I’m running four marathons in 2016 for Stroke Association and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. You can check out my fundraising page here
3rd April, 2016. Almost two years after my first marathon, I was returning to Paris for my second go at the course and my third ever marathon. This one would be a little bit different as I wasn’t the only person running – my dad was making his marathon comeback, his partner Jacqui was also running and my boyfriend Paul was running his first ever marathon. His parents were coming to watch, so all in all it was quite the family affair.
While my build up to the Berlin marathon had been a little sluggish, my training for Paris had been much better and a half marathon PB a couple of weeks ago had given me confidence I could beat my Paris time from 2014. Of course marathons are a little different from most races, with a good race often relying on so many things outside of your control. During my first two marathons I’d managed to avoid the dreaded ‘wall’, and until a few days before I had no real reason to think this race would be any different. But the week before I got ill, so I flew out to Paris hoping with enough medicine and a bit of luck I’d be ok come Sunday…
I flew into Paris first thing Saturday morning and headed straight to the Expo. It’s slightly out of the way – which seems fairly typical for big city marathon expos – but easy enough to find. Bags were searched before you headed in, but things were still speedy and efficient. It didn’t take long to get my medical certificate stamped and to receive my bib number. In Paris you always seem to get a bonus running gift when you pick up your number too. In 2014 I got a head torch, this time it was a running rucksack. Another nice touch was the display of all the past Paris Marathon medals, culminating in the 40th alongside this year’s finisher’s t-shirt. I didn’t hang about very long, but there was everything you could want from a big expo, from gear to info about other races around the world.
I didn’t drop off any baggage, but my dad and Jacqui did and seemed to find it very straightforward. They also had the advantage of finding plenty of loos there, as the queue for the toilets just outside the pens were pretty lengthy. I had plenty of time to kill so didn’t mind queuing, but Paul ended up missing his designated pen’s start time.
After a few family photos I said goodbye to Dad and Paul, who were both in different pens. The pens, grouped by expected finish time, were pretty organised and well policed – you could move back, but you couldn’t move forward. I had opted for the 4.15 pen and did start there, but on race day I was actually hoping to get under 4.45, or at least beat my PB of 4:53:27.
Jacqui and I started off running together, although I knew her pace would be a little quicker than mine. We agreed to stick together as long as it was comfortable for both of us – which turned out to be quite a while. Having run both of my marathons solo, it was nice to have some company! As well as taking in the place de la Concorde and Louvre, the first 10k has a great atmosphere, with plenty of support (including a few firefighters!) We reached the 10k mark at around 65 minutes – I hadn’t felt uncomfortable despite the increasing heat, but this was ahead of where I needed to be at this point. So far, so good.
More scenery as we headed past Chateau de Vincennes, before heading into the park. Unfortunately I was starting to feel tightness in my chest and when I took on some water I was struggling to swallow properly – the effects of illness combined with the heat. I had hoped to keep with Jacqui until the halfway point but realised I was going to be pushing myself too hard, so urged her to push on at about 12k. I was a little disappointed to lose my running companion but I was no stranger to running alone, so tried to just stay comfortable and soak up the atmosphere.
While my legs felt fine, my chest and throat did not. I was struggling to breathe properly, and more than once found myself on the verge of hyperventilating and had to slow down to a walk. I forced water down but it was painful and seemed to have no effect. I reached the halfway point at 2:21 – I’d hoped to be here at 2:18, but obviously 4:45 was still more than achievable. But I knew I was falling away and was struggling mentally as well as physically. At about 24k I stopped, went to the toilet and had some water and energy tablets. I decided to mentally start the race again – a PB was still achievable at this point. The next mile was back on my target pace, and a few ‘go on Daniellas’ were spurring me on. But it didn’t last long. Breathing just felt too difficult and before I knew it I was walking again. I checked my phone and saw that Paul’s parents were waiting for me at 30k, so I comforted myself with the thought I had some friendly faces coming up! The tunnels also provided some much-needed respite from the sun. By 28k I knew a PB was definitely out of the window, so was just going for sub 5 hours.
The picture above shows just how happy I was to see Paul’s parents! I finished my water, grabbed another energy tablet and had a quick chat before setting off again, powering through the 30k mark with a smile on my face. Only 12k to go – nothing really. Or actually quite a lot. Once the PB was off the table I knew the priority was to get round comfortably, and the combination of seeing people on the side of the road receiving medical attention and my continuing struggle to take proper breaths convinced me it wasn’t worth pushing myself too hard. If running felt too hard, I’d stop and walk. I felt so frustrated knowing that 2 years ago I’d been on such a high at this point, running along scarcely able to believe how brilliant I was feeling! But safety was the priority. With 3 more marathons already booked in this year, I knew I had other opportunities for a good time (and needed to keep myself in decent shape).
Mentally I was finished the moment the 5 hour pacers overtook me. Once I gave up on any personal ambitions for the race beyond finishing, I just tried to relax and enjoy things. I know a lot of people say the atmosphere in Paris is nothing compared to London, but I absolutely loved the crowd and found both the locals shouting ‘allez Daniella’ and English speakers shouting ‘go on Daniella’ a massive boost throughout. In the park I laughed at a sign simply saying ‘don’t be shit’, with some Brits shouting encouragement as I approached. At this point I was in so much pain I was near tears, so appreciated both the cheers and a reason to laugh! When one of the group offered me a small glass of wine I said “f*** it” and gulped it down gratefully.
More walk/running ensued, but I forced myself to run at 41k knowing that the photo was being posted live to Facebook! I jogged the rest of the way, lapping up the cheers as I finally made it to the finishing stretch. I didn’t shed a single tear when I crossed the line two years ago after my first marathon, but I must admit I was pretty emotional this time around. While my time was disappointing – over half an hour beyond my PB – I know I made the right call to prioritise getting round in one piece. I was also overjoyed to see everyone else I knew had made it round too, particularly as my Dad had worried he wouldn’t be able to finish. Some things are a little more important than race times!
When the medal was unveiled a few days before the race, I saw quite a few people complaining it was an ugly medal. While I think last year’s looked slightly more impressive, I think this is a great bit of race bling! The t-shirt’s nice too – and I was very glad they still had my size by the time I finished!
While I didn’t quite have the race I’d hoped for, I still absolutely loved Paris. I’d always wondered whether my love for the race was more because it was my first ever marathon, but having taken part again I stand by my original verdict. It’s well organised, has an absolutely beautiful route (complete with signs pointing out the major landmarks) and has fantastic crowd support for most of the way. And it’s flat! I won’t be entering next year as I’d like to try a few different marathons, but I have no doubt that I’ll be back here again.