We interrupt this blog post for the following announcement:
“Happy 7-year anniversary Pooky Darling! Thank you for an absolutely FABULOUS trip. I love you!”
We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post.
I’m sure no one forgets their first marathon, but the Marathon du Medoc is exceptionally memorable. Perhaps I’ve now set the bar so high — every marathon from this point on will pale in comparison — but I prefer to think this fabulous experience merely assures there’ll be more marathons in my future.
As many of you know, I’ve been planning this trip for more than a year. I read about the Marathon du Medoc in a “Runner’s World” article on the most fun marathons in the world, and given it combines two of our favorite pastimes — running and drinking wine — we were immediately hooked. Add on a few days in Paris and we now had an extraordinary trip to celebrate our 7-year anniversary.
Every article I read raved about the marathon, but I then stumbled across Vince’s blog on last year’s race. Mind you, he too had an incredible time, but temperatures in the 90s and a water shortage diminished the fun (during the first half of the race there was more wine available than water!) I was undeterred, but planned accordingly. I made sure my costume could withstand the heat and I planned on carrying extra water.
The race limits the number of racers to 8,500 — less than a quarter of whom can be from countries other than France. Once I set my mind to something I can’t let it go, so I researched ways of assuring I’d get in this year. Marathon Tours of Boston not only offers a guaranteed entry, they also offer five nights’ stay in a hotel (which can also be especially hard to find during race weekend), along with tickets to the Milles Pate carbo-loading dinner the night before and the 9K recovery walk the day after. The itinerary also included two days of wine tasting at several of the chateaux.
While certainly not a cheap way to go, it sounded like a fun trip (although considering we aren’t “tour people,” I was concerned my darling wouldn’t get as much enjoyment as he would if we were to just go ourselves). Fortunately, my concerns were quickly allayed when we met the group for a 40-minute warm-up run along the Garonne River in Bordeaux on Thursday (there’ll be more on our Bordeaux itinerary in a future post). I think the fact we were all like-minded people (aka crazy runners) helped.
While Weather Underground had been predicting cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70s for race weekend, we were greeted with clear blue skies and temperatures in the high 70s/low 80s. Certainly warmer than I like, but at least there was a steady breeze to cool us down. We loaded unto the buses at 7:30 sharp for the 45-minute ride to Pauillac. Most of us were in costume; there was a group of pirates (five friends celebrating the 50th birthday of one of the women), a bride & groom, a sexy Swiss Heidi, a naughty Catholic schoolgirl sporting 4″ black patent leather stilettos (which were wisely traded out for running shoes for the race) and a bald Brit dressed as, in his words, “a big pink fairy” (who actually ran fast enough to qualify for Boston).
The start of the race truly has to be seen to be believed: 8,500 runners — 95% of whom are in costume — are crammed onto the main street of Pauillac while a live band gets us into the spirit. As I looked around at the various costumes, one thing became readily apparent: French men LOVE dressing as women — the sluttier the better.
The race had a western theme this year, so not only were there several cowboy and Indian costumes, the band was country and western (or at least the French interpretation). The best part? All the songs were in English! As the band sung “May the Circle Be Unbroken” a violinist was suspended from a crane on a circular trapeze that swung high above our heads.
Next up was an acrobat who twirled around with a long sail flowing below her. As we heard the first notes of the next song my darling and I immediately teared up: none other than John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It was truly the best moment of the entire race. Here we were, after more than a year of planning, standing among a throng of crazy costumed runners under a cloudless Bordeaux sky, belting out the words to one of my favorite running songs. Although crossing the finish line certainly was exhilarating, the pain we felt somewhat lessened the elation of finishing our first marathon.
The last song before the starting gun was a rousing rendition of “Oh Susanna.” The band rolled out a large banner with the lyrics so the French — and other non English speakers — could sing along. The acrobat was joined by a man in a sailor hat and they swung above our heads holding a motorized propeller as we ran underneath.
Most races start off slowly, and Medoc was no exception. Thom Gilligan of Marathon Tours advised everyone to work our way as close to the front to avoid the numerous floats, but we only managed to get to the halfway mark.
It took about five minutes to get to the start line, and several more before we could start running. Once running, it seemed we took only a few steps when we came to an abrupt halt: we had arrived at the first wine station (it’s at the 1K mark at a 90-degree bend in the road). Due to the heat I decided I wouldn’t partake too much during the race, so my darling and I wound our way through the throng, dodging several floats. However, it still took 14 minutes to run the first mile.
It was obvious from the start the organizers wanted to make up for last year’s water debacle. It seemed there were water stations every 3/4 mile or so, each not only offering plenty of water to drink and pour over our heads to cool off, but also bananas, sugar cubes, dried apricots and currants. However, there was nary a port-o-potty in sight, so runners were forced to take “le pipi rustique”:
(Now you know what contributes to the Bordeaux terroir. I’m planning on purchasing a case each of the 2007 Lynch-Bages and Larose-Trintaudon considering I helped “water” the vines). 🙂
The crowds along the course were tremendous as well, encouraging us with “Allez! Allez!” Kids lined up to slap our hands and hand out water. There were several live bands (the AC/DC cover band playing “Back in Black” was hilarious; their English wasn’t much better than my French!) as well as people blaring out tunes from portable stereos. It was a nonstop party.
