Week In Review – Vive La France!

Bonjour! I’m back home from France. It was a great trip, but definitely tiring!

As usual, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL, but since last week’s post didn’t cover the full week thanks to my travel commitments (and lack of wifi to update the weekend’s events) I thought I’d begin this week’s post by filling in the gaps. Unsurprisingly, I have plenty of photos to share – this might be one to enjoy over a cup of tea!

The trip began in Normandy then we headed to Paris. Once home, it was time to get back to my regular routine (whilst also making sure to rest from the demands of a full-on itinerary and 40 pupils to keep an eye on!). Here’s the itinerary:

Saturday – travel to France
Sunday – explore Normandy
Monday – explore Bayeux then travel to Paris
Tuesday – Paris
Wednesday – Paris
Thursday – travel home
Friday – rest(!)
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – easy run

Saturday was a travelling day. While France is not really that far away, we had an early start to ensure we were at the airport in plenty of time (45 people to get checked in and through security!), then once in France we had a coach journey north to Normandy. An early highlight for the pupils was the presence of the Scotland football team in the departure lounge (a few were able to get photos). For me, arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport felt really familiar – I’m losing count of how many times I’ve been there now! – and I was pleased to find we had a great coach driver who not only drove us north, but provided some commentary and information about various things we passed as we left Paris, including the Stade de France.

IMG_4015Once in Normandy we headed to our base for the first couple of nights which is a youth centre opposite the most beautiful church tower.

IMG_4024We were hustled right in to dinner as we were a little later arriving that usual. The teachers had a most welcome arrival drink awaiting them, but I found the food a little strange – edible, but an odd combination. Fortunately, the meal was rescued by dessert which was these delicious pastries:

IMG_4017Our knowledgeable coach driver, who had stayed for dinner, told us they are known as Paris-Brest. Shaped like a bicycle wheel, they were created to commemorate the cycle race of the same name which began in 1891. I can confirm that they are delicious!

By the time we’d finished eating and been shown to our rooms, there was really only time to unpack the things we would need then start getting ready for bed. Of course the pupils were excited, and many had slept on the coach so felt wide awake, but I know how busy and tiring the trip is so was keen to get everyone to bed at a reasonable time.

Sunday was all about Normandy. We began the day in the beautiful town of Caen exploring the Sunday market and the castle which was built for William the Conqueror. We had our packed lunch in the castle grounds then headed on to Arromanches, at the heart of the D-Day landing sites (Jour-J in French). We were there to visit the 360 cinema which has a powerful 20 minute film which gives a real flavour of events in June 1944. The cinema is above the town and from the elevated position we could see the remains of the Mulberry harbour which was created to bring cargo ashore during the D-Day landings. We then took the short walk down to the town and had a look around for a short time before heading on to our next port of call: the American cemetery at Colleville.

IMG_4036The cemetery sits above Omaha beach and was featured at the start of the movie Saving Private Ryan (two of the brothers whose story inspired the film are buried at this cemetery). We didn’t have much time there, but I found time to watch a short film in the museum which I had not previously seen, before having a look around the cemetery itself. It’s a very sombre place and the mood can be felt in the air. It always really brings home the scale of the sacrifice made by allied forces as over 10,000 crosses are in this location alone.

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IMG_4043We began Monday still in Normandy with a visit to Bayeux and the famous tapestry which depicts the events around the Norman conquest of England in 1066. It’s quite spectacular and intricate, 70 metres long and 50 cm high. I remember learning about the tapestry at primary school, and always remember the part where Harold is killed with an arrow through the eye. Ouch!

IMG_4065After the tapestry there was some time to explore Bayeux before our packed lunches. There’s a beautiful cathedral in Bayeux and overall it’s a very attractive town.

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IMG_4079After lunch we were back on the road and heading to Paris for the remainder of the trip. Again, staying in a youth centre but more modern than the one in Normandy. We arrived in time to have a little time to relax before dinner, then it was time to head out.

Our first evening was spent in the Notre Dame area. We allowed the pupils some time to explore in their groups, so I opted to pay a visit to the nearby bookshop Shakespeare & Co. It’s a famous independent bookshop, traditionally English-language. Its location is close to Kilometer Zéro, the point from which all French road distances are measured. The shop is part of the rich history of ex-pat literary Paris in the 1920s and was a meeting place for the likes of Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Eliot. Today it’s still full of nooks and crannies inviting visitors to get comfortable and read. There’s even a resident cat whose favourite sleeping place is well defined!

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IMG_4124I absolutely adore this place and could easily spend hours (days?) there, but contented myself with a couple of books. You can ask to have your purchases stamped with the store logo, which is a nice touch and something I recommend if you ever visit.

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fullsizeoutput_229cTuesday was probably the most tiring day as we had no coach so were both walking and using the metro. It was also a day when there were public sector strikes, which ended up affecting our itinerary.

The first visit on the agenda was the Musée d’Orsay, a one-time railway station now home to a number of exhibits including Impressionist art. In the past we have visited the Louvre, so this was new. Unfortunately, just as we got there the museum was in the process of closing as the strikes meant they did not have enough staff. We gave our pupils some time to themselves to look around, take photos, buy food, etc while we made alternative plans and I drew on what turned out to be far more impressive knowledge of Paris than I realised I had as I was able to look at my map and come up with a plan almost immediately. All those Paris marathons were good for something!

IMG_4172We needed to do something that would not incur a cost (including additional metro tickets) so I created a tour of the area we were in. From the Musée d’Orsay we walked along the Rive Gauche past the bouquinistes to the Pont des Arts. This is the pedestrian bridge which attracted controversy due to the number of “love locks” attached to it. The locks have now been removed due to safety concerns, but it’s still a great bridge to cross as it’s quite spacious and there’s no traffic so you can take some time for photos.

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IMG_4231The bridge leads into the Louvre courtyard so we spent some time there taking photos around the iconic pyramid (and I decided this would be the the ideal location for some yoga photos!). I had thought of maybe heading into the Tuileries gardens next, perhaps even along to the Place de la Concorde to see the obelisk, however we needed to start heading to our lunch at a quick service restaurant close to the Pompidou centre so we made our way along Rue de Rivoli to get there.

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IMG_4196The afternoon was devoted to some shopping so we walked the group along to the Forum des Halles, a huge underground shopping mall. There has been a lot of work going on remodelling the area and it was fascinating to see how much it has changed. I didn’t really do much shopping, but did enjoy the chance to slow down a bit and spend some time in a nearby café.

Unfortunately, our evening was also affected by the strikes. We had been due to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but it was also closed. We had a bit longer to think about alternative activities and I suggested going along anyway to see the monument from ground level and spend some time on the Champs Elysées before walking along to the Trocadéro to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up. This turned out to be an ideal solution – another score for all that time I’ve spent exploring Paris on foot!

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IMG_4219The pupils were pleased to see the coach again on Wednesday morning as they were so tired from the day before. Wednesday began with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I ended up waiting at the bottom with a pupil who was unable to go up because of a fear of heights. I amused myself with a coffee and pain au chocolat for second breakfast!

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IMG_4241Once the group was back on the ground we walked across the road to the Port de la Bourdonnais where we had a one hour cruise on the Seine. I’ve done this a few times so didn’t bother listening to the commentary and instead just enjoyed the Parisian scenery and chance to relax for a while.

Back at the coach we had a quick packed lunch (it was a little chilly) before heading off again. We asked our coach driver to go around the Arc de Triomphe, which he did, then took a fairly scenic route to our next port of call all the while keeping up his very knowledgeable and interesting commentary.

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IMG_4255Soon, we passed the Moulin Rouge and got off the coach to make our way up the 270 (I think) steps to the Sacré Cœur. I had to go up them fairly briskly as some of the boys raced up and a member of staff needed to be up there to keep everyone together as they arrived. After a pause at the view point, we walked around to the Place du Tertre to enjoy the artists, cafés and souvenir shops. The staff sat at a café by our meeting point and I ordered a delicious bowl of soupe à l’oignon gratinée.

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IMG_4397Our evening activity was a visit to the Montparnasse tower and its panoramic observation deck. We made our way there on foot, and it was well worth it for the stunning views of Paris by night.

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IMG_4297Thursday was, sadly, the day we had to go home. I was up early to take one of our pupils to the airport as a family funeral required her to be on an earlier flight than ours. It was actually quite nice to have a couple of hours to myself and not constantly hear my “teacher name” followed by Are we…? Can we…? When are we…? Where is…? etc.

IMG_4307Back in Scotland our journey home took us over the new Queensferry Crossing (my first time) which was exciting, but by the time I finally got home I was exhausted so Steve treated me to a Chinese takeaway for dinner before I went to bed.

IMG_4320Unsurprisingly, Friday was a very quiet day. I slept a little later then usual, got unpacked and paid a visit to my parents before going out to eat with Steve. Even better, my favourite special was on so I had a lovely steak dinner 🙂

IMG_4335By Saturday I was ready for business as usual. What with my recovery weeks and the trip, I hadn’t trained since the Loch Ness marathon and was keen to get started again with a parkrun.

IMG_4336It was a lovely autumnal day, perfect for running. I had no expectations of time, but enjoyed moving my legs and pushing my body again. I ended up running really evenly and was quite surprised to finish in 24:41. Not too shabby after three weeks off!

IMG_4343The rest of the day was pretty relaxing as Steve was away, so I chilled out with the cat and caught up on some TV.

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IMG_4409Sunday was another return to the usual routine as I headed out for my second run of the weekend. Nowhere near as long as my marathon training runs, but a nice 5.5 mile loop at an easy pace to start reminding my body of how to run again. I felt sluggish at first, but by the end I could feel everything clicking into place.

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IMG_4408What a week! So strange to think that I started the week in France and ended it on my usual running route. Life is so funny sometimes! It was great to have some time in Paris, but now I’m ready to re-focus and get back to some regular training again.

Have you been on any trips recently?
How is your training going?

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Week In Review – Bon Voyage!

All of a sudden it’s October and the end of term. I’m not entirely sure what happened to the last 8 weeks (although I suspect it was all just focused on reaching that start line at Loch Ness!). As you read this, I will be escorting 40 teenagers around Normandy and Paris, so look out for next week’s update with more details. For now, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my roundup of the last week.

Since this was the second of my usual two post-marathon recovery weeks, and I was getting ready to head off on a trip, things remained pretty gentle this week:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – rest
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – travel to France
Sunday – explore Normandy

I felt much better on this Monday than I had the previous one, thanks to a restful weekend. Since I knew I would miss my Hatha yoga class on Saturday (and had paid for it as part of the block) I decided to go to the Monday evening class instead. It meant I didn’t have a huge amount of time to do anything else, but to be honest the time out to calm my mind and focus on me was just what I needed. Interestingly, I felt a little residual weariness in my legs when we held one of the postures for a long time, but I suppose that shouldn’t really be a surprise so soon after a marathon!

Tuesday was busy so “rest” may not be quite accurate. I had to dash out of school at the end of the day to make it back in time for my hair appointment. I usually get this done at the weekend, but thanks to a number of obstacles in recent weeks (including, but not limited to, my trip to Inverness) there had just not been a way to fit it in and I really needed a trim before going away. At least sitting in the chair chatting and reading my book was nice and relaxing.

Tuesday was also the day my rejection from the London marathon arrived. Luckily, I had a Plan B and got my entry in for the Stirling marathon as soon as I got home!

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Another rest day on Wednesday, but again not exactly resting on my laurels. This week I FINALLY made it back to orchestra (rehearsals began a few weeks ago) as I want to be part of the forthcoming concert. I was a little worried as I haven’t really played since the concert last November, but it was so nice to see my orchestra friends again, and I even made a decent job of sight-reading the symphony we were playing!

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Thursday was, of course, my Ashtanga yoga class. Definitely something I needed in the last week of term! There were only three of us this week, but I felt so much better in the postures than last week when my legs were still so weary – I even managed to work on Wheel a little more which is one of my goals.

