The 10th of April 2011 came a lot quicker than I expected. Back in the previous August, when I decided to do a marathon, it was, in my mind, a distant year away. By Saturday night, as I sat in my Paris hotel room it was far, far too close!
Everything seemed very straightforward back in August. I’d have a plan. Progress would be steady and assured. How hard could it possibly be? Everything went well up until after my first 10k at Cricklade. From there on in 5k was just my “short” run, the steady climb from 10 to 20 to 30 and so on would move on apace. It was then that my body started to object. My knee had been playing up for a while and was none too happy with the increasing distance, and other little twinges started to appear. Christmas saw me out of action with proper, full-on, flu that took ages to clear (the loss of hearing was a bit of a worry). Extra stretching and a spot of yoga took care of most of the twinges but on race day I still hadn’t run more than 13 miles….
Sunday morning was hectic. Bad breakfast planning meant not enough time to get out of the hotel in time to reach our designated start point. Optimistically we had registered to run the course in less than four hours. However, after a quick Metro journey followed by a search for the baggage drop, a queue for the loo… we joined the back of the queue of runners a few minutes after the race had officially started! Some dodging and weaving through the crowd took us closer to the front but that was another ten or twenty thousand people in front of us before we’d taken a step.
One noticable thing was the lack of fancy dress, even here at the back. These people were nearly all proper, serious, runners. I’d noted before at the Runners Expo that I seemed to be the fattest bloke in Paris.
The first 10k saw us making slow but steady progess through the field as we overtook many of the people we should have started in front of in the first place. Not a quick pace though – a combination of not wanting to overdo it early on as well as the practical challenges of overtaking thousands of people on packed Paris streets.
Sunglasses turned out to be a fantastic idea. Very sunny on the day, April showers were a clearly a victim of global warming as the temperature rose to around 24 degrees. Luckily Gilles had spent half an hour at the Runners Expo the day before interogating the guy on the sunglasses stall and come away with his snazzy new pair. Similarly I’d chucked a pair into my bag as I went out my door.
It was perfect weather for sightseeing in Paris but not so great for running past the tourist attractions at speed and with so far left to run. I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Bastille and among others, though we didn’t stop to take a closer look at any of them. Back in December running in sub-zero temperatures had seemed challenging: a happy average between +24 and -5 would have been nice for the big day.
Various people had mentioned how cool it was, and how encouraging, to hear people calling out support from the crowd. How right they were! I think Gilles was a little jealous of the number of name-checks I got. “Aller Andy” or just “Andy, Andy, Andy…” must have a ring to them that takes people’s fancy. That, and the fact that my name was written in big letters on my vest. At one point the “Andy, Andy…” chant went up from both sides of the road at the same time, prompting Gilles to threaten to abandon me and run on ahead 🙂 One of the other runners did helpfully point out that perhaps it was because I looked more like I needed encouragement, she may well have been right. Batman was getting a lot of name-checks too, but I’m not competing with someone confident enough to run 26 miles in 24-degree heat dressed in a hood and cape.
21k was a landmark for both of us, as neither of us had run further than that before. It was also the point where I was pretty sure I could finish. My legs were tired but OK and it was still fun, especially when I heard an “Aller Andy” from the crowd 🙂 It soon got harder though. By 28k I was still going but my legs were showing the lack of miles in them. Gilles, with all the mountain biking he’d been doing to supplement his running training, was in much better shape. He chose to stay with me until 30k though, at which point he set off to see how big a piece he could take out of the field ahead of him.
Around 35k/36k was my dodgiest point. A bit of a wobble, literally, as the heat got to me. Bit of a walk, bit of a drink and dipping my head in cold water did the trick. At 37k it was a done deal. I only had 5k left to go, and I can do 5k easily! OK, so it turned out to be about the slowest 5k ever but it was still only 5k, the finish beckoned.
I can’t begin to describe how I felt on seeing the 26 mile marker. Emotional doesn’t cover it. Tears in my eyes that weren’t the proud dad ones I get when I see my daughter on the stage or my son score a try, nor the sad bit in the film tears. These were the OMG I’m going to start sobbing tears, emotional overload. All I could hear were the cries of “go Andy” from the crowd as I broke into a proper run for the last couple of corners. Remembered to slow down a bit right at the end to try and make sure that the cameraman got a good shot of me then all emotional again as I finally crossed the finish line.
The first 26 miles were for Jim, in whose memory I was running, and for Annabel, the daughter he left behind. I’ll take the last couple of hundred yards for me.
40,000 people had registered for the event. A little over 31,000 had finished. We were among them. Gilles finished in a respectable four hours and forty five minutes, not bad after having to tow me for the first 30k. I managed to cross the line after five hours and ten minutes, not too bad for a fat bloke. Many thanks to all those who sponsored us – Stuart we remembered you at every band you sponsored us to pass, John – the hair came off but it didn’t make me any faster and Chris – you were right about greasing those nipples.
It’s too late to sponsor us… but many thanks to those who did 🙂