I was afflicted by symptoms usually associated with the latter stages of a marathon, but I had not even reached the start yet. I was with the other 12 clowns in my party for our third running of the Medoc. Our annual trip started in 2012 when I said that instead of a party to mark my 40th birthday, I wanted to go with as many friends as would make the journey to combine two of my favourite things, Bordeaux wine and marathons. The run was spectacular, both in atmosphere and scenery, entering into the grounds of such legends as Lafitte Rothschild and Lynch Bages, as well as numerous others big and small alike. The chateaux themselves were marvels of architecture, some looking like Disney castles, with lawns so uniform as to have been trimmed with nail scissors.
In previous years I had run the UTMB the week before, and as such had been immaculately trained, something more akin to race weight and healthy, if a little fatigued. I had opted to have a bit of a break this summer after the Cro Magnon and as such was several kilos overweight, although I had trained as for a marathon, and was suffering from a residual sinus problem, which I was struggling to shift probably due to overindulging all summer.
Of course if you were to put 13 parents in a town far from home with no kids, little else to do other than sample the local wares, throw in a nice lunch, a tour of a vineyard and tasting, of course one would expect to get 13 headaches the next day. My sinus issue had not helped and my eyes felt like burning hot coals in their sockets. All we had to do was the small matter of 42km and 22 glasses of wine. I washed a couple of Nurofen down with some isotonic drink. I doubted you would see any of this in any of the "how to run a marathon" books, but I knew that the time limit was 6hrs 30, and I had the camaraderie of my mates and more importantly Mrs R to carry me through. Besides, I suspected the other 9999 runners were in a similar state, looking at the sweaty, lavishly costumed, people crammed into the pens around me. Somewhere in there was Tobias Mews, someone I had met electronically over the years, who actually made his living from adventuring and ultra running. He was accompanied by 20 mates dressed as African Warriors, and was due to get married at the finish. We had met up in the flesh, finally, the previous evening after registration and shared a beer.
The marathon set off with a cacophony of noise, brightly coloured confetti and slow moving scuba divers trying not to trip over their flippers as they touched shoulders with Brazilian dancing girls, five Incredible Hulks, and a number of stereotypical Frenchmen complete with baguettes, onions and berets. Mrs R set the pace for our little group, but she was frustrated by the crowds, and the first 5km alongside the bank of the Gironde was flat and straight which left little opportunity for the field to string out. After 5km I suggested she slow down as we left a herd of camels and a couple of 100 others at the first wine stop. It was still a long way to go. I was so wrapped up in taking pictures of the most amazing carpet of flowers lining the road for hundreds of metres in either direction that the first I knew of the first wine tasting was when Mrs R asked me how it was, a couple of hundred metres after I had passed it.
The road petered out and our thirst increased as the dust from a dirt road, kicked up by thousands of runners in front of us, stuck to our sweaty skin. I made up for missing the first wine a few hundred metres later when I slaked my thirst with water, grabbed two plastic tumblers with a finger of wine in each and caught up with Mrs R. She politely declined my offering, so I threw back both ones in quick succession. The Marathon du Medoc had begun in earnest.
Every 2 or 3km we passed through a chateau of varying popularity and quality - wending our way on trails through vineyards, along service roads, and through immaculately kept chateau gardens. At many chateaux there were bands playing music of every genre - rock, jazz, pop, blues, steel and brass bands. The route had been totally changed but I was still amazed how close all the chateaux are. We reached my favourite chateau, Phelan Segur, after about 10km. Mrs R finally buckled and sampled some of their wares. They were serving up bottles of 2007 into glass glasses on their immaculate lawn, and whilst I chatted with a member of the Chateau staff wearing a neatly pressed burgendy apron and hoped they wouldn't mind if I had second helpings, Mrs R availed herself of the restroom (behind some vines!).
Obeying the golden rule of ultra running, never stop moving forward, we did not stop for longer than absolutely necessary at any aid station, although we enjoyed the atmosphere and of course all the wines on offer. Before long I recognised the descent to Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, accompanied by a few cries of "Allez les clunes" from the kids lining the route and spraying us with water pistols. This time the wine was served in glass tumblers - as a general rule if it was served in glass it would be of finer quality than plastic. I pondered for a second the logistics of serving 10000 glass glasses of wine whilst I drank mine. Mrs R was hoping I would take a glass and bring it to her as she motored on, but because it was a glass glass I couldn't - she missed the Lafitte!
"Nice drop, this." I mentioned to a six foot tall ant, bug eyes bouncing as he ran alongside me, as I sipped a Sauternes type wine that an unofficial aid station was handing out accompanied by tiny biscotti with pate. The crowd were loving the absurdity of a clown having a chat with an insect as we jogged along spilling as much wine as we drank and taking chunks out of the snacks. I had resolutely kept my full costume on, unlike a lot of others suffering in the heat, despite the fact it weighed twice as much as when I had started, and I had a heavy wig on. As I ran through aid stations I made sure to take at least one small bottle and sometimes two, and was glad I had done so when I passed a couple of people unconscious on the side of the road with ambulance crews in attendance and blood pressure monitors on their fingers. The heat had gotten to quite a few.
We reached Chateau Beycheville which was gorgeous but sadly did not serve any wine, and Mrs R was so disappointed we decided to have a short walking break. She seemed to be struggling from a knee pain, and she had been stretching quads and hamstrings periodically for a couple of kilometres. We decided to see a Medic at about 30km, and grabbed some ice spray to cool down her knee. It was like a scene from MASH in the tent; complete carnage. People had struggled with the heat, costumes, refreshments and probably lack of training. The medics looked more exhausted than the runners. We moved on as best we could, as they announced that due to the heat they would extend the time limit from 6hrs 30 to 7hrs.
At 35km, a band on a tractor/trailer was playing the Cranberries, and were making a very good fist of it. We had been inserting walking breaks for a while - Mrs R was struggling a bit with the heat and knee, but did not show any signs of giving up, unlike some others although it was not always exhaustion that got to them. People were dancing in front of the band and were showing no inclination to go any further!
We crossed in 5hrs 38, a PB for Mrs R and a course PB for me. I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and I am sure Mrs R had too, the pain of the run anaesthetised by the finish line. As it was the 30th anniversary, we received 2 lovely engraved wine glasses each, a bottle of nice wine in a wooden box, and a bag. We went to the recovery tent where they were serving toast and pate, fruit, crisps, sodium water and beer. It was great to sit down and bask in the glory of another marathon finish and soak up the atmosphere with the rest of our team.
I have already started planning next year's entertainment for the 31st Marathon du Medoc!