And once it was done, there was the aftermath.

I was very surprised, to say the least, that no actual tears fell from my eyes until at least two minutes after I crossed the finish line. After being told that I seemed “determined” to make the whole experience as emotional as I possibly could, I sort of expected to spend the whole weekend weeping from one hour to the next. However, it was only once I walked up to the line of people giving out medals that I finally started to cry.

Medal round neck, orange wedges grabbed and bag collected, I plonked myself on the tarmac in the middle of the finishing area. It felt a little bit like being in a marathon warzone, as a medical vehicle drove through in one direction and a man on a stretcher got carried in the other. I changed into my flip flops to reveal what really had been going on in my left sock (just a massive blister, thankfully – and don’t worry, I’ll spare you that photo).

Medal selfie taken and uploaded, I got a text from Steph, letting me know that her, Leah and their respective support crews were waiting just outside the gates of the finisher’s zone. I waddled over and the hugs from both Steph and then Leah really set the tears off properly.

I actually really love these two photos that Steph took of me – I might be crying but I’m also smiling, and I don’t think they could’ve captured how I felt at that point – literally 10 minutes after finishing my first marathon – more perfectly.

After a while, we headed back to our hotels for a shower and nice long sit down. As I was let into the Metro with my medal as a ticket, it felt like a proper marathoner’s moment. I phoned my Mum and just said ‘I DID IT!’ (well, and a few more words that might have contributed to this month’s slightly silly phone bill).

That night, I met up with Shane, Martyn and Leo for a race debrief over dinner, where I bought a ridiculously expensive half bottle of Champagne which I couldn’t even finish, because surprisingly enough, running a marathon makes you pretty tired. Not tired enough to actually sleep that much though, and after only about 6 hours sleep that night, I woke up wide awake before 8am the next day.

The next day was equally as beautiful as the marathon day itself. After talking it up quite a lot, I woke up on the Monday and decided I did actually want to mark the achievement in a more permanent way. Shane and Tika accompanied me to the tattoo shop (I went to Abraxas), where I got something typically Parisian inked on the inside of my right ankle. We then went for a celebratory drink, before meeting Nadia and her boyfriend Matt for a spot of lunch. It was a gorgeous day in Paris and we sat outside soaking up the sun and post marathon relaxed holiday vibes.

Then we headed over to the Eiffel Tower for a bit of a medal glory photoshoot. Honestly, my phone is full of these, but here are the highlights…

The dorkiest person in Paris, maybe even France…

Along with my favourite shot of my new ink. My Eiffel and the Eiffel. What a bloody fantastic weekend.

Just look at how gorgeous it was! The skyyy was so blueee…

Okay, not too much gushing about the beautifulness of the weather reflecting perfectly the beautifulness of the day… let’s talk about the race…

After Steph sped off into the distance approximately 0.23 seconds after crossing the starting mat (such an awesome one, she is), Leah and I were left to savour the fact that OH MY GOD WE ARE ACTUALLY RUNNING A MARATHON.

Start-10k

For the first 10k, me and Leah ran together. We didn’t plan to, but we found ourselves falling into the same pace for this first section, as had happened for the first 7 or so miles of the Brighton half marathon. Within this first hour we saw Leah’s boyfriend Jason, had an interesting near miss and synchronised squeal coming through the first water and snack station and quickly saw Zoë too. We were definitely having a lot of fun…

Leah’s photo

As expected, I needed the bloody loo from about two miles onwards. I managed to internalise this thought until just before we got to the first park (Bois de Vincennes) at mile 5, but was glad when I saw loads of people running off behind trees, bushes and fences.

We passed over both the 5k and 10k mats within one second of each other, in 32 mins and 1:06.

My resolve to hold on was pretty damn rubbish, and straight after the water station at 10k, I seized the perfect opportunity and joined about 3 other runners for a communal wee in a bush. My new short shorts made this all a lot simpler!

10k-21k

This brief interlude into the foliage meant I lost Leah. I don’t really remember too much of this next stretch, other than it being the hottest part of the race. The sleeves soon came off after this picture and I was even more glad I opted for shorts (which I had only tested on one four mile run, five days before the race – not usually advisable, but in this case worked out okay).

I made sure I was getting through a 500ml bottle of nuun every 10k and also took a Torq gel at 5 and 10 miles. I don’t know if it was the heat, because I’d trained with both nuun and Torq and had been fine, but this combination made me feel really, really sick. Like I actually threw up in my mouth 2 or 3 times during the race kinda sick. NICE. (I cannot promise you this is the last mention of bodily functions.)

From around 10-11 miles I started to struggle a bit, and promised myself that when I hit mile 12, I could put a headphone in and start listening to my playlist. Despite being an ardent ‘I don’t run with music’ type for the past 18 months or so, this really did help and I couldn’t have got through the race without it.

21.0975k

As the ‘SEMI’ arch came into view, this song came into my ear. It really was the most brilliant, beautifully timed moment as the chorus broke as I crossed the mat and the words IF YOU GAVE ME A CHANCE I WOULD TAKE IT, IT’S A SHOT IN THE DARK BUT I’LL MAKE IT just felt so absolutely perfect.

