10 September 2011
This is undoubtedly one of the more interesting races on the calendar. You hear a lot of hype about it, and some scathing cynics who say its ‘not a real marathon’. As Jim Groark and I can testify, it bloody well is. There are a couple of things to get straight about this race, and that is you will get out of it what you put into it, and it puts into you. From our arrival in France Jim and I, with Alexia in support, put in a couple of good shifts to make sure we could take the local wine. Tough work, but someone had to do it. This year’s theme was animals and we opted for heavy cow suits with kilts added for extra weight. We tested these out the night before to ensure fit and comfort – they were neither really! Moreover, the unexpected issue of heat came up. On the Friday when we went up to Pauillac to register on the Friday, the temperature went over 30 degrees. Shit.
So we had to console ourselves by testing the wines on offer from the various chateaux before suffering an hour and a half train ride back to Bordeaux where the temp in the carriage rose significantly higher – it was crowded with runners heading back to the big smoke. Nothing for it but a large pasta meal and another couple of bottles just to make sure our bar fitness was up to the task ahead. We’d be getting picked up at 6.30 am by Lesley Graham so we binned the session at midnight.
No problem getting up – I never sleep the night before a marathon, and this was no exception. Got up about 5.30 and put on the cow suit and the kilt. Ate my breakfast with Jim and Lex while it was still dark outside. Then the drive up watching the sunrise. In the car we discussed tactics. We decided to aim for a Personal Worst. Jim had a c.5hour at the Mount Everest Marathon so we set that as a minimum, with the hope of stretching it out to six hours if possible.
Once back in Pauillac the party atmosphere was already underway when we got there c. 8 am. Stopped to watch France in the Rugby world cup for a moment while drinking some strong coffee. Also started the hydration process, After Edinburgh last year my strategy was to drink every drop of water I could get hold of. I was pissing sweat already and in the hour and a half wait for the race, I sank a litre of water – not something I’d advise before a ‘normal’ marathon.
The build-up was fabulous with mime artists on stilts and gymnasts on ribbons descending over the crowd. Many of the costumes were token. A t-shirt with an animal on it or a hat with ears. Others were nothing to do with the theme – loads of French maids costumes (some disturbingly worn by men); many dressed as Scotsmen (discuss), and some were just weird. But others had put a lot of work into the costumes. Jim and I were undoubtedly in the heavier suits, but not the heaviest – that honour either goes to the English guy in the gorilla suit, or more likely the dude in the full brown bear outfit.
After the gun went the fun began. The first wine stop came after 0.6 miles. Our decision was to take every wine on offer – a feat we pulled off rather well. This is without a doubt the best supplied race for food, water and obviously wine. We learned after that many folk don’t touch the wine on the way round, others sip it but most take a fair few.
The running went well – mixing the wine consumption with drinking loads of water – we reckon we drank over 4 litres of water each on the way round, and you didn’t have to go more than a couple of km before you knew you’d get some. And then there was the food – sandwiches, steak, oysters, cheese, pate and fruit – all in abundance. But we were here both to run and drink the wine. We hit the half way mark in 2hrs 16 mins and 4 sec – a presentable time at the best of times, but in the heat, suits and numerous wine stops, we realised we were going to fast to hit the PW. Being in danger of finishing in a presentable time we decided to slow it down and take longer at the wine stops and enjoy the lovely Medoc scenery.
A French family had put out their own booze and I was offered a dram of Scotch – Old Jock’s Scrotum, or some similar delight, and a ‘house dram’ at that. I only took it to be polite as I was told it gave us strength – totally vile! Despite our best efforts we were still running strongly, so at around the 23 mile mark we decided something had to be done. So we sat down at a particularly lovely chateaux and watched the world go by. We took a second glass – it was that good. From here on in, it was to be double wines and loads of food. We got through 26.2 miles at c. 5hrs and a minute, but the bastards added an extra half mile (according to the Garmin). Well they do say it is the longest marathon in the world. Alexia ran out of the crowd a few hundred meters later and then we turned for the final stretch. We crossed the line officially after 5 hrs 4 mins – a joint, and well-earned PW, and one to be savoured.
Loads of great crack at the finishing line, many in disbelief we’d completed so well in our now soaking costumes. Beer – lovely cold beers.
Due to the heat they had extended the finishing time to 7 hours and in fairness we had seen many people being loaded into ambulances. Some 7,000 of us made it to the end – many were stopped at the 13 mile mark for being too slow and they really did close the gates on those who were just over the seven hour mark.
After 2 hours in the sun (still in cow suits) drinking beer we changed and headed back to Bordeaux. We sat on the veranda sipping a final bottle of Medoc, before a well-earned sleep – well needed before the big Sunday round at Lesley’s – but that is not a running story.
So was it worth it? Totally. This was the easiest marathon I’ve run in terms of not feeling tired or feeling pain. Neither Jim nor I felt any ill-effect from drinking during the race (sweated it all out nae doubt) and we both marvelled at the spectacle all the way round. The chat from fellow runners was brilliant and I put this down not just as one of my favourite running events, but one of the best events I have participated in of any sort. Simply a great day out.