Race review: Medoc Marathon 2015

Medoc Marathon 2015 medal

The first question you ask yourself when you sign up for a marathon probably shouldn’t be, ‘who will be the designated driver?’ Unless of course you are signing up for the infamous Marathon du Médoc. Now in its 31st year the marathon is growing in popularity and infamy. If you’ve not heard of it let me explain. The Médoc Marathon is held in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is of course famous for great wine, and the Médoc is where the best of the best comes from. The marathon starts in Pauillac, alongside the Gironde river and makes its way through some of the most famous, and stunning, vineyards in the world. And those vineyards like to give you wine, lots of wine. In 2015 there were 16 official wine stops on route with more available from the local villagers if you needed topping up. Oh, and don’t forget the pre-marathon party (with wine), the bottle of wine in your finishers pack, the post-marathon beer tent (free to all finishers), the post-marathon party and fireworks (with beer and wine tents) and the Sunday recovery walk through more vineyards (with wine) and recovery lunch (well you can probably work out what’s served with that!). How does that all sound? Pass the paracetamol? And, this is probably the only marathon you’ll do where they serve oysters, steak, waffles and ice-cream as you go round. Antacids?

Well this year was our fourth year at the Médoc Marathon, my second competing, and first completing the full marathon. I’ve been very unlucky with this event, picking up injuries prior to the marathon three years in a row. This year I was determined to finish even if I had to crawl round, and trust me after the first ten wine stops you see some people that are very nearly crawling, so I wouldn’t have looked out of place. We’ve had a mixture of weather, our first time it was in the low 90s! This year it started hot and sunny (I also started with red hair). Then halfway through the rain started, and it didn’t stop for nearly three hours (by the time I finished all the hair dye had been washed out, not a trace of red left). But there is so much going on around you that you don’t even think about the rain, or that you are walking 26.2 miles. From rock bands to jazz, brass bands to dj’s and even a George Michael wannabe, the entertainment is incredible. The only thing better is the support. All the local villagers turn out; helping with marshalling, cheering you on, cooling you down with their garden hose, belting out Abba classics from their stereos. They are quite simply amazing.

My only grumble with the marathon is the ‘sweep-up truck.’ To ensure that participants get round in the allotted 6hrs 30mins, there is a sweep-up truck, manned by people with actual brooms, who chase you along and beep horns in your ear. They are lovely people, I got to know them quite well, but when they have been on your heels for nearly two hours you start to resent them a little bit! But also without them I wouldn’t have achieved my current pb, having knocked 21 minutes off my old one. So I begrudgingly say, merci.

This is a fantastic event, even if you don’t like wine, there is so much going on, so many different events, that you are guaranteed to have an amazing time. It also has an incredible international following. I’ve spoken to runners and walkers from all over the world, for some it’s their first time, for others they come back every year.

If you fancy taking part next year, it will be held on the 10th September. Registration normally opens in February, however it is now such a popular event, that you will have to keep an eye out for when it opens, and register as soon as it does.

Oh, and did I mention, it is compulsory fancy dress? Next year’s theme: Tales and Legends.

Medoc Marathon 2014 - Carnival


Paris Marathon 2016 – 6 months to go…

Paris Marathon 5km Breakfast Run 2015

So, in flash of craziness, I have signed up to do next year’s Paris Marathon. Why crazy, you may ask? After all I regularly do marathons. Indeed, I’ve done three this year alone. And yes, I have no issue with completing the 26.2 miles, especially around the beautiful streets of Paris. My problem is the 36mins 14 secs I need to knock off my PB to come in under the cut-off time of 6hrs!

Over the last couple of years me and Mr Chafing Thighs have competed in some races together, and others, perhaps because they are walking only or the cut-off time was too quick, we have done separately. And one of those races, for the latter reason, is the Paris Marathon. Every year as I wave him off at the start line I feel the little green monster welling up inside. Last year I took part in the 5km Breakfast Run, which finished under the Eiffel Tower. It was truely amazing to walk around the streets of Paris and the support in France is always fantastic (allez, allez, allez). But rather than fulfill my desire to race in Paris it just fuelled it further.

But then something fantastic happened. In previous years the cut-off has been 5hrs 40mins, way too quick for my current abilities. But this year they have increased it to 6hrs. Only 20 minutes, but that’s nearly an extra minute a mile, and in the world of marathoning, that makes a huge difference.

Paris Marathon 2015 map

As you can see the course is stunning. It starts on the Champs-Élysées, loops around the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, going past the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame, finishing just shy of the Arc de Triomphe. What better motivation could a walker ask for! And of course, I will spend most of the course thinking of the giant éclairs and crêpes I will devour when I finish.

So with six months, or more precisely, 154 days, 20 hrs 24mins and 52secs (according to the Schneider Electric Paris Marathon page), the training begins. I will be working with a much longer training plan than my usual 12-16 week one to ensure I knock off the required 36mins 14 secs on the day. I will also be sharing regular updates on my progress and I’m sure you’ll be hearing lots about HIIT (high-intensity interval training), hill work and cross training in the coming months.

Unfortunately registration is now closed for the marathon, with 57,000 people having signed up. However there is still the option of walking the Breakfast 5km. Details haven’t been released yet for 2016, but keep an eye on the marathon website in the coming months.

Race for Life Marathon 2015

Race for Life Marathon 2015

Over the years I’ve taken part in a variety of Race for Life events at a variety of locations. From 5km at the University of Bath campus to 10km at Bowood, I’ve pounded around fields and parks racing money for Cancer Research UK. Last year I even took part in one of their Pretty Muddy races. As a seasoned marathoner I thought nothing about doing 5km, but didn’t take into account how much you use your arms in an obstacle course! My arms were so sore I couldn’t open a jam jar the next day.

So, when I heard about the first ever Race for Life marathon, I had to sign up. Not only was it the first ever Race for Life marathon, but also the UK’s first ever female-only marathon! This had to be done. And on a glorious October morning I, along with 3,500 other women, found myself in Lee Vale Park in north London, ready to start the race.

The Race for Life team were holding a full and half marathon on the same day, and if you have ever been to one of their events you will know that they commence with a mass warm-up session. So picture the scene: several hundred women, dressed in pink, all queuing for the toilets, spare toilet roll in hand, doing grapevines, squats and lunges, with giant grins on their faces. It was a beautiful sight.

Somehow I manage to find myself at the front of the six to eight-hour group – not ideal for a walker, and when we counted down to ‘GO’ I had to do a short run to allow the runners behind me to get going. Once I’d slowed down, I was stunned at how lovely the park was – wide open spaces, sparkling lakes, hundreds of ducks, geese and swans, and we were lucky enough to have a stunning day for it.

The course was two laps of the park and this was the first time I had taken part in a race that covered the same course more than once. Some walkers like doing laps as you can prepare yourself for what is coming up on the next lap. Personally I found it a bit demoralising, especially when I realised that the nasty hill I was doing at mile five would be so much worse when I went round the second time at mile 18!

For the first time in a marathon I found myself really struggling, and by the 13.1 mile split I was ready to pack it in. My husband met me at that point and after a lot of swearing on my part (sorry to the poor marshal stood nearby!) I decided to carry on. The course was hard: dusty, uneven and with little shade, But, I realised that more than anything I was finding the race lonely. It was a small field and many more women were doing the half than full marathon. Due to the small numbers, on the second lap we were very spread out, and although the marshalls were fantastic, there wasn’t enough going on to distract or amuse me. I missed the usual camaraderie and cheering crowds of the 5km and 10km races, and I ended up listening to music (which I never do) and found myself singing out loud to the soundtrack to Mamma Mia by mile 16 (with different voices for each of the characters). I managed to get round the rest of the course high on Abba and Jelly Babies (again sorry to the poor marshal who I serenaded with Super Trouper). When I got to mile 26 I found my husband waiting for me and we crossed the finish line together – I even managed a smile and a bit of a dance.

This was an extremely well organised event: a huge well done to the Race for Life team for pulling off their first ever marathon. And for the amazing finishers’ goodie bag (the best goodie bag EVER!). My only request for next year would be for more interaction and entertainment around the course – I loved the choir on the first time round, but by the second time they had gone. If you fancy doing a marathon for an amazing charity but aren’t sure about running in the overly macho environment of a regular marathon, then this is the event for you. However, I think it would be easier, and more fun, if you run it with a friend or group.

To Sloc or not to Sloc?

The people from the Isle of Man are a little bit crazy*. Now, I’m allowed to say that as most of my family are from that tiny little island that lies almost equidistant between Liverpool and Belfast. But why do I call them crazy you may ask? For a start they like bikes, fast bikes, that race around the island’s tiny roads and mountain bends at 200mph. But lots of people like fast bikes you may say. OK, well they talk to fairies (honestly whole bus loads will stop mid-conversation to say ‘Hello’ to the fairies under the Fairy Bridge). Well, that certainly nudges them up the crazy ladder. OK, how about this; they like to walk 85 miles up some fairly substantial hills/mini mountains, in a climate best described as temperamental, touching the gates of all the parish churches on the island, in under 24 hours? Will that do it for you? And this year, for the third year running I took part! Definitely the crazy gene kicking in.

So what is this madness? It is the Parish Walk, now in its 102nd year. This year the record was broken by Richard Gerrard who completed the course in 14hrs 40 mins and 8 seconds. And there were 174 finishers out of over a thousand starters. The distance alone is pretty crazy but when you take into account the hills and the windy roads and the weather that changes before you can say “pass the vaseline” this is really a race to test your walking mettle. You can choose to complete the 85 miles or stop at one of several points along the route.

As I mentioned this was my third year. In 2013 I got to Rushen (19 miles) and had to retire with an injury. In 2014 I got part way up the infamous Sloc before I had to stop due to heat exhaustion (20.5 miles). What is a Sloc you may ask? Well it is a very long, very steep and very windy hill. This year its peak was demoralisingly hidden under cloud cover so it felt neverending.

Due to a late start to this year’s training (thanks to a sprained ankle in February) I didn’t have any big plans. I just wanted to get to Rushen again, then I could drive to Peel for an ice-cream and congratulate those who were stopping at this important check-point and cheer on those who were going further. I started the race with my cousin (a finisher in 2013) and we walked together for the first 19 miles – over four hours of near continuous rain. With much nagging/persuasion from my cousin, I’d decided to take on the Sloc again. My pace dropped, there was lots of swearing and the rain had cleared and we were now in strong sunshine and I was not enjoying myself. My cousin headed off and I promised I would get to the top of the Sloc and finish (this is not an official stop point so my time would have gone back to Rushen, but it would have been one hell of an achievement). I finally got to the top, to the all important beer tent, knocked back a glass and while my husband was putting my kit away in the car I decided to carry on to the next checkpoint at Kirk Patrick (30.5 miles). My technique had vanished at the bottom of the Sloc, my knees were aching, my neck was burning, my feet were stuck in a rhythm of their own but somehow I got to the church at Kirk Patrick. “But it’s only another couple of miles to Peel, you can do it,” the kindly lady at the checkpoint told me, so with much muttering and mumbling I swallowed down the remaining jelly babies with a dribble of warm Lucozade and went for it.

To this day I don’t know how I did it (family support was a hugh factor, thank you all). But I sailed into Peel on a high, crossed the finish line, beeped my timer for the last time and grasped my beautiful shiny medal. Many words of congratulations were followed by, “So how far are you going next year?” Well, we’ll see. I’ve already achieved so much more than I expected. Will I ever finish it? Never say never. But for now I’m giving my feet a rest and putting my legs up…

…I wish! Training starts for the Medoc Marathon this week.

If you fancy taking part, registration for the 2016 Parish Walk opens on 1 December. The walk will take place over the 18/19 June 2016. See you there.

*As well as crazy, the Manx are also the most kind-hearted and welcoming bunch people you’ll ever meet. They also know how to have a bloody good time!