Friday, May 13, 2011

The Paris Marathon

On April 10, 2011 I completed the 35th edition Marathon de Paris. The actual journey began a week earlier. My husband Eivind and I flew into London on April 2nd. After traveling for more than twenty hours we finally reached our hotel. It was 12:00 p.m. London time. We were tired and my ankles were swollen. I knew if I laid down I would be out for the count and would miss the entire day. At 2:00 p.m. we decided to go for a short run to shake out our legs. Our hotel was directly across the street from Hyde Park. There are several amazing running paths. We did run but it wasn’t easy. The air was muggy and my legs felt like Jell-O. I was glad I had more than a week before the marathon. In London we did a lot of sightseeing and a lot of walking.

It was unusually warm weather and it only rained for a few hours on our second day. Eivind and I ran on three separate runs in Hyde Park. We spent several days in London and then took the

We arrived in Paris on Wednesday. The marathon was on Sunday. Once we got to the hotel the first thing I wanted to do was to check out the starting location of the marathon. The race started at Le Arc de Triumph on the Champs E’lysee, which was less than a mile from our hotel. My first glimpse of the Arc de Triumph was breathtaking! I couldn’t believe that in three days I would be running in the Paris Marathon. Over the next couple of days Eivind and I were typical tourists walking around Paris and taking pictures of everything.

The marathon expo was open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The recommendation was to come early to avoid the long lines. I wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed for the race so I was at the expo Thursday afternoon. One thing that was different was that a medical release signed by a doctor was required before you were given your race packet. It could be mailed in ahead of time or brought with you. I had mailed mine the month before but I still needed to be check in. Once the medical certificate was verified I proceeded to the next stop, race packet pickup. I gave them my race number. They gave me my race packet. It was official! Race number 27063, Danelle Gjetmundsen, was registered for the Paris Marathon. As we made our way through the expo I found a booth that was handing out pace bracelets. I picked one up for my estimated time goal. It wasn’t until later when I actually looked through the bag that I noticed this pace bracelet would be of no help to me. It was in kilometers! With my race number in hand I could relax. Time to enjoy Paris.

We spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday sightseeing. I was able to get some short runs in around the city. There was also a small park across the street from our hotel. During one of these runs Eivind and I were wearing our Missoula, Montana Grizzly Triathlon shirts. A lady who was running with her dog came up from behind us and said “I just had to say hello. I am from Bozeman.” What a small world. On Thursday and Friday we spent a lot of time walking around the city. Saturday however I knew I needed to stay off my feet as much as possible. We used the public transportation system to get to and from our destinations. We got back to the hotel early, had a nice spaghetti meal and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Sunday morning, marathon day. This was my seventh marathon and I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. I came prepared with my race day staples; electrolytes, gels, my favorite sunglasses, and running cap as well as my Garmin and I-pod with my marathon play list. My usual pre-race meal is a bagel and peanut butter, which I could not bring on the plane. “No problem,” I thought. “I will just buy some in Paris.” Wrong again. I could not find bagels or regular peanut butter anywhere. I had to settle for prepackaged pancakes and honey flavored peanut butter and I just hope that eating something new and different on race day would not have adverse affects on my stomach. Luckily it worked out. Since our hotel was so close to the start a nice brisk walk/jog was a perfect warm up. The race started at 8:45 a.m. at Le Arc de Triumph on the Champs E’lysee. The temperature was 70° F. A far cry from the cold temperatures in Montana that I had been training in all winter. At the start I had a brief moment of panic. There were 32,000 runners plus thousands and thousands of spectators and I did not know how Iwas going to get to my starting corral. I maneuvered my way through the sea of people and arrived to the entrance of the corral. There were volunteers there checking to make sure people were in the right starting area. I was not. The volunteer directed me to my corral which was further down the boulevard. I had to move through all the people again. Finally I found my corral. I checked in with the volunteer and YES, he allowed me entrance. Once I was inside the fenced off area I was able to take a big sigh of relief.

At 8:35 a.m. the handi sports began. At 8:45 the elite marathoners began. About seven to eight minutes later I crossed the starting pad. As soon as I started running all butterflies were gone. My race plan was to keep the pacer of my time goal in my sites but run my own race according to my Garmin. Wrong again. As soon as we started I never saw the pacer again. There were just too many people to be able to keep track of anyone. We started running down the Champs E’lysee into the sun. I was so excited. With so many runners I was about three miles into the race before I broke through and was able to run on my own. When we left the wide boulevard of the Champs E’lysee and entered the narrow streets of the old city of Paris we came to a bottleneck. We were literally stopped in our tracks before we were able to break free and run again. At mile eight I actually felt like I was running my own race and in my own rhythm. There was never a point in the marathon where I was running by myself.

As racers in the United States we all know how important the facilities are for those very important potty breaks. This was not the same in the Paris marathon. There were a few porta potties at the start but most people were running into stores and restaurants before the gun went off. Along the course I saw one aid station with about five porta potties. I did not see any other on the entire course. Maybe they were there and I didn’t see them but for the most part racers were on their own. The race packet even advised to bring toilet paper on race day. Okay, as we know if there is not a porta potty we have to find other means. This also was a challenge for runners because with over 200,000 spectators lining the route, running through the park was the only option to find a semi secluded area without thousands of people surrounding you.

The aid stations were set up on only one side of the street so trying to get water/nutrition resulted in a slight traffic jam. Now I know why people run fully self sufficient. As for the water, no paper cups were handed out. Sealed water bottles were the order of the day. It took some coordination to take the cap off and not let the full bottle of water splash all over myself. The race day statistics show that over 450,000 water bottles were handed out. Another small but fairly significant difference is that safety pins are not included in the race packet. Thank you hotel lobby. Also I did not think about the metric system. The course was marked in kilometers, except eight and sixteen were marked in miles. I’m thankful I had my Garmin to keep track of my distance and pace.

I felt comfortable during the run. Around mile seventeen I started to fade a little. I told myself to smile and remember where I was. I was running in the Paris marathon. I took another gel and got a second wind around mile twenty one. I started to pick up my pace during the last three miles. I did not however, partake in the red wine offered at mile twenty four. Ultimately
I finished strong and was happy with my time. Out of 32,000 runners only about 7,000 were female. This is definitely not the trend in the U.S.

After the finish all I wanted to do was to find Eivind and sit down. Wrong again. After crossing the finish I had to stand in line to have my timer chip removed. I was then directed to another line where I received my finisher t-shirt. I was then directed to a third line where I received my finisher medal. After that I got into the food line where I was able to refuel. I then spent about half an hour looking for the location where I arranged to meet Eivind. Once I finally found that spot there were so many runners and families that I could not see a thing. Eventually we found each other and I could finally relax.

In conclusion the entire experience was remarkable and unforgettable. There are always differences from one race to another and all that makes me realize how much I appreciate the wonderful running community in Missoula.

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