Allez allez! Bravo!

Photo from the Schneider Electric/ASOChallenges website

I ran a marathon this past Sunday, in Paris. Before you get too impressed, you should know that a man dressed as Scooby Doo beat me, as did a somewhat portly Spiderman… and just about everyone else. Here are a few of my highs and lows, so that you don’t have to run 26.2 miles (42.195 km) to experience the wonder of the Paris Marathon.

High: The course, which you can see on the map below, was beautiful. It took me through the spring streets of Paris and the two large parks on either end. I had never been in the Bois de Vinciennes or the Bois du Boulogne- both seemed enchantingly woodsy and wild in comparison to the symmetrical, manicured French formal gardens and squared-off trees I’m used to seeing in Paris. I’ll admit that the City of Light has never swept me off my feet, but crossing it this way and seeing it in all of its spring glory finally made me swoon.

Low: The starting line. More than 40,000 people. A total of approximately 15 portable toilets and 50+ plastic urinals in the open air. It’s not socially acceptable or especially practical for us ladies to whip it out in the middle of a crowd like the guys were doing (nor is every guy comfortable doing so…), so thanks a lot for the consideration, Paris Marathon.

High: For me, the excitement of the race was heightened by the strangeness of crowds shouting encouragement in French (“Allez allez! Bravo!”) with throaty enthusiasm. It was surreal, one of those moments where I thought to myself, “now, how did I get here?” Bystanders read runners’ names off their bibs to personalize their cheering, and I did a double take whenever I heard my own. It was sweet to hear, as my marathon was a solo effort far from friends and family.

Low: Le tunnel from HELL. After passing Notre Dame, we ran down into a long tunnel near the Jardin des Tuileries. I don’t particularly like large crowds and enclosed spaces, so following thousands of humans into a dark concrete hole echoing with piercing whoops and whistles was dreadful. Once inside, multi-colored strobe lights flashed and music blasted, creating an atmosphere that for me was less “excitement” and more “panic,” especially as by that point (mile 16 or so) I had begun to enter my just-finish-without-puking stage.

High: The cute and sometimes clumsily-translated boards of encouragement along the way made me smile. For example, the one that said something along the lines of, “look, finally, there’s the tower!” as we passed the Eiffel Tower.

Low: The food stations featured water bottles, orange wedges, and bananas, so in the kilometer after each of those stations, I had to do some (sometimes unsuccessful) dodging as water bottles flew at my head and careful footwork so as not to slip on the peels. I overheard one guy say, “We’re skating on orange peels.” It was like Mario Kart.

High: When the finish line came into view.  I know that this is not unique to the Paris Marathon, but it’s something I wish I could properly articulate for people who don’t see the sense in voluntarily participating in physical challenges. When I saw that finish line, I realized that I hadn’t fully believed I could do it until that moment. I was there! There’s a pure satisfaction in the triumph of the mental force of your own will over your physical limitations and comfort instincts that any person should experience at least once (though of course not necessarily in a marathon).

For those considering this marathon, I’ll also note that it was very easy to pick up my bib the day before the race, and to snag my t-shirt and medal at the finish line. The course is relatively flat, with a few small ups and downs, and crowded (for the first half of the race I got stepped on and elbowed quite a bit).


Allez, allez, bravo!

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