This post was initially written in French.
This is the time that separated the top of the Champs Elysees from the bottom of Avenue Foch, this Sunday. As joked another runner on the finish line, “I think there was a shorter way than doing all those detours”. Forty-two kilometers, one hundred and eighty-five meters, in the midst of thirty-five thousand runners.
Woke up at 5AM to swallow two toasts, a glass of orange juice, and a banana. A quick shower, just waiting to be really awake; I’m not really used to knowing what a Sunday morning, let alone 5:00AM. It takes me 10 minutes to properly hang my bib … not that it serves much purpose, but there’s little more to do for the moment. 7:00 am, I leave home. It’s bad weather this morning, and I went out with my little shorts, a t-shirt and some sort of rotten plastic poncho we were given with the bib. Not much to cover the skin… can’t wait to run! I find Etienne at La Motte-Picquet, then direction Place de l’Etoile. The subway is full, even though it is only 7:30AM on a Sunday morning.
An impressive crowd, 35000 people, plus guides, it fills entirely the Champs Elysées. Around 8:00AM, we take place in the lock 4H00 with Etienne. 4H00 : our goal; 5’40” per kilometer; 10.55 km/h, for 4 hours. We go to the middle of the crowd, and the ambient cold is quickly gone and forgotten. 45 minutes to wait, they go by at a phenomenal speed, 8:30AM : handisports leave. 8:35AM, some other handisports. At 8:40AM the doors of the lock open, from which a small exodus starts bringing us closer by 50 meters from the starting line. 8:45AM: it’s on! Well not really, not for us … we start slowly, we walk slowly, we wait to reach the start line. I put myself on the toes and I see, at the bottom of the fields, the “elites” move away. Our progression to the starting line lasts ten minutes, in the middle of a pigsty without limits: old rotten plastic ponchos, sweaters, empty bottles, or worse: bottles full of piss. The most shy used bottles of milk, the others used bottles of water. I participate in littering by dropping my garbage poncho and my empty bottle (I’m still too inexperienced for the trick of the bottle of milk). The starting line is getting closer, the pace is accelerating. Top, we put the foot on the line, a tap on the cardio to launch the account turn, go. Contrary to what we feared, we can not start with too fast a pace. The crowd is so important that it’s hard to take your own step. We arrive already at the end of the Champs, the first kilometer swallowed in 5’53”, already 13 seconds late, we just cannot go any faster!
Huge feelings, 7 months of training culminating there: that’s it! We are running the Paris marathon !! The sound of footsteps on the pavement is impressive, everyone is talking, happiness floats. The sun even shows its nose … we all hope for the rain not to fall. Concorde, first turn, we already arrive at the second kilometer, 5’48”, 8 seconds of additional delay! Not bad, we see the 4H00 flags right in front of us, it’s them we must not let go, they will get us there in just the perfect timing. My right knee says to me, “Hey! Oh ! Su**er, stop banging on me like that !! “But I’m used to it: it does this to me every time after 15 minutes, so I waited for him. Very quickly, it shuts up.
We pass the 5th kilometer, and we arrive at Bastille. I cannot believe we went through Paris so quickly. Barely half an hour of racing! First refueling, I grab a quarter of a banana, a bottle of water, and a bag of prunes. The pigsty carries on, I swallow my banana pressing it like a tube, and I throw the skin on the ground. I eat two prunes, and I swing off the bag. I swallow half of the bottle, and it ends on the floor of the Faubourg Saint Antoine. Everyone does that. Not very green for a run …
8th km, the first uphill climbs towards Nation. It is not a biggy, we are still fresh, but we feel it go by! I’m happy, we managed not to get lost with Etienne.
10th km, we go down from Porte de Charenton to Porte Dorée, we meet Paul, a guy in his fifties whose goal is just to finish. Second refueling, downhill. People flock to the beginning of the supply, I get caught in a wave and Etienne in another, we get lost. In the 10th, it’s a bit of a shame; luck: I see him in the climb to Lake Daumesnil. I look at the lake and remember the last training I run there: 2 hours in the uninterrupted rain. It is much better today under the sun! Still, it climbs slowly to go to Vincennes. I catch up with Etienne, and we pass the castle: we are officially out of the city!
