As I stood upon the famous cobbles of the Champs Elysees in the early morning spring Paris sunshine I looked back to the Arc De Triomphe and the 42,000 runners eagerly anticipating the start of the 40th Paris marathon. I turned and looked down towards the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and then all around me to the multitude of nationalities assembled eagerly anticipating the start and it made me realise how much I love being on the start line of a marathon, especially a big city marathon.
It all goes downhill from here on in!
We arrived in Paris on the Friday and tried to cram in as much sightseeing as possible without tiring the legs out too much. Mrs O’ was along for the journey as well as our 9 year old son, the elder son was quite happy to stay at his cousin’s house providing we purchased him lots of chocolates and presents, considering the Eurostar and hotel costs I thought that was a good deal all round. Also, me and the eldest had done a road trip when we lived in Australia relocating a campervan and the youngest son was not happy that his big brother was one up on the trip front, so this was an opportunity to set the record straight. I forgot all about resting the legs pretty quickly and wanted to see as much as possible. Come 5 O’clock at the weekend Mrs O is usually gagging for a beer and/or wine so I knew we would have to visit a few cafes. The beer was the same price as a soft drink and I could not bring myself to ordering a soft drink at the same price as a beer so ordered two beers and I sipped water as Mrs O downed the beers. This worked out quite well as we were back in the hotel room earlier than planned both nights as Mrs O was drinking twice as much beer/wine as usual and I managed to rest the legs and have early nights. However, there was none of the Paris romance when you have your 9 year old in the room. Right, where was I!
As the marathon starts in waves I was off at 8.47 am and then it was a staggered time start with the 4.30 plus marathon runners starting at 10.05am. This is a great way to avoid overcrowding on the course but can be a bad deal for the late starters especially as the temperature was up to 18 -19c by mid-afternoon on Sunday. At this stage I would like to have gone into a prolonged adventure story about how I fought and conquered my 19th marathon in my fastest time. However, it all went bang on plan so I will give you an abbreviated version. We left the Champs Elysees and I settled into a good pace of 4.10 per km (can’t believe I am saying I settled into 4.10 pace, is this me) and we ran out towards the Bois de Vincennes and a 10k loop around the park. Once out of the centre the crowds are very thin on the ground. There was one stage where I got quite excited as we approached a big crowd in the distance but this was the local Sunday market with people going about their business presumably buying bread, cheese and garlic – right, let’s not go down that route. There is really good support along large parts of the course and lots of bands but it is nothing like the crowds we have in Brighton and London.
After the loop of the park we hit halfway by the Place de Bastille and I crossed halfway in pretty much bang on 1.28 which was my target. I then adjusted to my new target of trying to complete the second half in under 1.30 and the plan was to maintain 4.10 until 25k and take it from there. Why 25k I hear you mutter, well at 25k you have 4 tunnels pretty much one after the other where you drop down and then climb out, one of them is about 1km long and it plays havoc with your Garmin (I managed a 1km pb of 1.43 at km 27, unfortunately, km 26 was 6.42). I reckon this section could make or break your marathon as it does take its toll on your legs, but not for me today, I’m bang on target and feeling good. I passed 32k and was still managing to complete some km’s in under 4.10. I then hit the 1km drag up into the final park. I knew this hill was waiting, I’d checked the map and it was a bit like the drag up to the marina on the Brighton half, not a killer but will slow you down slightly, especially at 35k. I reached the top and remarkably carried on going still holding a good pace with 4.09 and 4.11 for km’s 38 and 39. You would think at this stage I knew sub-3 was in the bag but as many of you know, in the marathon anything can go wrong and as with the rest of the race I was so focussed and concentrating on what lay ahead I did not even allow myself to think I had achieved my mission.
Now for the exciting bit! On the final bend out of the park and into Avenue Foch at just before 42km I suddenly had a killer cramp in my left leg, by this stage I knew sub-3 was in the bag and rather than stagger on like the hunch back of Notre Dame towards the finish line in pain, I took the sensible option of hassling some poor family by the side of the road to stretch out my leg for a while. This was my moment of sub-3 glory, I wanted to go over that line in style and I did not want to cause undue stress to Mrs O and Oliver who I knew were just round the corner waiting to cheer me on. Suitably stretched I jogged on and approached finish line with chest puffed out like King Eric (Cantona) himself and fully enjoyed my moment of glory and crossed the finish line in 2.57.34.
And that was it, after 3 serious attempts at sub-3 I finally managed it and smashed through in 2.57 (My 3 attempts were Amsterdam 2014 – who was I kidding I was nowhere near in sub-3 shape and crashed and burned in 3.08, Brighton 2015 – 3.01.50 on track until 20 miles but mentally just switched off and then 2 weeks later in London I did 3.00.50 and this was off the back of 3 full days of drinking the black stuff in Dublin on the weekend between the marathons.
What did I do differently this year?
I rested in the autumn (I usually do an autumn marathon)
I started going to a body pump class once a week (would recommend for all round strength conditioning) and did core work at home for 45 minutes once a week (planks, press ups, sit ups, stretching and rolling)
I kept the weight down over Xmas, I usually spend January and half of February trying to shed the weight I usually put on from Xmas and Xmas parties (that’s why I run so I can drink and eat what I want to).
I did more medium length runs of 9 -14 miles which meant giving up track for January and February
More marathon pace runs, one every 3 weeks
Wednesday nights I would also be freezing on my own up towards Carats café and back down to King Alfred banging out a tempo or mile repeats before meeting up with the group and doing the same again
Finally, as ever the company and camaraderie of my running buddies at Arena and the help of Bob and the rest of the team are what make this running lark all worthwhile and I really appreciate the club we have. I just need Kev to get back running again properly as I miss his moaning about his injuries and ailments! One last special mention to Steve (I’m taking it easy tonight) McNealy who has really helped me out over the last couple of years with his encouragement and support on a Monday and Wednesday nights.
What next, well Brighton and London marathons of course, I need to be back on that marathon start line!