Sunday, April 10, 2011

Paris Marathon 2011 Race Report

When? 8:45am, 10th April 2011, Paris
Temperature: 52F-61F, Humidity - 67%-52%, Sunny

A problem?

After the Green Bay marathon in May, 2010, I went into a prolonged running slump. I just stopped running. It's surprising that I did not miss running during this period. I can attribute that to ...

Fast-forward to September, 2010 I had gotten into the worst shape since I had started running in 2004. It had gotten to the point where I was getting routinely heckled (in jest of course) :p I'd get into the elevator at work. The normal small talk conversation would follow

Them - "How is your running going?".
Typically I'd reply - "Not as well as it should be going".
To which they'd respond - "You're still in good shape...".

Now I'd notice them staring at my stomach while speaking. I'd respond - "You can guess how it's going" and then we'd burst out laughing :p

The solution?

So something needed to be done.

The good thing was that the road that needed to be treaded was not unknown. I needed motivation! Having run 21 marathons merely signing up for another marathon would not cut it. The gravity of the situation at hand required something more radical. I've travelled a lot as a kid and otherwise but there's always been a jinx around Paris. I've gotten as close as the CDG airport a number of times but never made it out. I've so very much wanted to see the Eifel tower. The Paris marathon course passes by the Eifel tower so this I figured would be perfect. I signed up!

Usually, while running I am not too particular about what I eat. However, I needed something more regimented - running on its own would not solve the problem. I started eating healthy. I even did the unthinkable - I gave up rice and chocolate milk :(


It was not easy getting back into the routine of running. I decided to keep it simple - every run would be 6 miles and on the same route by the waterfront. I didn't care about pace. I'd minimize the variants. I needed to get the discipline going again. I strove to get in my run no matter what!

I started off running once every 2-3 days. Gradually by November, I had built upto running everyday. I felt fitter and running was getting easier. The belly jiggle was disappearing and the pounds were going away.

I took a break from running during my December travels to Egypt et. al. I was a bit worried about the ramifications of indulging in the Nile cruise food. Surprising, during the vacation I actually lost 2-3 pounds. I had been very active while in tourist mode.

Energy = 0.5 * Mass * Velocity * Velocity

During a period of 3.5 months I had gotten rid of 20 pounds. By the time I toed the line at Paris, I was close to the leanest I've ever been - modulo 26 pounds from the local maxima of September...


The base had been built. Now it was time to start training for a marathon.

I did not have any particular marathon time goals. Just being able to run another one in a decent time would be nice. I figured that decent = 3:15. This would be a 2 min PR from Newport, 2008. Yes, it had been that long since a PR...

I returned to Chuckit for the first time since April, 2010...

Marathon #22:

Training for this marathon has been unique. Perhaps only my first one would compare - the task of enforcing/reinforcing the discipline required to train for a marathon.

I'd say this one was tougher than my first one because:

* I had to train in winter. Think - dark, rain, cold, snow, wind...

* Work + part-time MBA = Very little free time. I typically ended up starting my runs around 11pm on school days after a day of work and 3.5 hours of classes. Sometimes all I'd want to do was go to sleep. Once I'd manage to drag myself out of the door and it'd be all good :)

* Support/rational: Training for your first marathon while raising funds for a good cause can get you a lot of support from those near and dear to you. Training for your 22nd marathon ... :)

Training elements:

I requested Chuck to give me a modified schedule for Paris. I'm not that great at following schedules. I generally tend to stray. This time I promised would be different. Besides if he took the time to come up with a schedule for me I had to try sticking to it ...

For the first track workout Chuck suggested that I stick to the 3:25 marathon workout paces and gradually work towards the 3:15 paces. Neil, John, Cassy et. al. were working with 3:10 paces. I did not want to run alone so I found myself running with/close to them. I was very beaten up after this workout. A trend was set. Each week I'd "not want to run alone" and run the 3:10 marathon workout paces with them. By the end these paces seemed a bit unreasonable but manageable...

Given that track workouts were on Tuesday, I did hills repeats on Thursday nights... Alone. I did them on the hill going from the Waterfront to the Space Needle. The hill had a traffic light in-between. I noticed that if I ran the hill aggressively I would make the light while it was green else I would be "stuck". This proved to be good motivation.