The suburbs are fun, the atmosphere is completely different from that of the city. Here and there some fun animations, we meet the “Queen of the Bois de Vincennes”, a drag-queen that screams go-go-go with a thin voice. The marakech marathon tent, complete with narguiles!
The Paris marathon, that? We are in the woods! They should have made us go around the boulevard peripherique!
15 th terminal, still at ease, but already less fresh. The supply comes and I feel the dates that I swallow fill a small gap in my stomach, right on time! I swallow some sugar water (actual water with a sugar in it). The atmosphere is much quieter than before, there are a lot less spectators, and it gives us the opportunity to hear the singing of the half-empty bottles that fall on the asphalt and in which everyone shoots.
We leave slowly the Bois de Vincennes in a long descent in which we perform: 5’21, 5’20 we are racing a little there! Next kilometer: 5’39, perfect!
We arrive in Paris again, at the end of the wood, and we feel very clearly the middle of the race approaching. We hear people say, “Go on, just two more kilometers!”. Two km before what? Before the next 21…
20 th, a little, easy supply, a quarter of banana and a little sweetened water, hop-hop. The supply gal shouts: “Go on, Charles! (the name is written on the bib), you’re thru the hardest!”. I know it’s false. The hardest is not even under our shoes yet. We pass Porte de Charenton, we cross the path I used to take to return from long trainings in Vincennes. The door of the semi-marathon is approaching. We are still within sight of the green flags, the leaders pacing 4H00. I hit my cardio on 21th, we passed the semi: 2h00m exactly! spot on! That’s it! We did half! We are on our way homw! And glad to not even be really worn out, the training really benefited!
Down the avenue Daumesnil, I hear shouting “Go Charles !!”. It’s Delphine, I’m glad she came to see me, it gives me some courage. Daumesnil, already! For now the timing is really fast, spot on. It’s been over two hours that we have been running, but with 35,000 guys around, it changes from the training, it is so much more fun! We pass a guy dressed as a waiter who wears a tray with a bottle of water and a shoe on it, he is red like a tomato, obviously he regrets! And here we hear: “Heyyy, is that you?” : it’s Paul. We come back to Bastille, it gets harder but it is clearly bearable. Etienne’s shins still annoy him.
Bastille, left turn, mom is supposed to be there. But there are so many people, it’s just illusory to think of seeing someone we know here!
We arrive at the docks, which will take us to the difficult part of the marathon, just before going down to the docks: mom: “Go Charles! Courage!”. The bridges are linked with the tunnels. I feel that my lungs are tired, it burns a bit when I breathe. For the moment my body holds. 24th, that’s it, I never ran that long. The kilometers pass and it becomes hard, 25, 26, 27, we still see the leaders a little ahead, we hold. We enter a lonnnnng tunnel. Everyone shouts, “We’re not tired! And everyone thinks “but a little bit anyway”. We pass a guy with multiple sclerosis in an armchair, pulled-and-pushed by a team of 5-6 people … very brave folks. We get caught up again by Paul. I rub my hands against each other, they are so cold they feel like marble.
28th km, the climb is really hard. I’m starting to have sore thighs, Etienne sore calves. He tells me that he does not really see how he will finish, I tell him to quit asking the question. And despite the exhaustion, we continue to deliver the watts: 5’40”, 5’40”, 5’37”, 5’37” on the last 4 kilometers. We begin to suffer, but the machine is still running. Every kilometer I try to motivate Etienne: “Only 14 to go! It’s nothing! “. The legs no longer run by themselves, you have to force them now. Yeah! that’s what we want! The interesting part comes: the one we have never done before.
30th kilometer, “the wall of the 30 th”. We pass the milestone, we know that this is where everything gets determined, that we will be figure out from now on those who will finish. For 2-3km we started seeing people walking, we take notice. It’s no more the body now, everything is in the mind. Just before the refueling, on the Trocadero, Paul catches up with us. At the exit of the area, it’s hard to clear a path, many stop for refueling, time to drink and eat. We try to accelerate, but it’s hard to pass. Paul stops to eat, I say “bye-bye” because if he stops now, it is unlikely we will see him again.