By Friday I was probably running out of “oomph” but luckily it was the last day of term. It still ended up a rather busy day as I got everything sorted out for the two week break. Once home, I had scheduled a checkup at the vet for my cat (Steve’s in charge of making sure she has all her medicines while I’m away!), after which I had to get stuck into packing. I always feel like I take far too much on this trip, but the weather in France can be so changeable at this time of year, and with the regimented timetable of a school visit, going to buy new clothes (as I would if I was caught out on a holiday) just isn’t possible. Add to that all the additional bits and pieces I need with 40 teenagers in my charge and suddenly I need more than usual, but by some miracle I got it all done in time to head out to eat – starting with a celebratory end of term pint!

IMG_4011My other Friday news is that the medal for my Hogwarts Running Club virtual race arrived – year 4 of the Platform 9 3/4k. I’ve taken part in this every year and this year, the medal has a light so it looks like the front of the Hogwarts Express. Cool!

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Saturday was travelling day. We gathered in the school car park while it was still dark to head to the airport, and fly to Paris. From there, a coach transfer to our Normandy base for the first couple of days. However since all this took place AFTER I wrote and scheduled this post, I’ll need to fill you in on the details next week! For now, it’s au revoir from me…

How has your week been?
Are your training just now or enjoying some down time?

The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Training Talk Part 3

During my recent marathon training cycle I was twice inspired by the Training Talk section of the Marathon Talk podcast to write a post (you can read those here and here) and it’s happened again. I had begun a draft of a post about not reaching my goal in the marathon and how I was able to accept that by reframing the experience, however since this became a topic of discussion in the first episode I listened to after the marathon, I thought I would use the points raised as the basis for my own post…

Three Simple Ways To Feel Good About Your Race When It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:

  • Remember that it’s only you who really cares
    This was something I really learned throughout this process. Back in the autumn I kept a goal race a secret, for a variety of reasons. It was a kind of experiment to see what difference, if any, there was if I wasn’t talking and writing about my training all the time. Would I perform any better free from that pressure? In the end, it was a moot point as a hip issue led to me missing the race, but for my last training cycle I was very public about my goal of running sub-4 hours. That, of course, meant that if I didn’t meet my goal, everyone would know. And do you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When I posted across social media that I’d had a tough race and missed my goal time, I got nothing but positivity back. The non-runners were simply impressed that I had completed a marathon; the runners understood not only how difficult that is, but how the hot conditions changed things. Nobody cared about my time, other than to ask if I had a good time.
    And the discussion on Marathon Talk was very similar. It was pointed out that sport can be tough in the moment, but in the end it’s just sport. How you perform doesn’t define you as a person. While we may think others might care about our time and judge us for it, in reality they care that we’re happy and a nice person, not how long it took us to run an arbitrary distance. All those people congratulating me on finishing a marathon proved that to be true, and my initial disappointment at not yet reaching my goal was soon replaced by pride that I had finished the race.fullsizeoutput_1cf9
  • Stop thinking about your outcome and identify the good things from the process
    In other words, what worked in your life with this race and why? Ok, so it took me half an hour longer than I wanted to complete the marathon, but there are still a lot of positives to take away: I entered a race during the school holidays so I could enjoy a slightly extended trip; I got to spend a weekend in my favourite city in the world, taking part in my favourite activity; I got to run the always amazing Breakfast Run the day before; I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s event; I got to soak up the atmosphere on race day and form unspoken connections with those around me, regardless of nationality; and I got to wear my medal with pride whilst celebrating with new found friends. What’s not to like about that?
    All of these things worked to give me a fantastic weekend away. The numbers on the clock are but a small part of that and the race was the culmination of many weeks and months of successful training. Training which I enjoyed and through which I could see the changes in my strength and speed. Those will still be there to capitalise on as I resume training.

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  • What did you do that actually surprised you?
    By thinking about the race differently and what was surprising in the build up, we can soon see things differently to the finish time. For me, this race really was a celebration of my training as I actually completed that training buildup successfully. As someone who is prone to injury, that’s something that surprised me. Another surprise was my performance at the Inverness Half Marathon. I knew I was in PB shape and estimated that if I ran at marathon pace I could complete the race in around 1:55, but on the day ran faster to achieve 1:53. Definitely a very pleasant surprise.

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The key thing to take away from all this is that not reaching a goal isn’t a disaster. There are only so many things we can control and many more that we can’t. There’s a fine balance in endurance sport between caring enough about something to try hard, and caring so much that we take it too far. That can be potentially destructive. There will always be lots of “what ifs”, and often there is a perfectly simple answer:

What if I don’t make my goal time?
I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and enter another race to try again. 

Finish times are not the only way to judge the success of a race. One of my most successful was the same race last year when I was just so pleased to be able to take part after an injury that the whole race felt like a giant party. Being able to run and do so consistently was my success. This year, my success was having the courage to recognise that my goal was out of reach that day and reframe my marathon as a long training run for my next one. For there will be a next one, and maybe next time that sub-4 will be mine…IMG_1388

Tips for Marathon Success

It’s spring marathon season, and whether you’re lucky enough to have a place in London or are heading to one of the other fantastic marathons here in the UK or abroad, you might be starting to feel a bit nervous. There are plenty of articles out there offering hints and tips to help make your first (or second, or third…) marathon a success, and after 9 marathons I have a few of my own to share…

  • Get your name printed on your running top. Having people call your name and encourage you as you run is a great motivator. When I finished my first marathon (Paris, 2010) I couldn’t understand why the French volunteers were calling to me by name to hand me my medal, etc. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my race number haha!
  • The day before the race try to visit the finishing line. Know what the last 200m or so looks like. Visualise how you want to finish the race and hold onto that as you run to create the finish you want. No matter how exhausted you are, there’s always something left for a big finish. I’ll always remember turning the final corner in London and seeing the finish line ahead of me. Amazing!
  • When you arrive at the start area on race day join the queue for the toilets. When you come out of the toilet, get straight back in the queue. By the time you get to the front of the queue you’ll be pleased you did! There will likely be some toilets along the route, but if you’re nervous then I definitely recommend multiple visits before you start running!

