I am exhilarated. Yesterday I ran – and completed – the Marathon du Medoc.
To run any marathon for the first time would rank as a great life experience, but the fact that this was the Medoc Marathon, with a 42.195 km route taking runners through some of the world’s most famous vineyards, made this extra special for me as a wine nut.
The night before the race our team – team Pichon – gathered at the chateau for a pasta dinner, washed down with some good wine and a 1964 colheita from Noval. I couldn’t sleep after this: I was too nervous.
It was an early start, and we headed to Pauillac at 0830, parked, and made our way to the race line. We waited here quite a while as the start wasn’t until 0930. Unlike other marathons, there was no pen system; you just decided where you wanted to start. The atmosphere was great, with over 8000 people, many of who were in fancy dress. The theme this year was science fiction.
With three minutes to go I was suddenly extra nervous. This was the first time I have run with more than two other people, and a number on my bib. I had never run even close to marathon distance before. Help!
Then we were off. Really slowly at first: there was severe bunching and the first couple of kilometres were at a very leisurely pace. I was happy with this. The adrenalin was pumping and I knew that the temptation would be to start too fast. After a short while there were just three of our team running together: Christian Seely, Axl Probst and I (the others had gone ahead) . We were running at a speed that meant we could chat.
At 6 km we stopped for our first wine break. A feature of the Medoc marathon is that it takes you through chateau where you can get water, food, wine and be entertained by (mostly) bad bands. The quality of the wine is an indication of the meanness or generosity of the chateau owner. Some pour oxidised pressings, others offer their second wine, while phelan segur almost at the end pours their grand vin.
After this, we picked up our pace a bit, running through the vineyards and overtaking people in elaborate costumes. A few more stops followed, including pichon at km 18 and lynch bages at 20. I was drinking plenty of water, adding rehydration salts, and a little wine. The temperature was ideal at around 20 C, but I was still sweating a lot.
Axl and Christian stopped at km 21, the half way point (as they had intended to; they hadn’t been able to train properly) and so I was on my own. Up to this point I felt fine and the running had been easy.
It was in the mid-20s that I had to begin working. I was beginning to feel my hips and outer thighs. By km 30 there was pain. I stopped for a short break at a drink station and then carried on. Fortunately the pain receded. It made a few brief reappearances, but it could be managed by a short spell of walking each time.
It was in the high 30 kms that I began to experience a burst of exhilaration, like a shiver, that energised me. I also began to feel almost overcome by emotion. Suddenly I was running again, at a decent pace. At 39 km it was just 3 to go, and the finish line didn’t seem far away. The food stops were getting more exotic: there was an oyster stop, and then an entrecôte stop.
I ran towards the finish line filming as I went, and with all the stops I’d made along the way, I was thrilled not only to have finished, but also to have got a better time than I was expecting (5 h 18 m). Yes it was slow, but this was my first marathon, and I hadn’t trained enough. Finishing was my goal. I felt so happy and euphoric. I had no blisters, no chafing, no pain.
After collecting my medal/bottle of wine/commemorative bag, I then had to find my car. The last thing you feel like after running for over 5 hours is a 20 minute trawl through Pauillac back streets looking for your vehicle. But I found it, eventually, could drive it (a pre- race concern) and I headed back to Pichon, a bit stiff but thrilled to have enjoyed this great life experience. As I write, a day later, I am very happy to report no ill effects other than stiff thighs and hips.
A film of my run: