“Why the Paris Marathon?” several people asked before we left, which surprised me.
Several years ago, my daughter, Nina, now 14, put Paris on her Destination Wish List. Then last year, I noted that the 2019 Paris Marathon would fall conveniently during her spring break. “Do you want to go to Paris, and I’ll run the marathon?” I asked. YES!
But I’m going to be honest here (if not here, where?): Marathons are hard (oh, right). International travel is hard. Combining the two doesn’t make either any easier.
Now a certain kind of person might say, Well, that’s what makes it even more “fun”! It ups the challenge! If challenging yourself by making things as hard as possible is a certain kind of person’s idea of “fun.” Not that you know anyone like that.
TRAVEL IS HARD
For starters, you have to get there. We had bargain-basement tickets on a never-heard-of-it subsidiary of a marginal airline, our flight left after midnight, and marginal airlines don’t distribute free water. Long story short: I woke up 5 hours into the flight in a cold sweat, nearly fainted, and had to lie down … in the aisle …
Which annoyed the flight attendants. Ma’am? Are you okay? You can’t lie in the aisle.
And scared Nina, who’d spend the rest of the week saying, “Mom, did you drink any water? Mom, drink some water.”
And frankly scared me too. I’m pretty sure fainting from dehydration is on no one’s list of good things to do two days before your marathon.
EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT
This is why we travel, right? To take ourselves out of our comfort zones. For a runner, all the micro-differences get more and more macro with each passing year (sorry, folks).
EVERYTHING is different: the food, the water (or lack thereof), the air, the bed, the pillow, the coffee, the food, the wine (that goes in the “positive” column), the language, THE TIME ZONE.
Not bad, just different. Which is … something to navigate if you are at all fussy about things being just-so before your big event/goal race. And if you like to sleep.
MARATHONS ARE DIFFERENT
For starters, European marathons are in kilometers, n'est-ce pas?, and the thing about 42 kilometers is there sure are a lot of them, but happily they click by more quickly than miles.
At the Expo, we received a light-weight hydration backpack instead of a race T and instructions on fact that since the race aims to be an eco-friendly, carbon-neutral event, they were not handing out cups of water or sports drink but rather bottles of water—with recycling bins at the end of aid stations—and apple slices, cut oranges, bananas, pretzels, raisins and ginger bread.
The Paris Marathon course is beautiful—it starts at the Arc de Triomphe, and runs along grand avenues like the Champs Elysees and grand plazas, like the Place de la Concorde and the Place de la Bastille. It goes by landmarks, the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine and through two parks, the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulonge. Look around, I told myself: You’re running in PARIS!
I had planned to carry a small water bottle with my own sports drink and also wanted to take a micro windbreaker for before and after the race. But how was I going to carry all that stuff?
“Why don’t you take the hydration pack?” asked BF Rick on race morning.
I CAN’T DO ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY, I said in what I am sure was a completely calm and reasonable tone of voice.
“But it’s so light,” said Rick. “You can throw it away if it bugs you.”
Reader, I did something new on race day.
Rick and Nina went to three spots on the course—thanks to the Metro, it’s spectator navigable—and I can’t tell you how surprising and uplifting it was to spot Nina on an incredibly crowded corner on a tight turn near mile 22. Hello, hello, hooray!
MARATHON TRAVEL IS ALSO PRETTY AWESOME
Because the race fell at the beginning of Nina’s spring break, we spent the rest of the week climbing the Eiffel Tower on post-marathon legs (that was fun!), food-touring Montmartre (macarons, truffle-infused camembert, baguette, salami, crepes, wine—now THAT was fun!) and day-tripping to Normandy to the D-Day beaches and to Versailles for Instagram selfies.
It is possible that during our Paris week I said something like, “I’m not doing another international marathon.” Well. Then we got to talking about where Nina wants to go on next: Venice. Luckily, the Venice marathon is in October, at a safe remove from any school breaks.
But further research revealed that during her likely spring break 2021 (which is the soonest we might be able to afford another big trip), there are not one but TWO marathons in Italy. O mio Dio!