Although the French men didn’t quite get my darling’s costume (running with scissors), the moms and grandmothers along the route surely did. He heard several comment to their kids/grandkids “Il faut pas courir avec des ciseaux!” I figured he’d ditch his cheap orange wig from the get-go, but he wore it the entire way, making it really easy for me to spot him when we got separated. My costume also held up well; while I figured I’d ditch the tights due to the heat, they didn’t pose a problem. In fact, they helped keep my legs relatively clean of dirt (much of the route winds through dusty vineyard trails). The wind kept blowing my hat off my head, but once I turned the the bill around it was fine.
By mile 6 I was ready to try some wine, but only a sip. My darling, meanwhile, had a much heartier taste (he boasted that he planned on trying every single wine, but nixed the idea when he realized how hot it was). I had another at about mile 11-12, and I couldn’t possibly turn down a sip of Lafite-Rothschild (we also stopped for a photo op in front of the chateau).
The parents of one of our good friends live about an hour and a half north of Bordeaux, and her mom wanted to meet us along the route to cheer us on. We picked a chateau at roughly the 30 kilometer mark, however, when we got there she was nowhere in sight. My darling back-tracked to look for her while I took the opportunity to stretch my sore hamstrings and calves. Unfortunately he couldn’t find her, so we soldiered on. Considering how far she had to drive, I felt bad that we missed each other.
By now the sun really started beating down, so rather than drinking the water at each station I just poured it over myself. I didn’t realize until I took a shower later that night I got a nice chafing under my right arm as it rubbed against my wet cotton zebra camisole. Ah, the price we pay!
We had been told the cut-off time for medals was six hours (although that was somewhat in debate; in years past it was 6 1/2). I wanted to take my time and enjoy the surreal atmosphere around me, but I also didn’t want to leave Pauillac empty-handed. Fortunately we were making fairly good time; we anticipated a finish of 5 1/4 hours, if not earlier, despite walking through every water station.
By mile 22 my darling and I both started zoning out; we just wanted to concentrate on finishing. But wait, what’s this? It’s our friend’s mom walking along the side of the road! What a welcome sight. We walked with her for several minutes, and I danced a jig as “Cotton-eyed Joe” played on a stereo nearby. It was just the boost I needed to continue on. I bid my farewell to her (I knew if I stopped too long I wouldn’t be able to start again) while my darling stayed on, saying he’d catch up.
The final 5K stretch of the race runs along the Gironde river and features tastings of ham, cheese, beef and raw oysters. I took a small taste of the beef, but stopped to slurp up a couple of oysters, along with a small glass of white wine. The oysters were wonderfully salty and fortunately did not upset my stomach. My darling caught up with me soon after and we headed toward the finish. Thinking he had a chance to finish in under five hours he sprinted off, promising to meet me at the end for a picture. I questioned his sanity, but figured I couldn’t talk him out of it. However, his body did that job, and I saw him limping along about a mile later.
At this point Garmin registered 26.2 miles, but the finish line was nowhere in sight. At 26.45 miles — with the finish STILL nowhere in sight — I decided to quit looking. Just before the end they were handing out ice cream popsicles; while my darling gulped one down, I grabbed for the water. This proved to be a wise decision.
Finally, at 26.94 miles, it was all over; we finished in 5 hours, 11 minutes, 50 seconds. I received my medal, Medoc backpack and fanny pack, however, when one of the volunteers tried to hand me a bottle of white wine, I said, “Red, please.” Realizing he might not understand, I said, “Vin, vin.” The man looks at me quizzically and says, “Rouge?” Oh yeah, THAT’S what I mean! (I told you my French wasn’t that good).
My darling was true to his word and managed to get a shot of my crossing the finish line. However, he was in pretty sorry shape and wanted to sit down. Apparently the popsicle just didn’t sit well with him.
After a few moments we were ready to hit the celebration tent. It was totally packed, and I soon felt a wave of dizziness. We headed back outside to sit a bit more. Despite all the free-flowing wine, I really craved a nice cold beer. Thank heavens that too was available. After downing our beer we were ready to head to the waiting bus.
Once the first bus filled with returning racers we took off. I looked over at my darling to see he was not faring well. Thinking he could be salt depleted, I asked one of the other runners if we could share her potato chips. She handed us the bag and we wolfed them down (actually I wolfed; my darling took a few meager bites). Within minutes his tummy started to rebel and he found a new use for the empty chip bag.
Once back at the hotel we took a much-needed shower and were soon hobbling down the streets of Bordeaux in search of dinner. Over plates of Senegalese food, we were soon talking about our next marathon adventure. As we were getting ready for bed that evening, I realized I experienced another first: