Sunday, September 18, 2016

Marathon du Médoc

I completed a marathon... Let's just let those words sink in for a moment because not once in my previous 35 years did I imagine accomplishing such a feat. Well, not until I heard about a marathon that takes place in the Bordeaux region of France every year and includes multiple stops for wine tastings in which theme based costumes are compulsory. Since wine and costumes are two of my favorite things in life, if there were ever a time I would be tempted to tackle 26 miles, this would be it. Hot Blonde Cousin was the one who introduced me to the idea, so when she and a friend decided to take the plunge and register, I quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

Over the course of the next few months, I discovered that my meager attempts at 5 and 10k in the past were the product of a real inability to like running on every level. So while I tried to train here and there, it wasn't until this past August, only a month before the marathon, that I really attempted to run as often and as far as I could. I was fortunate enough to be housesitting for a friend who lives by the Seine, so the new panorama definitely influenced my motivation. I have never had a problem training with wine, however, and since my mother is a master seamstress, costumes were easily attained as well. The theme this year was to be tales and legends, so we modeled our chosen fairy ensembles after the colors of Flora, Fauna and Merryweather from "Sleeping Beauty." My mother and aunt rose to the occasion splendidly. I was therefore "ready" for the race. Or as ready as I could possibly be without any real interest in the sport. 

My Cousin, her friend and I had planned to meet on the train from Paris to Bordeaux, check into our hotel, then head off on a shuttle bus to pick up our Bibs and various marathon paraphernalia. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a streak of bad luck hovering over my running gal pals, as their train from London was postponed, pushing back their train time from Paris, and ultimately forcing them to miss the shuttle bus and only opportunity to collect their running packs. Because security is higher than ever due to all the recent terrorism in France, it was impossible for me to pick up their packs myself, and our weekend began with a bunch of frustration and disappointment on their end. Happily, they could still collect their Bibs in the morning and most everything else worked itself out, but it was definitely a glitch in our original plans.

Regardless of the tiny bump, our road to the marathon continued at 5am the next morning, when we all awoke to don our costumes and prepare ourselves for the next shuttle bus at 6:30am. Doing anything at that hour is mainly torture, but we had a duty ahead of us and we were ready to face the challenge. It turned out to be a gorgeous, cloudless, sunny day which immediately made me regret not having remembered to bring sunscreen. But as the crowds of costumed marathon goers began gathering, we couldn't help but feel excited and inspired. We were surrounded by costumes as simple as a tutu and tiara, to outfits I still have no idea how people managed to run in. Some teams went so far as to construct carts and floats that they pushed along the entire race. I know at the very least I saw a life-sized Cinderella pumpkin carriage, several pirate ships, and even a Trojan horse.

At long last, the race began. There were approximately 20 tastings along the way, various water and beverage spots, and many snack tables as well. Most of the wine tastings were served in small plastic cups, but the grander chateaux offered them in real wine glasses. The first few took place in a village on our way out to the vineyards, so there were a lot of bottlenecks, as participants clambered for wine while trying not to lose their pace. To be completely honest, we learned in hindsight that this was the point where we should have propelled ourselves forward, to get past the throngs of people and have more time to spend on future stops in more luxurious places. We learned many things by the time the day was done.

The scenery was stunning, covered in rolling hills of grape-filled vineyards guarded over by regal castles of wine production. I couldn't have asked for a more spectacular landscape to travel through. Tragically, however, that blazing sun I previously mentioned was scorching and the terrain left no escape from the rays. I had also never trained on anything but flat land, so my knees were put to a much greater test than they were used to. In order to complete the marathon within time and qualify for our finishing packs, we would have to cross the finish line within 6.5 hours, something that we realized was way more difficult than originally anticipated if we wanted to actually make the stops and appreciate the libations. 

It was about halfway through the course when I realized that there was a cart of marathon workers bringing up the rear of the race. We found out that if anyone should fall behind it for too long, they would be disqualified. The cart would also stop for a few minutes at each of the wine areas so as to round up the troops and make sure that people weren't staying too long in one spot. Without having trained a lot more than we did, it was incredibly hard to take full advantage of the stops and not fall behind. My cousin ended up nicknaming the cart "Jason" because it felt like an ominous danger threatening to slash our dreams of success and forcing us to keep running on peril of death. Jason was not nice, either. If you came within his perimeter, his minions would yell and whistle and honk their evil horns to round up the costumed cattle and whip us into shape.

I quickly learned that my strategy was to plow through some of the stops without stopping at all, so I could stay within time. My cousin and her friend took more advantage of the wine tastings, but scorching sun plus red wine plus marathoning was not working as well for me. I clearly did not run the whole way, mixing it up between jogging and speed walking depending on my overall energy level and my fear of Jason. It was around the 30k mark when I was seriously unsure that I could continue. My legs ached, I was hot and dehydrated, sunburnt and exhausted... But I kept going. I kept going because, by god, I had set myself a challenge, and you know what, "Goonies never say die!". Nor do fairy princesses or wine lovers or crazy short blonde girls who believe in magic and accomplish whatever they put their mind to. So by sheer will power alone, I finally made it across the finish line.

Throughout the last 5k or so, most people were walking due to exhaustion or intoxication. I have to admit that I felt exhalation bordering on tears of relief when I finally had a medal draped around my neck and a rose pressed into my hand. After receiving my prize backpack and bottle of wine, I found Cousin and her friend, and the three of us sat down in glory. Sat, yes, because using our legs at that point had become relatively impossible. 

So, would I ever do another marathon? In the moment, I thought to myself, sweet Jesus no, never again, I would rather light myself on fire. In hindsight, I might consider the wine marathon a second time, now having learned what it's like and possessing a much better knowledge of the appropriate strategy to conquer it. But regardless of whether or not I do it again,  I can now claim that I completed a marathon. No matter how or under what circumstances, I went the distance of 26 miles and lived to tell the tale. 

Remember my name. Fame!
I'm gonna live forever
I'm gonna learn how to fly--high!

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