Don’t feed the runners

Prawns, food of choice for Paris marathon runners

Like Marcel Proust with the taste of tea and madeleines that whisked him back to blissful childhood, I’ve been having food-influenced flashbacks to the Paris Marathon two months ago.

The new running blog on the Irish Times website, Body and Sole, mentions a race that included a roadside stall offering the runners free cake. Free cake! Now that’s usually brilliant news. But during a race…. well, I feel conflicted just thinking about it. (Put the cake stall in the finishing area, and you’d have Olympic qualifying times galore.)

Anyway, this reminded me of the food experience along the Paris Marathon route.

This being Paris, self-styled world capital of gastronomy, you can imagine that the fare was particularly and peculiarly French. At around the four-mile mark, near avenue Daumesnil, we passed bakeries and an open-air food market. Now, it used to be that Sunday morning was when I’d head to the boulangerie to treat myself to a croissant, pain au chocolat and baguette. As the running took me over, I gave up on excess bread. But that marathon morning the warm, fresh aroma from the bakeries was hard to ignore.

However, I rose to the challenge and ploughed on along the road. We runners are made of stern stuff.

Meanwhile, the food market was getting in on the marathon atmosphere. Shoppers, pulling their old-school French shopping caddies, cheered us on and were good enough not to wheel out in front of us. The stallholders nearest the road offered runners some of their wares – fruit, mostly. But one stallholder, looking like a fishmonger in his white coat, was holding a white plastic container with pieces of something pink. I’m quite sure he was offering the runners prawns.

I didn’t take a prawn, nor did I see any other runner who took one. But who would eat prawns during a marathon? Is there some fast-acting boost from seafood? And what if there are only oranges and no lemons at the feeding station?

Further along the marathon route, there were the usual culinary sights and smells of Paris streets – greasy hunks of beef in kebab shops; chickens roasting and turning in rotisseries. Not many Paris spectators were offering sustenance to the runners, compared to the veritable pick n’ mix of sweets brought by the crowd in other races. I remember in the Dublin Marathon, at around 14 miles, passing a woman holding out a plate of Mars bars – and at 15 miles I had an urge to turn back and get one. But again I soldiered on, steadfast against distraction.

Back in Paris, and at mile 22 or so we passed a regular feature of this race – a stand promoting a vineyard marathon in the south-west of France. (It could have been called the Marathon de Medoc, but I’m open to correction.) The people at the stand were offering the runners plastic cups of red wine.

Amazingly, more than a few people took some wine – and almost immediately they regretted it. For one thing, dehydration plus alcohol equals an instant hangover. Also, alcohol hitting an empty stomach is always trouble – one guy staggered a few steps towards a bush and brought up the little he had left in him.

But above all else, red wine doesn’t go with prawns.

Anyway, having got around the 2012 Paris Marathon in a blistering 3:32:10, I made for a table in the finishing area and helped myself to a banana – along with porridge and pasta, the real food of runners. With their prawns and their wine, it seems the Parisians will never really get the hang of this marathon-running lark.

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