If you ran the marathon in Paris, Milan or Connemara today, well done. For those of you who were running Seine-side, you can see your Paris Marathon results, photos and videos already on the race website.
As you’ll know if you’ve read here earlier, I’ve run the Paris Marathon three times but I decided to sit out this year’s event. I also decided that, after watching the elite competitors on TV at home, I would pop into the city and watch the rest of the race live.
I was surprised to realise that, for all my years of following athletics and running the 26-miler, this was the first time I had gone to watch a city marathon. And I was even more surprised to find that I enjoyed it greatly – a colourful athletic parade starring all sorts of people.
My viewing point was a quiet street along the route, just after the 20-mile sign. Having left my home just after the women’s winner, Boru Feyse Tadese of Ethiopia, ran in for a new course record of 2:21:06, I got to the course just as the 3 hours 30 minute wave of runners was passing. I had a great view of the race, and I got so caught up in the event that I stayed until the 5 hours 30 minute competitors went by.
The 20-mile mark is the part of the marathon most closely associated with ‘The Wall’, that semi-mythical, quasi-mystical moment when the physical and psychological strain begins to hurt all competitors. In Paris today, many runners seemed to have found The Door and were still running strongly and in good spirits. Others were having the dreaded suffer-fest, and we’ve all had one of those – you can see it in their faces blank with bad vibes. Some people stopped briefly to stretch their cramped legs before setting off again, travelling in hope rather than expectation. As the morning turned to afternoon, so more of the competitors were walking instead of running.
I was struck by the amount of Paris Marathon competitors wearing inappropriate clothing. Granted, the weather was particularly cold despite the bright sunshine – but their cotton T-shirts and tracksuit tops were already soaked in sweat long before mile 20, weighing down the runner and promising great affliction by the dreaded chafing. Also, camel-pack water backpacks might be essential kit on an isolated mountain trail, but they are surely unnecessary in a city marathon with water stations every 5 kilometres – I saw a few runners at mile 20 wheezing under the weight of their camel-pack, while others cruised by carrying a small bottle.
And then there was a runner wearing a model of the Eiffel Tower! But that was the familiar sight of Michel Bach, a regular at marathons around the world. I’ve seen him every time I’ve run the Paris Marathon, and I was happy to see him from the sidelines this year.
Perhaps because they weren’t wearing large models of famous landmarks, I didn’t see the two friends of mine who were running in this year’s race. However, I was glad to see plenty of Irish runners, identifiable by the nationality printed on all the race numbers. So, I made sure to give plenty of encouragement in English and let them know that a compatriot was cheering them on. Some were surprised to hear a random Irish accent shouting at them, but most were happy and managed a smile and a word of thanks. One Irish girl was having a bad day – tears bubbled down her face as she walked by, but she was still smiling through it all.
It being Paris, there were some stereotypically Parisian moments of short-tempered unfriendliness. One male French runner seemed to be narked by my cheering and clapping; he turned to me and said “Hey, could you clap any louder?” Another pair of runners behaved like Paris drivers – one cut blithely in front of another, who hollered at him in great indignation.
And some of the Parisians not running were even colder. From the times I ran the race, I can tell you that there isn’t a great atmosphere along most of the Paris Marathon route. Many of the spectators near me didn’t make any sound at all; they just stood and watched in silence. A French lady heard me shouting to an Irish runner and said to her companion: “I should have known that the only person cheering the runners would be an English speaker!”
Parisian tempers became even more frayed when it came to crossing the route. One family, pushing bikes, were led across and through the field by an impatient father who kept declaring angrily “We’re crossing! We’re crossing!” while having his back turned to the oncoming runners as a gesture of non-discussion. An elderly man was particularly angry at the disruption – arriving at the other side after great difficulty, he vented his spleen at me: “If I had a machine-gun they wouldn’t be running any more!”
But none of this narkiness spoiled my day. I enjoyed my first experience of a marathon from the sidelines. That said, I won’t be making a habit of not taking part.