The fact that I was halfway felt like a huge pressure had lifted – I had to run less that I had already run from here onwards.

21k-35k

Somewhere shortly after halfway, me and Leah found each other again! We crossed the 25k, 30 and 35k points together. I loved that this happened, it was so good to share so much of the race experience with someone I’d shared so much of the training experience.

My memory of this part of the race is hazy at best, but here are a few of the highlights (not sure you can call all of them that):

  • I noticed my first group of spectators drinking red wine at the side of the road. Feeling as sick as I did, even the sight of this almost made me do a little puke.
  • The seemingly neverending up and down along the main road along the Seine, including lots of small tunnels and the one SUPER LONG WEIRD DISCO TUNNEL FROM HELL. It was dark, noisy, humid, for a while I couldn’t see the light (literally) and it was the only point of the whole race I felt even remotely panicky. And then you had to climb a pretty sharp slope to get out of it.
  • My second wee/first portaloo stop. For a while, I had considered just ducking behind a parked car. But after a small tussle with a steward who tried to use the portaloo ahead of me (I wish I knew how to say ‘I don’t think so, lady!’ in French), I regret not taking that option. Seriously people, if you ever run this race, trust me when I say the bush/tree/sign/side of the road is always more preferable than using the portaloo. I’ll say no more.
  • Running past the Eiffel Tower. Being impressed that Leah had the energy to take a selfie, because I was more than a little indifferent at this point.
  • BANANAS! Thank goodness for the bananas which meant I didn’t have to rely on anymore gross, sweet, hot tubes of gel!

35k-42k

After this a few amazing things happened…

I hit mile 19, the furthest I’ve ever run before the race. And I felt better than I did when I had run 19 miles.

I hit 20 miles and for some reason as soon as I passed the marker, I just knew I’d be able to do it.

And I stopped for a quick selfie at mile 21, imagining that all my Run Dem family were there, but also knowing they were all cheering virtually.

The final 5-6 miles felt surprisingly and overwhelmingly awesome. I didn’t even get a hint of hitting any kind of wall. From 20 miles onwards, I worked out that I still could have a stab at a sub 5 hour time. It was going to be really close, but it was possible. This thought (along with knowing that I just really, reeeeeally wanted it to be over now) was what kept me running. I ended up only walking through water stations for the whole thing. The last 5k was relentless – all in a park, everyone else walking, spectators all over the place.

42k-FINISH!

It wasn’t until I turned out of the park after 42k that there were barriers in place and thick crowds lining the street. As I got to the final straight, I threw my water bottle off to the side and (what felt like) sprinted (looking at the video, it wasn’t) towards the finish line, arms in the air.

I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget those last few hundred metres. Steph was at the sidelines SCREAMING my name and I felt like I was flying. I came in at 5:01:00. In a way I’m annoyed at that one minute. But I also know, if I’d done something to lose that one minute, my race wouldn’t have been the same. And I can honestly say I loved every single one of those 301 minutes.

I finished feeling strong, proud and happy.

That is all I could ever have wished for.

The Friday evening before I travelled to Paris I was a complete mess. I had packed earlier in the day, I had eaten my carb-filled dinner (it involved pizza, rice AND sweet potato) and all that was left to do was to get a good night’s sleep ahead of getting to the Eurostar in the morning. It ended up being the most nervous I was the whole weekend – literally pacing up and down my (tiny) room, I spoke to a couple of unlucky contacts in my phone book, forcing them into giving me a pep talk whether they wanted to or not.

After far too little sleep, the next morning I met Steph and her boyfriend David at St Pancras. On the train we had a runner’s celebration breakfast of non-alcoholic bubbles and cupcakes (provided by Steph’s lovely parents) as it was Steph’s birthday on marathon day. I was finally getting properly excited.

Once we got to Paris, we headed straight to the expo, and after a short wait basking in the sun in the queue outside, the pickup process was quick and painless (note: I don’t think there’s any way you could get away with picking up someone else’s race number – they checked medical certificate, convocation (or confirmation) and ID pretty thoroughly). The rest of the expo was fairly crap – I also was lugging my my case around with me and knew I didn’t want –  or indeed need – anymore running kit!

The rest of the day flew by – back to my hotel, watched Pitch Perfect and took a few selfies on the iMac (I made a very good hotel desicion!) and then headed out for dinner with the most of the guys from Run Dem Crew that were also running. Nerves were running high, but it was also calming to hang out with so many others going through the same spectrum of emotions. Lots of pasta was consumed and then we all headed our separate ways for early nights.

I had a brilliant night’s sleep before the race. I had text my parents asking that if they happened to be up with their greyhound at 0515 UK time (quite likely – he doesn’t like to let people sleep!), could they just make sure I was up. I awoke at 0615 French time to 4 (FOUR!) missed calls and a text from my Mum. But I was awake…

After force feeding myself the usual cereal I eat and had brought with me in my hotel room, I headed to the start line and although my hotel looked like it was the other side of Paris, it was actually only one half hour Metro ride away. The location of the bag drop was fairly obvious – everyone with a bag was walking in one direction, everyone walking in the opposite direction didn’t have one. I just got swept along by the crowds. Bag drop was relatively close to the start pens given the size of the race and the number of runners and I was soon wandering right through the middle of the Arc de Triomphe roundabout (no idea if it was meant to be closed to traffic or not – but both runners and cars were ignoring either instruction) back down towards the pens and into the rather long portaloo queue.

