Our adventure begins on a jet plane headed to France. Abbe had always wanted to run the Paris Marathon and I had never been to France (of course I like to run as well) so we entered the lottery and both got in. I’d like to tell you ‘I know a guy’ and that’s how we both got in, but it was just fate.
I really enjoy overnight flights as I imagine myself living back when air travel was glamorous. I savor my meal, drink my red wine and wonder what adventures lay in store. Once the meal is over I take a sleeping pill and voila, minutes later I awake at my destination. People often misread the warning label on modern sleeping pills. It says don’t drink wine while taking them, but what it really means is don’t drink ‘too much’ wine.
We arrived at our hotel on Avenue Marceau the next morning at 10. We dropped our bags off and then hit the streets.
Spring in Paris is pretty magical. Avenue Marceau is lined with beautiful trees blossoming with white flowers. We picked a place just down the block on the corner to sit outside and have some lunch. Abbe’s folks Linda and Dave joined us, they were staying just down the block and were part of our cheer squad.
After eating Abbe and I ventured into the Paris Metro in search of the marathon expo. I was immediately impressed by the Metro. Keep in mind, as a 15 year resident of New York City, I question everything that is not New York City. Trains were coming every 2 minutes, were not crowded and it was clean and calm. What was this strange land? We even transferred 3 times flawlessly. I felt at home, immersed in the Paris infrastructure.
The race expo rivaled that of the New York City Marathon. It was massive and it seemed every running company was representing. As I got my bib the older man handing it to me said in an accent, “You came all the way from America to run!? Bon Chance!” I nodded with a smile and realized I was mirroring the experience I normally have in New York as I marvel at all the out of town runners.
Abbe and I secretly hoped we would run into one of our Runner Army friends at the expo but alas, we were far from home and saw no one familiar. We headed out and back into the metro, embracing the 70 degree weather we were experiencing.
Once we showered and unpacked we made our way to the hotel lobby we had a drink and waited for Maura. That’s right, Maura from NYC (and Ireland), Gotham City Runner and a dear friend was popping over from her stay in Ireland to cheer us on. She arrived just past 5 and was ready to go have some fun in Paris.
We set out towards Georges V (or as I like to say Jorge Sank) and landed at this fantastic pizza place. It wasn’t NYC pizza (of course, who would even hope to find that outside of the city) but a brick oven version that rocked. After dinner we kind of bar hopped around the neighborhood (we were by the Arc de Triomphe).
SIDENOTE: One of the things I picked up on and love about Paris over NYC is that all of the outdoor seating faces outward. Imagine an entire corner bar with seats and tables looking out, as if the streets themselves were putting on a show.
The next morning Abbe, Maura and I set off down the Seine for our 2 mile shakeout run.
It was a blast and we saw many runners doing the same. My legs felt pretty good but they didn’t feel fast by any means. My mind wandered and wondered if I could pull off this PR attempt. We popped into a cafe for a quick breakfast… double espresso and a croissant, something I would repeat every day from here on out. Something I would come to love dearly. So simple, so delicious and so perfect.
Our goal for the day was to stay off our feet if possible. We met the Lewis’s and hit the Metro, making our way toward Ile de la Cité (City Island). We ate at another fantastic place that was definitely not suited for the vegetarian crowd. There were giant spits of chicken and pig in the front, and yet there was a clean and modern ascetic to the place. Bravo.
Walking along the Seine and into City Island was breathtaking. It really is a beautiful city. Not sure if any of you know this, but I went to Art School? I was an Art History minor and seeing Notre Dame in person was horrifying (as I relived all the papers and tests) and superb, looking up at the many facets and sculptures adorning it.
Big ups to Professor Joe Basile. Throughout this trip I thought of your wisdom and how it still resonated. From all of the architecture to basically everything in the Louvre information and historic facts poured through my head and I thought… “JOE!” Thanks for being a great professor and friend.
We hopped on one of the Seine boat tours soon after so we could get off our feet. We toured the many bridges that crossed the Seine, each one quite different in design and time period. Pont Alexandre (a crowd favorite) is probably mine as well. We also cruised past the shining star of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. Did you know that until it was built in 1889 the Great Pyramids were the tallest human made structure in the world?
After our tour we needed a refreshment. We saw in the distance one of at the few irish pubs that Paris houses ironically named ‘Galway Irish Pub.’
You see, Maura is from Galway specifically and knows everyone who lives or lived there. Seriously, we went there with her in 2013 to run the Connemarathon and she’s like the Mayor. Unfortunately, the person who founded this pub passed away many years ago so we didn’t get a name. It was indeed a great pub though!