  • Mentally break the race down into manageable chunks e.g. by distance (not 26.2 miles but a half marathon and 2x 10k, or 4x 5 miles and 2 parkruns, etc) or by landmarks. In London I remember this being to Tower Bridge (halfway) then to Canary Wharf, Big Ben and so on. I tend to divide both by distance (I take a gel every 5 miles plus an extra with 5k to go so I run 4x 5 miles plus 2 parkruns) and by landmarks, which in Paris are the Bastille, Bois de Vincennes, halfway mark, Eiffel Tower, etc. Mentally it’s much more manageable.

  • If you have supporters with you, make sure you know where they’re going to be (and that they know what you’re wearing). It can be tricky to spot each other in a crowd, so think about how to make this a bit easier e.g. tracking apps offered by your marathon, getting your supporters to text you a photo of where they’re standing, using signs or visible objects such as balloons to make it easier to spot someone. It’s an incredible mental boost to see a familiar face in the crowd so you want to do what you can to find each other (especially if you opt to give your support crew extra gels/drinks/blister plasters!). Usually Steve is running, but he was a spectator when I ran in London and I knew he would be at Tower Bridge which is notoriously busy. I felt quite down when I thought I had missed him so it was great when I then spotted him waving to me.

  • As you near the finish, regardless of how you feel, scrape your hair off your face, wipe your mouth and nose then smile – you’re getting your photo taken!

  • Be prepared to experience every emotion imaginable in the space of a few seconds as you cross the finish line – you’ve just achieved something amazing so it’s ok to cry! (Wearing sunglasses is great to cover this up and make you look fresh as a daisy! I ALWAYS wear my sunglasses for a marathon).

  • If you need it, take time to reflect on your experience before meeting your supporters. Most finish areas have plenty of space and are restricted to runners only, but if you sit down remember you might need someone to help you get up again! Your legs will feel like they’ve been put on backwards for a day or two after the race – this is normal!

  • Plan in advance where you’re going to meet your supporters and stick to the plan. After the effort you’ve put in it may be the only thing you can focus on as you shuffle along. Making a phone call may not always be possible to communicate any changes so it’s important to know where you’re heading. Remember there could be tens of thousands of people, so “I’ll be by the toilets” might be a little vague and your mind won’t be at its sharpest. Most races will have a reunion area so arrange to meet by letter X or Z or whatever works for you. We usually have a backup plan as well in case that doesn’t work.

  • Relax and enjoy the experience. You’re running a marathon and that’s something amazing. Be sure to celebrate afterwards. And remember – nobody cares about your time except for you.

Whatever marathon you’re running, good luck!

Tough Girl

Back in the summer of 2015 I spotted a tweet from double Olympian and Commonwealth Games medallist Liz Yelling sharing a link to a new podcast she had been interviewed for. Thinking it sounded interesting, I downloaded the podcast and loved it. I immediately subscribed and downloaded the handful of previous episodes so I could catch up. I was hooked and have remained a huge fan ever since. What was that podcast? The Tough Girl Podcast hosted by Sarah Williams (I wrote a bit about this in my Podcast Picks post last summer).

Everything Sarah wants to achieve through her podcast, website and social media channels really speaks to me. Her core aim is to motivate and inspire women and girls, to provide positive role models of women pushing boundaries and taking on challenges. Whether that’s running, cycling, swimming or something completely different like climbing, rowing or powerlifting, the chances are there’s a podcast episode to suit you. Nor does it matter how old you are – Sarah has interviewed guests from 17 to 70 – and age should never be a barrier to trying something new. These are the very things I feel passionate about. So many women are put off participating in sport or taking on challenges for a variety of reasons, and I want to try and help break down those barriers, perhaps even be a positive role model, and show that we can all do ANYTHING we put our minds to. For me, this podcast was perfect and listening to all the incredible women on it made me feel part of something special.

Such was my passion for Sarah’s mission, I found myself getting more and more involved. First, I became part of a team of volunteers helping her with some of her social media commitments (you can follow her Facebook page here and female listeners can become part of the Tough Girl Tribe, a closed group of supportive and like-minded women). More recently, I decided to financially help support the podcast by making a monthly contribution through Patreon. For me, this was important as Sarah puts so much time and effort into everything she does and produces some fantastic free content. Support on Patreon is really the only way she can earn an income from that work right now, and while the content is free there are all sorts of costs involved in producing a quality podcast, maintaining a website and so on. I get value from the podcast and wanted to do my bit to help out.

A week ago I was lying on the floor of my Paris hotel room with my legs up the wall to start my post-marathon recovery. I’ve done this after every long run this year and like to use the time to catch up on social media posts. On marathon days there are always loads, but one in particular caught my eye. One of the awesome members of the Tough Girl Tribe had put up a post inviting other members to write positive, inspiring messages for me to read after the race. As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed one from Sarah asking me if I would like to be a guest on her daily podcast, a short daily update she has been producing to help keep her accountable during the preparations for her next challenge. I have been listening to these podcasts and been struck by how honest and real Sarah has been – not every day can be completely positive, regardless of what social media might have us believe, and sometimes we have to acknowledge our struggles and be honest about how we are feeling. It was listening to these episodes that motivated me to become a patron of the show.

I’ve never been on a podcast, nor have I vlogged or shared video/audio content of myself on any social media platform, but I agreed to the podcast interview as I thought it was a great opportunity to discuss my running and perhaps inspire someone else to give it a go. I feel like I know Sarah having listened to all her podcasts and having a previous conversation with her, so I knew it would feel like a chat between friends. The interview took place via Skype on Wednesday and the episode went live on Friday morning (I got a bit over-excited and shared it just about everywhere!). It’s not long, only around 15 minutes, but I’d love for you to have a listen. If you don’t already subscribe to the Tough Girl Podcast (or Daily Podcast) then I highly recommend it. I listened to the latest instalment of 7 Women 7 Challenges during the Paris Marathon as I wanted to be inspired by the awesome women involved and their words will forever be linked in my mind with different parts of that day.

I was delighted to be interviewed and so wanted to share it with you today. You can access the show notes for the episode and listen via Libsyn here (or if you prefer to use your favourite podcast directory, search for Tough Girl Daily Podcast). Alternatively, you can listen via the YouTube link below. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah Williams, check out this interview she did for another blogger or visit her website.

And remember: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

I Love Paris When it Sizzles

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Who needs an excuse to go to Paris? I certainly don’t, but a marathon is definitely a very good reason to make the trip! Long-time readers will already know that I’m a big fan of la plus belle ville du monde and, like the 1964 film starring Audrey Hepburn, the titles of my posts this week have been inspired by the words of Cole Porter:

“Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies.
Whether loud be her cheers or soft be her tears,
More and more do I realize:

I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.”

Last weekend most definitely sizzled, providing less than ideal conditions for a marathon (you can read about that experience here) but ideal conditions to enjoy a weekend break. While we didn’t want to tire ourselves out walking miles and miles around the city (so easily done!) when we had a marathon to run, that doesn’t mean we didn’t take advantage of our time in Paris to enjoy some of the other things the city has to offer, so like last year I thought I’d share one or two of the non-running highlights (aka The One Where I Bore You With My Holiday Photos 😉 )

Cuisine
France, of course, is synonymous with fine dining, however some of the more traditional french fare probably wouldn’t sit very well on race day (anyone for steak tartare?!?) so we tended to structure our eating around what we knew would work for us. Our hotel had a great breakfast buffet, but I for one stuck to yoghurt, toast and pastries until after the marathon, then indulged in some sausages and pancakes the day after (but I was so hungry I forgot to photograph it!)

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For lunch the day before the marathon we had a slice of pizza, followed by reliving the joy we discovered last year: the Nutellino. Basically this is Nutella, a shot of coffee and some frothy milk, finished off with an extra teaspoon of Nutella sitting on top. Delicious!

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Dinner that night was onion soup (my favourite) and tagliatelle bolognese in a lovely Italian place we found last year. It’s on the Champs Élysées which can be pricey, but this one is reasonable and always really busy. Proximity to our hotel is another big draw!

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Post-marathon, anything goes! We had our free pint at Frog XVI (they have their own microbrewery and I chose Baba Boom!) and ordered one of their burgers. This one was barbecue, and to be honest I have no idea what it tastes like as I didn’t exactly savour every mouthful (and yes, I did cut the burger and take a bite before I remembered to take a photo -> runger!)

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IMG_1399We rounded off the trip with one last al fresco coffee on the Champs Élysées on Monday morning before heading to the airport (which I followed with an onion soup chaser. What can I say? I was hungry!).

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Well it would be rude not to! We paid a visit to one or two shops in the Carrousel du Louvre, including one of my favourites, Pylones. In the window they had a poster that seemed to be of me living my Paris dream life – I even had a wee cat! I bought myself a replacement for the mug I broke at the end of term with the same design on it which should cheer me up as the new term begins!

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History
Right across from our hotel we spotted these high walls which were clearly much older than the other architecture in the area. Intrigued, I checked my map to find these walls marked the Reservoir de Passy. Further searching online revealed some very interesting information about this reservoir. Built between 1858-66, it’s fed by the Seine and is not drinking water, but it does feed the fountains and parks of the city. Unusually, the reservoir itself sits five storeys above ground (it’s described as being like a series of swimming pools) and is open to the elements. There is a network of tunnels below the reservoir which were used as torture chambers by the French Gestapo during the Occupation.

IMG_1362By way of further intrigue, we also learned that the headquarters of the French Gestapo were nearby, on the very same street as our hotel, so we couldn’t resist a little walk to go and check it out.

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IMG_1363Maybe it puts a firm stamp on our vintage, but all Steve and I could think about was popular ’80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo and couldn’t help wondering if we were on the brink of locating the painting of The Fallen Madonna!

Sightseeing
You can’t go to a city and not take in the sights. To be honest, most of ours was covered by the Breakfast Run and Marathon, but we still managed to fit in a bit of larking about for the camera!

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That blue line on the road marks where the marathon started. Apart from that there’s no sign that a race took place there just 24hrs before!

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I don’t know what all the fuss is about. The Eiffel Tower is quite small 😉

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Having my selfies infiltrated again!

I’ll leave you with the words of T.S. Eliot, who captures my feelings about Paris beautifully. The marathon may have proved tougher than expected this time, but we still had a fantastic weekend.

“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall

My buried life, and Paris in the spring,

I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world

To be wonderful and youthful after all”

From Collected Poems 1909-1962

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Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
How would you spend a weekend in Paris?

Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

If you’ve read my previous posts on my trip to Paris last weekend (if not you can catch up here and here) then you’ll know it was a pretty busy weekend. And if you read my week in review then you’ll also know that marathon day didn’t entirely go to plan. In this post, you’ll learn a bit more about what happened.

IMG_1376Like any marathoner, in the days preceding the race I developed an obsession with checking the weather forecast for Sunday. The pattern went a bit like this:

Day 1 – Sunday = hot
Day 2 – Sunday = hotter
Day 3 – Sunday = hotter still…

And so on. Not the best conditions for this poor Scot who trained through the rains and winds of winter, with temperatures peaking around 12C (low 50s F). Everyone I spoke to over race weekend said the same: It’s going to be hot. Keep hydrated. I’ll probably take it easy…

Take it easy? But I put in weeks and weeks of training to get a sub-4, I wrote about it all over my blog and actually confessed to my goal whenever someone asked. Here it was looking like that goal was drifting away before the race had even begun.

So I reset my goal.

Instead of fighting to hit my paces, I would start out comfortably and just see what happened. If it became obvious that a sub-4 was out of the question, then I would just enter another race and try again. With that settled in my mind, it became much easier to head into race day without massive pressure to perform.

Race day began, of course, with an early alarm call. We knew that the hotel would serve breakfast from 6:30 and wanted to be down there as early as possible to give us plenty of time to finish getting ready before walking over to Avenue Foch, which we had realised we could reach really quickly from where we were.

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As we walked up to drop off our bags, it was already clear that it was going to be a warm day. Normally I would wear a long sleeved top, or at the very least some arm warmers, and feel slightly cool walking to the race, but not this time. This time I was wearing exactly what I would wear to run, with no extras. And I felt perfectly comfortable. Just how warm was it going to get? And when?

Like last year, there was a security check to enter the runners’ area. First our race numbers were checked, then a bag check, but this was fairly quick and we had expected it anyway. We both dropped off our bags, took a couple of photos and headed for the toilet queues before walking the short distance to the Champs Élysées (where there was a second check of race numbers) and the access points for each wave. Since I had hoped for a sub-4 time I was in the 3:45 wave and Steve was in the 3:15, so after one final selfie we parted ways to join the crowds trying to access the start area (this happens every year and my advice is just expect it and go with it – you’ll get in fine as the waves start to move forward).

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Once inside the start area I had a bit of space to take in my surroundings and snap a couple of pictures. I then decided I’d best have one last toilet stop (you know how it is – as soon as you think about nipping to the loo you immediately HAVE to go!) so joined a short queue. Unfortunately as I waited the 4 hour group was walked forward, engulfing the area I was standing in, which meant an inevitable delay to my start time as I would miss my wave heading out. I did manage to squeeze my way to the front of this wave, but in addition to the wave starts, Paris also splits the waves into the left and right hand sides of the road and staggers their starts. This allows volunteers to clear any discarded clothing/bottles/pre-marathon debris from the road. My group was walked forwards to the start line, then the right hand side was set off first and it seemed to take forever. At one point I wondered if all 57,000 entrants were being allowed through in this one group! A few people stared to climb over the barriers into this wave, but it seemed more sensible just to wait it out. The race is chip timed so there is no need to worry. Experience of this event has taught me just to be patient around the start and go with the flow.

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Eventually, we were underway. I had decided to listen to podcasts during the race to give me something to focus on, but didn’t start the first one immediately to give me a chance to monitor my pace and settle in to my rhythm. I waited until after the first mile to press play when I felt that I had adjusted into a suitable pace.

For the first 5k along to the Bastille, everything was ticking along nicely. I was right on my target pace and was managing to run in the shade at the side of the road. This continued until the 5 mile mark when I took my first gel, but by the time I hit 10k and the Bois de Vincennes it was starting to feel bit harder. The course had been narrow at points which had slowed me down, there were some short inclines and all of a sudden the sun was beating down with no real respite.

My second gel at 10 miles gave me a lift, as did the cheer point from one of my favourite groups the Paris Frontrunners, part of an international LGBT running organisation. The gentlemen of the group, in drag, cheering us on and waving pompoms always makes me smile and gives renewed energy for the next part of the course.

But by the time I reached half way I was beginning to flag. I already knew I was off pace for a sub-4, but now a PB was slipping away as well. At first this worried me, not because of my desire for a PB, but because it was feeling hard much sooner than it should. Having spoken to others after the race, I felt much better as everyone described reaching a point (somewhere between 13-18 miles) at which they just thought, “nope,” and switched their attention to simply getting to the end. Thinking about the relative paces of these runners and the times they began the race, I think everyone came up against this at roughly the same time of day, towards the later part of the morning and what is effectively the hottest part of the day. But when you’re mid-race and alone (or as alone as you can be when surrounded by tens of thousands of others having the same struggle!) it’s hard to know that.

What I remember is of having a very strange experience: my legs weren’t sore, nothing was tight or off, it was just getting more and more difficult to get my legs to move. I described it to Steve as being like wading through treacle and he said he felt something similar. Presumably the heat (I think it rose to about 24C/mid 70s F rapidly and there was no shade other than the tunnels along the quai) was sucking all the energy away as our bodies were having to work so much harder to keep us cool. I noted my heart rate was higher than it had been on training runs where I was running quicker and knew that this race was just going to be about completing the distance healthily.

The further I ran, the more I saw people who were struggling – people at the side of the road clearly in a bad way, people on stretchers and the sounds of ambulance sirens. I would imagine most of this was caused by dehydration and was glad I had opted to fill my hydration pack right up with an electrolyte drink. I also picked up water at each aid station to take a sip and pour water down my back. And as for the hoses – what sweet relief! They were icy cold and each run through would elicit an involuntary noise, but it was so worth it!

At mile 18 beyond the Eiffel Tower I took a cup of that delightful pink Isostar drink that I believe to be rocket fuel. I always run well after that, but sadly it doesn’t last all the way to the end!

One thing I did find interesting was that despite the need for walking breaks to cool down and taking my time at aid stations collecting a sugar lump and orange segment, I was constantly surrounded by the same people, always looking at the same running tops. Clearly everyone was having the same battle that day in Paris. And despite my perception of not running well/taking lots of walk breaks, when I watched my race video I was doing something resembling decent running in every single part. It just goes to show how your perception can be skewed by the tough moments!

There was a slight change to the final miles this year, meaning the run through the Bois de Boulogne was a little different. I knew my watch was about 0.2ish of a mile ahead of the mile markers, so just kept trusting the information I was seeing, knowing that the end would finally come. Finally passing the 26 mile sign at the roundabout outside the Bois de Boulogne is the sign that the finish line is near, and that’s where I found my extra spurt to take me to the end – I even made a valiant effort to race Superman, but he got me right at the end!

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Finally crossing the line and stopping my watch, I fully expected the usual wave of emotion and tears that accompany the end of a marathon…but they didn’t come. On reflection, I think my reframing the event as a long training run meant that despite my relief at being able to stop running once and for all, that same rush wasn’t there. I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do on this occasion, and was simply using this run as a stepping stone towards running an autumn race. The fact that I didn’t wake up feeling like my legs were on backwards was further testament to this: the race felt tough, but I clearly didn’t work all-out otherwise my legs would have felt much worse.

