Sunday morning arrived all too quickly for my liking, yet I ignored my weariness and desire to turn over and sleep some more, and sprang out of bed and into the shower, before heading downstairs for breakfast. After wolfing down a buffet of crusty bread, cheese and fruit, washed down with two cups of coffee, we set out to the half-marathon starting line, chatting excitedly in an attempt to dissipate our ever-increasing nerves. Our trusty supporters, Kristin and Vicky, rolled their eyes as Priscilla and I discussed an array of race-day-tactics such as the importance of eating bananas and pacing, and other, (I admit), extremely boring subjects for anyone other than a runner.
As we arrived at Chateau de Vincennes, the starting point, we were met with an air of super-charged commotion. 30,000 runners were taking part in the race, and we were caught up amongst the melee of music and shouting and tannoy announcements and people dashing from one place to the next.
We all simply stared at each other and smiled.
As the starting time neared, Priscilla and I took to our ‘pens’ like lambs to the slaughter. I was squashed in between some serious runner-types and I don’t think they took to kindly to me dancing around to the music in a bid to stay warm:
The starting airhorn was blown, and the crowd of runners moved forwards slowly like a rolling wave – sweeping me along effortlessly in the flow. The bright, orange, plastic ponchos that were given to each runner in their goodie bags the day before at the race-expo, I presume to keep them warm pre-race, were strewn all over the floor and I struggled as they caught up around my feet:
Once over the start line, Priscilla and I happily chatted for the first 2 kilometres or so, as we ran through the Bois de Vincennes, a wooded area that wound its way towards the 12th arrondissement of the city. At around 3 kilometres, feeling strong and encouraged by Priscilla to go on ahead of her, I picked up pace, passing the 5 kilometre water station without stopping and continued onwards. I smiled at the old lady waving a handkerchief from the window of her Parisian apartment at the throng of runners below, and reminded myself to remember these moments as the kilometres rushed by in a steady but heady haze.
As the 10 kilometre marker approached, the crowds whooped and hollered, encouraging those who had started to lag. “Allez, allez!”, they shouted, and I felt my race quicken, my legs still feeling light and able to carry me over the next 11 kilometres. As I ran briefly along the Seine, I realised that Notre Dame was up ahead, and I took a moment to marvel at the beauty of such magnificent architecture and the entire experience as a whole. It’s so easy, when running a race, to forget your whereabouts, to become almost insular, cut off from everything going on around you. When I caught sight of Notre Dame, it brought it all back, I was in Paris, one of the most interesting and cultural cities in the world, and I was running a half marathon with tens of thousands of other people! I grinned from ear to ear.
As I turned the corner towards the Place de la Bastille, my beaming grin slowly turned into a grit-toothed grimace as I noticed the incline ahead. I mumbled to myself about hating hills, but dug in, swinging my arms back and forth to power ahead. It was shortly after this stage of the race that I noticed a large amount of, quite frankly, idiotic pedestrians, who attempted to cross the road on which we were running, causing chaos in doing so. One woman, impatient at having to wait for a gap in the crowd, confidently stepped out in front of a pack of 5 or so runners, sending them sprawling and consequently causing the runners behind them to brake quickly.
At 17 kilometres, as I neared the final stretch of the race, Kristin text me, concerned. Before I had set off, I had told her to be at the finishing line for a certain time, and it was now much later:
It was at this point that I felt my body beginning to tire. My legs were like lead and I started to experience the knowing dull ache in the arch of my left foot, plagued for months by a painful case of plantar fasciitis. Although I only had 4 more kilometres to go, the finish line seemed a million miles away. Energy levels depleting, I resorted to the mind-tricks I had practiced in my training, concentrating on a marker in the distance such as a lamppost and then picking out another once I had reached it. I fared well for 3 more kilometres using this tactic, only to reach the 20 kilometre marker, weary of the lamppost game. I allowed my mind to wander, taking in the sights and sounds around me, filling my lungs with fresh air and exhaling slowly. I thought of my Mum, and how much I missed her. I realised with a heavy heart, that it would have been her birthday in two days time. Although it hurt, I granted myself a moment to imagine what life would be like if she was still here. Salty tears pricked at my eyes before they rolled down my cheeks. I wiped them away quickly, before another set made a hasty descent, and this time, I chose to just let them flow.
As the 500 metre marker came into view, I remembered to keep left, as per Kristin’s text message, and scanned the crowd for her face. I heard her before I saw her, she was shouting my name so loudly!
I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 10 minutes, tired, happy and a tad concerned that in a months time, I’ll be running double the distance in the London marathon, something I mentioned to Kristin as we walked to meet Priscilla. “Pfff, 42 kilometres? Easy. You’ll do it. No problem”, she replied as she swept her arm around my shoulders and pulled me in close for a congratulatory hug.