Maybe it’s more like this?
I signed up for the Paris Marathon back in September. It was partially a pipe dream: my husband’s employer was the corporate sponsor and there was a slim chance I could get a paid entry to race as a “family member.” An indirect perk of the job. My husband sent in the request and I was confirmed to run the Paris Marathon. I was going to see the Eiffel Tower! I was going to run 42.2 km! I was going to Paris! I was going to have to do some heavy training in the next few months.
This was the first race I had entered that I was actually excited about doing. Anticipating the race provided great motivation to push on in my training when I didn’t want to go for one more run, when my legs ached, when the weather was crap, when my mind wasn’t sure if I could run faster. I liked the training; the reward was coming. I was ready to run the streets of Paris.
Then it was April and my husband and I were on our way to Paris. With a few hicccups along the way — our trans-Atlantic flight being cancelled after the plane was hit by lighting; getting into Paris a day later and having less time to deal with 9 hours of jet lag; being separated on the metro on the way to the race when I got out of the doors and my husband didn’t, and then watching a woman get subtly crushed by the closing metro doors — we were on our way! With 50,000 other runners and probably an extra 50,000 spectators I marched down the Champs-Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe and began the process.
Here is why you should run the race:
1. It’s the PARIS Marathon!! There is no better way to see a city so beautiful and historical than this. You get to RUN through the streets; it’s like being in the Tour de France on your feet. The crowds are passionate, the music and entertainment is plentiful, and it’s so authentic you get to run through clouds from spectators smoking.
2. It’s a fairly flat course. If you are looking for something that is easier on the legs (overall) there are no big hills on this course. There are a few inclines in the last 1/3 of the race. I saw many people walking and I’m sure eventually they all finished as well.
3. This is not your backyard race. It is big, it is international, and it is unique. Did I say it is in Paris??!!
4. The entertainment is worth the distance. We ran past the notable Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower but these sights were upstaged by the laser light show and techno music in the tunnel at mile 17. I especially liked the few seconds of complete darkness when the lasers turned off and someone in the crowd started whooping in excitement. This was followed by a sea of runners cheering back in response. At that point it certainly didn’t feel like I had another 10+ miles to go.
Here are some things to keep in mind as a first or repeat marathoner: This is France. Different rules apply.
1. This is a paid entry race for the general masses. You don’t have to prove that you can run a certain pace or distance unless you are in the elite group. That means that if you run slower than 3 hours, you can enter and seed yourself in whatever wave (entry based on projected finishing time) you’d like. The waves were in 15 min increments; nothing is stopping you from thinking you could run the race in 4 hours but seeding yourself with the 3:15 hour finishers in the hopes that they will “pull you along” to a faster time.
2. This is not a PB/PR (personal best/personal record) course. True, it is “globally flat,” but it’s super crowded! Imagine salmon swimming upstream and try a personal record on that course. Unless you are an elite runner, you will not have the space to run as fast as you’d like. I seeded myself to have an optimal race in the 3:15 – 3:30 hour wave. Given that you can only run as fast as the people around you (and I added an extra 1 km to my race trying to weave around people) you hope that these people are going the pace. This was completely not the case. Most of the race felt like I was running with a herd of goats — runners all over the place, different paces, and running in all directions.
3. There are a lot of people at this race which means a lot of people need somewhere to pee! The race had 50,000 entries and just over 39,000 finished. Although there were less people in each corral the port-o-potties were wholly inadequate: there were only a few potties total in each corral. I stood in the shortest line and estimated that there were over 200 people lined up for one unit. You could also not gain entry into any other corral. I waited 40 min before my start time and never made it to the front of the line.
4. Common advice is that the way you train for a race is the way you should run a race. This means what you are eating, when you are eating/drinking, and being consistent. But you are no longer in Kansas! I stayed away from the aid stations as bananas, oranges, raisins, and sugar cubes (yes, literally the white cubes) are not what I’m used to ingesting while running. This spread also provides additional hazards: think of running along wet cobblestones littered with banana peels. I saw a few people wipe out.
Although the purpose of our trip was this race, it was also a vacation. We rented a tiny bachelor flat about 10 min away from the Louvre which reminded me of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom. If we opened our suitcases on the floor, there was no floor space to walk on. We lived like the French — eating out, walking all day, always wearing a scarf, and remembering to say Bonjour wherever we went.