Friday, 18 September 2015

Event Review : Marathon du Medoc

It's rare to find a race that to actually race it would seem like a real waste of the experience. The Marathon du Medoc is the only one of these that I have found to date. I'm not including events like the Colour Run or Glow in the Park because they don't pretend to be races. I could have imagined running Tiree in a quicker time and still enjoying the scenery, but I truly question why the winners of the Medoc race, in around 2h34, bothered to enter.

It's billed as "the longest marathon in the world" with 22 refreshment stations (read wine tasting stops) and 21 food stands including a "breakfast stop", oysters and ice cream. The route takes in the vineyards and chateaus of the area and being limited to 8,500 entrants, it retains a sense of charm and inclusion.

This has been on my race wish-list for a while and so I was thrilled to actually manage to get a place this year. As my godparents live in France we made a bit of a family occasion of it. Being able to book my place and the hotel for both my parents and godparents took the stress out of things, as was the ability to book the shuttle bus to and from the event and to pick up my race number the day before. Paulliac is a fairly small town, without the infrastructure necessary to accommodate 8,500 runners and their supporters in hotel or B&Bs so most participants seem to be bussed in from Bordeaux. The only real bit of stress I encountered was when the coach to the expo was delayed by 45 minutes with no explanation. Not exactly ideal. 

However everything else ran fairly smoothly and so at 9am on Saturday morning I found myself surrounded by hundreds or other runners in an astounding array of fancy dress, most of which was a nod to this year's theme of "dressed up to the nines". Top hats and tails were abundant (some with only a thong underneath - the French like a bare buttock) as were men dressed as ladies (usually the Brits) plus a few more elaborate outfits. 
There was a wonderful aerial acrobatic display in the lead up to the start time and then finally we were lead in a countdown, confetti cannons exploded and we were off! Sort of... there's a false start, about half a kilometre or so until you reach the real start with the timing mat. 

After a few days stressing over the weather report that predicted heavy showers all day it was a joy to set off in the sunshine but within minutes I was certain I had sweated off all my sunscreen and was very aware of the lack of cover or shade around and about. The first couple of kilometres went by in a blink and we were suddenly at the breakfast stop; table laden with croissants and cakes.... well it would have been rude not to! 
No sooner had we left the breakfast stop then it seemed we found the first of the many wine tastings on offer. It was horribly crowded so I decided to skip this one only to find the beer and waffle stop a little further on. This was a theme... there were very few sections where you could do any sustained running, if you wanted to take advantage of the food and wine on offer, which I very much did want to! 
Oh go on then, just the one.
I'd packed my waist pack with some gels but I really needn't have bothered, and any worries I'd had about whether the decision not to carry water was the right one were quickly put to rest. It seemed that every half a mile or so there was either a water station, wine station or a snack stop and oh my, each snack stop could have fed a small village! There were cakes and biscuits, bananas, apples, oranges, crisps; I've never been so well fed. I took the strategy of little and often when it came to food, being sure to eat some crisps for the salt as well as bananas and biscuits.
A food station after having been ravaged by some 8,000 runners
The event draws quite a crowd. People lined the residential areas we passed through, clapping and cheering, many in fancy dress themselves. As a display of how much this race is supported, one street had a banner made from all the previous race t-shirts, strung outside someone's house! With the exception of one part of the route, it's all stunning. Vines as far as the eye can see and gorgeous chateaus. Some had tied balloons to their vines, others were just beautiful in their own quiet way. But even on the most desolate part, the tedious 2-3 miles heading back into town along the water front in a straight line, there were plenty of supporters. I, however, was counting down the kilometres to the half way mark and the point at which I'd see my parents for smiles and support. 

Shortly after this point the heavens opened! It was welcome relief from the sun and once you're as wet as you can be and all the sweat has been washed into your eyes it ceases to be much of a bother. The second half of the race was punctuated with showers but also with new friends. This is probably one of the friendliest races I've done. A guy called Louis, dressed in a get up that made him resemble Hulk Hogan, started chatting to me. I found out that he'd run 213 marathons! I also chatted to a guy called Steven, finisher of 33 marathons in 4 years. As I started to tire and my legs ached I found myself running near one or other of them for the rest of the race which meant I had a constant source of encouragement. Steven's method of running to the next wine stop proved to be a good one and I found a bit more speed over the final few miles.
Me and Steven
As we got closer to town I was waiting for the ice cream stop. I was hoping to be restrained enough to actually run over the line with my ice cream but alas it started melting and it was a little too tasty. The finish line seemed to take forever to appear but as I saw my parents again and rounded a corner there it was; several balloon arches and the finish line. I felt as though I sprinted to the line, determined to get in under 5h30 on my Garmin (missed it by one second), face still wearing a big grin from ear to ear and feeling none the worse for all my tasters of wine. 

Our medal was a bow tie, in keeping with the theme, and we were also presented with a messenger bag, cup and bottle of wine in a keepsake box. The ladies were also presented with a rose, which I thought was a lovely touch.
Celebrations were in full swing already as finishers made their way up and down the street in various degrees of comfort, mostly in straight lines. There were more wine stalls and the cafes were busy with competitors and supporters alike. A brief repose for wine (as if I'd not had enough) and cheese then it was back to the coach and back to Bordeaux.

This was easily the most fun I've ever had at a marathon. It's laid back, friendly, a beautiful course and well supported. A whole weekend of activities are planned around the race and the area surrounding Paulliac, a town scarcely able to cope with the number of runners and supporters that descend for the weekend. On the Friday there's the options of either a pasta party or a more formal meal. After the race there's another fancy meal, fireworks and a ball and on the Sunday you can opt to join in a relaxing walk through the vineyards and have a lunch. However all of these activities are extras, not included in your race fee. What is included in the race fee, however, is an event t-shirt (technical, in men's and women's fit), a goody bag when you pick up your race number including some edible treats and the aforementioned goodies at the finish line.

I would recommend this race to anyone wanting a fun marathon and/or a race abroad. Get into the spirit of things and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds so fun! I will see if I can convenience my husband to join me for a mini-holiday with the race strategically scheduled in.