The crash of 19th Jan had put a bit of a spanner in the works, and although the neck and shoulder are broadly recovered, I was not sure how quickly I could run the marathon, and whether the body would hold up for the full 42.2km at all. I was also a little nervous about the wife and kids in Marseille, full stop. It has a slightly less than perfect reputation for safety.
#2 has dive training on a Saturday morning, so we picked her up and left home, stopping on the way to pick up some microwaved pasta and a coffee. The weather forecast was terrible - cold and rain, and Mrs R was a champion driving through the rain, as I find driving long distances pretty tiring and I wanted to preserve my energy for the race. Stu had kindly offered to pick up my Dossard, as he was due to arrive before us, but he had rung and said he had broken down in Nice, which was a disaster. He ended up leaving the car in the airport parking, and hiring a car, thankfully arriving and picking up my Dossard.
We arrived and checked in to the hotel, and after a few issues navigating the one way system, we drove up a little, shuttered, heavily graffiti'ed side street about 1km from the port. My heart was heavy as I buzzed the door, but when it opened I could not have been more surprised. It was like a medieval villa, in the middle of a dodgy Marseille suburb, with a little outdoor pool and indoor heated jacuzzi. Our room was amazing - four poster for us, 3 single beds for the kids on a mezzanine level, and 3 fountains in the room! The loo was straight out of Bodiam Castle as well - a bench with a hole in, but with a flush - a fantastic flourish on the medieval theme.
We braved the drizzle and chill in the air to explore a bit of Marseille before meeting Stu and family and dinner, and we headed down to the port - the juxtaposition of the uber high end boutiques and crushing poverty highly apparent - graffiti was everywhere, and there was a very grimy and gritty feel to the city, with a lot of homeless people huddled in doorways, and shuttered up shops. We had a drink next to the Vieux (old) Port to warm up, and then visited the Savon Marseilleise headquarters, so that the kids could load up on perfumed soap. I think we were all very surprised when most of the restaurants we tried to get into were closed for the evening, and I was wondering this would be a reflection of the area a bit later on. However, a lovely pasta dish later, and despite being accosted several times for loose change on the way home, at no time did we feel threatened or unsafe.
I got my kit ready for the next morning, and then managed a quick dip in the freezing cold pool, in the rain, and then a relaxed dip in the jacuzzi before putting the kids to bed, with Dog, and swiftly following them! A reasonably broken night's sleep ensued, with the sounds of cars and scooters roaring past, people chatting in the street, and then firing up the jacuzzi later on, but it was a great bed and I was happy to snatch sleep when I could.
The next morning, up before the alarm as ever, and I got myself some muesli and tea - all laid out the night before. I drank highly diluted sports drink as I got dressed and stretched, and Dog woke up and wanted to be petted briefly before changing beds. I peeked out of the window, and the weather was as expected - wet and cold, so I carefully put a dry change of clothes in my drop bag, thinking how nice it would be to put on a nice warm dry t shirt, undies, socks and tracksuit, akin to the feeling after the UTMB. I had an undershirt, Skin Society t shirt, compression shorts and then a plastic overall / bin liner, provided me by the Cancer Research charity. I jogged to the start, and met up with Stu, and he took a very quick photo, before availing myself of the facilities (a back alley - well, it was raining!).
In retrospect, this was a perfect strategy. Because I did not feel under a tremendous amount of pressure, I was happy enough to hold back at the beginning - far more so than I would have normally done if I am honest, and I was able to just enjoy the scenery and cameraderie of the race. It was pretty crowded from the off, due to the number of races actually on the course at the same time, and after 2km there was a hold up as people tried to navigate a pond that had formed on the track. I was able to overtake a few people there, although I did get wet feet. However, this seemed to be unavoidable throughout the race, and the freezing cold water on the course was reasonably refreshing.
After 3 or 4km I speeded up a little, and just focussed on not getting lost - with a 10km, half marathon and relay all using broadly the same course for the start, but then peeling off at various intervals, the opportunities for getting lost were plentiful - turn offs all over the place. I was very impressed with the Gendarmes dealing with bad tempered drivers - the bad tempered horns and swearing seemed to be water off a duck's back to the men and women in uniform blocking the route, although at 13km a women ran the road block and was driving right behind me. I was running in the middle of the road on a twisty narrow lane, and was 'in the zone' so her hooting at me incessantly whilst she was being chased by neon clad marshalls and police - on foot - made me laugh and stay in the middle of the road so that she couldn't overtake. Eventually she was caught and gently persuaded to bugger off. I have to say that in Marseille the traffic laws seem to be treated as more of a guide than anything to be treated as compulsory. Several times during the course of the weekend zebra crossings seemed to be a high stakes game of Frogger.
