13.1 What a cold and windy day we had for this race! I had been sent to Paris for our Euro Expo, an annual conference we hold for our franchisees. This year’s version was held at Disneyland Paris, formerly known as EuroDisney. We stayed at the Newport Bay Club, one of Disney’s resorts. I was dropped off by a shuttle bus on Thursday morning, and I didn’t see the outside or anything of France until 7am Sunday morning. I knew it would be cold for the race, anyone I spoke with said that the weather was bad outside. Windy and cold, windy and cold.
Olivier came to pick up Walter and I early Sunday morning. He and Rouba had already arranged to have us run in their grouping of preregistered athletes. We spent a moment in their apartment in Charenton, the outer limits of the Paris city boundaries. Olivier said we would be meeting several others who would run to the race with them, this amounted to a 3km jog. Sounded good, I was cold already just standing outside, the jog over to the park would certainly help warm me. We were introduced to a friend named Georgio, who made his way to meet us via motorcycle. Another two guys came with us, then all six eager competitors ran in the cold to the start area. We ran through a park where homeless people were sleeping in tent cities. Not a lot of them, but it was a strange sight, people just really living in nice center city parks. Olivier said his membership with the fire brigade of Paris allowed him to go into a gym to get ready and get the race numbers, but that we probably wouldn’t be allowed in there, being that it was a military facility. When we got there, music was blaring all over the place from large speakers, and plenty of runners and spectators were milling about. I saw a castle, the start and finish lines (“Departe” and “Arrive”) and some vendors selling food. This start area was a wide open space, so the wind was very noticeable as contributing to the cold. We went to the fire brigade gym and not surprisingly, we were all allowed to go inside and get prepared for the race. Inside we received our numbers and red shirts. Walter and I were given the #1 & #2 elite numbered bibs, our red shirts denoted us as friends, members or supporters of some sort of the Paris fire brigade. This gave us great access to the front of the start area, way better than the estimated 30,000 others that were also here for this half marathon race.
The Race. It was cold waiting for the start, all announcements were in French, so every piece of chatter coming from the speakers had Olivier giving us an update as to what was being said. How odd being at a race and wanting to know what was being said, usually I’d tune out what was announced because I’d already know the details. Here I had never been to Paris before, didn’t know the route, and would learn about the city and get my very first impressions on foot! Some announcements were that approximately 30,000 people were in the race, 12% were from other countries. Many runners used this as a training run for next month’s full Paris marathon. The start gun sent me into mostly clear streets for the first 1km. Oh yeah, there were no mile markers, just 21 separate km markers. Chip time was taken at 5km, 10km, 15km and the finish. That’s also how many water stops I’d find on the course. The mayor and dignitaries from various embassies start the event with a loud gun or cannon blast. It’s neat to start up front for such a big race! Early in the first straioightaway that leaves the park, I remember thinking that I don’t know my pace, I think I’m very close to 7 minute miles. This beginning of the run goes well, a good number of people pass me because they’ll get sub 1:30 times, many hundreds as a matter of fact. The course goes from the park to the city streets quite quickly, and once we get in the city the winds subside, so now it doesn’t feel as cold. I still feel cold the whole time, but no wind certainly helps! I make fists out of my hands inside my gloves – my fingers are very chilled! I didn’t check my watch at each km marker, because I don’t know even what it’s supposed to be at for my pace per mile. At just after the 5km mark, my cold tour of Paris takes a new flavor – my right lower calf binds up and feels like it’s going to cramp, and soon. I see I’ve just run the 5km in under 22 min, that’s favorable. I don’t really try to slow my pace, but I know if this turns into a cramp, I won’t be able to run much further. There are many musicians on the course, I remember most the several high school aged drum line teams, I bet there were four or more at different locations. Only one band had an electric guitar, the rest were saxophones, brass trios, etc. Kinda what you’d imagine you’d find in Europe! I make it to 10km with my lower leg still hurting, I have slowed because my last 5km was over 24 min long I recall. At 12km, we leave tall buildings and the breeze is back. At 13km, I see the flagship SIGNARAMA store, it looks very nicely advertised. More winding through the city then we’re out in the open again by the Siene River. I see signs for the Bastille, but I don’t get a glimpse at the building. I may have brushed up against it for all I know… besides the Rush song and some history lessons, I am not aware of what I’m missing. July 14th day, right? I remember having the first females pass me (that I noticed anyway) before the 15km mark. I didn’t check my watch at 15, so I don’t know how I was doing, but I was getting colder still. Any sweat I had accumulated on my back or shoulders was now being chilled by the wind, oh great! It can’t be much longer now, I keep telling myself, how much further to the next white km marker? At 18km, there was a special Powerade zone with an inflatable arch to run under. At 19km I think I saw the photographers. They are on small pedestals on the course, you are told they are ahead and you ru by one and smile. At least i did, although cold and getting colder, I was happy to be there. The last part of the course takes us back through the park, we have only 500m to go – I can see the Finish line (Arrive Line!) and I get myself under at 1:35 and some change. There is a long and slow procession walk to the chip removals and the medals. Some runners report that this area got so clogged for the 1:50+ people that you got backed up so hard you couldn’t cross the line, you just walked in with the many hundreds of others that were in te same element. Strange! Upon finishing, I find I’m cold but feeling good about the run. I walk back to the fireman’s gym area, I wait next to the frequently opening barn door and then relocate myself to the men’s room. There I repetitively rinse my frozen fingers in warm water and continue pressing the hand dryer to get more warm air out of it and onto my fingers and arms. Some guys comment things to me in French, I don’t understand them but I chuckle and say, “Yes” to most of their talking. I wonder what I agreed to in the men’s restroom that Sunday morning in Paris?
Walter and Olivier were split up during their run, they returned separately. Once we gathered Georgio, the four of us ran back to Olivier’s home and we took one of the best showers I’ve had in a while! It was so warm and well deserved. I was glad I did the race, even with the cold. I don’t see me forgetting my first experiences in Paris… not ever!