Mar 18, 2013

A Continentalist in Paris: Paris Half Marathon (and Chateau de Vincennes)

My longest race thus far - but I lucked out with the weather.

I wasn't in the best shape to run my first half marathon on March 3. Though for the last year I've been running relatively frequently (e.g. frequent 6k Putney-Hammersmith loops along the Thames before work), I slacked off when we moved to Paris - partially due to plain lazyness, partially due to my recurring cold (punctuated by fever and ague) which I'm only just shaking now. Though in the past the thought of doing badly would have put me off competing entirely, I made myself go nonetheless.

The adventure started with collecting the race pack on the day before (Saturday). The packs were distributed in Bois de Vincennes, where the race was also due to start and finish. We decided to make a family outing of it (H, T, me), and T enjoyed seeing Chateau de Vincennes with its big moat. She did complain about the lack of water in the moat - and the distinct absence of sharks and crocodiles.

Walking to the collection point took a fair while, but it was organized pretty well, and the goodies in the bag (Haribo sweets, little towel) delighted T. Though the other stands at the pack collection point were fairly superfluous (mostly information on other runs in France and performance-enhancing nutritional supplements), we did score some bananas.

H spent at least half the ride back laughing about a typo in the pamphlet. I wish I'd taken a photo, but basically the word "tetons" had been translated pretty colloquially. We're not sure if the organizers couldn't be bothered to hire English-speaking proofreaders, or if said proofreaders had a juvenile sense of humor.

On the day itself, things were as good as I could have hoped for. I had my standard breakfast of frozen banana / plain yogurt / oatmeal smoothie and headed over to Vincennes; I wasn't especially early, but didn't have to worry about being late either. It was crowded, but organized pretty well - after dropping off my layers and bags, I headed over to the designated kennel for my anticipated time. This was probably the worst part - I hate the deathsweat smell of performance wear which surrounded me from all sides (though they make me look like a very unserious sportsperson, I wear H's old cotton tees to run), and I got increasingly cold even though I tried to bounce along to the Black Eyed Peas tracks which the animators were playing.

Once the race started, things got better. The conditions were great, especially weather-wise - it was sunny but not hot, and not too windy. The race started at Chateau de Vincennes, first going through the park. Since my own training grounds are extremely hilly, it felt good to run along relatively level ground - and the little hills later along the route didn't phase me much.

At the 5, 10, and 15k points, refreshments were served. This could have been organized better, since banana peels and orange skins together with bottles and cups littered the ground - most runners just couldn't be bothered to throw them into the designated litter areas. I only took a half cup of Powerade (blue, and not as good as Gatorade) at the 10k point, which kept me in good shape for the rest of the race. There were a few funny costumes (like a trio of Power Rangers), but I was mostly amused at the amount and quality of clothes people discarded - if you're ever looking for running gloves sweaters, jackets, and trackpants, I suggest coming to a race and collecting the discards (I was especially tempted to pick up a pair of gloves, but was afraid of being knocked over or breaking my stride).

The first 10k were easy enough. The route was pleasant, going partially along the Seine and the associated landmarks - but though the pleasant scenery definitely made the run more enjoyable than going through a ghettoish part of town, I wasn't able to enjoy it all that much (unlike the runners who stopped to take photos). I struggled between 15 and 18k and had to force myself to not break out of my trot. I eventually came in at under 2:20, which I'm perfectly fine with given my lax training routine. I definitely didn't give it my all in the end since I didn't want to vomit or faint at the finish line (and giving your all is overrated anyway), and I knew I still had to get myself home at the end. Finding H and T wasn't easy since I didn't bring my phone - but the staff at the family meeting point were able to give out my finish time so H was reassured that I was indeed around and not stranded in central Paris at the 13k mark.

We then went to the Louvre and the Tuileries - separate article on that will follow.

What worked
- Dressing appropriately for the weather.
- No jewelry.
- The breakfast on the day of the race - my breakfast is pretty healthy, and I know it tides my body over for a long time.

For next time
- Bring a strong painkiller or take one preemptively - I get killer migraines, and though I was lucky not to get one on the day of the race I can't count on this for the future.
- Bring more tissues (in case of a cold) - I took one pack, but it wasn't enough.

To do better for my next run (planned for the fall), I definitely need to train more. I should probably also make a concerned effort to lose a bit of weight and / or become more taught. I used to think compression clothes were for people who wanted to look slim in the gym, but the longer I ran the more I felt every non-muscly part of me wobble around. For the past two weeks my training schedule was on hold anyway: our family dog finally accomplished her mission to trip me on the stairs and I couldn't comfortably walk in any shoes but - oddly enough - high heels. But my "get back into run" today was fine overall.

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