As dinner approached we headed back in the direction of our hotel. We needed some carbs and the restaurant across from Dave and Linda’s place, Cafe Ceasar had been around forever. It was jam packed with runners fueling up for the night! We had to come back in an hour so… we had a drink across the street. I am a sucker for a European Heineken on draft, it’s so much better. When we returned we all had a fantastic meal. I chose the penne with bolognese sauce and was thoroughly full and quite happy.
We three went back to our hotel to rest up. My mind was at ease. Everything I had done up to this point was a perfect execution of my plan. 3-4 months of solid 6 days a week running. No triathlon cross training. Don’t do anything stupid; i.e.: rollerblading, random soccer game, break dancing on a whim. Eat tons of carbs the two weeks leading into the race. Get good sleep. All I had to do was race the race and unleash my legs, which were dying for some speed. Sweet dreams my dear runner friends…
We awoke to a beautiful sunny 45 degree Spring morning. I felt great and had some oatmeal and an espresso. My start was at 8:47, two minutes after the Pros. At 8 sharp I gave Abs a kiss, said goodbye to Maura and did a quick warm up over to the start, which was strategically a few blocks away.
Exiting the hotel into the streets of Paris, I was emotionally overwhelmed for the first time in a long time before the start of a race. The gorgeously perfect weather, amazing architecture and more importantly everything I had been so focused and deliberate on the last 4 months was coming to a climax. The marathon (or an Ironman for that matter) is like going into battle. You never know what lay in store for you on the battlefield, all you can do is prepare, and I was prepared.
It was so well organized and very easy to find and enter my corral. I saw from the bibs that I was a long way from home, no USA tags to be found and yet, these were my people… runners. Looking around at everyone we all had the same look in our eyes, nodding quietly saying in whatever language was spoken, “Good luck out there, kill it.”
The sun was poking it’s head up over the buildings and I thought, ‘This thing is gonna get hot.’
My wave went off without a hitch and we set of barreling down the Champs Elysees. The sun was reflecting off the pavement and the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde cut through the morning sky off in the distance, guiding us like a compass. My legs felt free, hitting a 6:15 pace effortlessly.
My goal pace was a 6:25 – putting me across the finish line in 2:50. “Baker, but you seem to be going too fast?” True, but everyone is different. I normally fall to pieces during miles 21-24 no matter what kind of pacing I attempt. Therefore, I ‘bank time’ in the beginning. Most runners are opposed to the banking time strategy, but it works for me.
Back to the show! And a show it was as I knew my friend and fellow athlete Dougie was tracking me in NYC at 4AM while he was on his trainer ride. I thought to myself, ‘Dougie is tracking me so let’s give him a good race to watch.’ This also helped keep me motivated, knowing that Dougie would most likely start yelling at his laptop were my pace to falter.
Running along side of the Louvre was way cool. It was a long dark passageway. We were on the Rue de Rivoli, a street with a lot of shopping, which also had lots of cheer squads. As the miles ticked off easily I was hitting 6:17, 6:21 and 6:17. I saw Dave in the crowds as it’s very easy to hear your English speaking cheerers amongst a sea of Frenchmen. One of the words I would hear one thousand times during the race was ‘Allez’ which means ‘Go’ in French.
On Cheering: It was surreal and refreshing to not understand most of what people were screaming at you during the race. All you knew was that people were in the act of cheering and not saying things that might upset you like, “You look great.” “Last uphill.” “Come on you can do it.” “Almost there.” which are most likely false statements. Here in France I just zoned out and pretended they were saying anything I wanted them too. To me ‘Allez’ became ‘Tacos.’
I broke the race up into 4 parts… we were now going from Part 1 (city to Park A) to Part 2 (Park A) and were at mile 6. I was excited to see what these big parks flanking Paris were all about. My pace was still right around 6:17 or so. Perfect. I was also trying to have some fun and enjoy my surroundings, something that many of my friends told me to do. The Park, Boise du Vienesse, was very pretty but I really didn’t get to spend too much time seeing all of it. All I knew is that we went from city streets to wooded streets.
At mile 7.5 I saw this beacon of neon orange. It was Maura, exactly where she said she would be in her 2014 Boston Marathon jacket. I ran over and gave her a high five. It rocked to see her.
The next few miles were uneventful as I just held on to my pace, running through sunlit park streets. It was hot now, approaching 10 o’clock and I knew as we exited back into the city it would get rough. Section 2 of 4 was now complete. Section 3 was all city, then entering the final Section 4 which was the Park on the opposite end of town. Allez!
