By The Numbers:
Miles Run: 26.44
Total Time: 3:58:06
No. of Water Bottles Drank: 4
No. Of Times I Stopped to Stretch Out My Quads: 5
Gu’s Eaten: 2
Orange Slices Eaten: 6
Cups of Wine: 1
Now, with all that information, let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
While sitting in the airport post Kentucky Derby Marathon, I told my folks about the Paris marathon course—a route running along the Seine boasting views of the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower, to name a few.
My father spoke:
“We’ll happily come cheer you on when you run that race.”
Two years later, His Lordship and I signed up for the Paris Marathon lottery.
And we both got in.
To me, this was a race of races. I love Paris. This was going to be my race. I wanted to train super diligently. I wanted to qualify for Boston.
And, after 18 daunting weeks of training through a winter that wouldn’t let up, my head was in the right place and my confidence sky-high.
I was ready to take the streets of Paris.
I was ready for my first BQ.
Friday, April 10: The Expo.
Not long after we arrived in the City of Lights, we hit the Expo to grab our bibs. The “Salon du Running” (only the French), was located in the Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles.
It was huge.
And why shouldn’t it be? A whopping 54,000 runners were going to toe the start line on the Champs-Élysées.
Having thought the race was capped in the 30,000 range, I was shocked, but grew more excited. I texted Walsh with this new information.
“Wow! What great energy!,” she exclaimed.
After grabbing our bibs and goodie bag, we ventured back to our hotel to meet my folks and our friend Maura, who was flying in from Ireland to cheer us on.
Celebratory drinks were had by all.
Saturday, April 11: Pre-Race Strategy.
As Paris is a walking city, we devised ways to keep us occupied while keeping us off our feet.
We took a riverboat tour along the Seine, cause #tourist.
Race volunteers were hanging sponsor banners along the Seine, along with signs directing runners’ attention to the local scenery.
A brief rainstorm had us hunkered down in an Irish pub near Notre Dame. His Lordship and I talked about race strategy while Maura and my folks talked about cheering locations. It was here that I started to feel my first bit of race nerves. Maura commented about how confident I was and how excited she was to see my performance. I told her I was looking at this marathon as one long list. Cross each mile off exactly as I’m supposed to with an 8:00 pace.
The rest of the evening was held at an Italian spot located near my parents’ hotel. I kept myself rather dry from both the rain and the alcohol as game day was fast approaching.
I retired rather early, bidding my folks and friend adieu. There was only three things left to do on marathon eve.
Lay out bib person. Check.
Place room service card on door. Check.
Set alarm. Check.
Sunday, April 12: Race Day.
Well-rested, we woke up to bright blue skies and chirping birds.
Coffee and oatmeal arrived and we began our pre-race rituals or sorts.
His Lordship left at 8:00 for his 8:47 start time (just two minutes after the elites). I had a lot of time to kill before my corral closed for my 9:15 start time, so I did what any normal nervous runner would do before a race.
I sat in the bathroom and played Candy Crush.
I exited the hotel at 8:30, meeting fellow runners in the elevator in my corral. We chatted about how lovely the weather was and where we were from. My two new friends hailed all the way from Montreal. We commiserated over our horribly long winter.
Our walk to the start was particularly uneventful—mostly because it was a mere two blocks.
I said my goodbyes to my new friends and stood amongst the thousands of runners in the 3:45:00 corral. I turned around and saw a fabulous sight: a background of the Arc de Triomphe in all it’s glory, with the Champs Élysées filled with 54,000 runners.
And then I waited.
The race directors made a conscious effort explaining (in French, English, German, and Spanish, mind you) that the first 800 meters were completely downhill.
And then there was more waiting.
I waited for three corrals to get going and approximately nine times of the ol’ 800 meter downhill before our corral toed the line. (For those keeping track, that’s 45 minutes.)
And then we went.
BECAUSE I WAS TOLD APPROXIMATELY NINE TIMES, I took it easy down the Champs-Élysées. People flew by me. (They weren’t listening.) We hooked a left around Place de la Concorde and up one side of the Louvre. The crowd support rivaled that of New York and Chicago—people lined the streets screaming and cheering with giant signs and cowbells.
