The 2012 Paris Marathon this Sunday will be my third time running the race.
Last time, in 2010, I didn’t prepare properly and ended up with my slowest ever result. But my first one, in 2007, is still the fastest of my five marathons to date.
After two years in France I had settled in but still had a sense of adventure about my new life – discovering the city, meeting new people and feeling satisfied at my successful move from Ireland. Everything felt exciting and new.
I can see how this optimism and confidence inspired my preparation for that year’s Paris Marathon. I had run my first marathon over two years’ previously, so I knew I could do it again. This time, it was just a matter of how well I would do it.
I was living just outside Paris and training along the Seine. I ran four or five times a week along my favourite riverside route, usually for an hour and ten minutes without calculating the exact distance. (I reckon it was around 8 miles.)
I only did four long runs, between 8 and 4 weeks before the race – again only measuring by time and not distance, a two-hour run, then two runs of two and a half hours, then a last two hour run. Having not yet discovered track running, I improvised my speed work by running fast and then slow along my normal route.
Also, I gave up bread in the four weeks ahead of that marathon. During this time I was eating pasta for lunch and in the evenings, but I had little or no fresh vegetables in my diet – not something I would recommend.
The race itself, I don’t recall in great detail. It was a sunny morning, so that surely added to my optimism. My only mental wobble was while passing the Suzanne Lenglen court of Roland Garros at around 21 miles, where I remember asking myself “why am I doing this?” But I got over it and ran in for a final time of 3 hours, 27 minutes and 58 seconds – almost half an hour faster than my previous marathon two years earlier.
Even when I lost my mobile phone in the crowd after the race, I got a winning result – someone found it and answered when I called from a friend’s phone, and so I was soon reunited with my telecommunications.
Not everyone had as good a day as I had, though. A colleague of mine, experienced in running half-marathons, tried her first marathon that day. As the unseasonable temperatures climbed to near 30 degrees around noon, many runners were taking two bottles from each water station; drinking one and throwing the other over their heads. This meant that some of the stations near the end of the course simply ran out of water for her and other runners further down the field.
Having missed out on her final water stop, my colleague kept running but began to suffer for it. With only a mile to go, she collapsed and had to abandon the race. Thanks to some timely first-aid assistance she recovered quickly and was soon fit enough to return home.
However, the next day she began to feel stiff and sore all over. Unable to get up from her living room couch, she called a doctor – who promptly had her checked into hospital. Extreme dehydration had caused her kidneys to fail; she ended up in a hospital bed and attached to a dialysis machine for the following six weeks.
The two lessons there are 1) Drink enough water during the race, and 2) Don’t throw other people’s drinking water over your head – use the sponges and basins that are also located at the water station.
This year’s Paris Marathon is on 15 April, just like the 2007 edition. Is there any sign I can read into that? Probably not. Besides, I haven’t left things to mere chance – I’ve tried to follow the 2007 formula for this year’s race, just to see if that particular level of training was the right one for me. I’d love to beat my 5-year-old personal best on Sunday, just to confirm that the good times are now.