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Thursday 11 April 2013

Paris Marathon 2013 - Race Report ... needing a 26 mile wee, an invisible Alex and a personal portaloo...

Today was the day. The alarm went off at 5.30am after what felt like an hour’s sleep. But today it wasn’t a nuisance ... it was a call that something amazing was going to happen today. After 16 weeks training, today was the day. All the midnight runs, the miles in the snow, the times I’d had to climb into my running gear when I’d wanted to climb into bed instead. Today was my reward for all of those miles.

I’d had some new running bands printed to go with my others that were specially for France

New bands: "1 min ,3:30 = 1 creme egg" and "1800 wanted this"

We were all meeting downstairs at 7.30am and we were getting taxis to the Asics area near the finish line. It was such a treat being in the warm in the Asics lounge at the start rather than shivering in the cold. AND we had our own loo. We decided we had finally made it. This may be the pinnacle of our running careers. Our very own portaloo. Get us!

Us all milling around by the taxi.

We left a bit later than we should have as once we left that was it. We were on our way. I started to leave then realised under my pre-race jacket, bin bag and poncho, I didn’t have my race number on. Face palm. Undressed again, pinned number on, dressed again. Sigh.

Nerves kicking in ...

We started walking to the start area in our white matching ponchos, surrounded by 40,000 other runners all dressed in identical ponchos. We looked like we were on our way to sort out a crime scene all dressed in white, wipe-clean outfits. Alex went on ahead as he had a bit further to go to get to his start pen near the front. We passed the baggage area and the Arc de Triomphe and stopped and got a picture of all 3 of us. I would like to reassure everyone looking at the picture that it does in fact say JOGGING on the front, not DOGGING which is what someone commented later ...

Me (left), Ady (middle), Mel (right)

We all started walking in a civilised way to the pens, Mel got to her time pen and disappeared in amongst the crush of runners. Ady and I kept walking and all of a sudden someone started running, then the whole crowd was running. I don’t think there was any rush but it was contagious! We were all in our running gear, about to run for miles and we just wanted to get out there and RUN!

We got to the pen entrance ... and nothing. There seemed to be no way in. The entire pen was jammed solid and no-one was moving. Nothing else for it ... Ady and I pushed and managed to move up the right hand side before we got stuck behind piles of discarded clothes and ponchos. The entire side of the pen was piled high with these. I was worried that it might be a bit of a trip hazard when we started moving but Ady was cool as a cucumber and said we’d be fine. He was right. A happy voice behind us and a lady introduced herself – RacingJules as I later found out!

We started shuffling forward and the start line came into view ... and through! We were off! The surface flying beneath our feet as the road opened out and the crush became less ... briefly! Then back into a crush of people and past supporters lining the sides of the road. Passed a sign being brandished which stated:  “Finishing is your only f*cking option.” Nope. Not finishing. Finishing SUB 3:30, but I appreciate the sentiment!

It was a very crowded course, already in about mile 3 I was passing people doing about a 10 minute mile. Either they’d got into the wrong pen, or they were being VERY optimistic about their negative split. This continued the whole way around the course and it seemed as though people had either no idea of their finish times or had assumed that the pen times were optional and had just aimed for the front.

Ady and I planned to run together as our finish times would be very close as we’d both trained for around 3:30. I’d assured Marathon Coach Steve that I would be sticking with 7:55 – 8 min/miles the whole way, but Ady was aiming a bit quicker and my Garmin was showing 7:45 min/miles which I was a bit concerned about this early on. However, with my pre-race nerves I’d forgotten to programme it for marathon so ended up doing this on the run which might have had something to do with it!

Due to the crowds, I lost Ady around mile 4 but he reappeared just in front of me at around mile 10. He was still going strong so ran with him for a while. Again our Garmins seemed to be showing different times. Mine was showing we were running at about 8:05 min/mile and while I liked having company, I didn’t dare risk it so sped up slightly to bring it back into my time range.

I missed out the first water station. The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies and bright sunshine, but I had run most of my longer training runs without water and knew I was already well-hydrated. The water stations were all mayhem. Although there were clear signs showing where they were, runners were cutting across others and tripping people up and the lids of the bottles hitting the road sounded like dominoes falling. There were plastic bottles and orange peel all over the road and I heard a runner go down behind me. 

I’d heard people say that this route wasn’t well supported but I found it brilliant! People were ringing cowbells and shouting “Allez, allez”. Until about mile 6, I didn’t realise this and misheard it. I thought there must have been a really popular chap called Alex just behind me.

People saw my name on my T-shirt and shouted “Go Sarah!” and “Allez Sarah!” It was fantastic! Runners World had printed some pretty salmon pink vest tops for me and Mel. The front had our names on and ‘Asics Target 26.2’ and the back had ‘Follow Me’ ‘’ .  A French chap overtook me and shouted back “Ha ha! Now YOU’RE following me.” I smiled back at him and thought “I’ll see YOU at mile 20...!”

