When I was about 3 I was diagnosed with Perthes disease. In short a skeletal condition that results in a malformation of the hip ball and socket. It was caught relatively early but has left me with a small amount of hip displacia (like a dog) which manifests itself in backache or hip pain. The second side affect was due to be arthritis by the age of 30 and a steady degeneration ongoing.
I don’t often talk about it because I don’t want the sympathy or excuses that go with it. I’ve blocked out a fair amount including the caliper (think Forrest Gump) and the limping for obvious reasons. It wasn’t the greatest show and tell at school.
So why am I sharing it now? I’m 41 now and just ran a marathon.
I’ll just underline that. I just ran a marathon!
I couldn’t run 5km 6 months ago and for once I’m supremely proud of myself. I’ve done 4 Tough Mudders but this was another level. I never thought I’d get to this point and it’s the primary driver in most of the physical things I do, just to prove I can. Sure, I screwed up the pacing and the nutrition, I overheated and picked up a few blisters but aside from that I’m unscathed.
The trip to Paris was uneventful, some entertaining moments when my travelling companion, Paul, decided that his fluent French required no assistance at the station and he casually paid for 2 tickets for the train down tot he expo. We strolled to the platform and the curse of British Rail reared up. Bus replacement service. I’m pretty sure that’s what the kindly French assistant was trying to tell him, but never mind, we got a taxi.
For those that have never done a marathon, this is how it works. You go to the expo the day before and pick up your pack (number, backpack and some pistachios). Then you spend 45 minutes wondering why everyone else looks really fit and healthy whilst you hunt for your name on the competitors wall of 57,000 other names.
A quick train back to the hotel, dump the bags and go and grab some pasta. After that, it gets boring real quick. Trying to stay off your feet whilst watching Canal+ and not understanding a word of it is mentally challenging stuff. A quick google showed that Guinness was good before a run, so having fasted alcohol for a month, we had our first 12 hours before the start. Oops. I will add at £8 a pint and tasting watered down it was the single worst pint of Guinness I’ve ever had.
Race morning was hard work. A night of little sleep through a combination of nerves and a hot room, breakfast of muesli and full fat milk (I didn’t even know you could still buy full fat milk, vile), along with an energy powder and we were off. Down into the pens for the wait. I think this is the bit you aren’t prepared for. They release the waves in timed sections and there’s an awful a lot of standing around. Having people behind you form circles so they can openly urinate onto the Champs-Élysées is a bit off-putting when they could have just queued for the 2 toilets per 5000 people like everyone else. It very difficult to describe the volume of people, it’s beyond anything I’ve ever done. Hopefully the picture sums it up, the crowd was solid to the start gate in the distance with another 10,000 behind me.
The run is broadly 4 10k sections; Through Paris, around the park, along the river and the park at the finish.
- Through Paris 58m: As expected I did what everyone told me I would do. I went out too quick. We covered the first 10k at just below 4hr pace. The sun was warm and according to the Garmin my body temp went up 5 degrees at my wrist. I can track the temperature rises easily as the peaks are also when I made like a cow and regurgitated the gels. Firstly at 10k, then again later at around 30k. The run down was very pleasant, a downhill jaunt, dragged along with the crowds at speeds I couldn’t maintain and absolutely great support throughout.
- Around the Park 1h14m: This is where the early pace bit me, too hot, too high heart rate and a rush of nausea. I stopped for a quick visit to one of the 10 portaloos on the course and managed to get myself back on track and moving but never made the time back and couldn’t stabilise my heart rate anywhere below zone 4. The park support was sporadic but there were bands blasting out covers at various intervals, but this is the quietest part of the course.
- Along the River 1h16m: Stunning support, people shouting your name gets you moving, but I couldn’t maintain without feeling like I was going to throw up again (which I did anyway). By this point there was barely 10 minutes wen by without hearing an ambulance cutting through the crowd. I’m waiting to see the full number but of the 57,000 listed I believe only 73% finished. Some won’t have turned up but we’ll wait and see. The scenes along the river were stunning, the crowd was exceptional and damn if the river didn’t look inviting whilst running along next to it melting in the heat.
- Prostitute Park 1h14m: The final 12k is around a park usually inhabited by purveyors of the oldest trade in the world. To be fair I saw more than one runner who looked absolutely f**ked, mentally at least. There is one particular stretch that just seems to go on and on, around the 38km mark. Again, my walk/run routine was seeing me past the stragglers but holding back the throwing up.
Total : 5:15
What did I learn?
Having done one pre race run with one gel to see if it made me ill I was clearly an expert and decided that one gel per 30 mins would stop me bonking. It did stop me bonking but also had me honking. I was overheated and feeling rough from mile 10 through 20.
Looking forward I’d started my training with best intentions, but life and work got in the way. Some very sage advice from experienced friends struck a chord (Neil/Marc/Annemiek) and was absolutely right, too fast, too soon, more training that you think you need etc. I had to find out for myself and did so. I’m just glad it hasn’t completely put me off the next one. If anything I want it more now.
So why Broken Biscuits? After running/walking for 5 hours the volume of thoughts that came and went was immense. I came to the conclusion that the 2-3 hour runners work hard and get round and deserve the awe they command. The real heroes are the ones that find it hard, that have to think about food and gel because 5 hours of activity doesn’t come easy. It’s a real milestone. People with one shoe due to blisters, people passing out, people with physical ailments worse than anything I’ve ever had, tears, muscle failures, cramps and pain etched in faces determined to cross the line. This is a gruelling event for anyone, but for the general non athlete public this is a huge achievement. I came up with broken biscuits in the last 10km. Seeing the spread of the human conditions scattered across the roads, limping, stumbling and defying physicality to get to the end was emotional and awe-inspiring. Broken biscuits and I’m proud to be one of them.
Total time, for anyone that still cares, 5:15. Not great. My only excuses are a lack of dedication to training. (And my Garmin says I did the true 42km in 4:59. I’ll take that!)