Paris Marathon April 2017

So, I learnt even more about myself at the Paris marathon.  Not least, my ability to triumph over adversity (or heat in this case), and how much more serious I need to be about my training.  I also learnt, for the first time since I’ve been running, how your brain can punish yourself into being disappointed when in actual fact, you should be celebrating.  

As a teacher, I know the power of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, and I know that there isn’t a marathon runner in the world who has a fixed mindset – there can’t be because otherwise the failure rate would be massive.  I’ve also become aware however, that the growth mindset can sometimes trick you into thinking you can achieve more than you are currently capable of, which leads to disappointment.  

I don’t class myself as a “marathoner”, or a “marathon runner”.  I maybe class myself as “someone who has plodded through 2 marathons” now, but I do take pride in the fact that I have achieved this despite having been running for less than 2 years. I jokingly say I rely on “brute force and ignorance” to get me through, and largely this is true, but I do need to change that.  In the classroom, we try to encourage a growth mindset through praise but with positive ongoing targets so that children are encouraged to do more, achieve more.  So why, when I took 26 minutes and 21 seconds off my previous marathon time, did I feel disappointed?

I started well, and strong, maintaining a pace for about a 5 hour marathon.  I felt awesome and comfortable until about the 9 mile mark, when the sun was becoming high in the sky, and I lost my breath.  Typically my inhaler was in the bottom of my backpack and it was too much of a faff to get to.  I dropped to a walk to try to regain momentum.  The water in my bladder-pack was coming through warm, my breathing was laboured and I was aware that a blister was forming under my left foot.  Ironically, I’d predicted that in the morning as this was my first big run that I didn’t have brand new, fluffy socks for!  My bad.  I walked to the 15km water station and took on water, banana and orange and continued on my way.  By this point I was jeffing* it, but I took great delight in running down the Rue de Charenton (see half marathon post), although it didn’t seem as long or as imposing going down.  As I passed the half marathon mark, I was running with the 5h30 pacer and felt pretty strong again.  One of the 5h pacers dropped back at this point, removed his flag and started running with the 5h30 pacer which I thought was bizarre, and then he disappeared completely.

At 24km, it just went wrong.  The sun was at its highest.  The medic vans were racing left, right and centre.  I was thirsty – again. My blister hurt.  My knee hurt.  My IT band hurt.  I was done.  I was walking.  I was going to stop.  Took a couple of selfies and wrote a Facebook post, just for the hell of it.  I’d come all this way, to my most beloved of places and She, Paris, wasn’t going to help me out this time, or so I thought.  The beauty, and the blossom, and the Spring…  it was all for nothing.

Marathons, and the running community in general, are nothing if not giving and it shows the true generosity and spirit of people.  I’d seen a couple run/walking earlier.  I’d passed them and then they’d passed me and so on.  As we went into the tunnel Voie Georges Pompidou, with its eerie green lighting, but it’s oh so cool interior, I started to walk and chat with Kelly and Chris.  They were from Lancashire and both suffering with injuries, Chris from a lack of training too!  I plodded along with them and remarked I was struggling.  I asked if they minded if I walked with them a while and they said yes.  Kelly set a remarkable pace – a walk that was only 1 minute per km slower than the pace I’d been running.  Chris was definitely at the “F**k this s**t” stage of the run, as was I, but Kelly was having none of it.  As we came out of the tunnel into daylight and passed by the Tuileries, I knew if I stayed with this determined young woman, i’d make it to the end.  The tunnel at Cours la Reine was decked out like a spa.  The scent of jasmine in the air, mood lighting, wafty music…  It was beautiful and relaxing, but probably not what I needed to feel at that moment.  In a complete juxtaposition, as we entered the tunnel at Pont de l’Alma (the Princess Diana tunnel), it was disco lights and club music.  Perhaps they should have been the other way round?

I felt a renewed energy when we passed the Eiffel Tower, although not enough to run. By now, pacers were a distant memory, blisters were abound and I was cooking and looking like a lobster.  My only thoughts were of the next bottle of water and of the finish line.  At 30km I realised, I had not come here to fail.  It was shortly after the 32km mark, the time that I had hit the wall in the Medoc, when I realised that arriving in such a suburban area of Paris on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was not the most conducive to a marathon.  The point at which all runners and walkers need a boost seems to be the quietest area, free of spectators and bands.  All extrinsic motivation drops.  More so, when you realise that you actually cross out of the Paris boundary as you enter the Bois de Boulogne.