The en-route entertainment was also brilliant. There were bands and drummers frequently and it really made the atmosphere! I had previously thought marathons were meant to be hard work from beginning to end, but the enthusiasm of the bands and drummers was infectious and I wasn’t the only runner having a quick dance along while running! There were Firemen lining the streets with their firetrucks and at one point a hose arced water across the road cooling down the runners. I was hot but decided that hot was better than blisters and avoided it.

Marathon Coach Steve had told me that the marathon was 2 runs. A 20 mile warmup run and a 6 mile race. I’d heard this before, but when Steve said it, it had really struck home. It really helped as it gave me a countdown. At the halfway point, instead of ‘only’ being halfway, I had 7 miles left to enjoy the trot before I could really let go and get the speed up a bit. I kept thinking like this. The speed was easily maintainable and it really was a comfortable speed. I had all of these people running with me – all of whom also loved running and I would get a big medal at the end of THIS long run! What was there not to like?

My only real potential problem was a toilet stop. I had needed a wee from the beginning, but while there were plenty of urinals at the start taking care of the chaps, there didn’t seem to be any portaloos ... or any time to find any. My Garmin was on average pace per mile and distance, so if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to work out whether I would be on for my time. Right. Think positive. I’d once been stuck on the M1 for 7 hours needing a wee. This wasn’t as long as that and I didn’t have to go to work at the end of this. Positive thoughts. My evil conscience reminded me I wasn’t running on the M1, I was sitting down in the car but I ignored it. And sure enough by about mile 10 I’d forgotten all about it.

I knew that this was a truly International marathon and about 5,000 of the 40,000 runners were Brits. It was lovely seeing the different club vests and the familiar charities. I saw a chap running for the Dorset Doddlers and we had a brief chat (he lived about 15 mins from where I’d grown up!), Eynsham AC, Reading Roadrunners and a Bristol club vest.

When I got to Mile 20, I decided it was time to up the speed. I’m not very good at running the same speed for a long time – treadmills are my idea of HELL – and it was nice to be able to change the speed a bit. I also knew that this was the 2nd part of the run and as soon as I entered the woods – Bois de Boulogne - at mile 21.5 I was on the home stretch. The woods were beautiful and although the support wasn’t as much here, it was lovely to run under the trees. I also found the route mostly downhill which is always a nice treat when you’re running home.

I ran out of water at about mile 22 but didn’t like to throw the bottle away and I carried it as comfort almost to the finish line. I find us runners can be a superstitious lot, this bottle was empty but what if I got thirsty? I wouldn’t have an (empty) bottle to carry! It really did make sense at the time.

Coming up out of the woods, I’d passed the 25 mile marker and knew I was nearly there. Cyclists had been riding up the pavements, ringing their bicycle bells, ringing us home but this was the toughest mile.  I was looking out for the Arc de Triomphe as I knew the finish was near this but I couldn’t see it through the heat haze. I decided to count. By the time I reached 100, I’d be able to see the finish.

98,99,100 ... Arc de Triomphe? No. Bugger. 200 then ....
198, 199, 200 ... Arc de Triomphe? No. Bugger. 300 then ....

I got to nearly 350 before I saw the finish. It was very low so although I’d been reasonably close I hadn’t seen it ... and the Arc de Triomphe was nearly a mile behind it. OK. I’m probably not the best person to ask for directions.

Crossed the finish line. The lady beside me burst into tears. It just felt surreal. After all of this build up, all of the training, 557.2 miles run and 117 hours of training ... this was it. I had crossed the finish line.

A package was thrust into my arms containing a blue plastic poncho and an electric green finishers T-shirt. I walked forward a few steps and a rotund and enthusiastic French chap placed a medal around my neck and then kissed me on both cheeks and congratulated me. A wonderful French finish to a wonderful French marathon. 

I had no idea of my time as I’d had to restart my Garmin and the timer on the finish gantry wasn’t working. The tracking app hadn’t updated my time so it was all a bit of a mystery. I decided to get back to the Asics area and sort it all out there. The Asics area was next to the start line, right? I started walking towards the Arc de Triomphe. Luckily before I got there I got a “where are you?” phone call. Yep. I was walking the wrong way. Asics was next to the FINISH line. Nearly 2 miles later I was walking the right direction and the cramp that had threatened my arse had disappeared. See. There can be bonuses to having absolutely no sense of direction. You get to walk off cramp.

All of a sudden, a vision in a blue poncho was calling my name! Richard Langton came over and introduced himself saying he’s been following the forum. It was a lovely surprise and he had done really well and enjoyed the course too.

I got to the Asics area still wearing my blue poncho. Alex and Shady Ady were already there .. and I was being congratulated. My time had appeared on the tracking application – I was sub 3:30!

