The atmosphere around Paris the whole weekend was excellent, with the marathon the main focus. My back was giving me a little grief as we sightsaw the Louvre, Tuileries, Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysee, as well as catching up with old friends and extended family, but lying in bed the night before the race was perhaps the most comfortable I had been all week. I was very impressed with the expo - these large city marathons are always good for lots of swag, and the new bidons would come in very handy for the chuckaways at the Ironman to swap out during the long bike leg.
I caught up with a very nervous Digger and proud camera wielding Mum at brekkie, and then I was off on the Metro to the start with about 4000 other runners cramming on at my stop.
The start was amazing on the Champs Elysee, and it was not lost on me how privileged I was to run on such hallowed roads closed to traffic. The pens went on for miles, separating the different start waves and time groups. My slot was 3hr 30, a 9am start, about 15 mins after the elites. I searched in vain for a portaloo, but eventually saw them in the start pen itself. As I queued to get in, the runners were kept amused by the 3 larger than life characters clearly in their cups, larking about in front of the gate. And Fu Man Chu.
The weather was predicted to be nice and a little warmer during the run than Paris is used to for the time of year. I still took 2 jumpers and the natty plastic mac we had been given in our welcome bag, and I was pleased to have all three. The start pen was in the shade and it was still a little chilly, although nothing like New York had been. The thoughtful provision of porta-potties and urinals in the pens were also a welcome development, and very well used. I was glad not to be in the last wave of runners at 11am!
Paris is beautiful, and the sights along the whole route were picture postcard pretty. I am always amazed by how gold some of the statues are - do they polish them or is it self cleaning! Such banal thoughts occupied my mind whilst I listened to my iPod, until someone started chatting to me in French, asking me if I was diabetic. Obviously I am not but #2 is, and Kader mentioned he too was Type 1, had been for 21 years, and was on a pump. He had attempted the marathon the previous year and finished but had not been very well due to overtreating a hypo, then a hyper and another hypo and so on for the last 10km. This year he wanted to break 4 hours, so had switched off his pump that morning. His level when he met me was 560 mgdl / 30mmol, way too high, and questionable whether he should have been exercising at all. I was very impressed that we were running at the same pace, though, and he was able to check his bgl despite being high and periodically sprayed with water from the crowd.
We chatted and Kader treated his hyper with gradual boluses, administered directly from his pump, until he got to within sight of 100, pretty much bang on. From then it would be a question of getting enough sugar in to counteract the vigorous and long lasting exercise. In the meantime we chatted about various things including work (He works with troubled youth channeling their energies into sport such as running and boxing, rather than antisocial activities and violence), family, the various sights around Paris. The first part of the marathon took in the zoo, with huge birds of prey circling massive enclosures towering above the route. We also passed the breathtaking Palace de Vincennes, reminiscent of the Chateaux in Bordeaux but on a scale you have to see to believe, with a keep sticking incongruously above the fortified walls. Mental note to visit if I get time next time I'm in Paris; I remembered seeing the station on a Metro map so it should be easy to get to.
Not long after the 3hr 30 bunch thundered past us, with another diabetic asking me about the t shirt. She was Australian (I think), and training for Comrades Ultra Marathon the following month. It was her 20th marathon and she was clearly confident and practised at treating her levels, knowing how her body would react. She did not appear to carry insulin or even a bgl monitor, but said that she stuck to a tried and tested plan. A bit of small talk later and she sprinted effortlessly to catch up with the 3hr30 bunch. Kader coined the phrase "Turbo Diabete" which amused me!
Half way came and went in 1hr 55, bang on target for both of us with my HR and Kader's BGL behaving nicely. As we headed back into Paris the Notre Dame was visible, with the Eiffel Tower in the background and a glorious blue sky. The course became slightly more challenging with a few undulations as we tracked the Seine up and down and in and out the tunnels. Both Mrs R's and the kids had arranged to meet me at around 29km, and I was keen to introduce Kader to #2 - she loves to meet a fellow pump user and it would have been great to meet a veteran marathoner too, but in the event we got separated a few hundred metres before and the wide point of the bend meant that I could not attract his attention as he ran through. No matter, we were both in good spirits, despite the heat, and it is always a huge boost to morale to see my family.
I sprinted to catch up my running buddy, and not long after, we passed the "Wall" at 30km. The organisers had actually built a wall, with "Wall" written on it in case you didn't realise, and we had to run through a doorway. This was supposed to represent the dreaded wall that marathoners hit, but actually neither Kader nor I were close to the wall. I could definitely feel that my body had travelled quite a few km's, I was mildly dehydrated due to the lack of any energy drink on offer at aid stations, and my back was starting to ache a little. Kader was more or less permanently fighting lows, and trying to put supplies into his body.
Both of us concentrating on our own demons, we became distracted and lost contact. It may sound weird, but the sheer volume of runners along the whole circuit made it difficult to see from one side of the road to the other. I stopped a couple of times to look for my buddy, but in the end gave up, put my headphones in, and hoped that he would make it to the finish in one piece, and hopefully within his target range.
The last 7 or 8km were a question of ticking off the kilometres. It may seem that a marathon would be easy after 42 of them, but they never are. The dehydration and constant road pounding were taking their toll on my body, and I was literally going from aid station to aid station to get the water. At 40km I grabbed a couple of sugar lumps to augment the water, and gritted my teeth as we covered the last section of cobbles, around the Arc de Triomphe, to cross the finish line on Avenue Foch in just over 3hr 58. I was pleased to get sub 4hrs, slightly puzzled as to why a couple of years previously I was consistently running in the region of 3hrs 40 or below, as well as feeling a little faint.
It seemed like a long time before I could get my hands on something other than water, but as soon as I had eaten an apple, orange and several handfuls of raisins I felt a lot better. I picked up my medal and natty pink finisher t shirt (Number 2 has already baggsed it!) and headed directly for the Metro station and a restorative panache and burger with the family.
I later tracked down my running buddy, and was ecstatic to see that he had finished about a minute ahead of me, and have since made contact with him on Twitter. My nephew finished his first marathon, and my Uni buddy also completed for his second finish. I was pleased to have beaten both of them, not that I am competitive!
My next job, once recovered, is to work on my speed again, as well as make sure my back is properly fixed, to make sure I am properly prepped for the Nice Ironman in June, and of course the obligatory Mountain Ultras in July and August. A summer of fun!