Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Accidental Marathoner: Paris Marathon Race Report

My work requires me to travel occasionally so it happened that I was asked to go to Europe to attend a series of business meetings on Monday-Wednesday of this week. Since the meetings were in London, UK, I decided to take this opportunity and leave before the weekend so I could stop in Paris, France to visit my mom and my best friend. The marathon I had signed up for was on May 6, therefore I had a 3h long run scheduled for Sunday. Prior to leaving, I had looked for places to run in Paris and finally settled on a route along the Seine and back for about 27km or so. Happy with my plans, I embarked on this journey with a small suitcase whose half contents were dedicated to this run: tights, 2 technical t-shirts, cap, shoes, socks, body glide, anti-chaffing pads, fuel belt, band-aids, energy gels and even an ice pack. The whole paraphernalia, right?

I managed to get upgraded to business class and since I was unable to sleep the whole flight, I started chatting with the flight attendants who were showing interest in my running hobby. As soon as they heard about my plans though, they told me that the Paris Marathon was going to take over the city on Sunday and that I was going to have a problem running along the Seine since the marathon route was also following the Seine. I went whaaaat, no way! And dang!! What to do? I wasn’t going to invent another route because that was making my brain hurt too much, so on the moment I settled with the idea that I might be able to run with the marathoners. After all, I had all my supplies and I was only going to do 27k, no harm in that... Alas once I got to my mom’s place and started reading the forums about the possibility of running without a bib, my hopes vanished. Personally, I have better things to do when I race, but according to the masses, running along the Champs Elysees without paying for this privilege, it’s a big no-no and people get upset, including organizers who may throw you out. Okay, I can understand, but how do I get to run my 3h then? No way I was going to skip it, my marathon training schedule was already tight with only 3 weeks before the race and no run over 2.5h thus far (this year anyway).

Alright, someone suggested that I may find a bib on eBay. Plenty of injured souls were indeed trying to get back some of their investment, so I started sending emails to the sellers, working my way up from the cheapest to the most expensive, hoping for an answer as soon as possible. 3 emails later, I get an answer for a bib available for 40 EUR. That was acceptable and within the hour I met with the seller and was in the possession of a legitimate entry to the Paris Marathon.

And then the battle of the neurons started. The WHAT IF I CAN DO IT was stronger than I SHOULD NOT DO THIS and the opportunity of running in Paris, my second home, was all of a sudden too good to give up. All I needed was some moral support and being convinced that I would regret if I was not going to run it. Many of my friends and family said that I should go for it, so eventually my brain gave in this thought and I went to sleep with a MISSION, to finish my first marathon and make my mom, my husband and kids, my friend, my coach and all those who supported me in this long journey, PROUD.

Woke up at 6:45am, had a good breakfast (2 boiled eggs, bread, cheese, ham and some home baked cheese pie), prepared 2 water bottles and one of pickle juice for my fuel belt. I was going to take a risk with the juice, but it was not going to be the only one that day after all.

My mom came with me to the starting line and after wrestling with a few hundreds of people to get in my purple corral (the bib was for a 3h45 estimated time, obviously not mine), I started waiting for the gun. I, for one, was READY. 8:45am came and the elites went, then the reds, then us purples about 15 minutes later. My heart monitor was undecided whether I had already flatlined or turned into The Flash, so I gave up on it with the hope that I would be able to assess my exertion without it. My coach Dave said that I should stay under 165bpm (my max is around 190) for the first half to keep enough fuel in the tank, so I knew I had to start slow. Not so easy with all the excitement around, but after about 1-2km, my heart monitor decided to cooperate after all, so I began to concentrate on the task at hand. Pace was going to be around 6:20 min/km in order to stay on target and I had no problems keeping it up for the first 10-15km. I also stayed on track with nutrition and fuelling, drinking my water and eating 2-3 GU chomps each 5k. I had my first half banana at km 15, then another one at km 25. Between km 27 and 31 I drank my entire bottle of pickle juice, then had 2 glasses of Powerade at km 35 and a few more GU chomps.

Vitals and speed stayed constant, my happiness and my willingness to finish, propelling me forward and even giving me wings to pick up the pace in the last 5k so I finish under 6:30 min/km, goal that I gave myself after receiving a huge hug from my friend Frederique at km 30. Mom was also there to cheer me on at km 35, but by then I had started the countdown and all I could hear in my head was 5...focus... 4...focus... 3...focus... 2...focus... 1...let it fly... THE END!

It all felt like a very long run in the park, took quite a few pictures and overall enjoyed the experience much more than I thought, thanks to the lack of pain or other annoying problems, I suppose. For the most part I don’t remember what played in my earphones, the Parisians were certainly a very loud bunch and their drums and cheering voices were louder than my music. I do remember, however, “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West playing around km 36 when I realized that I was most likely going to finish, and it made me extra happy.

 After crossing the finish line, we received a yellow t-shirt, a cutesy yellow medal in the shape of a yellow t-shirt ( be “different”?), a blue poncho and some food which I don’t remember eating. I think it was another half a banana and a bottle of Powerade which I saved for later. I couldn’t stomach anything else anyway and I could barely move my legs. The walk out of the runners’ area seemed endless, so many people around, not even funny. Of course, with over 32,000 runners crossing the finish line, it was quite the mayhem, but after 30 more minutes of snail-walking, I made it out of there alive.

After reuniting with my mom and my friend, we then went to a restaurant near the Arche de Triomphe for a celebratory lunch where I had duck meat and mashed potatoes and a pint of beer. Then we hopped in the subway and went home where I gave my legs a cold bath, murdered my glorious blisters, then died on the couch for the rest of the day.

In the end, all I can say is that this has been one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in my life. I went to run a marathon on a whim, what the hell, carpe diem! Jetlagged, without taper and full preparation, I, however, finished strong and that had always been my dream goal. There is nothing else that I could ask for now, I feel content and I think it would be silly to run another full marathon on May 6. Not sure yet what to do about that one, maybe I will change it to a half. But for now, I need to rest these legs because I have a 10k race coming this next Sunday down Yonge Street which I am not going to give up for having signed up for a long time, and I am rather excited about it. Will take it easy for sure, enjoying the Toronto crowds for a change J.

Moral of the story: if you know you’re ready, seize the day!

Official times:
Official place:22123rd
Category place:9536th
Official time:04:50:25
Split at 5 KM:00:31:48
Split at 10 KM:01:04:12
Split at 15 KM:01:36:37
Split at 21,1 KM:02:16:14
Split at 25 KM:02:41:41
Split at 30 KM:03:15:10
Split at 35 KM:03:49:12


  1. Proud is a weak word in comparison to how we all really feel about your accomplishment!

  2. Holy crap! That's amazing! Well done! Nice, consistent splits! Amazing that Paris is your first Marathon. Well done!

  3. Great job, Irina! Amazing that you were able to accomplish your marathon goal in Paris!