My running targets for 2014 are based around two races, with the first of those being the Paris Marathon, where I would attempt a new best time for the marathon.
I arrived in Paris a couple of days before the race and met up with Kirsten, who was part of my Johannesburg running crew. We headed to the expo to collect our race packets and spent some time wandering fairly aimlessly around Paris in the lead up to the race.
My target was to run a time under 2:50, although in the back of my mind I did have a stretch target of completing the race at a pace under 4:00 min/km, which would require a time approximately 75 seconds faster. Requiring an average pace of just under 4:02 min/km to achieve a sub-2:50 time I planned to set out at exactly that pace from the start. Kirsten has his main race for the year at the Comrades Marathon in June, so he was planning for an easy day out by sneaking in under 3 hours.
An easy train ride to the start and a not-too-early start time allowed an uncomplicated start to the day. Kirsten and I were also joined by Fiona, another member of our Johannesburg running club who stayed at the same hotel. We caught the train to the Arc de Triomphe, dropped off a tog bag, and headed to the start area. We were standing on the Champs Élysées with Napoleon’s monumental arch of triumph behind us and a gentle downhill leading towards the glittering gold-topped obelisk on the Place de la Concorde.
The gun went off and despite the 10 traffic lanes being occupied by runners the 50,000-strong field made for some early challenges in maintaining a steady pace. I separated from Kirsten but after a kilometre or so we were running together again and crossed the Place de la Concorde and started along Rue de Rivoli. The early pace was perfectly on schedule, ticking off each kilometre at just over 4:00 minutes.
Soon after crossing Place de la Bastille we reached the first mentionable, although minor, climb as we made our way towards the park of Bois de Vincennes. Somewhere in that section I separated from Kirsten, and I knew that I would be on my own until the finish line.
I made my way around the park and reached the most easterly point on the course before turning back towards the centre. My pace had settled at 4:00 min/km so that my time at each kilometre marker was approximately 20 seconds behind an overall 4:00 min/km pace. After about 17 km I was descended towards the Seine when someone pulled up along side me, and I was once again running with Kirsten. My first point of business was to point out that while I was running perfectly to plan, he was clearly not following his. Then we ran.
Having visited Paris just last November, and having run the marathon course I was quite familiar with the route. We re-crossed the Place de la Bastille, made our way alongside the Seine, and I started pointing out the occasional landmark. At the halfway point, reached in 1:24:54, I had decided that my stretch target was a realistic possibility. As we made our way through a long tunnel beside the Seine Kirsten pointed out that our pace had picked up to under 4:00 min/km. I waited until we had crossed the 27-kilometre marker before informing Kirsten that our new target was 2:48:46.
We branched away from the Seine, passed the tennis courts of Roland Garros, and faced another climb to the park of Bois de Boulogne. My legs were hurting and I decided that my talking would cease until crossing the finish line as the remainder of the race was going to hurt. When we reached a section of nasty, uneven cobblestones Kirsten commented on how bad they were, and I responded very tersely: “terrible”. I was at the point where I could totally ignore looking at my pacing since I would be running as fast as my legs would take me until crossing the line.
I pushed through the final kilometres within the park, turned onto Avenue Foch and ran towards the line. I crossed with a time of 2:48:30. It had been a great day: a well paced race with a negative split and a new best time in the marathon.
In the finish chute area a photographer asked if she could take individual photos of both me and Kirsten. She wanted us to look serious in the photo, but I felt like I couldn’t help smiling. Kirsten was kind enough to advise me that I had not ruined the photo, since despite feeling like a smile my facial expression was actually closer to a grimace. The smile would come later, once the pain had faded.