Paris Marathon 2018: mixed feelings

I’m not sure what to think of this marathon. Yes, I did PB by 10 minutes, but I had the chance to go sub 6 (Yes, that’s not a typo, I said sub 6. In case you’re unfamiliar with my blog: I’m a heart patient who runs marathons, but due to my high heart rate fast times are not an option). Yes, the route’s nice and some things were well organized, but other things were very poorly organized. While running Berlin there was never a moment in which I thought: never again. In Paris I did have that moment, but not because I never wanted to run a marathon again, but because I never wanted to run the Paris Marathon again!

But at the same time I managed to do the impossible yet again. Sure, I trained harder than I did for Berlin, but at the same time not much has changed. It’s basically just as inconceivable for me to run a marathon now as it was a year ago. In the past six months I even had doctors stare at me in disbelieve when I told them I’ve run (half) marathons.

Expo

To pick up your bib at the expo in Paris you’ll need three things: a medical certificate (yes, I did actually manage to get one signed), your convocation and your ID. Once you have these it’s really easy to pick up your bib. After that you can find your name on the wall and browse the expo.

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I didn’t like the Paris expo as much as the one in Berlin. They did have several activities and talks, but all were in French, so I couldn’t understand a word. Most of the booths were small or even shared, so companies couldn’t offer that much products.

The main sponsor was ASICS, thus they did the merchandise, but there wasn’t that much choice. Three different t-shirt (one of which wasn’t tech) designs available in different colours. One zip-up hoodie and one pair of shoes. I did buy one t-shirt with the text “Running is Life” on it.

The Start

I got up at 5:00 and made my way to the start. I knew I had to drop off my bag at the finish area, but when I arrived at the start I wasn’t entirely sure which way to go or how far it was. Lots of other runners were looking around in confusion and asking where or how far it was. Turns out it’s about 1.5 km from the start, which you also have to walk back. The fact that I had to walk it wasn’t my main concern, the fact that there weren’t any signs bothered me more. They could have easily put up a few signs pointing in the right direction.

There were a lot of port-a-loos near the Arc the Triomphe, so I didn’t have to wait long in line. There weren’t that many in the starting pen, so those people seemed to have to wait quite a bit longer. Since the Paris Marathon is the 3rd biggest marathon in the world, the starting pens are very busy, but the start itself was pretty orderly. I got in my pen pretty early so I didn’t have any trouble getting in.

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0-5 kilometer

You start off going down the Champs Élysées, which has cobblestones, but it’s a wide road so you have some space to run. Around 3 kilometers in you pass the Louvre and there’s actually a sign telling you to look to your right to see the Louvre. At around the 4k mark I saw Petra pass me and I went a little faster to catch up with her. But she’s way too fast for me, so I couldn’t keep her pace for long. After the Place de la Bastille you reach the first aid station. Or actually, I didn’t reach it, because it was only on one side of the road (the side I currently wasn’t on) and it was basically impossible to get through all the runners to get to the aid station. So I missed the first aid station. At the start of the race it was 14 degrees, but temperature would rise to 22 degrees and sunny later on. Not ideal marathon running weather.

I got a bit carried away by all the fast runners around me in the first kilometer and had to slow down my pace. My goal was to PB, but preferably to get sub 6, since training for Paris went quite well I thought this would be a reasonable goal. I had a 6 hour pace band around my wrist so I could see which split times I needed. At the 5 km mark I was around 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

5-10 kilometer

This part gets you out of the city centre and into the Bois de Vincennes park. The shade of the trees was nice, since the temperature was rising fast. No aid station on this part of the course, since they seemed to have just randomly spread those out over the course. I managed to stay 5.5 minutes ahead of schedule.

10-15 kilometer

Through the Bois de Vincennes park, past the Chateau de Vincennes. Around kilometer 13 when I was walking a woman grabbed my hand and tried to pull me along with her. I know you meant well, but no, I don’t want to be dragged along. Just because I’m walking for a bit doesn’t mean I’ve given up entirely.

Between the 11-12 km marks there was a aid station (luckily for me on my side of the road this time) and I managed to get some water. Unfortunately for me, Paris Marathon does not supply any sports drinks at their aid stations, only water. Luckily I had some supporters with me who could hand me some sports drinks when I needed them. But I had missed them around the 5k point and didn’t manage to see them until the 12k point. The good thing about the route is that it’s basically situated along 2 metro lines, so it’s possible for your supporters to see you multiple times along the way. At the 15k mark I was running 6 minutes ahead of schedule.