I've tended to stay away from the treadmill but I was forced to get in a treadmill run one day. I noticed that running a random hill run option with an incline mix of 1.5 to 6 did give me a good workout. So I threw that into the mix.

No training cycle would be complete without a solo long run finish with Dan. One of those runs where your run length and pace keeps changing (read longer and faster) dynamically. By the end you're ready to throw in the towel and take a bus/cab home. My 21.5 miler with him though did give me a lot of confidence given how tough it was.

I ran just four 20+ milers in all. That's was all there was time for in the schedule. It was a very short training cycle - I'd say only about 8 focused weeks.

After my Iceland trip I got into a training groove. I got back into running everyday. The routine of running everyday just seems to resonate with me.


This was to be my first marathon outside the US. Once I bought my air tickets there was a sense of being "committed"... Paris... The Eifel tower ...


The bulk my weekly mileage was in the 30-40s. A few 50s. A couple of 60s. A couple of 70s. And a peak of mileage of 80 miles for the week.

Going into taper I had run for 50 straight days without a rest day.

I ran 310 miles in March. The most I've run in a month in my life. An average of 10 miles a day. I noted that if I ever needed to escape to Canada, at this average, I would reach the border from Seattle in about 12 days :p

My car averaged 10 miles per week during this period. Slacker!

The test:

I signed up for the Mercer Island half in December. This was to be my only test before Paris. My half marathon PR before this was a 1:34:40, 4+ years back on a flat RNR Arizona course.

This race was to be at the end of an 80 mile week with no taper. Mercer Island is hilly. I got a PR - 1:33:31.

I decided that this had to be worth atleast a 1:32 and good enough to indicate a sub-3:15 marathon.

7:15 pace? Really?

I've always been told that when you're ready for a 3:10 marathon, 7:15 pace will seem easy. That always seemed difficult for me to phantom. I've run 10ks where my pace has been 7:15. Would running this pace ever feel easy?

It finally did. I think the Eureka moment was about 4 weeks from my marathon. Gradually I noticed my "easy" runs getting faster. I'd end-up with impromptu progression runs where I'd hit 7:15s in the middle and get to sub-7s by the end...

Going into taper my legs felt surprisingly fresh inspite of the mileage. It was almost like I didn't need a taper.

No niggles during the training cycle. I hadn't even though about a PT or Ibuprofen.

During taper the only thing I got to worry about was if my passport would make it back from the British Consulate in New York in time and ...

A Medical certificate - huh?

The Paris marathon requires a medical certificate before you're allowed to run. I've never needed one in any of my previous ones. I was about to head out and didn't have one...

My visits to my doc tend to be for bureaucratic reasons. The last time being when I needed to get a Measles certificate to be allowed to register for classes at UW :-|

Doc: "What brings you here this time?"

Me handing over a form to him: "I need you to sign this"

Doc: "Hmmm. Have you run one before?"

Me going into my schpeel about # of marathons and mileage... Post an exam with the stethoscope he agrees to certify my run :p

Doc: "When do you leave for Paris?"

Me: "In 14 hours"

Doc: "I see that as usual you never leave anything for the last moment"

Me: "Yes. I lead a very regimented life. I hate procrastinating :p"

Paris to London

I would be heading to London as soon as I reached Paris. I would be coming back right before the race. There was no logical reason as to why I needed to go to London but not everything in life is logical :)

My flight to Paris was a couple of hours late. This meant I had to scramble to the expo and pick up my race number before getting onto the train to London. I now know why Parisians are so fit. Because they have to navigate their metro system. I did a lot of running around while tugging my suitcase :(

I made it through to the UK immigration officer with about 8 minutes to spare. Oblivious to my plight of being on the verge of missing my train he continued to interrogate me:

"Why will you be going to London?" - [I think I should have given him my answer about not everything in life being logical :p]

"How do you know your friend?"

"Why are you coming back to Paris?"

Finally he tells me - "You are really going to have to get in a marathon warm-up to catch your train".

I did. I made it onto the train with 60 seconds to spare :p

Friday fueling

Fueling on Friday comprised of some delish Indian (! not spicy though :p) kebab rolls at Oxford Circus and some safer food during dinner at Bonds on Bank St.