There are some loos there… right in the background

About 10 minutes into my wait, Leah and Steph appeared in the queue just behind me and we realised that the loos back towards the bag drop now had no queue – hooray for being in the very last start (we started almost an hour after the first wave set off)!

Peeing done, fetching turquoise joggers ditched, we headed to the pen. Using the ‘dance through the crowd so people can’t get mad’ method, we went from the very, very back of the field to somewhere nearer the front of the ‘rose’-coloured wave. There was a bit of having to jump around discarded plastic poncho things and little mountains of hoodies, but nothing too arduous. The atmosphere in the pen was really quite electric. And then Leah let out the most genuine, hysterical burst of laughter I have ever heard. It really cracked me up, it was HYSTERICAL in every sense, it really summed up the madness of what was about to happen.

And a few of minutes later we were off down the Champs Elysees, towards to inflatable green arch and taking our first steps of 26.2 miles…

I feel pretty indifferent about this race. I thought about whether to even bother writing a race report at all. Not because it was terrible, but mostly because after the absolute joy of last week, nothing was ever going to come close.

In comparison this race was just a bit blah. There was no bright sunshine, no beautiful seafront route, no glorious weekend away wrapping it’s lovely arms around the race. But (most of) those things aren’t the race’s fault.

A lot has been said already about a few teething problems with this inaugural race. I’m not too fussed that my new PB of 2:12 doesn’t count as the route was half a mile short – if it wasn’t so close to my 2:14 in Brighton last week, I might’ve just taken it. I’m not too fussed at the seriously boring route, mostly along main roads, because I needed to run 12 miles anyway, so I might as well have done it in the company of several hundred other runners. I’m not too fussed that the weather was pants, because let’s face it, it could have been a hell of a lot worse. I am pretty miffed that my bag was just left insecurely on the sports hall floor at the end though.

And I am also really, really miffed about something that no one else has mentioned yet – the complete lack of toilets en route. Now I know for most people this isn’t an issue, but as all of the ladies I do my weekend long runs with will tell you, I need the loo often. Like, really often. I haven’t managed to go for a run longer than about 8 miles without having to stop off mid run. I am becoming quite the authority on the location of public toilets in central London. (This map of toilets on the Tube network is particularly useful!)

I really try for this not to be the case. I don’t drink loads before I run (before this race, I had one cup of tea in the morning, and used the portaloo literally 2 minutes before the start). I just can’t help it. So, the Hampton Court half for me was mostly spent trying to distract myself from my own bladder and eyeing up every bush and tree in sight (I decided there weren’t any that were appropriate for the task in hand). Which really wasn’t that enjoyable. Despite all the marshals I asked telling me that all the pubs along the route had said it was okay for us to duck in and use their facilities, none of them were open at the time we were running. There was (THANKFULLY!) one hidden public loo on the Thames path heading back towards Esher College, which I only noticed because someone was coming out as I ran past. Misery averted.

photo by Leah

Enough TMI then, and onto some more positives… I ran a half marathon, on my own, with no music, at a fairly even pace. Like last week, I felt mostly comfortable. I got a pretty cool medal (nice and weighty!) I got to hang out with my friends. So it wasn’t at all bad. Next up: EIGHTEEN miles. Gulp.

For some other race reports that don’t mention wee at all, see the following, (they’re also much more comprehensive):

Laura – life.laura.london

Charlie – The Runner Beans

Stephanie – a magpie in the sky

Ashley – a healthy, happier bear

Lucy – Lucy Lunges

I don’t know if I’m still on a high from running a PB, in the sun, along the seafront, but there wasn’t a single second of this race I didn’t love, love, LOVE.

From my solo breakfast in the hotel, to running into my crew during the pre-race tag-on miles… from waiting in the starting pen and running the first seven (slightly too speedy!) miles with Leah, to still feeling comfortable and confident at mile 11… from running the last half mile and realising I wasn’t crying like I was at the same point in my last half, to sprinting a little bit too early when passing the steel band… this race was beautiful.

Spot the bench! (Clue: it shouldn’t be surrounded by pebbles)

This was supposed to ‘just’ be a 16 mile training run – 3 miles in a bit of a loop from the hotel to the start, followed by the race at a slow, long run pace (just like every other marathon training run). Obviously I got overexcited in the race atmosphere, running 5 of the first 7 miles under a ten minute mile pace. But I was feeling gooood.

As we headed out towards Hove Lagoon and the final turn, I deliberately slowed down, scared of hitting the 10 mile mark and breaking down like I have done before. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and my last mile was the fastest of all of them.

This race has definitely jumped straight to the top of my list as my all time favourite, hands down. It was a perfect combination of being beside the sea (which I adore), great weather that turned out perfectly (especially after the windiest of windy days on the day before) and a flawlessly organised race nestled in the middle of a lovely weekend.

Brighton, I heart you.