15-20 kilometer

This part leads you out of the Bois de Vincennes and back into to city centre of Paris. At this point it was getting really hot. After the 16 km point there was another aid station, but from here on out the aid stations turned out to be utter chaos. Sure, aid stations are always a bit chaotic at marathons, but this was a whole new level. The aid stations was basically empty because the volunteers couldn’t put the water on the tables fast enough. I lost roughly two minutes waiting for water and a lot of pushing and shoving was involved, because the longer it took the more runners were getting desperate for water, especially since no other fluids were available and it was hot.

20-25 kilometer

Even though my split times were all faster than my schedule, I didn’t mange to add more time to my advantage, since all the aid stations after that were all very chaotic and not well stocked. I was still 6 minutes ahead of schedule at the halfway point.

Thank you to the American woman at the 22k mark that replied: “Yes, it is, Runner Girl!”, to my race shirt. Thank you, that cheered me up a bit. Sorry, I didn’t even see your face.

From the 23k mark onwards you start running along the Seine river. My favourite part of the course! You pass the Notre-Dame at 24 kilometers (and again there’s a sign to tell you to look to your left).

25-30 kilometer

You’re still running along the Seine and are passing through a few tunnels along the way. At least these tunnels provided some shade, but the ups and downs aren’t that easy on the legs. They’ve either had a DJ playing in them or some French runners spontaneously started singing, which was funny but quite loud with all the echoing! At kilometer 29 you pass the Eiffel Tower (you can already see it from miles away, but if you didn’t notice yet there is yet again a sign to remind you to look left). Because of all the super chaotic aid stations my advantage went down to one minute at the 30 km mark.

30-35 kilometer

You leave the Seine river behind and start heading towards the Bois de Boulogne. At kilometer 31 there was a wine gum station. To my surprise this station was on both sides of the road and was very well stocked. So I suppose wine gums have a higher priority for the Paris Marathon organisation, than hydration even though the last few years temperature on race day was 20+ degrees. From this point onwards my legs started acting up, but I tried to keep the pace as best as I could.

35-40 kilometer

You run through the Bois de Boulogne. Unfortunately, some cyclist decided that they could also use our course and none of the marshalls told them not to. Dear cyclists: I know it’s tempting to use a course when the road is closed off, but I pay a lot of money to go run that course and don’t appreciate it if you start taking up space on that course (without paying). Plus, it’s just plain dangerous when you pass exhausted runners from behind at high speed and they’re not expecting you to. Some of the paths in the Bois de Boulogne aren’t that wide so it got a bit congested at times. And at some points along the route the spectators were taking up half the road and thus creating funnels for the runners and making it more congested. This happened even it there were fences to keep back the spectators, they’d just go around it and marshalls did nothing against it. Once in a while I gestured to them to get back, but then they’d only take half a step back or so.

Finish

After the Bois de Boulogne you head towards the Arc de Triomphe again and towards the finish line! I finished in 06:05:19, exactly 10 minutes faster than in Berlin. But I’m pretty sure I could have made sub 6 if the aid stations weren’t such a mess. I often lost 1 or 2 minutes at an aid station trying to get water. The finish area was well organised: it was easy to get your medal and your finisher t-shirt and pick up your bag.

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I don’t feel nearly as euphoric about finishing the Paris Marathon, than I felt about Berlin. It feels more like having a chance to win the gold, but ending up with silver. I guess sub 6 has to happen some other time. Although it probably won’t happen in New York City with all the bridges.

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Will I ever run Paris again? I don’t know. The route is great, I like the signs pointing out tourist attractions along the way and there are lots of supporters along the route (although I mostly couldn’t understand them). But the trouble with the aid stations kind of ruined the experience for me. If you know there will be over 40,000 runners and it will be 20+ degrees, you need to have your aid stations sorted out! I’ve heard lots of ambulances during the race and I’ve also seen quite of few runners lying on the ground being attended to. You can’t prevent everything, but I’m pretty sure they could have prevented half of these cases if they had more aid stations and didn’t just randomly spread them out over the course.

Nevertheless, I did managed to do the impossible yet again! And with a 10 minute PB!

 

 

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