I was happy enough running on my own and enjoying the atmosphere, and I am afraid I was feeling a little anti social, although when a chap started chatting to me about the mad French drivers - in French, with particular emphasis on the Marseilleise, I had a bit of a chat to him about the race, the weather and the area, in English! When we arrived at the beach, he dropped back and I was on my own again - just happy to run my own race. The race itself was a real sightseeing trip around Marseille, and it was a shame that the weather was so bad because I would have loved to have taken some photos. I was also over hydrated and had to stop twice to have a pee, as a direct consequence of the cool temperature! The refreshment stands were pretty regular - every 5km or so, with water, bananas, energy bars and so on, on offer. I just sipped a little water and carried on, although at every stand people would stop and gorge - although the rain had made everything into a sort of bland mush! I did feel for the sponge station attendants - due to the rain, they could not give the sponges away! I felt so sorry for them, I started to take them, ring them out and then use them to dry my face! After 28km those guys had pretty much given up, and I laughed heartily when I saw two mallard ducks sheltering from the rain under a tree!
The scenery was beautiful, and half way was marked by a lap of the gardens of a fantastic chateau that would not have looked out of place in Bordeaux, even it was pockmarked by impromptu and temporary lakes caused by the heavy rain. I started to speed up, controlling my pace with my breathing and heart rate. I was careful not to go too quickly, but was still able to go at a decent clip faster than my first half. As we lost the remnants of the other races, the pack thinned out and I was able to see Stu a couple of times as the course turned round on itself - we even managed a high five once! It was a boost to me to see him and cheer, and hopefully for him too. At the 25km ravi point, they offered Pepsi, which was a god send, and I greedily gulped it back - this was as much of a morale boost as it was a sugar rush, and it helped to keep everything oiled. We started the long loop back to the port, passing the Chateau Berger, which reminded me immediately of Nip/Tuck, as it was a centre aesthetique - presumably plastic surgery. Gently undulating along the beach front, and I ticked off km's. I was keen to start fishing, but did not want to push too hard just yet, but there was a young lady in pink with a camelback on in front of me. I tried to keep her in sight without reeling her in, and then my dossard disintegrated. I tried to repin it three times, bit it kept ripping, so in the end I gave up and kept it in my hand.
We looped around the port, almost passing the finish, and then as we hit 30km I concentrated on the lady in pink. I was concentrating so hard that the km's were just flying by. We went out to the docks over a couple of uncomfortable flyovers, and I passed the pink lady with 36km under my belt. I had to fixate on someone else, and I did - variously a chap with a blond wig - it actually turned out to be a sort of scarf when I overtook him; someone painfully tall; a women with black and pink on; basically anyone with bright clothing or distinguishing features. Meanwhile, we had to negotiate what can only be described as fjords - the water freezing cold, and when we went under the suspension bridges, the water was pouring off them like waterfalls. The course was pretty narrow, and there were traffic jams to avoid the water hazards - I of course ploughed through them, picking up places and time, and wet feet in the process. We did a lap of the docks, and it was pretty interesting running under the huge cranes, and then round the stables with the pungent odour of straw and animals filling the air.
Time for the final push as 39, 40 and 41km markers came and went. I gritted my teeth - and sprinted where possible, to the finish line. A few people were walking so I cheered them on and gutterally shouted at myself to encourage myself to keep up the pace. As I neared the finish line I spotted Dog, Mrs R and the kids sheltering from the rain under an umbrella. They cheered me on and I sprinted to the line, crossing it in 3hrs 40, which I was very pleased about.
I went to the recovery area grabbing some juice, half a banana, some apricots and an apple. And then I spied a bar with beer! I grabbed one and downed it, moving to the Pastis bar. I tried a non alcoholic version, and went back to wash it down with another half cup of beer, before searching out Mrs R and the kids, and my dry clothes.
#3 was soaked through as the roads were under water, so she was cold and miserable and Mrs R headed off to find more appropriate and dry footwear. I grabbed my drop bag, and was dismayed to discover that it was full of water! Disaster! We headed straight to a bar, and #1 was terrific running with my clothes to put them under the hand dryer. Mrs R bought me some new pants and socks, and with some semblance of dryness we went in search of some lunch! Unfortunately our choice of restaurant left a lot to be desired, and my food did not arrive (don't go to the Langoustine on Rue Portia if you ever visit Marseille), so I hoovered up everything everyone else had left, and then we left Marseille to head home in the driving rain!
A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the weekend - a new town, the kids enjoyed the jacuzzi and pool, and despite the weather I had a really nice marathon!