Sunday, 6 May 2012

Paris marathon

I was promised shirtless French firemen, sunshine, baguettes and wine. Instead I got shirted freezing garcons without much fire, drizzly rain, men peeing by the hundreds in every small stretch of green, and a friend who got stuck in the loo.

Yet I'd do the Paris Marathon again in an instant.

The marathon was, quite obviously, hard.

"You do know the first guy who ran a marathon, he keeled over at the end, right?" A visiting friend C asked me the other night, as I tugged him along to a ballet with me. "Folks just don't do it. Because it's silly."

Or they do it and make it silly. I lost count of the numbers of costumes I saw during the race: men dressed like ducks, soldiers, a group of gents running together carrying a wine barrel, ladies in glitter and pink, couples with matching shirts.

My favourite was Rousseau.

Rousseau haunted me throughout the first mile or so. He'd skip ahead, all velvet and tights, pause to take a picture, grin at some passing French family, and then repeat the whole thing a couple minutes later.

"Why don't you go philosophise!?" I wanted to shout. I didn't. He would have asked about the origin of man, and as my Cambridge professor could've told him, that just wouldn't end well. I lost him as the race continued.

More touching were the outfits dedicated to others. 'To my father, 1973-2009.' 'For mom.' 'For Becky, cancer survivor.' And the runners pulling others along in wheelchairs. By mile 23, I nearly started crying when another one went past.

Good for them, those runners. Good for them.

The race food was... interesting. Rather than serving usual fruit candies and sports drinks, the Parisians offered oranges, bananas, water and raisins.

"It's like death, those raisins." M said later, frowning. "Always, one rogue one will get past. You can't chew all of them. And then you're choking. Running. With raisins." While trying not to slip slide on the tons of banana peels and orange peels thrown down at each station.

Then there was wine at mile 24. Pretzels at mile 23. Bread rolls in the expo. And, indeed, more bananas at the finish. To go with the banana bags that the banana company, an official sponsor, gave out. ("What is this? Your bag? It says... banana?" My French client asked the other day, spying the words written on my sack. "That is very strange...")

I developed an amazing range of cursewords as I ran on and on and my feet began to hurt. Badly. Fluffy knickers. Puddleducks. Gosh darn dingbats. I amazed myself with my own creativity.

 Also amazing: the number of men weeing at any opportunity. On the trees. The bushes. The trees and bushes.

"I saw one guy go on his own leg." A friend said as we sat around post-race in various states of slouched sweaty exhaustion. "He nearly got me..."

One friend, who dared brave the portaloo, found she couldn't move after she sat down. Her muscles seized up. "I just kept sort of hitting things as I tried to stand. I made all sorts of banging. The long queue of people outside... they must have thought something very strange was going on."

"Something strange -was- going on."

Mile 25, an Aussy from our group ran up and tapped me on the shoulder. We finished the final mile together, racing to the end, grinning the big silly grins of two people who have just been in movement for several hours.

Overall, the Paris Marathon was amazing. Going down to Paris with some 30 odd friends and strangers, joining in a race with 40,000 people, running 26.2 miles on my own two crazy feet, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is an experience I'll never forget.

Only next time, I hope the weather's better and the firemen shirtless.

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