Paris 2015: The Marathon I finally ran!

The Paris Marathon has been on my bucket list ever since I moved to the city nearly five years ago. I first registered for the 2011 edition of the race just after moving here. That spring, I got a bad sinus infection that lasted over a month and basically put a stop to my training.

I tried again for the 2013 edition. I trained hard through a cold and snowy winter and was in the best running shape of my life. I went all out for this one: raised money for an association in India, told everyone I knew that I was doing it, and even hosted a “Marathon party” (which was a lot of fun). Two weeks before the race, I got a stress fracture and had to stop running for six months. So it was the marathon I didn’t run. That was really tough.

Psychologically, I wasn’t prepared to try again in 2014 (I ran two other marathons that year instead). And even when I signed up for 2015, I still felt uncertain about it. But I knew that it was something that I wanted to, needed to finally overcome. I had to at least make it to the start line this year!

Sunday was a beautiful day in Paris and finally I was in the starting corral. I was thankful that the departure area was well organized so that we weren’t overly congested in the first kilometers. This was a pleasant surprise, as the Paris Half-Marathon has been quite a different experience in recent years! Yet I was still a bit overwhelmed by the massive size of this race, especially since my last two marathons have been quite small in comparison.

And so I started out easy and a lot of people around me made me smile. There were people in costumes, and a pair of surfers passed me up after a few kilometers. We ran straight from the Champs-Elysees to the Bastille, a very familiar stroll for me. Just before km 5, we passed by my French church. I was happy to see a few familiar faces outside, notably Anne and Nathan. I gave them the sweater I had been carrying, as the sun was already warm.

I continued on easy and was encouraged to see my Let’s Run Paris friends cheering at km 8. Shortly later we entered the Bois de Vincennes, where I train regularly. Lots of people were running around trying to find a tree behind which to pee. Around km 10 my ankle started hurting (a pain that has been recurring over the past few weeks). I tried to relax it a bit and hoped it would loosen up. I also noticed that a tiny pebble had entered my shoe. It moved with each step, which quickly became incredibly annoying, but I didn’t want to stop to remove it.

The sun was bright and the temperature was rising. I don’t do well in heat, so I knew I needed to be careful to not overdo it. Every once in a while volunteers were spraying cold water which was so refreshing to run through. The run was feeling good and as we left the Bois de Vincennes, I anticipated the slight decline ahead on Rue de Gravelle. The musical groups were great, but at around km 16 I think I almost lost my hearing, it was so loud!

11138501_10153058779446655_6038725072341612948_nWe were returning to the halfway point at Bastille and the sun was starting to get to me. My head was hurting and I realized I was slowing a bit. I thought of this chart that someone posted on Facebook a few days before the race. I’d say it’s fairly accurate. The halfway point can be a bit of a downer, especially if you think about the fact that you’re only half way there. I figured I just needed to push through until km 34 when I would see the LRP cheerleaders again, but some more familiar faces around this point would have been encouraging. Later I found out that Anne and Nathan were looking for me at the Bastille but missed me. If only I had known I would have looked too!

We turned the corner and started running along the river and at this point I remembered standing in that exact spot two years ago, sadly injured but still cheering like a crazy American, “YES YOU CAN! YES YOU CAN!” I was again filled with gratitude that this year I was pounding the pavement rather than standing on the sideline.

People have told me about the dreariness of the tunnels along the next stretch, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. There was, indeed, a long tunnel followed by two shorter ones. The great thing was that they provided shade from the sun. There were also videos, disco lights and what!? Even a D.J.!? And this marked the transition from the “familiar East” side of Paris to the “less familiar West” side. I settled in and waited for how the course would surprise me.

Finally we were approaching the Eiffel Tower. I was in pain by this time, but my drive was still strong. Now around km 30, I wondered if it would be better to incorporate some walking intervals through the refreshment area or to just keep running. But when I tried to walk, it seemed to hurt even more, so I just kept running instead. I tried to make myself accelerate, but it was tough. The uphill segments were not at all appreciated at this point!

From km 32, I started to calculate my anticipated finish time. I was having bouts of nausea but determined to push forward. The kilometers were still passing relatively quickly. I knew I would see the LRP cheering squad at km 34 and sure enough there they were, along with Ivy who jumped on course with me for the last 8km. I was just trying to focus on closing in on one kilometer at a time, still dealing with some nausea, and she brought enough fun and energy for both of us. She was taking pictures, videos, carried my water and grabbed more water for me when we passed the refreshment points. I was starting to feel dehydrated by this point and couldn’t seem to get in enough water. So it was brilliant to have a water angel by my side!

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But there was this thing that was annoying me to no end, that tiny pebble in my shoe! I tried to trap it between my toes, but it continued to bounce at every step. Whatever! And then, much to Ivy’s amusement, we caught up to the surfer men! And of course Ivy took their picture.