As we weaved our way in and out of shady spots, treasuring water and oranges and trying our best to remain at a good pace and upbeat, we realised we were finally into single digit kilometres to the finish line.

The finish line was well secluded until after the last roundabout, but then, there it was.  200m away and so we ran.  I smiled for the cameras, raised my arms and finished like the marathoner I was.  Hugged Kelly and Chris, cried a little bit, but I’d done it. 6h06m19s.

I collected my finishers t-shirt, my medal and some more water.  I bade my new besties farewell, I waddled to the metro and headed home.  I went straight for a beer and was hailed a hero (or a tomato, not sure which) by the bar owner, who insisted on a photo with me and my medal.

So why disappointment?

I’d said I wanted to finish before 6 hours.  I’d started in the 5 hour zone and was going strong.  My growth mindset told me I could do it, it was my body that told me I couldn’t and I felt a little cheated.  My assertion that mind over matter was a necessity in marathon running, has been disproved by a body that proved more strength and training was needed.  I felt a little knocked sideways and the little white angel (growth) and the little red devil (fixed) had a little mindset argument.  Thankfully, the right one won.

It’s taken until now, a week after the event, to realise the total opposite.  I’m proud of myself!! I finished the bloody Paris Marathon!!  I BEAT my last marathon time by over 26 minutes!!  I got a PB!!!!! I did something many people will never do and I did it in 26 degree heat.  Did I learn more lessons about running?  Yes!  Did I learn more lessons about myself? Yes! Will I do it again?  Yes! (In September when I return to the Medoc)

Am I a marathon runner (jogger)?

Yes. 

I am.

Ps.  if you’re thinking about running a marathon, do this one…  it’s stunning and the breakfast run the day before is a definite date too!!

*jeffing – “Run Mummy Run” term for the Jeff Galloway Walk/Run method

 

Crossing the Finish Line

Letter to the restaurant from the solo traveller (or, why you might just want to pay attention to me)

I have learnt in the last couple years that I am not afraid to travel alone. Other than a brief moment after the Paris Half 2017 at the Eurostar terminal when I was decidedly sick and felt the weight of my vulnerability, I feel liberated by being able to do my own thing. However, it’s bad enough that hotels charge single supplements, a curse that has now been eradicated by my discovery of Air BnB, but the manner that some restaurants treat you is as bad.

Please don’t.

Now. After some 57 visits to Paris as well as wider France, I am well versed in the aloofness of the French waiter – it must be a unit in the degree course. But as a single woman in your restaurant, I am not a pariah. 

I am well aware that I take up a table for 2 that you would maybe wish another supplement on, but believe you me, I can spend as much as the table next to me, make your bar look female friendly (point in case, I came into an empty bar with lots of people outside. I sat myself in a prominent position and there is now one m/f couple and 6 other females in 2s in here). I won’t take all the credit, but when most of outside is taken with male dominated groups and there were only men at the bar, it is a reassurance to females to see other females in a restaurant. Trust me, I know.

I can also eat. And drink. I am not after your €12 set menu (well, not often) and I’m not going to nurse a single glass of wine (hell no), despite fooling myself that I will.

And yes, I want dessert, and possibly a coffee! 

I know the difference between the studied indifference of a waiter and of someone who’s thinking “dammit, 2 people could’ve sat there!”, but you know what I’ve also done? I’ve helped the English couple with no French to translate the menu, I’ve made your bar look attended, I’ve enjoyed your food and had banter with you about dessert, and finally you relented and gave me a smile and didn’t throw my second glass of wine on the table, but placed it nicely. It’s a bit like training a puppy. As long as I don’t back down, you will treat me like I’m part of a bigger table. 

You may even get a tip – which seemed unlikely an hour ago. 

