On Sunday 8th April 2018, I joined 55,000 other runners to race in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Paris. The stars aligned and perfect conditions led me to enjoy a flawless race and run my first ever marathon with a smile on my face the entire time. Here's how I got on.
This was my first ever marathon and in fact I had actually been told a few years previously by a physio that I would never be able to run a marathon due to my hypermobility and generally terrible physiology for running! However, running is something I absolutely adore and I wanted to run a marathon simply to prove to myself that I could do it.
I signed up for the race in October 2017 but my training only really got under way properly in December due to going on holiday in November. I had good runs and bad runs but the overall feeling was that I couldn't believe how a 10-mile run that was once my absolute limit and would leave me hobbling and unable to continue soon became a quick, easy jog on a medium-length run day.
I signed up for tactical races in the lead up to the big day, the Thorpe Park Half Marathon in February and the Lydd 20 Mile in March. The Thorpe Park Half went really well for me and filled me with a lot of confidence. The Lydd 20 Mile, however, went terribly and I actually had to DNF due to gastric issues. However, this was a really important learning curve for me and allowed me to make plans to avoid that happening during the actual marathon. I'd rather it happen during a standard home road race than during my big day.
I really enjoyed the training and even my big 20-mile training run a few weeks before the race felt really good and filled me with more confidence. I really don't think you could run a marathon if you didn't genuinely enjoy running. The training is all part of the experience and you have to put in a lot of miles. I ran 100 miles in the month of March which is the most I've ever done. I ran routes I've never run before and learnt so much about hydrating and fuelling during long endurance events.
Arriving in Paris
We were very lucky in that we got to fly from Southend Airport and the flight was only 45 minutes long so we arrived in Paris feeling fresh and ready to start exploring. I had read that it's a common mistake to do a walking tour of the city the day before the race and then end up with sore feet, so we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower and had a picnic in the park. I had done lots of research on training, tapering, and fuelling before a marathon so I was very careful with what I ate and what activities I did. I also read a lot of past race reports so that there would be no surprises.
We went to the expo on the Friday to avoid the crowds and to pick up my race number. Once I had picked that up it started to feel very real! I was very nervous the night before the race but also excited. I had a good night's sleep and felt well set up for race day.
We took the metro to the Arc De Triomphe and emerged in the bright sunshine. The weather was absolutely glorious: a warm sun, cool breeze, and clear sky; so different from the freezing bitter temperatures and biting winds of the UK. The Champs-Élysées was teaming with people but didn't feel too crowded. I noticed a long queue for the one singular portaloo in my starting pen so tried to find somewhere else to go, but with no luck. So I entered my assigned starting pen and joined the queue for the toilet, something I have had to get used to doing all these races! It's the one down side.
Waiting for the toilet wasn't actually too stressful because I would have either been standing there in the queue or just waiting elsewhere in the starting pen. I got the front of the queue just in time as everyone started moving forward towards the start line. Music was playing, the sun was shining, and I felt absolutely amazing. What an awesome buzz. I was already having the time of my life.
Before I knew it we were off and I had started, I was running a marathon! We weaved around stunning buildings and before long were running past Le Louvre museum. The support was amazing with people shouting 'Allez Allez!' and waving banners. All runners had our name and country initials on our bibs so people could shout our name and recognise which country we were from. Any British spectators who saw me cheered me on and that felt amazing. But not only that, all the spectators cheered me on and called my name, the feeling was unlike anything else. I felt like a celebrity!
I had read about the aid stations being very precarious, with water flooding the cobbles and fruit peels creating a cartoon-like situation for people to slip and fall. The first aid station was at mile 3 and I couldn't believe that literally everyone was already reaching for water and fuel. I had my hydration bag, a bottle of Lucozade, and jelly babies so I took the corner very wide and avoided the aid station all together. It meant I didn't get caught up with anyone and could continue running without any interruptions.
The route was fabulous, passing all the famous sights and running through two different forests. There was some great gentle downhill sections which meant I could increase my pace without any extra effort and really no notable uphill sections.
I had read in people's race reports about having to run through 'endless' tunnels in which the air was thick, making it hard to breathe. In reality, running through the tunnel was immense fun because it was a brief respite from the blazing sun and they had dressed it up like a nightclub with lights and music. It had a fantastic atmosphere and it wasn't hard to breathe at all.
The miles passed quickly because I was so busy enjoying the sights and the support. At Mile 20 there was 'UK Corner' where the British supporters were advised to stand. There were people waving Union jack flags and dancing and that was where my boyfriend was waiting for me too. People on street corners sat in cafes sipping coffee and cheering us on. Before I knew it I was in the final forest for the last 5km of the course. There were members of the public out for their daily jog as well as dog walkers and cyclists.
I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face and I just kept repeating 'I did it! I ran a marathon!' I was so proud of myself and so happy that it had been such a positive experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat and already have the post-marathon blues. The only thing is I would worry that now doing another marathon wouldn't live up to this great experience! As such, it'd have to be another big marathon like London. Fingers crossed for the ballot!
I collected my medal and finisher's T-shirt and started walking back to the metro station with my boyfriend who had provided me with amazing support throughout the whole marathon journey. My feet felt absolutely fine with no blisters thanks to my favourite running socks and no signs of the dreaded black toenail people seem to get after marathons! My legs were a bit tight but other than that I felt great.
As we descended into the underground station it became clear I was one of the lucky ones as other people were being carried down the stairs! Those years of powerlifting training I did have paid off by leaving me with strong legs!
It was great fun seeing all the other people on the flight back home wearing their finisher's t-shirts and we all gave each other the little nod of acknowledgement.
Running the Paris Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life and I can honestly say I loved every minute. Yes, it was tough physically at times, but mentally I felt strong and happy the entire time. The route was great, as was the support and race organisation. I can't recommend this race enough!
My top tips for surviving Paris Marathon:
- It will probably be hot. It's early April but past temperatures on race day range from 18 degrees right up to 26 Celsius. Due to the fairly early Spring date, chances are you've been training in cold conditions so just be aware you'll need way more water and fuel than you did for your training runs.
- Don't walk too much the day before the race. I already knew it was a bad idea to do a walking tour of the city the day before the race but even the small amount of walking we did do left my feet a bit sore. Take it really easy on the Saturday to give your feet the best chance of survival on Sunday.
- Take your own hydration and fuel. France doesn't have the concept of Gatorade or Lucozade like the USA and UK so if that's what you've been training with, take your own. There are no gels or energy drinks at any of the aid stations, only fresh fruit and sugar cubes.
- Be careful at the aid stations. They hand out segments of fresh orange, banana halves, sugar cubes, and raisins. The food is first then the water (don't make the mistake of finding you're in a queue for fruit when you only wanted water). Beware the floor will be super slippy especially with the fruit peel on the floor. Take your time, there will be plenty of food and water left for you.
- You'll have to queue for the toilets before the race start. There is a McDonald's on the Champs Elysee but trust me, everyone had the same idea as you and the queue there is just as long. Join the queue for the portaloo early and you'll be fine.
- Enjoy yourself! Don't forget to look around and take in all the sights. It really is a beautiful race.