It becomes really hard for Etienne, I feel it. It’s not easy for me either, but it’s not a fight yet, so I pull. I do everything I can to cheer up my running buddy, I do what I can to keep the pace, and we get there without too much trouble. We carry on giving the watts, and the timings are spot on: 5-40, 5-43, 5-38. Each time I tell Etienne, each time he answers “I don’t care, I want to be done.” Me too, but from there it’s a choice of simply finishing, or finishing with honors. In any case we will finish this marathon, the two of us. We enter Boulogne, and the climb is very, very difficult. A real climb, not just an uphill flat, long, and some more. It takes courage, it pulls us hard. At the top of the climb, 35th.
Refueling, we walk the time to drink and eat, to do a couple of stretches, and to take a leak. We lose a minute in the endeavour, which we do not care about. Muscularly, it was not necessary, it was useless, and even it was harmful, in view of the suffering brought by the acceleration. But morally, there was a need to stop a little. And here, I feel for the first time in my life the power and the energy required to accelerate my carcass from 0 to 10.5 kph. My thighs burn, and I feel my right knee. Not a pain, just a bother. We finish the loop around Roland-Garros, then we go back to Auteuil. We pass right next to the lower lake of Boulogne, it’s here: where we trained! Although not right now … first, you have to make a loop in Auteuil. What sadism! All this to see horses. No need, I do not care, I want to finish! At the end of the lake there is a right turn, deception. Another frustrating left turn takes us away from the finish line. We finally negotiate the turn to the right, which concludes the loop in Auteuil, I still have juice, or so I think, I accelerate, and then we arrive at km 39th, and everything collapses.
My thighs burn like hell. It was so useless, such an idiotic idea! Why do we do that to ourselves? I hate it! Never again! Never again! Etienne is running in front, he continues to spit calories, to shovel coal, he is pulling to both of us, fortunately, otherwise I’m not sure I would keep the pace. Oh, we’re at the lake! “Etienne, FUCK !!! We are at the lake! Fuck !!!”. 6 months that we’ve been dreaming to see that lake. We ran masochistically around it during training, and here it finally is! The lake ! The 40th km! My eyes are filled with tears of joy, I believe in it! I am a robot, my brain is empty, I’m only fighting to repel the urge to slow down and walk now. 41 th kilometer, we feel the end … and yet it really does not look like Paris. How long is this last kilometer! How long! “FFS, when’s Avenue Foch?!!”. We perform, proof that we are not yet dead despite our aspects of dangling carcasses: 5’39”, 5’26”, 5’39”.
Porte Dauphine. Paris.
We’re at 11.5kph. Etienne: “Come on, faster!”. I try. Nothing. “I am already flooring it!”. The limit is reached. No fucks given. Turn right, we enter the roundabout, turn left, we turn around. Turn right: “It’s Foch!”.
The finish line is there! An emotion subjugates all pain, all needs! I cry, I have a huge smile, we are still together! “Fuck!! we did it! WE DID IT!”
Last 200 meters, I look for the red line in front of my feet. I raise my arms! A shout ! Everything comes out, tears, joy! I stop my cardio clock: 4h02m !!!! I high-five Etienne, embrace him fraternally, we went to the end! Incredible: we met our goal! Unbelievable! Despite the pain, the exhaustion, the doubts, we did it! I have no word to put on what I feel at that moment. The physical pleasure, first of all, to stop running, the mental pleasure: an accomplishment, a stupid but successful bet, the result of hard and rigorous training, the emulation we managed to implement on the 10 last km… we were two in finishing this marathon! I am happy, proud, eager to start again! Leached, brushed, dead, robotic, torn in two, everything is painful, I have a little trouble with the direction and balance. We congratulate the people around us, they deserved it! The line of zombies walking like penguins shot with morphine crawls on. We receive our medal. It is not fantastically beautiful, but we have rendered it beautiful, deserved, dearly paid, and we regret nothing. I pass it around Etienne’s neck, he does the same to me. Stretching, painful but beneficial… my feet have nothing! 42.2km, not a sore, not a warm-up, nothing! My calves are fine. The left knee is good. The right has renewed its vows with tendinitis. And my two thighs have turned into wood. Low back pain, moderate. A vague cramp in the left arm, having been static for 4 hours. Satiated with the strange but very pleasant atmosphere of the race. I’m cold, I’m happy, I want to sleep, I want to start again.