Return to the Semi de Paris 2017

Once again, being in my beautiful city fills me with a sense of home and peace.  The weather is reminiscent of a monsoon, but not even the grey skies or stair-rod rain can dampen my mood. It’s been a year since I’ve been in Paris and I have missed it dreadfully. Paris is a city of diversity and constant regeneration although she always keeps that unique sense of style and glory.  I have been travelling to Paris for 22 years and in that time, I think I have been over 50 times. I have watched little changes to areas that would be unnoticeable to strangers as well as more significant changes in the centre and the gentrification of some of the more urban areas.  So as life changes, the alterations to the city seem to have followed suit and mirrored my own.  I can recollect the old with nostalgia as well as be excited by the renewal and the future.

My favourite bar which entertained me since I was 18, changed hands about 8 years ago but retained it’s friendliness.  My dear, dear Abel who used to look after me so well passed away and gradually, the bar lost it’s shine and in 2014 it closed. It is now a beautiful looking hotel.  The shop I bought my wedding dress from opposite is now a “bio” supermarket and it seems as though the dress shop was as ill-fated as the marriage. The Italian restaurant on the corner by my hotel where the manager could convince you to spend 65 Euros on a “light lunch” has become a Dominoes Pizza, Pret a Manger and Costa are now in the neighbourhood and the old Arabic bakery, which sold the most amazing Baklava, is now a posh looking restaurant.  I imagine “Champagne Charlie”, as we christened the neighbourhood ranting bearded drunk who walked barefoot in holey socks, cadging coffee from bars and swigging sparking wine, has also long since departed. A shame, and I am sure that whatever he was ranting about was of utmost importance.

As I meander the streets of the city, I note the subtle differences and the changes.  The bars that have been redecorated or rebranded, the shops that have changed hands.  The newsagents that is now a souvenir shop, the bar that is boarded up whether forever or just for refurbishment is unclear.  Les Halles is a work of astonishment.  The building I have watched grow since the foundations were laid is now complete. While the term “beautiful” is not an adjective to describe the canopy, “impressive” certainly is.  There is not time in my schedule to visit St Michel or Montmartre but there will be in April when I return for the marathon.  I visit the Bar des Varietes in the Passage Panoramas as has become my wont.  I spoil myself with a duck burger, although their steak tartare with fois gras is my favourite, it’s too risky the night before a run. I don’t feel out of place eating alone in Paris, but it does feel decadent.

And now, my beloved hotel is getting a do-over.  This is not a lick of paint as it’s had in the past, but the wholesale removal of the past and the huge leap into the new.  Again, a bit like the wedding dress, the room I stayed in for years with my then husband has been totally destroyed and is making room for a bar area.  A fitting conclusion, I think. I am as welcome as always and, despite the building site that is most of the hotel, I am delivered to one of the brand new rooms, excited for my opinion. I am impressed and it will certainly justify the hike in room rates.  Sadly, I will not be affording them so easily in the future (although once a year, I will do my best!).  I am looked after like a queen.  The concierge I have never met before, Caroline, is lovely and chatty, and my lovely Noureddine welcomed me as an old friend. Sitting in the temporary reception area, drinking coffee and chatting easily made for a relaxing morning.

After the deluge of the Saturday, the dawn breaks clear with a hint of sun.  As I drink my coffee with Noureddine, I muse that maybe the meteo is wrong and that today won’t be so bad after all.  He googles the weather and points out I am being optimistic.  As I arrive at the Chateau des Vincennes, I see that he – and the meteo – are right.  It is raining.  Hard.  My wave doesn’t open until 10.20 and runs at 10.40 so I seek solace in a café along with many other runners.  I share a table with a man and two British bulldogs and we have tea  together.  As late as I can leave it, I head for the bag drop and the coral.  My wave actually sets off a bit early – I think in light of the rain, no one cared too much about who was where as long as you were running.  The route this year was different to last year and I liked it much more, if what I saw through the rain was anything to go by!  I didn’t have the same adrenalin as last year, maybe because of the weather, maybe because this is a return journey, but I did still feel the same excitement and camaraderie.  I was through the first 2Km before I even started looking for distance markers and I felt confident and comfortable.  Despite the shocking rain, there were still so many bands and supporters on the route which was uplifting.  I’m not sure I would have been so happy to stand in the rain!  The route still took in my nemesis from last year, the Rue de Charenton.  Not a hill, but quite a steep road where, last year I walked and met my angel who hugged me, wished me courage and made me cry.  This year I eyed the Rue de Charenton up and jogged up it with no pain, walking or tears.  A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.  It pleases me that the next time I face this street in the marathon, I will be running down it.  Take that Rue de Charenton!

