Monday, October 15, 2012

Paris Half Marathon

I've never run or even thought about running a marathon or half marathon.  In fact, I really don't even like to run, and running that long kinda seems like a waste of time.  The last and perhaps only, organized race I participated in was a 5k in Washington DC almost 20 years ago.  My body didn't really like the impact and I generally found running pretty boring.

I picked up running a few decades later while living near the beach and training for volleyball.  Sand running became part of my sport and then it evolved into how I liked waking up every morning before work.  There's nothing like running in the soft, quiet sand alongside dolphins swimming in the water beside you.

Moving to Paris, I ran to see more of the city, keep me in foie gras fighting form, and honestly to save money on the uber expensive gym memberships here.  A friend ran the half marathon last year and was planning on doing it again this year so I thought, yeah, I should do that too, and just like that I signed up.  I will admit to running part of the Paris semi-marathon in the Spring, but that was completely unintentional and spontaneous, though it gave me a bit of the bug.

My training allowed me to see not just more of Paris, but another side of many cities I visited during the 3 months leading up to the big day.  I did my first long run at altitude while in Lake Tahoe, which I don't recommend....ever, unless you're looking to medal, and not just the medals they hand everyone at the end for participating.

There was some sand running while I was in LA to take me back to my roots, though my roots never included more than an hour jog.  That extra hour brought a new appreciation to my calves.

The Olympiads inspired me to run in London during the games, but my pace never seemed to move past that of most children playing who start very enthusiastically, and then often get distracted and forget what they were doing.

There was some versions of running along the canals of Venice and on the steep trails in the hilly, but picturesque Cinque Terre, though I'd say the focus here was more on carb loading, even though I was still over a month out from the race.

What I did in Munich during Octoberfest was more like running away from the beer halls and the impossibly large libations and pretzels.  Again, more carb loading.

Then of course there's been the "home" running along the Seine, through the many beautiful gardens, around the Louvre, past Notre Dame, over the Promenades des Plantes, along the Canal St. Martin, and through the Bois de Vincennes park.


So I felt like a winner before I even started the half marathon.  I got to run (and carb load) in some really pretty places, which helped mask the pain in my hamstring that started during my very first long run.  I figured it was a beginner's injury, and I just needed to run more to build the muscles.  When that didn't work, I thought, I just need to stretch more.  After being nearly crippled after a yoga session, I realized I must have a tear and should just take bigger breaks in between the runs.  See, trips above for the quasi-break schedule, especially Octoberfest and the week after when I returned home with a cold.  Unfortunately those 2 weeks coincided with the 2 weeks prior to the half marathon.  So I was going into the race a bit cool and loose, and with a hamstring that still wasn't happy.

I woke up yesterday morning thinking I'm just going to give it a go.  I can walk.  How bad can it be?  Temps Sunday were about 45 degrees and misty.  Purrr-fect.  Rain jacket, rain hat on.  Let's do this.

I met my friend Stephanie at the start, along with our great support personnel Lisette who served as bag carrier, photographer, pinner and jill of all trades.  We were all smiles under the Eiffel Tower, even though we couldn't see the top of it when we arrived....or at any part during the race.

About 30,000 people signed up for this race this year, and nearly 23,000 showed up and ran.  The other 7,000 were very smart and said why on earth would I run a great distance in this weather.  I must admit that normally on a day like this, I wouldn't even venture out to do errands.

The first runner left at 10am, and we got over the start line closer to 10:30am.  It was a slow process getting everyone on the road, and running.


People wore a range of old sweatshirts and trash bags to stay warm and dry before the race, and then threw it off as soon as the race began, leaving a fine mess to clean up.

I was swept up with the crowd and the energy and found myself keeping a really good pace, hamstring and rain be damned.  I had planned on listening to one of my hour podcasts of This American Life like I usually do on my long runs, but the pumping music at the start made me switch to the running playlist I had made for the last hour of the race.  As much as I like Ira Glass, I just didn't think he could get me through the pouring rain and some surprising hills like LMFAO could.


Did I mention it rained?  The...whole...time?  It actually wasn't as miserable as all the thinking I did about it beforehand while I tracked the miserable weather.  Don't get me wrong, I would have been very happy if it didn't rain, and was just a wee bit warmer, but I like to think the rain was an added incentive to run faster and finish sooner.


Luckily there were a few tunnels that provided momentary relief from time to time and opportunities for nose blowing and new chants.  Not exactly sure what I was saying but I think everyone was expressing happiness about the short moments of euphoric dryness.


Even crazier than the 23,000 people running in the rain, were the fabulous Parisians who came and stood still in the rain, supporting everyone with banners, cheers and high fives.  Lots of "Allez, allez, bravo!"  There were also bands set up all along the course playing a range of bag pipes, rock and roll (all sung in English) and a lot of cowbells.  Yes, cowbells.


I was happy to complete the first half of the race at my ideal pace of 10 minute miles.  No, I'm not going to quit my day job for the track.  Ooops.  The problem for me occurs during the back half when my pace slows to a walk, and sometimes a crawl, but I was fully pumped and chewing on French gummy bear protein bites that had a bit more caffeine than I'm used to, so I buzzed right along with my Parisian peeps.  Interestingly, the water stations hand out oranges, and sugar cubes.  There's a big bucket of cubes that you can put your wet, sweaty hands into like everyone else, and have some straight up sucre.  I stuck to the gel jolts.  I could feel my hamstring getting worse, but I figured, I'm still running, so how bad can it be (yes, that is always an ominous line, but bare with me)?

The winner crossed the finish line, just a hair before me.  That timeclock reads 58:10.  Yeah, but where was he at Octoberfest?

I found myself gaining energy as we passed the Louvre and rounded the bend along the Seine to our final destination of the Eiffel Tower.  I went into the race thinking I'd be the person picking up the race cones as I finished since I wasn't anticipating getting across the finish line before dark, but looking at my watch I suddenly thought, I should try and finish this in 2 hours.  Adrenaline makes me a little crazy.

Damn if I didn't cross the finish line at 2:04, and yes, I do know that in most Kenyan conversations this is nothing to brag about.  I've never run that far or that fast, but now I'm hooked, and must get in before 2 hours in the NEXT race.  I did have some delusions of grandeur while running as well.  How hard could a marathon be?  Uh, twice as hard.  No, actually it must increase exponentially after the first 15 miles.  I've been eyeing the full marathon in Bordeaux for some time since it includes unbelievable eating and drinking in grand chateaux and vineyards...while running...and wearing costumes.  I have a year to ponder and/or prep for that, and am at least way ahead on the eating and drinking training.

I'm all smiles in the home stretch
I have to say the hardest part of the race was after I crossed the finish line.  I was with all of these people trying to get our bags of carbs and medals and it took about a half hour to get out of the finish funnel.  And it's raining, and now cold because I've stopped moving and the water is dripping down every part of my body and the wetness in my clothes is soaking me to my core. 

And then I couldn't find Lisette who had my warm clothes, not to mention my phone and apartment keys.  My lips were blue when she found me, but a little hot chocolate pepped me up, and the long shower that followed revived me, and got me looking to my next race!

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