Related: “Allez” means “go” in French. It also sounds like “Abbe” or “Abbé” as I imagine this is a French person’s name in the iPhone. But I’m not sure, can someone fact check this for me? Who or what is Abbé?
Bands were at almost every mile marker.
And they were KICK ASS.
I’m talking marching band-esque, playing showtunes, rock songs, and even the Ghostbusters theme song.
Mentally, I felt fine. I was going through the motions and trying not to get caught up in the hype as 26.2 miles is a long way to go. (I also did not get caught up in the douchebag who COMPLETELY MADE A U-TURN AND RAN INTO ME AFTER THE FIRST PHOTO STATION. DICK.)
My folks were situated at the Bastille—which is also their street name in NC!—so I knew I’d see them coming up at the 5K mark.
We rounded the Bastille and the crowd was almost deafening.
I tried to look for my folks while keeping an eye on the cobblestones. When I didn’t see them, I shifted my focus back onto my check list, and that I would be entering the first park, Bois de Vincennes, shortly after mile 6.
Around mile 4, I noticed I was exerting myself. I looked down at my watch and saw an 8:45 pace. I quickly looked to the sidewalk and noticed I was running on a false flat. When we leveled out, I kept in mind not to make up time with cruising on the downhill—a lesson I so brutally learned in the hills of Ireland.
I ran through the misting station at mile 5 and thought, ‘oh, that feels delightful’ and wondered where the hell this park was.
When we came through the mile 6 marker, I looked at my watch.
I knew I wasn’t cheating, but I just gained a couple minutes.
When I ran through the 10K marker, I looked at my Garmin.
Knowing that the mile markers were completely off made me a bit frustrated.
And feeling the growing pain in my quads made me even more so.
I still had a long way to go.
Lucky for me, I knew Maura would be situated in front of a glorious Chateau (that’s not hers) wearing her bright orange Boston jacket.
And right at 7.5, I saw that beacon of orange.
Maura threw her hands up shouting louder than everyone around her, and I gave her a high five. I so wanted to tell her I was already feeling horrible. Instead, I kept plodding along.
Unbeknownst to Maura, she could have cheered along side the seated orchestra playing at mile 8. (Seriously, can why are we not doing that here?)
The rest of Bois de Vincennes was relatively boring. There was no shade. The heat was picking up. And the sharp turns on the course made for serious bottlenecking.
Shortly after mile 10, I pulled off the course to stretch out my quads. Looking around, I saw I was in good company—several people had stopped to stretch out their calves and quads.
I got back on course and finally—FINALLY—exited Bois de Vincennes.
Miles 13—18: The Restructure Miles.
At this point in the game, I knew my BQ was out the window. My quads were toast, the heat was climbing, and even if I wanted to run faster, I would have to exert a huge amount of energy to weave through the hundreds of runners beside me.
I kept my head down and shuffled the best I could, knowing I’d see my folks at Mile 14. (Also at the Bastille.)
When I saw my Dad, I told him how much I hated everything.
“There are a LOT of people running!”
Duely noted, Dad.
I balanced myself on him while I stretched out my quads again. I told him I might just bow out at mile 18 (our hotel was up the block from there) and head up to the hotel for a beverage.
I left him and spent the next two miles having a meltdown.
‘This just isn’t for me,’ I thought. ‘I’m going to retire. I’m so stupid.’
I took a break from watching my footing and elbows (remember, it was crowded), and looked up.
Notre Dame was to my left, and a man with a Front Runners NY singlet pulled over to the side to wait for his friend.
“HEYYYY, FRONT RUNNERS!!!”
Completely startled (sorry!), he gave me a big smile and hello.
That, right there, is why I love this sport: the community.
Feeling inspired, I thought about continuing past 18.
And then I hit a tunnel.
A very, very, very long tunnel.
For those of you new to the Lewis Report, I have a bit of claustrophobia.
Feeling myself having a slight panic attack, I pulled over and started walking. I took a moment to stretch out my quads and noticed I was in the dead middle of the tunnel.
Only one way out.
I picked it up and made my way back into the sunshine and roaring crowds. We were next to the Louvre.
And then, back into another tunnel.
This one wasn’t too long.
I refilled my water bottle at a sponge station near Place de la Concorde.
And back into a third and final tunnel.