The time ticked away and I managed not to walk until km 16, where I had to start having a stern word to myself in order to finish.  In hindsight, I was hideously underfuelled, and I would have been dehydrated by this stage, but in the cold, wind and rain I couldn’t feel it.  I hadn’t eaten breakfast, only drunk coffee and tea, had drunk barely half my energy drink in the camelback and I didn’t take any water or bananas from any of the fuel stops.  A harsh lesson, and it irks me that I could have performed so much better with fuel.  Very foolish.  As in every race, the finish line was a welcome sight and I think I managed to smile for the cameras without looking like I was gurning.  I suppose I’ll find out later.  The poncho was a necessity this year and I wore it all the way back to the hotel.  Along with my medal.

On arrival back at the hotel, Noureddine and Caroline let me take a shower despite the fact I had officially checked out.  This was the kindest and most welcome gesture anyone could have made at this point and it certainly thawed me out and made me feel more human.  I sat in reception and chatted to Caroline for about half an hour and i’m grateful to her for humouring me. It was a nice chat.

Where else to finish the day but in Bouillon Chartier.  The place I wrote my first Semi de Marathon report and the best place to while away a Sunday afternoon. As I joined the queue to get in, the Maitre d’ approached me asking how many I needed a table for.  As I replied one, he broke open the barrier and led me inside, queue jumping about 30 people!  As always in Chartier, you could be sat with anyone, and I was seated with a lovely couple from East London who were both artists and we spent plenty of time chatting and comparing meals and life stories. We were later joined by a Japanese man. I spoiled myself with a petit apero of a Kir Royale, followed by escargot, steak, pinot noir, chocolate mousse  and coffee.  All for 31 Euros. Perfect.

As I left Chartier and meandered back to the hotel, the clouds cleared and the sun came out, bouncing its glow off the rooftops and bathing the city in gold. Apart from wishing it had happened earlier, it was uplifting to be walking in the early throes of Springtime.  Especially knowing it will be in full bloom when I return next month.  As I dragged my case up the Rue La Fayette to the Gare du Nord, I became reflective of my times in Paris and how it still feels like home.  From getting asked for directions (on several occasions), to not having to think too hard about where I am going, it seems my life moves with the city, or vice versa.

The only downside to the weekend was getting to the station and discovering a 2 hour Eurostar delay and little to no organisation.  The dehydration and coldness of the day caught up with me making me sick and then the train didn’t have a seat for me, as apparently they’d changed the rolling stock and the carriage was a different size.  Not what I wanted to hear while trying to keep my stomach in place.  I travelled home in the vestibule with the suitcases, which at least meant I didn’t have to sit with anyone, but it certainly made for an uncomfortable journey!

Next month brings the marathon and a new set of challenges including my first foray into AirBnB – my own slice of apartment living in Paris….

 

 

Marathon du Medoc Sept 2016

You will never experience your first marathon twice. Choose wisely. I did.

My first ever long race was on the 6th March 2016. It was 283 days after I had run for the first ever time. The race was the Paris Semi de Marathon. 13.1 miles of sheer determination, grit and pain. Tears, sweat, swearing and blood. Never wanting to run again, wanting to sob at the words and actions of encouragement from the spectators. Funny, how I ONLY just noticed the word “courage” in encouragement, (literally, as I am writing this). Courage happened to be my word of this weekend too… I digress, I ended that race in a state of euphoria, pain and mild hysteria, never wanting to run again and equally vowing to book another race. I wrote my post race report in Chartier 3 hours later while tucking into a 3 course meal. Aching and hurting beyond belief. Overwhelmed at what I had achieved. Certain I had peaked. I want to laugh at my observations now, as I have achieved even more, moved even faster and further, and have realised that if the marathon is a metaphor for life, then my brains ability to keep my body going when my body would’ve given up, means I am a strong, determined individual. And this weekend I proved it. I know to move forward for more – yes more – marathons, I need to shed a stone, concentrate on building lean muscle and do core work, loads and loads of core work. Once my form fails it’s harder to run.