 

 

11154765_763539036129_3289397791418764948_oDon’t break under pressure. At km 41 a picture would be taken and automatically posted to my Facebook profile. That kilometer was long as it always is in a marathon. Then came mile 26, then km 42… and at that point Ivy was directed off course because she wasn’t wearing a bib. In my calculations from km 32, I had forgotten to factor in the extra .195, but it was ok because in any case I still finished 4 minutes faster than in Florence. Progressing little by little on this challenging distance, that’s all I require!

However, I was really dehydrated by the end. Proof? I went for over 8 hours without peeing! After my arrival, I felt pretty bad and I knew I just needed some water. But the water station was still too far away. Just before I was about to collect my finisher T-shirt, a volunteer stopped me and called for Red Cross personnel, who then promptly took me to the first-aid tent. There they gave me water and checked my vitals. Before long I was feeling better and was ready to leave, but they wouldn’t let me go because my heart rate remained elevated… for over an hour. Finally I got in touch with Franck and Luvyl who finished after me and came to rescue me after I waited there for an hour and a half. After some serious rehydration, everything eventually returned to normal.

All in all it was a great experience, the Paris Marathon finally conquered. And now I wonder… shall I give it another shot in 2016 or just be content and move on?

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The Marathon I Didn’t Run

In the fall of 2012, I returned to Paris feeling energetic and positive after a much needed time of retreat in the States. I was glad to return home, and feeling better than I had felt in a very long time. I resumed my running schedule and to my pleasant surprise, I found myself logging hundreds of miles migraine-free. That was another first-in-a-long-time.

I registered for the Paris half and full marathons the day registration opened. I was so pumped! My goal and dream was to assemble a team to run in support of As Our Own in India, but alas, the spring enthusiasm of my friends had died away by autumn and I set out on the journey alone.

My 19-week training program started officially in December, but I was building up miles all throughout the fall. I was following a program of running five times plus 4-5 hours of biking every week. For the first 17 weeks, the training went well physically. There were aches and pains here and there, but nothing that really got me down. I did start to get worried when during my two 20-mile runs, my right ankle was in quite a bit of pain. The first run of this distance was hard to finish and I was limping for the rest of the weekend. During the second run, the pain was present but not as severe. There was also the day when, almost two miles into my run, I tripped and fell flat on the ground. I got up quickly and tried to catch my breath and assess my situation. My knees were scraped up and my palms were stinging, but nothing seemed to be broken, so I finished the 5 miles. The last time I had fallen like that was probably ten years ago at a time when I was overly fatigued. I realized that I needed to focus on getting better sleep for the next few days.

There were a lot more mental challenges during this time. For one, it was a daily challenge to wake up and face the cold first thing in the morning. I prefer to run at dawn, but sometimes had to complete my entire run in the dark. I’m not sure if the snow classifies as a mental or physical challenge, perhaps it was some of both. It was also challenging to get up early and run in an unfamiliar place during my travels, when I had to spend a good amount of energy remembering how to get back. Over Christmas, I was in the Loire and thus had to train in the mountains. That was a challenge and made Paris feel flat afterwards. I also traveled to a place where it was not safe to run outside and for a week had to complete all of my training on a treadmill. Five miles was okay, but 12 miles was the ultimate killer. It’s mentally challenging to run for two hours and not go anywhere… I shouldn’t complain though, at least it wasn’t 20 miles!

Then there were all the hard calls along the way, when you have to make a decision regarding your training in light of your physical health. I occasionally took a day off if something was hurting, but usually made up for it another day. Often I asked myself, “should I run on the snow/ice?” Could have been disastrous if I had slipped out there, but I survived about a dozen runs in these conditions, including a 15-mile run on several inches of snow. I definitely need to get the right equipment for such weather by next winter. Then one night I was coming down with a sore throat and I needed to run 17 miles in the morning before catching a train to Nancy. I really didn’t feel up to it, but did it anyway. Interestingly, I felt better afterwards. I guess all that sweating did something for shooing away the virus! The days before the half marathon, I came down with a cold. I had to travel by air twice during that time, which didn’t help me feel better. On Saturday night I was feeling feverish and not sure if I would run on Sunday, nor if I would finish even if I tried. But I decided to give it my best shot and I finished within my goal time (2:14:24). However, I felt even worse afterwards and although I wasn’t terribly sore, my head hurt and I couldn’t stop coughing. I just wanted to curl up in bed for the rest of the day. So running doesn’t always cure a cold. 😦

My last hard decision came two weeks before the marathon. The hard-core training phase was over and my miles were decreasing for the last three weeks. In all that time, I had only missed 1½ runs due to being sick or needing extra rest for my ankle. So I was feeling strong and confident about the marathon in two weeks and was focusing on preparing myself mentally. I was also looking forward to doing a four-mile run the following week after running no less that five miles at a time for over a month. On Wednesday, I had run five miles and had noticed a pain in my inner thigh for the first time. I didn’t run the next day and hoped that it would be better by Friday morning when I needed to put in 12 miles. I woke up early that day because I needed to be somewhere by mid-morning. I remember feeling especially tired and wondered if I could post-pone my run for the afternoon (something I rarely did). I also wondered if it was wise to run with the pain. I paced my apartment for a few seconds debating whether to go or not. Then my inner coach said, “Stop thinking about it. Get out there. Get it done.” This was sound advice on most other days when I was simply lacking motivation, but next time I’m in this situation, I will certainly argue back.