I recognized the area when I came out of the tunnel—we were near our hotel and also approaching mile 18.
I’d come all the way to Paris to run this marathon. Regardless of my on-fire quads and the scorching heat, I knew I could plod along for 8 more miles.
And so I went.
Miles 19—26.2: This Race is On Fire.
The beautiful Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides (sup, Napoleon?!) were now to my left, and a large massage station to my right.
I thought about stopping to have someone work on my quads.
Thankfully, all of the chairs were taken by men.
(No masseuse for you.)
I came up to a giant constructed wall at the 30k mark that read, “THE WALL!!! 30K. 20.”
And shortly after passing there was a sign that read, “CONGRATULATIONS! YOU BEAT THE WALL!”
This is horrible for two reasons:
A. Whoever wasn’t thinking about “the wall” sure as hell was now.
2. 30k does not a 20-mile marker make. We JUST passed mile 18, for chrissakes.
Although narrow, the road up to Bois de Boulogne was quite pleasant.
We were now at high noon, and Paris locals were galavanting about town partaking in errands and enjoying the lovely weather, having pints and what have you.
(Though not optimal race conditions, it was a beautiful day.)
I stopped and stretched my quads again.
While doing so, a woman passed me wearing a Van Cortlandt Track Club singlet.
I got back on track and started following her.
When I approached her, I gave her a shout and a wave.
“Fellow New Yorker!,” I said whilst pointing to myself.
She gave me a nod and then fell behind.
…I’m a huge dork.
Moving on, when I got to Maura, I pulled off and stretched my quads one more time.
She asked me how I was doing.
“Umm.. not great, truthfully. I don’t even think I can break 4:00 in this.”
“Want me to run with you?”
“Sure, just for a bit.”
We started “running,” if that’s what you want to call it, and I kept my head focused on the ground.
“Maura, this race is ridiculous.”
“There are a lot of people around you, it’s quite insane… But Abbe, I really think you can break 4:00. You just have to keep chugging along.”
Shortly after mile 22, I told her to leave me, and that I would see her back at the hotel.
(Later she would tell me it was 75 degrees and loads of people had pulled off to vomit. THANK GOD I SAW/KNEW NONE OF THIS.)
Bois de Boulogne was quite different than the first park. The crowd support thinned out a bit, locals were out on their bikes (reeeeeeally, guys???), and we enjoyed some semblance of shade due to some trees.
I started walking a bit, and poured some water down my back. Then Maura’s words resonated in my head: just keep moving.
Head back down. Feet keep shuffling.
The booth at mile 24 that my comrade Brianna once told me about was now in my sights: they were serving white wine.
Instead of sipping the delicious nectars of the French gods, I kept moving.
Shortly after mile 25, there was a hill.
The tiniest of hills, but a hill nonetheless.
A kind French woman informed me it was the last hill, and I had to keep moving. (She also said this in English, as the words USA were written on my bib. #merica)
I sped up, and noticed another wine booth to my right. I veered over and picked up a medicine cup filled with red wine.
It was DELICIOUS.
MERCI. MERCI, AU REVOIR.
I soaked in the last mile, eyeing my watch. It was going to be tight.
When I passed through 26, I knew I had my sub-4:00.
It wasn’t pretty at all, but it had been done.
I cried quite a bit. My first sub-4 was in the books and I was in a serious amount of pain.
I grabbed my medal, foodstuffs and t-shirt!!!—WHY DO THEY NOT DO THIS AFTER EVERY RACE?!—and slowly but surely made my way back to our hotel on Rue de Presbourg, so to avoid heavy foot traffic.
I looked up and saw my dad standing on the corner of Avenue Marceau.
And I cried some more.
He was elated that I finished at all, and more so when he found out it was sub-4.
We walked down the block and I saw my Mom and His Lordship. I gave my Mom a hug and cried again.
We went inside and sat at the hotel bar, waiting for Maura’s arrival.
There was wine.
A lot of it.
There was talk of the brutal heat, and His Lordship commented how his quads hadn’t felt like this since Boston—a net downhill will get ya. (And so will the false flats.)
I also the most delicious hamburger I’ve ever had in my life.
All of those thoughts of retirement have been pushed aside.
After all, I’ve got a job to do this fall.