You will never experience your first marathon again. And what a marathon to have as my first? Just as the French for good luck is “bonne courage”, their wishes en route are “Allez”, and “courage”….

Courage! Such a rallying and restoring word which, uttered with conviction and at the right time, has the power to make a runner run that little bit faster, stronger, straighter, more upright. Courage – the quality given to the cowardly lion.. Ironic that this cowardly lion was dressed as Dorothy. Luckily I never found the Wicked Witch. This time, I clicked my red heels (trainers) together and it was me who made my way home. 42 kilometres, 26 miles, a full marathon in 29 / 30 degree unrelenting heat and sun.

I knew this would be a “fun” marathon, but I never doubted how hard it would be. After all, running a marathon in 6 1/2 hours isn’t an embarrassing time for a newbie, but being expected to complete a 6 1/2 hour marathon, in the sun and heat, in a foreign country, while drinking wine and eating, and while wearing a costume is quite the challenge. Despite being aware it would be a gruelling distance, I nevertheless felt woefully inadequately prepared. I will hold my hand up and say I didn’t train as far as I wanted and I didn’t train with the regularity that I needed. Getting up to 18 miles was ok, but I needed to do that 3 or 4 times, not just once. I said before I went, “when will I feel like a proper runner?”, not because I wanted a load of appreciative and honeyed comments from friends to suggest I am a runner, but because I genuinely struggle to consider myself as a “runner” as oppose to a great pretender.

Even at the airport, I pendulumed between excitement and terror like a ball in Newtons Cradle as I compared myself with other runners who all looked fitter, stronger, more confident, more experienced and more “runner”-like than me. Sitting on a plane full of runners, I felt like the wannabe, but when the pilot recognised us all and wished us all well during his mid-flight missive, I felt like an Olympian.

The day of the marathon itself dawned hot, bright and clear….  even pre-dawn it was well into the 20’s and late night revellers / early  morning workers were probably a little surprised to see a cacophony of super heroes, gladiators, comic book characters, greek gods and Dorothy trundling along to get the shuttle busses to Pauillac.  The “loo queue” was the first order of the day, and I have finally gotten over my fear of the port-a-potty.  The atmosphere at the start line is awesome.  There are no “coralls” for times, just everyone together coupled with a carnival atmosphere.  The compere, dj and goodness knows what else ring out along the main street of Pauillac and the residents are all at their windows enjoying the spectacle (they have no choice – it’s not like they can go out anywhere!!).  The pre-start entertainment this year was acrobatics and tight-rope walkers finally culminating in the confetti cannon signifying the beginning of the race.  No one pushes or shoves, this is not a race, the only people you need to be in front of are the “Runners Brooms”, a team of Medoc organisers who are there to “sweep” up the slowbies who will not be rewarded.  If you are behind them by kilometre 23 you are disqualified and you cannot continue the race.  I started the race with two American girls I had met at the hotel, and we were so entranced with the excitement that the first km slipped easily by.

