Thursday, 9 April 2009

Paris Marathon 2009: the first 7 miles

I'd gone into the race with a plan.

I'd made a rudimentary pacing schedule & band with a fairly conservative target for the first few miles but events meant I was behind by almost 3 minutes even after only 4 miles.

The first mile down Champs Elysses was deliberately slow, being passed by eager runners regularly (which was part of the plan) but a toilet stop in the gardens before the Grand Palais meant I was 48 seconds off the pace with an 11.13 opening mile. I'd assumed that the late loo trip before going into the pens would mean I wouldn't 'go' again but a slight urge after the pre-race drinks was too hard to resist - after all it would mean no further delays for toilet stops. Wouldn't it?

On Rue de Rivoli it was all fairly familiar from 2007 but it was still interesting to see the variety of different nationalities in the race, including the 2 rubenesque Swedish girls, one of whom stopped and bent over (not crouched) right in the middle of the street in front of me to do up her shoe lace. It was as if she wanted to play leapfrog. I declined the apparent offer and ran around her.

It was also interesting to see the runners anxiously scooting past as if late for a train. I thought to myself then that I'll pass alot of you later, and I was proved correct. The other group that passed me a little over a mile in were the 4:30 target time 'hares' with their pink flags. Again, I was happy to let them go even though I was aiming to be under 4hrs 30 by a few minutes. Based on my guess of their approach I assumed they'd pull away in my deliberately slow first miles but that around mile 18 I'd catch them up and overtake, and I proved to be sort of right.

Mile 2 was almost bang on the money at 10:30 against the target of 10:25 and mile 3 was a little bit quicker than planned at 10:08 but mile 4 proved a bit of a timing disaster.

I'd planned to walk through the drinks stations as they can be tricky to get through and its easier to drink walking than running anyway so I guzzled down my first gel as I approached the Place de la Bastille station then slowed to a walk while grabbing a water, piece of banana and slice of orange.

As I walked around the corner the whole route was blocked by a bottleneck of runners caused partly by a tight narrow bend and partly by the road there being absolutely full of discarded bottles making it impossible to do anything other than walk very, very slowly and carefully.

Once past I began to check the left hand side of the road to see if the family were there in support. I didn't really think they would be with Bethan being unwell and I was right - she was still being sick well into the morning.

What I did see was the entrance to a car park or closed shopping arcade being used as a toilet by a number of runners and I'm afraid I followed suit. My bladder was grumbling again and once more I thought 'If I go now at least I wont need to go again'. And once again I was wrong.

The time for the second toilet stop, added to the delay at Bastille, meant 12:36 for the 4th mile and I was 2m 36s behind plan. There seemed little point in worrying about the overall time at that point, just concentrating instead on hitting mile goals moving forward but without trying to catch up lost time. What was gone was gone.

The next mile, at 9.52, did just that. It hit target and chipped off a few seconds to boot. It was about this time I made the conscious decision to interact with the crowd - something I had almost scrupulously avoided in 2007 - by clapping the various entertainments and high fiving the kids that lined the route. I seemed to feed off their resultant support and it worked well for me - I even went back for a couple of kids I'd missed at one point!

The 6th mile continued with wide, uncongested boulevards and had a few long but slightly downhill stretches which, all combined with feeling good, led to a faster than planned 9:19 so I made myself slow a little more in the 7th mile, which also included another drinks station, for a 10:36 mile.

I appreciated the down hill sections this year. There aren't many slopes at all on the route but this year the uphills caused no bother but I found the downhills a real boost, psychologically at least.

As I walked out from the second drinks station I heard a call from Andy who was just overtaking me. He'd started a little behind me but despite my running a couple of brisker miles was going serenely past. I suspect I passed him back shortly afterwards but didn't see him and I subsequently found he'd felt the later stages hard work, but he'll have learned from the experience and will come back far better.

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