What it’s like to run Paris marathon 

TL;DR: very very hot, needed more electrolytes, 21 min PB, 3:51. The course was beautiful, it had the potential to be one of the best marathons I’ve done, but I probably enjoyed it the least as I was really focusing on a time goal which the heat made it very difficult to reach.

Arriving in Paris

When packing on Friday night I realised all of my energy gels were at work. I had meant to bring them home but completely forgot. I stressed about all the different  options, thinking about buying them there, ordering them off Amazon, looking up different sports shops in France, but in the end decided the safest thing would be just to get up extra early on Saturday morning and go to the office first before going to the Eurostar. So that’s what I did, leaving home on a still, quiet sunny morning.

The Eurostar is a great way to get to Paris – no need to worry about liquids (good because by this point my bag was packed full of gels!), very easy and comfortable. Except from the fact I had a very grumpy man next to me who was not happy when I asked to get out to go to the bathroom (I had the window seat) which meant I didn’t drink much for the rest of the journey in fear of needing to use the bathroom again!

We had a bit of a panic arriving in Paris when mum had a call from our hotel, right next to the start, to say we couldn’t stay there anymore and Booking.com would find us somewhere else. I was worried everything would be fully booked especially near the start. So I went to the hotel to find out what had happened – turned out to be a plumbing problem in the room and they’d had to turn the water off. I jumped on Booking.com and found another hotel with rooms just down the road – a little more expensive but the rooms looked lovely. So I met mum and off we went to Pershing Hall which turned out to be perfect.

From our hotel we wandered for 5 minutes down to the Seine then along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, where we had lunch in a little outdoor food market. After gazing up at the Eiffel Tower, we jumped in a taxi to go to the Expo.

I had read that the Expo was quite small so I was really pleasantly surprised – I thought it was amazing! Definitely the best marathon expo I’ve been to (the others are Barcelona, Brighton and Dublin). There was a bit of a queue outside to get into the building but it moved quickly and once we were in there were no queues. First you had to go to the medical desks to get your medical certificate stamped (you need to think about this in advance – everyone needs to have a medical certificate. If you have a friend that’s a doctor they can do it for you, or take it to your local GP, or there are a number of walk-in centres where you can pay a bit and get it stamped). After this, there were huge rows of desks for the different start waves – I just walked over, handed up my stamped medical certificate and my “convocation” (a official piece of paper with my name and number on it, printed from the Paris marathon website in advance) and received my race number, with timing chip.

From there, we were handed free rucksacks at the next desk and found our names on the wall of runners.

Then there was a desk that said “information / changes”. Again, no need to queue, I went up and asked if I could change my start wave to an earlier one. I no longer had sub 4 as my goal, but a slightly harder goal in mind…. This was very easy and a different colour sticker was placed on my race number.

Finally into the expo proper which was HUGE! The best I have been to. There was just everything you could imagine there. First I went into the Asics store which was the first time I had to queue, to have my free pace band printed. I ordered this online before, you could put in any pace you wanted. Then to buy a race t-shirt, €25 but it was buy-one-get-one-free which was great given both mum and I wanted one! And they were nice Asics tops too. And then we just kept shopping. I came away with a new sports bra and a handheld water bottle for race day.

Expo done, we jumped in an Uber back to our hotel. I read my book on the sun in the Tuilleries for a bit and then we went for an early dinner on the Champs de Elysee. We wanted pasta and I found an Italian restaurant that turned out to be absolutely lovely. Amazing food – relatively small portions which was good so we didn’t feel absolutely stuffed afterwards and I had a really nice glass of wine (I have one glass the night before every race and its never done me any harm!). Then it was early to bed.

Race day

I woke up at 7.30 for a race start at 8.55am. I had brought my own porridge so had that with a banana before making my way to the start line. This was a 5 minute walk from Pershing Hall and so I was very quickly in the corrals. There were long queues for a very few toilets but as I had only just been back in the hotel I decided not to stand in the queue. Mistake number 1! I found a pacer and stood near him. I wanted to check what pace he would be running at and he said 7.19 (in French, he spoke no English). I was so confused – a 3.45 marathon is not 7.19 pace! I couldn’t understand and he couldn’t explain due to the language barrier so I just decided not to run with him. Mistake number 2 as throughout the race he did seem to be running at 3.45 pace but I had started slightly in front of him.

We set off and almost immediately I needed the loo so ducked into the Tuilleries to hide behind a bush. This put me off slightly as immediately I was down on my time goal by 30-40 seconds, which built up in my mind to be a big deal. The route was gorgeous, down past the Louvre and all of Paris’ huge old buildings. Although I got very annoyed at stupid tourists trying to cross the zebra crossing into the Louvre and just walking right across in front of the runners!

Then we came to the first aid station – these were every 5-6km but only had water other than at the 30km mark. They were only on one side of the route and were on different sides each time which meant they were very busy and it was almost impossible not to slow down as you tried to grab bottles of water, oranges or bananas. As I usually do, I just took water at the aid stations until the half way mark when I began taking orange segments.

Around 10 miles we came into the first park. I really enjoyed this bit – the park was beautiful with a few downhills and a still, early morning feel. There were lots of non-marathon runners out on the path, it looked like a great place to run if you live in Paris.

Then it was back into Paris, through a residential area and then down to the road that ran along the Seine. There was lots of support here – too much for me as the spectators were lining the road, narrowing the space for runners and making it difficult to overtake people. They were even on top of the green line that marks the shortest route. I started this bit feeling good and ended it feeling awful.

This section involved 3 tunnels with short but steep climbs out. The first tunnel was the longest and not particularly nice to run through – it was very dark. On the other hand, at least it was out of the sun. The second was shorter, with loud music and flashing lights, which gave me a burst of energy. Then the third, also shorter, had blue light and relaxing music like you’d get in a spa which made me laugh and distracted me.

The good thing about running faster and concentrating on the time was that the marathon passed by much faster than previous marathons. I was quickly at the half way point (or so it felt) and I didn’t have my usual lull between miles 14-18 (you’ve run so far, and still so far to go!).

I still felt good passing 30km, at which point a “wall” lined the route with loud music playing and a sign saying “you’ve come through the 30km wall!”. This was also the only aid station with an energy drink. The sun was beating down, there was no shade, I was so, so hot. I was starting to slip away from my time goal – I was trying to hold onto it but at every mile I was still 30 seconds behind and getting further.

Then around mile 22ish we came into the final park and had to run over cobbles. I had run out of water and I was so thirsty. My time just kept slipping away and I realised I wasn’t going to make 3.45. I also felt awful. Almost immediately after it was hard to remember how awful I felt… I remember I felt like I was getting chills and was worried I was really dehydrated and going to be ill. I walked over one cobbled section and that was the start of me giving up mentally – it was the first time I had ever walked in a marathon. I just remember thinking that I felt so awful – but I do not remember how bad I actually felt, if that makes sense?!

The park was beautiful and shady and would have been lovely had I not been feeling so rubbish. There were people everywhere in worse shape than me. I could hear ambulances and see people lying on the side of the path or in agony with cramp. I ran very slowly and walked some of the last bit until the last two miles when I tried to give it all I had – which wasn’t much. In the final turn, with the finish line in sight, one girl’s legs just went from under her and didn’t seem able to support her weight anymore.

I crossed the line in 3.51 and hobbled slowly forward. I felt like i was surrounded by zombies. I grabbed some bottles of water – still nothing but water to drink – and lots of orange pieces and pretzels for the salt. I lay with my legs up against the railings for ages watching the carnage around me.

The aftermath

After half an hour or so I got up, immediately feeling so much better. I grabbed more pretzels and made my way out of the finish area, buying a diet coke and a hotdog at the end. That coke was so good! I lay on a nearby spot of grass waiting   for mum to finish.

She, like me, had been undone by the heat and hadn’t met her goal, particularly put off by seeing a guy get CPR at mile 16. But we both agreed it was an awesome course if the weather was better. We walked back to the hotel, showered and went out for a very late lunch. I felt fine at first, barely sore at all. It was only after lunch I started to seize up.

Looking back…

I made my peace before the end of the race with not reaching my goal – even a month ago 3.45 would not even have been a goal so there’s no reason to be disappointed with a 21 minute PB! Of course afterwards you are always thinking whether you could have tried harder, especially as I’ve never walked in a marathon before. But at the end of the day, you do the best you can do on the day and there’s no point in worrying about it after the event!

I would really recommend Paris marathon but perhaps not if you have a big time goal in mind. It was so busy so I did a lot of weaving around people and I would have appreciated energy drinks on the course (even though I don’t usually use them). Being in April there is also always the risk of it being far too hot!

Three things I did well:

  1. Running really strong until mile 20 – attempting to stay sensibly just above the goal pace, not racing anyone, just running my own race.
  2. Remembering to take my nutrition all the way through – I never felt nauseous and alternated sis gels and shot bloks as planned.
  3. Pouring water over myself at any opportunity to try to cool down (although it didn’t really work!)

Three things I need to work on:

  1. Liquids – it was too hot for just water and I started getting worried I had too much water and too few electrolytes. I should have taken some salt or electrolyte tabs and used those, and I should have drunk more water from the start.
  2. Mental energy – even though I had missed my 3.45 goal, if I had had more mental strength I could have held on for sub 3.50 I think. But never mind!
  3. Not enjoying it enough by focusing on the time goal rather than just running a good race. I normally don’t particularly care about my time, and going into the race would have told you I didn’t really mind. But for some reason I got caught up in it in the moment and it affected my enjoyment of the race which was silly. We only do this sort of thing for fun anyway!!


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