My game plan was to run the first 21km without wine, and then to slow down and enjoy the second half.  There were two glitches to this plan – one, being that the pace I was running at meant that ” slowing down” wasn’t quite as much of a variance as it sounded and two, being that the excitement of the event is such that all plans go out the window.  I HAD to stop at the first wine stop 1km in – it was the first one, right?  A small nip of “La Rose Pauillac” Rouge and a sticky cannelle and breakfast was done.  I also had to stop and answer the call of nature – something many male runners did with seeming regularity and ease, but not so much for the ladies and the fear of being caught short in the vines, made me use this port-a-potty stop losing me a good 5 minutes, or so, but making a few more friends in the queue.  I will tell you a secret now, all of the most expensive and exclusive vines in the Médoc were irrigated with serious amounts of “peepee” by marathon runners just a week before the Vendange!!!  Past the 2km mark and into the vineyards lead to the second wine stop at Chateau Lynch Bages, another nip of rouge, a bottle of water and on we continued.  Past musicians, bagpipers, spectators and onto the 4 1/2 km mark and Chateau Latour.  The first wine stop in proper wine glasses… no necking the wine and lobbing the cups this time, this was a stop and savour.  According to the map, this was also where the first water station should have been, but the organisers had really thought of everything in regards to the gorgeous French weather and we never ran more than about 1 1/2 km without water, fruit, sticky cake, sugar cubes, cheesy biscuits etc.  On we ran, I skipped the wine stops at Chateaux Pichon-Longueville and Beychevelle preferring to pace myself, but the wine consumption by most was an olympic event of its own!  Onto Chateau Gruard Larose at almost 13km for another nip of rouge, Chateaux Lagrange, Belgrave and Larose-Trintaudon were all eschewed for that first holy grail – the half way point!  Chateau Puy Lacoste was a welcome sight and having completed half marathons earlier this year, I was surprised and relieved to discover that I felt ok at this point, fine in fact. Ok enough for a nip of rouge.   It had taken me 2hrs 45 to reach this point, far longer than the half marathons, but not a bad time in this heat and with the stops.  This chateau is one of the oldest in the Medoc and their entertainment, wine and conviviality was fitting for this stage of the marathon.  My next goal was to make it to Chateau Lafite Rothschild at km 26.  The holy grail of the wine world and the Chateau that many of us were keen to sample.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I skipped Chateau Cos Labory in St Estephe moving onto Chateau Pomys and Chateau La Haye where they’d pulled out all the stops in the name of entertainment and celebrating their renaissance past.  I was now heading towards the 30km mark and beginning to feel fatigued and so very very hot.  I had a quick nip at Chateau Marquis de St-Estephe and Chateau Tronquoy Lalande where there was cheese too!  I also saw a friend of mine from home and we ran together into the chateau before she caught up with her husband. My muscles were screaming at me and I was at the point of running further then I ever have before, completely unchartered territory.  My goal was to reach 35 km by 2.30pm which would be the 5 hour mark.  With only 7km to go after this, I felt that a 6 hour race was achievable.  I hadn’t reckoned for exhaustion.  I now know what the wall is and how hard you can hit it.  Not in an, “I can’t run anymore” way, but in an “Oh my God, this is too hard, i’m out of my depth” kind of way.  My 5 hour goal to reach 35km was, in reality 5h20.  The distance between 34km and 35km was interminable.  Uphill, I was certain somebody had moved the 35km marker, surely it couldn’t be that far between the two markers, could it?  Surely the other kilometers haden’t been this far, had they?  This was truly a battle of brain over body, the angel on my shoulder, my innate stubborness and desire to succeed was, thankfully, stronger than the little red devil on my other shoulder telling me to give in.  And then, like a twinkling beacon (actually more like a lopsided marker with other weary and thankful runners draped over it for selfies), there was the marker.  Along with that sight, came the realisation that there was only 7km left to go… In my quest for 35km, I had lost sight of the fact that there was less than the distance of 2 Parkruns left…!  This was amazing!  I can Parkrun in half an hour, I had an hour and 10 minutes left, surely I could manage it, even if I walked the rest of the way… And so, on I trundled, more Bambi on ice than graceful gazelle, looking more like a wobbly power-walker than a runner, but determined to get there.  I allowed myself a quick reviver at Chateau Meyney before running onto the last major wine stop at Chateau Montrose.  Such a beautiful chateau at the end of a hot and dusty trek through the vines.  There, they provided water and munchies before leading through the courtyard and into the grounds where there was wine in wine glasses.  Ther perfect place to rest for a moment before the final push. An old man spectating as I ran through one of the last villages shouted “Courage, Elizabeth” and held out his hand.  As I went to high five him, he grabbed my hand and clasped it tight as though he knew I needed a bit of strength and a supporter.  Into the final push, the food came thick and fast: Oysters and Bordeaux Blanc just before km 38, Entrecote and another nip of rouge at km 39… This was the hardest point.  While standing at the Entrecote station, my knees locked and it took every ounce of strength to get going again, although it was here I met another Dorothy – wearing the same dress as me but in its original incarnation, he was accompanied by his girlfriend, the scarecrow!  As I hobbled and limped towards 40km I heard the shout “Dorothy” and I turned to see my three gladiator friends from the hotel.  I ran to join them and we walk / ran onwards.  I kept dropping back as I was so tired and had little left, but they waited and cajoled and at 41 km when we were given chocolate ice lollies, they declared I was to run in front of them, because they wanted to see me finish my first marathon. Truly my angels who got me through that last bit of the journey.  Running through that archway onto the final passage to the finish line, with three gladiators behind me shouting “run, Dorothy, run” was so special and more than a little humbling.  We were slightly over the 6h30 mark, but I’m sure i’d read that if the temperature was above a certain amount the finishing time was extended.  Either way, the “brooms” were no where near, so I was having that medal!  As the girls and I crossed the line and slowed into the queues for the medals, it hit me what I had just done.  I mean, I had done it!  I had run 26 miles in 30 degree heat, dressed as Dorothy Gale, drinking some of the finest red wines in the world (and lots of water) and here I was.  I was a winner, a champion, an athlete – well, a finisher at least!  The prizes were a medal, a very smart rucksack, a single rose and a wooden presentation box with a bottle of Medoc in it.