As I moved through the finish area collecting my T-shirt, medal and refreshments (I opted for water, another banana, an apple and enjoyed an orange segment on the move) I noticed lots of people seeking medical attention, more than I think I’ve noticed before, and felt glad once again to have reached the finish line without any ill-effects.

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Reclaimed bag in hand, I went to find Steve who was waiting for me at the agreed spot having had a very similar race experience to me. I got myself sorted out then we joined the queue for some photos. Isostar France had set up a couple of backdrops and were advertising free photos which would be published on their Facebook page. We got a photo together at one backdrop then went to the other for individual photos. We then shuffled off to take photos next to the rather apt “I made it” backdrop before our short walk back to the hotel (and the “Everest” that was the stairs to our room!).

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The first thing I did was lie with my legs up the wall for a good 10-15 minutes which really made me feel better. It was then time for a shower, change and catch up on social media posts before heading out to meet some others for some food. We opted for a nearby pub which we had been to before as we had spotted this encouraging sign the day before:

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We then rounded off our day with a short walk along to the Tocadéro to watch the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up with sparkling lights.

 

This marathon may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I’m not letting it get me down. There are some things you can control on race day – clothing, nutrition, attitude – and some you can’t, weather being one of the most obvious. Could I have pushed to run faster? Maybe, but I would probably not have made it to the end of the race and would be facing a lengthy recovery period before I could run again. By making the decision to ease off and simply complete the race, I know I’m in a strong position to train through the summer and enter an autumn marathon to have another go at breaking that 4 hour mark. A marathon is a strange beast: training can go absolutely perfectly yet anything can happen on the day. Much as I love Paris, this simply wasn’t the time for me to reach my goal. Next time, things might be very different. At the end of the day, with 4:32:07 I still ran a respectable time, even though my perception of it was that I performed badly. That tells me there’s much more in me and a faster time IS possible. Besides, I just had a weekend in Paris. What’s not to like about that?

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

Often a real highlight of the Paris Marathon weekend for me is the Breakfast Run. For just a few Euros (I paid 12 Euros extra when I booked my marathon place) you get a good quality tech T-shirt and access to a fantastic 5(ish)k run followed by breakfast. Ever since the first time we took part in this event I have loved the atmosphere, so was excited to return and experience the new route this year.

IMG_1205In the past, the Breakfast Run began at the marathon finish line, winding its way by the Trocadéro, over the Pont d’Iéna and around the Eiffel Tower to the other side of the Champ de Mars. This year, a new route was on offer. I’m not sure why it was changed, however it did strike me that the new route meant there would be no public access to the runner area (finish line etc) on Avenue Foch once it was set up, thus increasing security in a time of heightened alert.

The new route began at the Place du Palais Royal along Rue de Rivoli. This was perfectly walkable from our hotel, but in a bid to save our legs we decided to walk the short distance to the Champs Élysées, avoid the massive metro station at Charles de Gaulle Étoile (basically around the Arc de Triomphe) and get on the metro at the much smaller George V station for the handful of stops along to the Palais Royal (one of the stops for the Louvre).

As soon as we stepped out of the metro it was quite clear we were in the right place. All we could see were people dressed in the same branded T-shirt as us… and flags. Lots and lots of flags. People were milling about chatting, taking photos and, as you would expect, joining the queue for the loos. We were on the lookout for various people we were expecting to see, and despite it being quite hard to spot anyone in these circumstances (not only was everyone pretty much dressed the same, but there were apparently 3000 people signed up to run!) we quickly managed to find our German friend Stefan whom we met at the after-party last year. We also managed to locate our friends from Dundee (the ones we had caught up with at the departure gate in Edinburgh the day before), as well as a local couple we were expecting to see, and I was keeping an eye out for Tina aka She Who Dares Runs who had contacted me the day before we left to say she had secured a place to cover the marathon for Women’s Running UK and suggested trying to meet and say hello as we have been reading each other’s blogs for a while now (hi Tina!).

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IMG_1219While we were hanging about, I did have a couple of very unusual (for me) experiences. I guess I forget that people other than my friends and family might actually read what I post, so on the odd occasion, usually travelling to a big race, that someone actually recognises me from my blog, I tend to be quite surprised. As Steve and I stood around, another runner came over and said, “are you the blogger?”. I think my surprise was evident to the poor guy as I responded in the affirmative, but it was really nice to be approached like that, and even nicer when he got in touch later to identify himself and explain a bit more about how he recognised me. He might be reading this, so hi Carl!

But by far the strangest thing happened when I was waiting for Steve to reappear from the toilets. A runner came over brandishing a phone and making the internationally-recognised sign for taking a photo. Since Steve and I were wearing our kilts for the run, we have grown used to people wanting pictures as a kilt does tend to draw attention, so I assumed this to be the case again. But no. Not only did this guy want a photo, he seemed to recognise me from the blog and was quite excited about it. A rather bewildered Stefan took the photo for him, and I was quite glad he was there to witness the moment as I’m not sure Steve would have believed me otherwise. Why not? Because the guy who wanted the photo was from Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong! Who knew my blog had ever reached Hong Kong!!! Now I feel internationally famous lol!

IMG_1217Shortly after this it was time to get underway. The route took us from the Place du Palais Royal, across Rue de Rivoli and into the Place du Carrousel where the famous pyramid is located. This meant our first photo stop and in among the melée we managed to lose sight of Stefan.

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IMG_1226After this it was along the quai and over the Pont Royal with the Musée d’Orsay on the other side. We stopped on the bridge for some photos as the Breakfast Run is untimed and not at all competitive so times don’t matter. It’s an event all about experience and friendship – more of a display or procession than a race.

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IMG_1232We then followed the quai along the river Seine past the Pont Alexandre III until we reached the Pont d’Iéna. Again, stopping at various points for photos.

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IMG_1243From this point, the remainder of the route was the same as previous years as we came up from the Quai de la Bourdonnais, along Avenue de la Bourdonnais and made a final right turn onto Place Joffre to the finish in front of the École Militaire where there was a real party atmosphere.

