by Brenda Chroniak
Last week, I hopped the pond to run the Paris Marathon - my debut in blue and green (thanks again Jess for lending your top!). It was tough being in the city of lights and keeping up with my usual pre-race rituals, but I don't think I did too bad a job.
On race day, the alarm went off at 5:30 and we were eating the hotel breakfast (plus peanut butter I brought in a tupperware) by 6. I was showered and dressed and out the door by 8 for an 8:45 gun, but not before I had a complete freak-out. "It's a foreign city! I've never run the course! It's going to be hot today! What if I bonk? What if I have to poop?!" Noah calmed me down, we walked down to the start, and the excitement of race day quickly replaced the nerves.
I settled myself into the back of the 3:30 corral and did some active stretching and bounced around a little, then the gun went off and I actually had more room than I knew what to do with. I couldn't believe how roomy this notoriously crowded race was for me, and for the first 5K I was able to hold what felt like a really comfortable easy pace, while marveling at the beautiful city. I looked at the gorgeous architecture and the spectators and everything around me and decided whatever the day brought, I didn't care, because it was such an amazing experience. All I could think about was that I was representing my country and my team, and that I wanted to make everyone proud. And to look awesome and hard core, too.
Then just after the 5K mark the road narrowed and the race literally came to a stand-still. I had to jam on the brakes and take a few shuffling steps before we finally moved again. I thought "Oh, THIS is what I heard about." The next little bit was narrow and crowded but the "uphills" Coach Jorge and I noted on the elevation map were more like false flats. Piece of cake. I was cruising along, and in my head I was imagining Jorge asking "how do you feel?" every so often. Then in my head I'd answer him back "I feel f***ing awesome!!"
The next 10 miles were more of the same. Some roads opened up and I was cruising with my own space, others narrowed to two lanes with cars parked on both sides and I had to hop the sidewalk, or be shoved by big sweaty smelly men (do these guys shower??). The hillier parts of the course were the worst because everyone was slowing down and I had to push my way through the masses to keep pace.
They were predicting a high of 73 that day, and around the half-marathon mark it started to really get warm. The sun was out and luckily there were some shady parts, but I was feeling it. I was sticking to my hydration plan and glad to have worn a fuel belt, which I only brought in the first place to avoid the crowds. Little did I know it would be my saving grace, as it meant I could drink to thirst as often as I needed for a lot of the race.
Around 15 or 16 we were along the river and it was picturesque and breezy (but warm) and the road was REALLY narrow and crowded, but the spectators were pretty amazing. I kept chugging along, then just after the 17 mile mark we actually ran through a tunnel. Like a legit, probably half-mile-long, freaking TUNNEL. There wasn't a breath of air to be had, I lost Garmin reception, and it was shaded but stuffy. I couldn't wait to get out of it! Back up on the river it was cooler and breezy.
At this point I ran out of my own liquid and was relying on the water stops, which were 5K apart - a little far for me in this kind of heat. I started to feel like I was being slowly roasted alive. They were handing out bottles of water at the stops, so I'd drink half and pour the other half over me. They also had "refreshment stops" with garden hoses and big buckets of water that the volunteers were splashing on the runners. I was fighting against overheating, and it was actually kind of scary how much relief I felt when I'd drink or go through a hose. Like before that I'd be struggling and feeling kind of wonky, then I'd hit the stop or take a drink and instantly my pace would return. Honestly, if i hadn't worn the fuel belt I probably would have ended up in the med tent.
Coach Jorge's plan called for me to run the first 20 conservatively, then race the last 6.2, and at 20, I was SO ready to turn the pace up, despite the heat and crowds. Just like he predicted, I was passing a ton of people and it felt REALLY good :) Noah said according to the text messages of my splits/place, I passed thousands of people in the last 10K. I think this is where my race went bad, though, as I underestimated just how far 6 miles was...
For the first three, I felt like I was flying. I was smiling at spectators, slapping hands with little kids, and just running on pure joy. The Rocky theme song came on my iPod and it was all I could do not to fist-pump in the air mid-race. I may or may not have listened to it twice in a row... Then suddenly I felt the onset of fatigue I shouldn't have felt until 25. At this point I was still ahead of the 3:45 pace group--we had been leapfrogging each other the whole race-- but around 24 they came up on me. It was hot as hell, I was feeling sluggish, my legs were screaming, and as Jorge instructed me to do, I "looked painland in the face and made it my bitch" by pushing harder. I locked my sights on the 3:45 group and tried to hold the distance between us. Sadly, I failed, and over the next two miles they slowly widened the gap and dropped me. It was probably the only disappointment of the whole race. I REALLY wanted to hang on. Nonetheless, I held strong and kept pushing for the best finish I could have.
My watch beeped for mile 26 and as soon as I heard it I picked up the pace and pushed again... only to realize shortly thereafter that my Garmin was a third mile behind the actual course. So that push I saved for .2 actually lasted .5. Finally the finish was in sight, I gave it all I had, and even though every muscle in my body was begging for mercy, I managed a huge grin for the cameras at the finish. My official time was 3:48:32. I finally went sub-3:50!
I wobbled my way through the finish chute, desperate for water, and eventually got to the fluids, after the chip removal, shirts, and medals (which is a huge and awesome medal, BTW). I gulped down the water and Powerade, then I wobbled some more until I found Noah, who was waiting for me with flowers and champagne. We popped open the bottle right there and I gulped that too. Had to represent BTT properly, after all! The race was over and the celebration was on.
It was the first marathon I've properly executed (OK, there were a few wrinkles...) and actually raced, and the whole time I kept thinking "I'm having the race of my life."