As we walked / limped back towards the coaches, my friends Joy and Mick text me to say they’d been tracking my times and was I finished as they were at the finishing line.  I walked back to find them and seeing familiar friendly faces meant the world to me.  They walked me barefoot (me, not them) back to the bus and we arranged dinner for that evening.  When we finally reached Bordeaux, I was so stiff!!  My muscles ached and my knees were not bending for anyone.  Joe, the tour rep, carried my goodies – and my trainers (brave man) – back for me while I practically goose-stepped along.  Once back in my room I removed my costume only to discover the alarming shade of red that my back now was, complete with interesting patterns branded on me by my costume.  I can honestly say, that may have been the best shower ever!!

Maybe its twee, but as the theme song for the 2016 Paralympics states “Yes, I can”… and by god, if they can then so can I, but the song really resonated with me.  I could do this, I could book a marathon in another country without knowing if I could run the distance, or without knowing anyone else going.  I could travel all by myself and get myself settled in a city i’ve only fleetingly visited before; I could prepare myself mentally and physically for running a marathon; And, you know what?  I COULD DO IT!  The empowerment this has given me is going to be the lasting lesson and value from this.  I’ve recovered really quickly and i’m signed up for Paris, London (hopefully), and i’ll do Medoc again next year, but that’s not the true value.  The true value is what is inside of me.  Strength, Determination and Courage.

“She believed she could, so she did…”

“Read what my medal says, COURAGE; Ain’t it the truth, Ain’t it the truth!”  Cowardly Lion, 1939

Semi de Paris March 2016

So, here is my first ever Half Marathon report. I am writing this in Bouillon Chartier, one of the oldest surviving restaurants “for the common man” in Paris. I have a restorative Kir Petillant in front of me, a half bottle of Bordeaux and a 3 course meal on the way. If that’s not medicinal, then nothing is…

First of all, what has today taught me? I have discovered much more about myself and about running today, than I thought was possible. The first thing is that NO bra manufacturer in the world can make a bra that will protect you fully from the pain of “the bounce”. Indeed, I will offer myself to Shock Absorber and other companies as a tester. I decided not to wear my new M&S bra, as I was still uncertain as to the security of the front fastening zip, but also after extensive and scientific testing (putting the bra on and jumping up and down in my hotel room), I decided the shock absorber was the better option. At about kilometre 14, the bounce pain was beginning to kick in and remained for the rest of the race. Men, be glad you don’t – generally – have to deal with this. While on this note, I also discovered the importance of Vaseline on important places. They were issuing bandage strips for men’s nips before the race which, I thought, was considerate, but “the bounce” issue starts to negate the half jar of bum cream that was so carefully applied because everything jostled out of place, so sore nips and strap areas added to the bounce pain. (Sorry Chaps!!)