I completed the twelve miles in pain, thinking, “I’ll go a little easier today, and maybe it will loosen things up.” By the end of the run, I was in so much pain that I was losing my stride. It hurt to put weight on it, to stand, to walk. But I thought that like my ankle, a couple of days of rest would make it all go away and I would still be able to do my four easy miles a few days later.

It didn’t go away. It was painful throughout the weekend. And it started to scare me. According to my online research, it could be a stress facture, a pulled muscle, tendonitis or a hernia. On Monday, I called a sports doctor but only got an appointment for Tuesday. When I saw him, he stretched my legs in a lot of different ways and diagnosed me with adductor tendonitis. No running for at least a week, he said, plus anti-inflammatory medication and sessions with a sports physiotherapist. “So what about the marathon,” I asked in a low voice. He shook his head and said… “Well, IF the pain is gone in a week, you can go out and run for an hour. “ If there is no pain during the run, you can compete in the marathon. Otherwise, don’t do it. You’ll be miserable and you’ll damage yourself further. I walked away with Cinderella-type hope, but now I think he may have been as confident in his “IF” as her evil stepmother. 😦

Still, I did everything possible during the following week, holding on to the possibility of “if.” Physiotherapy, medication, rest from running, stretches, ice and heat treatments, pool running, swimming, etc. But no matter how much or how little physical activity I did, the pain did not ease up. I saw my physiotherapist on Tuesday and he said to try to run the next day just to see what happens. I knew it wouldn’t be possible, but I geared up and hit the road anyway. It was even more painful than my 12-mile run and I was sort of half-running and half-limping. I lasted five minutes and then walked back home. And at that moment, it hit me. I’m not running this marathon. I can’t. I think I knew this already by Sunday, but it only hit me then when I realized that my body had shut down on me. And that was hard to swallow.

Not being able to run the 2013 Paris Marathon is a huge disappointment, but I must admit that it isn’t the first time I’ve been hindered from running a race because of injury. In 2007, I had registered and trained for the Chicago Half Marathon. Less than one week out, I walked into a pole and hit my forehead/face so hard that it was bruised and bleeding. A couple of days later, I decided I had better see a doctor about it. He ordered an X-ray. On Friday, I called to get the results and they said they wouldn’t be in until the following Monday. So I asked if it would still be okay to run on Sunday. “You have a head injury that may be serious. It would be very unwise to run a half-marathon before knowing the results.” So I sat it out and learnd on Monday that I was fine. Brilliant. Also, two years ago I was registered for the Paris Marathon but got a bad case of sinus infection early in the year, which lasted over a month. I fell too far behind in my training to be able to compete in the race.

But this one is the biggest disappointment yet because I trained so hard for it! At the same time, this strength was also my weakness and my body maxed out two weeks too early. A couple of months ago, I stopped at a bakery after a 13-mile training run. There was a man there who said he was a running coach. He started asking me questions about my running and when I said I was training five days a week, he said, “It’s too much, you should rest more.” Whatever, I thought, loads of people train this much. Then, ten days ago in the doctor’s office, I received the same verdict: you pushed yourself too hard. Humph. I had given 110% to my training regime, which pushed me over the edge two weeks too soon. I should have done more like 90-100%. I hope that my inner coach has learned a lesson from pushing me too hard all this time.

Well, I’m not going to sit around and mope. I’ve been spending a lot of time biking and swimming since I haven’t been running. These activities are easier on the joints and actually hurt less than walking at this point. I’ve wanted to incorporate more swimming (and even deep water jogging) into my exercise routine, and now is the perfect time to build up my strength and endurance in these cross-training activities. I’ll turn my focus and energy to preparing for my next goal, which I hope will be the Caen Marathon on June 16. I’ve almost reached my goal for As Our Own, but this will give me a little more time to reach, and hopefully surpass it

As for today, a friend and I met up and cheered for the entire crowd of runners as they passed in front of our church in the Marais  – from the wheelchair competitors to the very last ones where were struggling already at three miles. It seemed that there was no one else cheering on the street, so we yelled out names and good wishes until our voices were horse. I’ve never watched a marathon from beginning to end like that, and I found it to be very moving. It’s amazing how encouraged people are by a random high five or a stranger cheering for them by name. It was great to participate even though I wasn’t running.2013-04-07 09.41.43