... in fact was 3:25:06 !!

I may be slightly excited in this picture ...
Decided the only way to celebrate was on the roof of the Asics building with a very cold beer. We all headed up into the sunshine and watched the finishers pour over the finishing line.

What now? There was no more training schedule ....

Couldn't remember the last time I'd had a beer ...

I would worry about that tomorrow. Tonight we celebrate. 

Avg 7:24 min/mile

1.       7:51
2.       7:46
3.       7:51
4.       7:56
5.       7:54
6.       8:01
7.       7:51
8.       7:51
9.       7:51
10.    7:47
11.    7:48
12.    7:45
13.    7:48
14.    7:48
15.    7:43
16.    7:45
17.    7:18 (Time slightly wrong as Garmin confused by underpasses)
18.    7:57 (Time slightly wrong as Garmin confused by underpasses)
19.    7:48
20.    7:32
21.    7:43
22.    7:46
23.    7:31
24.    7:13
25.    7:27
26.    7:15 (0.71 mile)

Note: Garmin had to be re-set about 1/2 mile in


  1. Awesome race report RRR!!! Where do you get your running bands printed? I had one after the Berlin marathon and went to the adidas store to get my number engraved on it- was very cool with fire to do the branding :-)

    1. Thanks Angela! Glad you liked it! Was so nice to write it and remember the good bits!

      I get the sports bands from here: They've always been great but the bands take a couple of weeks to arrive.

  2. GREAT READ as always! you are a legend!

    1. Thanks you! Glad you enjoyed it! See ... told you I had a hugely long post waiting for you! :)

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you! Glad you managed to stay awake through the huge amounts of waffle!! :)

  4. Immense! Brilliant pacing throughout - your hard work in training really paid off... Well done :)

    1. Thank you. I was really pleased with the pacing as it's something I've always found really difficult so nice to see that it wasn't too horrendous! Couldn't quite believe I managed a negative split! That was the icing on the cake!! ... still grinning now!!

  5. Amazing time and great report! I was (substantially) behind you, but loved reliving the experience through a fast person's eyes. :)

    1. Thank you!! Glad you enjoyed the report! Didn't we have perfect weather for it too!! It was very crowded but it was SUCH a goregous route!! Well done on your PB!!! (Does a happy dance for MedalSlut!!)

  6. I never had any doubt!!!! great run, great post, just great! :)

    1. Aww ... thanks Paul! I didn't feel so certain standing on the start line!! :)

  7. Yay, go runny run run, go run Boston!!!!

    1. Thank you!! For a moment there, I thought you meant run TO Boston ... I'm easy to confuse. :) Can't believe I've got a qualifying time!! (Jumps up and down!!)

  8. Great pics. Great write-up.
    Really well done!

    1. Thank you! It was such an AMAZING experience. Feel so, so lucky to have had the chance to run Paris. I'm totally in love with the city now! Want to go back!

  9. Great race report and an even better time - well done you. So, what next?!

    1. Thanks Marie! The time just doesn't seem like mine ... too quick for me! Must have been a mistake ...!

      I've entered the New Forest marathon in the autumn but that's MONTHS away. Totally have hte post-marathon blues right now. Need a silly run I reckon! Any suggestions?

  10. I knew you'd do it, Sarah - well done! Great race report too!

    1. Thank you so much! I wasn't too sure I'd do it, standing on the start line ... but the atmosphere was electric! Was such a fab race!!

  11. Brilliant race report and an even more brilliant race- what amazing pacing and it sounds like you had a really good time too! I knew you'd do it- WELL DONE!!! :) xx

    1. Thank you Sarah!! I had such a nice time! I didn't think marathons were supposed to be enjoyable but this one was AMAZING!! The whole thing from beginning to end was hard work but so, so much fun!!

  12. Bloody well done - you are amazing!

    1. Thank you Millie!! It was such an amazing day ... and the taste of the first beer for MONTHS at the finish line? FANTASTIC!! :)

  13. Fantastic! I had been looking forward to reading that all day!!!! Outstanding achievement, and to be sub 3:30 by over 5 mins is just fabbo! Well done! You earned that with your training and your positivity!

    1. Hee hee ... well I hope it was worth the wait!! Nothing like a big build up!! :) I was so pleased with the time - couldn't believe I didn't know what it was for ages! The silly tracking app didn't update and in my post-marathon confusion I thought I'd maybe forgotten to step over the timing mat or something! :)

  14. You're a machine. I can't say it often enough!!! Amazing job and so well, well, well done. Great recap too. xx

    1. Thank you Jen! ... possibly a creme egg eating machine, yes! :) I've just been given a box of 12 of them as a late Easter present too!! I'm going to have to start running again otherwise I'm going to get a bit porky especially with a new box of 12 and about 10 left in the freezer!! :) Life is goooood.