I learnt that Samba bands keep you upbeat; that high-fiving small children (while trying not to miss and smack them in the face instead) and adult supporters makes you feel like an athlete and a movie star. I learnt that having your name on your bib means even though you have no one there supporting you, everyone is shouting your name (there was a poster saying “Elizabeth” – I shall kid myself it was for me!). I learnt that nobody gives a shit about your size, shape, clothing, gait we’re all in it for ourselves but will support each other whether we are friends or strangers and irrespective of language. I learnt that I really should’ve taken on water and fruit at km 6 so that I wasn’t so needy by km 11 that I drank too much too fast and felt sick; I learnt that I’m shit at throwing bottles into a bin while running; I learnt that I should’ve evened my pace a bit better and left more in the tank for the second half; I learnt that it doesn’t matter what language you’re speaking “keep going” and “are you ok?” are universal; I learnt that all this pomp and circumstance is actually very humbling and made me very emosh; And above all, I learnt that endurance running is more about the mind than the body. My mind kept me going long after my body had demonstrated its reluctance to keep moving. It proves that running is a metaphor for life and that if you put your head down, grit your teeth and keep going you will get there and there will be rewards. 

Well, if that wasn’t enough, here is the break down of how I felt while running:-

Before the race: Maman Nature has obliged and cancelled what was forecast. We are blessed. I feel nervous, excited, positive, I’m dancing to the warm up music, this is f***ing epic!!!

Km 1: Wow! Here already? OMG! That was quick… Such larks…

Km 3: what happened to km 2? But great! The sun is shining, this is awesome! I’m a gazelle! So many people cheering!

Km 5: ooh, first time check, no idea what I’m looking at so will wait for the results after. Reckon I can do 2h05 at this rate!!

Km 6: rolled my sleeves up, keeping pace, happy happy happy, there’s water – nah don’t need that, I can keep going

Km 8: there’s the 2h10 pace flag in front of me, wonder if I can get round it?

Km 8.5: Boom! Laters 2h10 man – I laugh at your flag!

Km 9: hotel de ville in the sunshine… Shame we can’t take photos…

Km 10: someone’s running as an Eiffel Tower – ha ha. Second time check… 

Km 11: water…. And an orange chunk… Sooo needed.

Km 12: Oof, this is beginning to hurt… Must keep going… Not sure I like this any more..

Km 13: no good, it’s a hill, need to walk, feeling puffed, bugger thats the pace flag overtaking me… (Thank you to the lady watching who shouted my name, told me to keep going and high-fived me, you will never know what that meant)

Km 14: Ahhhh, so THIS is the wall everyone talks about… Runners who have finished are back in town and watching on. Their medals shining in the sun… Bastards.

Km 15: *Dory* “just keep swimming”, fuck the time I’m aiming for 2h10? 2h15 whatevs… Fuck this shit… 

Km 16: we’re back in Vincennes and on the home straight, if I can just keep going. More water and orange! Have fruit smeared up my face as the video team ride past… Past caring.

Km 17: holy shit! What is that pain??! My knee has popped and twisted and the pain is up in my groin and hip… I need the Croises Rouges… See another runner in a hypo blanket thing sat at the side of the road – his race is ended due to injury… Nope I’m going to run through it, that’s not going to be me… But, I could give up…

Km 18: this hurts soooo much! Trying not to cry! So many people cheering on. Wait! There’s the official photographer, jog like it doesn’t hurt and smile…

Ouch, it does hurt.

Km 19: between hobbling and holding my boobs against bouncing (look like I’m groping myself), it’s a wonder I’m still here… Another goddam official photographer… Smile!!!

Start to walk, 2 ladies come up from behind, grab my hands and encourage me to run “Allez, Elizabeth… Seulement une kilometre…” Feel tearful at their encouragement 

Km 20: 1 km my arse… More f-ing photographers… 

Km 21: there it is the finish, the holy grail, I want to be sick, I want to cry…. Keep hearing people shouting my name and pushing me forward…

Km 21.1 Yay!!!!! So bloody amazing (could still cry)!!! People are cheering, there’s the photographer again (genuine smile now), a rain/wind Mac, the medal placed over my head…. Yeh, I’ll do this again… Awesome!! 

When my knee is better!!
You know, I’d like to be faster, but I don’t care about the time… It didn’t matter if I’d been the last one over the line, 9900 people didn’t manage it. I did. That makes me a f***ing champion. And I’ve got a medal to prove it.