 miles to go. That’s easy. You walk that too and from that station each day. It’s less than a parkrun. Focus on parkrun. You do it every week. Come on Missy not far. You trained to hard to walk. This is a lot of work for a free banana.
Sub 5 hours was still within reach. I thought of all the people who I knew were at home tracking me online and willing me to the finish. Mile 25 thank god nearly there, and there was Andrew on the side of the road. Someone I knew. A familiar face. He started to run along side me, talking to me, telling me it wasn’t far to go. I hit 42km and I knew the finish was somewhere near, but where? I shouted to Andrew, where is the finish? Where is it? I can’t see it? He just told me to keep going and that it was nearly over. The route almost double twists close to the finish so you can’t see it until you are on top of it. I put my foot down and just hoped it was going to end soon and under 5 hours.
The Finish. 4:55:11 Yes! Sub 5 hours. No one would be disappointed! This was what it was all for. I had run a marathon without walking. I had done a 47min PB. It was over I could stop, I could sit, I could have my medal! I wandered off to get my finishers T shirt and medal. The volunteers were brilliant, T shirts small, medal and water all given out quickly. I staggered away from the finish line and managed to take a couple of photos. A quick selfie confirmed I was sunburnt and had pretty decent sunglass marks. I staggered to get my bag and then had to walk to meet Andrew at the agreed meeting place. It felt like it was miles away.
I managed to find Andrew and he was super excited that I had gone sub 5 hours. I was broken and didn’t want to move but we had to go and pick up the luggage and have a wash and get clean to go to the airport. Paris you need more escalators for after the marathon. Walking up and down the stairs was already painful and I was dreading the next day. I was hungry, I wanted chips, but had to settle for a bottle of coke and a ham and cheese baguette.
Once I had wifi I realised how well I had done. When I saw the social media posts and the Whatsapp messages of support, it hit me that 47 min PB’s just don’t happen every day and how hard you have to work for them. My average pace was 11.09 across the 26.2 miles or 42.195km.
Paris, what can I say. Thank you for everything. You were awesome.
LBAC, thank you for the support, advice, training, especially the speed training ( I think I proved it works!) I wouldn’t have done it without you.