Something happened at mile 11-12 that almost ended my day. I was running hard in flying V formation with 3 guys, I was in draft position in back. We were running down hill and I couldn’t see the street too well. Just then a speed bump came along and I jammed my front leg into it stumbling forward and causing a lot of panic amongst my fellow runners. I corrected my form and everyone nodded, knowing we had just missed a ‘domino effect’ disaster. I admittedly dialed it down a touch right there as my heart was racing.
I hit the half at 1:22 and smiled knowing that I was having the race of my life (thus far) but that dark moments certainly lay ahead.
We cruised around a crazy crowded Bastille before making our way onto and along the Seine. At this point someone yelled in a french accent “Yea, go Gotham City, go Batman!” I threw my hand up in typical fashion laughing at the same time. Batman… Gotham City has so many other notable landmarks and cultural institutions but I guess ‘Go Metropolitan Museum of Art sounds dumb.’
On music: The bands in the Paris Marathon trumped the NYC Marathon ten-fold. No contest in fact. Every mile there were these pseudo marching bands playing rock songs with heavy, heavy tribal drums. No band lacked a good horn section either. It was very inspiring and the volume was at the perfect level as well. Sometimes in NYC it’s so freaking loud it knocks you around.
Miles 12-18 are run along the southern edge of the Seine and there is no shade aside from some car tunnels you run through. We were passing all the notable landmarks and it was quite breathtaking. I tried to enjoy it, although the now piecing pain in my quads made it tough. Paris, I now realized, was not a flat course and had some major downhills that I was now feeling. I was still holding a 6:20 pace but didn’t think so at the time.
At mile 19 we started making our way into Boise de Boulogne, the final Section of the course, which would also be most challenging. My legs were on complete fire now and my mind started wandering into dark places, wanting me to quit or stop running. I knew this moment would come, the real battle of the race, and did my best to fight on. My Dad’s birthday was the next day and I knew he was watching me from where ever he might be. I used him as inspiration and kept my feet going. ‘There is no pain, only glory.’ I welcomed uphills at every turn!
Mile by mile was how I was going to get this thing done. Miles 19-21 were 6:34, 6:41, 6:35… I was slowing up and fighting to stay with it, especially with the heat. I lost 2 minutes at Miles 22 and 23 as I stopped to stretch my quads. It helped a lot doing so, and got me from mile to mile. I also knew at this point that my 2:50 goal was out the window and started getting pretty down on myself. I even thought about walking the rest of the race.
I was having problems with reading my watch, trying to figure out what my time was when a race clock came by. It said 2:40:xx and I had just over 2 miles to go. “What?” I thought. I could do this. I could pull it together and get this shit done and maybe, just maybe get close.
I picked it up even though my legs were in crazy pain (good pain, not someone injured tweaked pain) calves feeling like they were going to pop out of my body. I hit a sub 7 for mile 25. One to go.
The blinding hot sun was beating down on me. I was pouring water all over my body and directly onto my calves to numb them, which had been working!
7 flat for mile 26.
I turned a corner to finish, the Arc dead ahead, and was ecstatic to see a 2:53 on the clock (I started 2 minutes after keep in mind so that meant 2:51 for me.) I had PR’d by 3 minutes and was just shy of my 2:50 goal! I started laughing out loud and let out a “Fuck.” Paris almost killed me.
I wandered toward the Arc and our hotel. I few of the locals congratulated me. The sun was out and I was walking barefoot in a park just next to the finish, it felt fantastic.
I found Linda and Dave back at the hotel. We had become friendly with all the staff and my friend Camille came over to congratulate me. “Fantastic Chris! Sit down, do you want something?” “Thanks Camille, yes a beer and a sandwich please.”
We sat outside as I relayed the race info to my in-laws. We became concerned though as Dave saw Abbe at the Half and she wasn’t having a good time. Evidently it can be a very crowed race (54,000 runners) the further back you start.
Thankfully though, we found her. She had PR’d as well and broken 4 hours! It was time to celebrate.
Dave, Linda, Abbe Maura and I went out on the town. First to a cute spot right down the block (Le Grand Corona) where we sat outside having booze. Then, we had a fantastic french meal at Chez Andre. We finished the night at the hotel bar, happy as clams.
Big ups to all the runners who ran Paris, it was a tough day out there. Congrats to my wife who nailed a sub 4 with a huge PR! Congrats to my fellow teammate Hannah who also PR’d.
Thanks to Maura, Linda and Dave who were our super star Cheer Squad!
This race is evidence to me that if you are dedicated, focus on the training without making excuses (like, this winter was crazy rough) you can pull off an epic race. Someone who inspired me to train hard and stick with it no matter what is my friend Claire. She trained her ass of this Fall and wrecked the Chicago Marathon with a huge PR and a BQ. Thanks for the push my friend.
Running the streets of Paris was something I won’t soon forget. Thanks Paris.