It was the 30th November and 4 days earlier I had run the San Sebastian marathon. After becoming accustomed to the carb lifestyle I decided I needed to enter another marathon ASAP. After a chat with Surrey traitor Harriet Betteridge who was also looking for a new challenge following her triumph in the Lisbon marathon the previous September we both decided to sign up for Paris. I was looking to better my GFA time from San Sebastian (previously just scraping in at 3:44:35) and Harriet wanted to dip further under 3:30 having done 3:29:54 in Lisbon. The challenge was set.
Coach Walker very kindly agreed to help me once more with a new plan which involved 5 days a week of running, it was a definitely going to be a challenge but seemed very achievable with some good time management. The basic rules were Tuesday track, Wednesday easy mid-week long run, Thursday Tempo, Saturday Parkrun and Sunday long run. Classic.
Training started really well and I quickly started entering other races and training runs to fit into the plan. Brighton was the target half (minus 146 metres apparently) with a few others booked as part of training runs. These included the Bramley 20, Cranleigh 15 and the wonderful Leith Hill Half.
Everything was going great with a new PB (I'm still claiming it) for the half distance and I was generally feeling pretty strong with the taper on the horizon after completing my longest training run of 22 miles, that's when my achilles decided it was time to cause some mischief...
I'll never know what would have happened on race day if I decided to completely rest instead of just cutting back on the mileage, which I did do quite substantially, but spoiler alert, it didn't quite go to plan. During the taper every time I ran all I could think about was my achilles and whether it was going to magically not hurt this time, a few times it didn't at all but this was outweighed by all the times it definitely did. I desperately rolled, stretched and rested as much as my maranoid body could handle until a few days before all I could do was rest and hope for the best.
Friday arrived and an early Eurostar to Paris awaited with Hattom (Harriet and Tom for those not in the know) and Sophie and Kieran (reporting for cheer duty) due to join later that evening. But disaster struck and after a week of ignoring esteemed health care professional Sophie Foxall, Kieran admitted defeat and finally visited A&E where he was told he'd need his foot amputated... oh sorry no it was just a bad case of cellulitis. Either way our personal cheer squad could no longer make it, lesson learnt, never ignore a nurse when she tells you your foot looks like it needs seeing to. Get well soon Santry!
On Saturday morning we headed for the Expo to collect our numbers, I'd been told it was bigger than London and it wasn't a lie. After collecting our bibs and race rucksacks we quickly made our way through the copious amount of stalls, stopping only to buy 'XC pink' marathon branded tops. I thought it would be a good incentive to finish the race no matter what the next day otherwise I wouldn't be able to wear it without feeling like a fraud. A quick stop at the Marathon du Medoc stall for a thimble of wine (important to keep hydrating the day before kids) and then my favourite part of any training plan was put into full action, carb loading was a go.
The morning of the race arrived and Harriet and I set off from our Parisian apartment near Place de Clichy at 6:45am, which was very conveniently situated on a metro line heading directly to the race start on the Champ-Elysee.
We headed straight for our pen but upon arrival thought it probably wasn't a good idea to run with all our stuff so decided to try and find the baggage drop instead, definitely should have read those race instructions.
One thing I'd been repeatedly warned about with this race was the toilet queues but I really didn't think this was an issue. This may have been because there was a one portaloo no-one seemed to want to go in and Harriet and I thought it was fine (usual level of disgusting but fine) so no queue for us.
8:35 and we were off! The way the start staggers for Paris works really well, they let everyone from one pen go at a time before waiting a while to release the next, this meant it never felt too crowded on the route, I still felt like I did a fair amount of weaving due to people trying to stick to the green line but I think that will always be the way.
Phill and Tom had agreed to be at 3 or potentially 4 places over the course and the first was just after 5km so we knew we didn't have to wait long before we got some cheer squad action. After 2 miles together I let Hattie go ahead as I knew she wanted a slightly faster time than me and I wasn't sure how my achilles was going to behave. I passed 5km around the time I wanted to with the achilles not complaining and cheer squad in the agreed position up ahead, I was feeling positive. Unfortunately this was only to last another 2 miles...
Just after mile 5 on the approach to the first woods, of which there are 2 along the route, I felt my lower calf start to pull. This was a feeling I knew all too well from the past few weeks and I knew what was to come. By the time we left the woods at around mile 12 I was in quite a bit of pain but was just trying to focus on getting to half way and then to the next agreed cheer point just before the 15 mile mark.
When I saw the boys I really wanted to stop but knew as soon as I did it would be so hard to start again and I was already feeling a bit emotional about the prospect of potentially not finishing.
I was wearing two pace bands and at this point I was still just about on target for the one which read 3:30 but I knew it wasn't going to last and tried to cling onto the one that read 3:35 instead.
However about a mile later the pain was too much and I had to stop to try and stretch my calf, at this point I was about ready to quit and was feeling quite teary. Then I thought what a bloody idiot I must have looked and told myself to snap out of it, I was in Paris on a beautiful sunny day, running an amazing race with some pretty awesome people. And more importantly there was a lovely pink t-shirt I'd bought the day before and damn I really wanted to be able to wear it. And beer, there was beer at the finish line.
So I struggled on, walking if I needed and running when I could. I looked at all the sights and made sure to take in the Eiffel Tower which Tom had told me his Uncle had missed when he ran it because he was having such an awful race, there was no way I was going to miss that. After that I knew I just needed to do a Parkrun (a mantra I always find useful) before I saw the boys again at the start of the next woods. Here I stopped and had a little (big) moan about my time and wanting to quit but Phill made me keep running for which I'm very grateful and was the push I needed to finish. I'd read horrible things about these wood being a 'death march' but considering how much I was suffering psychically I found them quite enjoyable. A couple more miles and the two man cheer squad had darted across the park so they could see us again, a welcome sight as I wasn't sure I'd see them again until the end. At this point Phill told me to run faster and this time I didn't appreciate his encouragement quite so much but I tried to do as I was told none the less.
The final mile seemed to drag on forever and the sign for 200m to go couldn't come soon enough. I summoned all the strength I could do a 'sprint finish' but it was nothing more than a hobble. And with that I was done.
We were quickly handed a very nice finishers t-shirt and given the 24 degree midday heat, an unnecessary poncho but good to know that the organisers we prepared for all eventualities on race day. I found Hattie with no trouble in our pre-agreed meeting place and quickly felt most of the disappointment of my race disappear knowing we could celebrate and have a post race beer in a beautiful city on a sunny spring day.
No I didn't get the time I wanted or trained for but if you'd have asked me this time last year if I could run two sub 4 marathons in 4 months one being a good for age qualifier for London I would have said it wasn't possible. I'm grateful that I'm at a point where I can be disappointed with a finish time of 3:50:25 and I'll get that illusive sub 3:30 one day. C'est La Vie, the sun is shining and life is good. Now to rest this gammy ankle...