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IMG_1252Once over the line we stopped for some more photographs, mostly with complete strangers drawn by our kilts, during which I heard my name called and turned to see Tina – she had actually managed to find me among all those people! Circumstances meant it was a bit of a rushed meeting, but we did manage a selfie and I was most excited to later feature on a post on the Women’s Running UK instagram account!
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fullsizeoutput_1da1Photos done, we headed for the tables with breakfast laid out. In the past this has been a bit of a scrum, but this year felt much better organised with a proper queue formed and croissants/pains au chocolat being handed out by volunteers. Much less pushing and shoving! I managed to score a pain au chocolat, coffee, banana and bottle of water. I drank the coffee while queueing for my banana and water, but the rest we took over to a bench with a front row view of the Eiffel Tower. Not bad for breakfast al fresco!

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IMG_1255Suitably refuelled, we began our amble across the Champ de Mars, which always takes a while as we stop to talk to so many people and take advantage of the great photo opportunities. We first had a chat with some women from Canada – I hope they had a great marathon – then caught up with the Dundee contingent for a while. I was also intrigued to see an impromptu yoga class taking place in the Champ de Mars and was inspired to do one or two poses myself!

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IMG_1329Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower and due to some new security measures there, we were unable to walk underneath so instead took a path around the side which turned out to be beautiful. There were gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the tower framed by trees. I’m really glad we took that route and will definitely go that way again in future.

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I was impressed that SCHNEIDER Electric managed to get their branding everywhere 😉

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Our final stop before returning to the hotel (which was within easy walking distance by this point) was the Trocadéro to take in the tower views. Over the last few years there has been some work going on around this area which often obstructed the view. This work isn’t quite finished, but there is much more space now to get some nice photos of the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_1343Once more, The Breakfast Run didn’t disappoint and we had a great morning enjoying the famous sights of Paris (along with one or two others with the same idea lol!). Here’s some of the Facebook Live video from the last section of the run that was posted on the official marathon page. The last minute or so gives a real flavour of the atmosphere:

If you’re ever in Paris for the marathon weekend, I highly recommend taking part in this event. You never know, you might see me there…!

Next up: Marathon day!

Paris When it Sizzles Pt1 – Salon du Running

In common with many other big races, the first point of call for anyone taking on the marathon challenge in Paris is the expo, known as the Salon du Running. This is where you have your medical certificate checked and collect your race pack (as well as any extras like Breakfast Run entries, sightseeing tickets or pasta party access). As with other years, we headed there straight from the airport as we’ve found this makes the rest of the weekend much easier. We had a late check in at our hotel and the expo was open until 9pm, so this made sense.

The Salon du Running is held at the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles on the south side of Paris, and getting there from Charles de Gaulle airport in the north is pretty straightforward. We always get the RER into the centre of Paris then change to the metro, but this year we were given the tip that we could get the RER as far as Cité-Universitaire then get a tram right to Porte de Versailles from there. That meant only one change and in a small station which made it even easier. It was really nice to go on the tram and see a bit of Paris above ground in the early evening after spending most of the day confined to transport.

On arrival at the Parc des Expositions it was clear that security had been further tightened up from last year. Visitors were separated into runners collecting their bibs (or dossards in French) and those just visiting to see the exhibitors. At this point there was a bag check before we were allowed anywhere near the exhibition hall.

IMG_1169Once inside, the first thing to do is take your medical certificate and ID to be checked. All runners are sent a notification document (convocation) in advance to print out and bring, and this is stamped when your medical certificate is accepted. You then take this document to the right desk to collect your race pack (race number, bag tag and safety pins). This section of the expo alone is pretty big and there’s still so much more to do!

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IMG_1171Number in hand, we usually head for the display with the medal and finishers’ T-shirt so we can see what we will be earning that weekend.

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IMG_1172We then move on to collect our runner’s bag which this year was another foldable rucksack (in a different colour and this time featuring side pockets for a drinks bottle) containing a leaflet and sample of tiger balm. I’m sure there were a couple of other items last year!

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IMG_1199This time we then collected our T-shirts and flags for the Breakfast Run, confirmed the new start point for the event and had a look at the map to get an idea of where we would be running.

fullsizeoutput_1cfbAnd then, some fun. There are always tons of photo opportunities such as the Tag Heuer clock counting down to the start, the wall with the names of all the registered runners (it’s tricky to find yours, but perseverance does it!) and some other backdrops.

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We then passed through a mock-up of an aid station (they were using this to educate runners about the recycling opportunities at the aid stations I think) to head into the main part of the expo, starting with the gift shop!

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I always like to buy myself a souvenir so bought a plum-coloured tech T-shirt with the date of the race and course map on it and a zip up hoody with the race details on the back.

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IMG_1442From there, we wandered through the various exhibits until we found what we were most interested in: the pasta party! We hadn’t purchased tickets for this in advance as we wanted to wait and see what was on offer, but we had enjoyed the deal on offer last time and there was something similar again. For 12 Euros (I think!) we could get a pasta dish, drink (including a beer) and dessert. I decided on pasta bolognese, beer and a nutella crepe, although I did have to have a bit of an argument (in French!) to get the beer as the barman kept insisting it wasn’t in the deal. Eventually he got someone else over who told him it was. A bit embarrassing all round, but I really wanted that beer and wasn’t going to give up!

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While we were eating there was a yoga class taking place nearby which I enjoyed watching a bit of, then we meandered our way to the exit via one last photo op with Asics. They had a backdrop set up and you could get both a printout of the photo and have it emailed to you, which was cool. Their setup also let you add filters but I preferred the original version.

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After that, we were done. It would be really easy to spend hours among the stands at the expo, especially when it’s busy, so going on Friday evening was definitely best as it freed up Saturday for the Breakfast Run and some pre-race relaxation rather than the stress of being on our feet for ages to pick up our race packs. We were able to get to our hotel in good time to unpack and get organised before getting a good sleep. And look what we could see from the end of the road:

IMG_1198Always a beautiful sight!

Keep an eye out for Pt2 – The Breakfast Run