So my last blog was 18 months ago about the disappointment of crashing and burning at the New York Marathon. And in that blog I said: “I want to remember how I feel now so I can savour my next marathon success.”
Well I’m pleased to say that that day has come. Two weeks ago, I completed the Paris Marathon in 3:34 – exactly an hour quicker than New York!
And just as I captured the disappointment of New York, I thought I better savour the success this time round.
Going back 18 months - by the time I travelled to New York for a second time, I was a bit marathoned out. I had been continuously training for marathons for two years (4 marathons) and I was far less motivated training for the (second) New York Marathon than for my previous attempts.
But a year later, and with the usual ‘I’m past it’ crisis on my 31st birthday, I was ready to have another go.
I had kept reasonably fit after doing my first triathlon in the summer (great fun), and started running again in December. I 'got more structured after the New Year and started doing three runs a week including one threshold run.
Jenna had preached the benefit of threshold running after going on a BHF training course, and I put the 7 minutes I gained in Paris purely down to doing these runs.
I was much more motivated to do the training as well – apart from 10 days off to recover from an injured foot – I think I missed one run in the whole of the training phase.
With four weeks to go, I clocked up 22 miles with some left in the tank. And with three weeks to go I did the Reading Half Marathon in 1:34. I knew I was as fit as I had ever been before a marathon.
Paris and prep
In Paris, we stayed in a lovely Bed and Breakfast run by a retired Parisian man called Emmanuel. He had done the marathon a few times in the early 1980s and said he was living through me in spirit as a fellow runner.
Such was his enthusiasm, he got up at 6am to put on a breakfast of coffee, cereal, French bread, fruit and yogurt on race day. I was well prepared.
Down at the start, the set-up was so much simpler than New York, despite around 50,000 people taking part. I showed up about 30 mins before the start, dropped my bag off easily and trotted up to the start – no 5 hours of waiting at the start line.
The marathon route is great as well – I feel like European marathons have the most interesting routes. The route starts in front of the Arc De Triomphe on the Champs Elysees, running past the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and in to a park to the East of the City.
It then turns back on itself, and goes along the Seine taking in views of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and finishes on the other side of the Arc De Triomphe. The atmosphere feels quite relaxed – many areas don’t have barriers and people are shouting “Aller, Aller, Bravo, Bravo.” It felt much gentler on my ears than some of the loud cheer-leading I’ve heard elsewhere, but equally as encouraging.
On your marks
In terms of the run itself, I actually felt awful in the days leading up to the marathon – really breathless. But by the time I got to the start line I was feeling much better and felt good for the first 10k – which I passed at about 3:30 pace.
I passed halfway in just shy of 1:47 and entered in to what I think is the most important part of the marathon – miles 13-18. I always feel like it’s in these miles that you will find out whether you’ve misjudged your pace and you’re going to crash or if you’re going to have enough in your legs to maintain your pace.
I felt like my legs were getting heavier but got a second wind around mile 18 at which point I knew I could keep going until the end. I actually sustained the same pace for the last 30 kms, which I think is the most satisfying part of a good marathon.
The one thing that might have slowed me down slightly was the weather – it had been gloriously hot in Paris in the week of the marathon and by the end I was getting thirsty well before the water stations. I also got some nasty sunburn across my shoulders.
I was able to maintain my pace from mile 18-24 and even finish with a bit of a flourish in the last couple of miles, cheered on by the biggest crowds of the day through the last bend.
I wouldn’t say I crossed the line in frenzied joy – more relieved that I had been able to run it in a time I thought I deserved. Even though I was disappointed with my first marathon, I still think there is no way of re-creating the feeling of finishing your first one.
As soon as I did cross the line though, the pain set in. I literally hobbled through the finish area, picking up my medal, an orange and a bottle of water and moving at snail’s pace to meet Jenna under the Arc De Triomphe.
So, what are my thoughts a few weeks on?
Now is the time for reflection, and it's much more positive than 18 months ago...
- I want to do the London Marathon and have already entered the ballot for next year. Having watched it for so many years, if I could only do one marathon for the rest of my life, it would be London
- If I do another marathon, I want it to be under 3:30. I feel like I’ve got about as fast as I can using my rule of 3 runs a week, so next time I will make sure I feel fresh enough to commit to upping that a bit and putting in the work to break the 3:30 mark. Having an 18 month break between this marathon and the last definitely made the training easier mentally, so a bit of a break is no bad thing.
- Threshold running is extremely valuable. Again, I think there is only so far you can get if you do 3 runs a week, and this time I definitely used these runs more effectively. I felt the benefit of the threshold running almost immediately.
- Doing the Paris Marathon has definitely put to bed some of the demons of the New York Marathon, and I’m actually starting to feel a bit more proud of completing it. The time sounds a lot worse in my head then it is in reality
- And following on from that, I’ve learnt that whatever time I do, I’ll never be satisfied. I look at the numbers afterwards willing them to be lower and it always seems like the majority of people I see have run quicker. I just think this is the way that I’m wired – at least I wasn’t devastatingly disappointed this time, which I think means it was a success.