Summary of this marathon
680 kilometers of training, between September and April (only 60km in December, long, cold winter), of which 60% at night, and north of two hundred in Holland
70 readings of my playlist of 24 songs
Tendinitis on my knee, some cramps, and a lot of muscle aches in the beginning
Two boxes of Rexorubia, for those who know
A good ton of motivation to go out late, in the cold, all alone, to run (it’s not a hugely exciting activity!), and to decline outings with friends in profit of training
Another ton of motivation to go out with the aches of the day before, uncertain of my knees or feet
Doubts and questioning
A monstrous luck with weather: only 3 trainings in the rain!
dropped 3kg (6.6lbs)
1.1 more kph at the same heart rate
liters of endorphin
Able to run for 42.2km
An immense and indescribable joy of having done something hard
The even greater joy of having been two doing that.
Just for fun, because I have them:
Etienne, for having started the idea, for having trained with me, to have supported me throughout this one. And especially for the race, the emulation we put in place to get there. Thank you so much, man!
My body, for having complained only mildly. I leave the right knee out, it sulked. All limbs put themselves together during training, ankles, knees, feet, calves, thighs. All once shouted “hey, hey! what are you doing? can we be quiet or what? “… but not during the race, so thank you!
Madoka, an osteopath who put me back on the road, and managed to reduce the month that a doctor announced me I need to wait before resuming training after my tendinitis, to only three days.
All those who did not say “but are you training?”, “Ah? are you running?” “You know 42km is hard, right?”, but rather: “cool idea!” when I told them I was going to “marathon”.
My cardiometer, which accompanied me throughout the training, sometimes announcing reassuring and credible cardiac frequencies of 23 or 293 beats per minute. Fun times. My shoes too, and then my iPod, my other training partner.
Mom, who came from Saint Etienne just for that, and who took care of me during the weekend.
You, if you’ve got all the way here. Thank you for reading this story. For me it’s a bit like a second medal. It is very presumptuous, lacks of any humility … but trying to run 42.2km, it’s not a humble project. This story, I write it now, but I have imagined it for a long time. At the pace of my steps during training, in the dark, all alone … imagine the feelings that were to come. It was so much more intense in real life! This story, I had the right to write it if I finished, it was the next step, much like the question mark that follows “the end?” at the end of the bad movies. Thank you for reading it, thank you for letting it live. I wanted to share that, not trying to motivate, I do not want to force anyone. Thank you!
My training playlist. It’s not very good music, nor my favorite music, but it fits very well the pace. Using the same playlist again and again created a Pavlov reflex in me: “it’s time for my endorphins! And made me want to run, even through the cold and the night.
|Numb/Encore||Jay-Z & Linkin Park||253|
|Pray for the Band Latoya||Juliette & the Licks||173|
|Sum 41 - Over My Head||Sum 41||60|
|Breath (Bonus Track)||Superbus||65|
|noots (bonus track)||sum 41||23|
|open your eyes||sum 41||77|
|Carpe Diem||Mc Solaar||74|
|Handle This||sum 41||41|
|These Walls||Dream Theater||53|
|Snow (Hey Oh)||Red Hot Chili Peppers||51|
|Fat Lip||sum 41||14|
|Never Enough||Dream Theater||129|
|Infidelity Ghost||Freak Kitchen||52|
|Da Vinci Claude||Mc Solaar||47|
|Make You Feel Better||Red Hot Chili Peppers||52|
|i’m not the one||sum 41||35|
|Live is life||Hermes House Band||26|
|You Know My Name||Chris Cornell||110|
|Walker Texas Ranger theme||20|