The Thames

I've always wanted to run along the Thames. In December when I visited, the weather in London was horrid. This time around it was just gorgeous! I woke up at 5:30am and headed out for a pre-marathon run. It was a very different London from what I've seen. The typically crowded underground was almost empty... I walked past the empty streets along Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, finally onto the path along the Thames. I did see quite a few runners - familiar brethren!

I just ran a couple miles but it felt amazing... The golden sun light shining on the Big Ben and the houses of parliament. I remember silently saying a word of thanks... just to be able to experience the moment. One of my most memorable runs until... the next day :)

But my legs hurt:

The running around in Paris, standing in the metro/underground, the airport lines meant that by the time I made it to my hotel in Paris the arcs of my leg hurt :( The cardinal mandate - stay off your legs on the day before a marathon. Would I pay for this tomorrow?

Finally at Paris:

One of the good things about heading to London was that I hadn't seen any of Paris yet. I would be seeing it for the first time during the marathon. Had I been in Paris, I would have gotten into tourist mode for sure!

I found a German restaurant to eat around mid-night. Typically I would find their food very bland but during the last few hours before the marathon, Bland = Good. I feasted on a "delicacy" of Boiled potatoes and Salmon :p

What pace were you running again?

I came back to the hotel and did a lookup on the coolrunning pace calculator. I had no idea what the km splits were for a 3:10.

7:15 min/mile and 4:30 min/km

Nice round numbers.

Plan B: Huh?

Safety-pins, safety pins!! Le pins du Safety?

Just what I was afraid of! The race packets had no safety pins. I had no idea what safety pins were called in French!

I spent a significant portion of my pre-race time in vain trying to first communicate what I was looking for and then actually trying to get them. With 30 minutes to go no race volunteer had any clue where I could find some. In desperation I asked a couple of runners. One of them had a box of golden safety pins.

An extremely gratified me - "Thank you sooo much"

A stonefaced him - "Ze pleasure is all mine"

A life saver!

The start - Arc de Triomphe:

The race started at the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe. With 40,000 odd registrants it's a good thing they were meticulously enforcing the corrals. I sure was glad to be in the front.

A min of silence for Japan... The wheelchairs, elites and we're off...
km 1: 4:27

On pace right off the bat.
km 2: 4:38

The congestion during the first km wasn't too bad. However, for the second km as the course narrowed I actually found myself having to slow down and even stop.

42 or 26 - how about both?

I had been prepared to expect only km markers. So it was quite surprise when I saw mile markers as well. I kept my Garmin avg lap pace in miles and took splits in km.


km 3: 4:26
km 4: 4:25

The course made its way past Concorde onto the Bastille. A link from my trip to Egypt. The Obelisk here was moved from the Luxor temple. I remember seeing them missing from the temple in December.

The ambiance - the unique architecture, classy music, the people... I had goosebumps as I ran.

The French are different

km 5: 4:30

There were waterstops every 5km. No sports drink except for at one waterstop later on.

I had wondered if the diminished frequency would be a factor. I do my training runs without anything (not even water in winter). That is because I am lazy. My story tends to be that I am training my body to run with less but really I could care less.

I know Cliffshot gels work for me. They tend to be like a special race treat. I also got electrolyte capsules (Thanks to a recommendation from Jason). I don't know if the capsules helped but they certainly did not hurt. I had about 10 of them during the run.

The waterstops had fresh fruit and raisons which I'd imagine would be nice to have. I say nice to have because after having runners bump into me and almost fall on me in the first stop, I tried to grab my waterbottle and get as far away from the stop as soon as possible. It was quite a melee...

Having small waterbottles instead of cups was nice! I carried them with me for a bit and I could actually drink water properly rather. With cups it's more of a challenge.


km 6: 4:24
km 7: 4:37

As I ran I told myself it's a good thing I handle jet lag well since it was around mid-night in Seattle. Then it hit me... I have been doing my weekday training runs late at night out of compulsion. So my body was actually used to running at this time. I reflected on my accidental brilliance :whatever:

Being an official pacer is hard...

km 8: 4:25
km 9: 4:21

I saw the 3:15 pacer in front of me. I was stuck behind his posse for quite a bit. He was running sub-3:10 pace ??? I know pacing is hard having paced the Seattle marathon and RNR Seattle but the pacer for such a big marathon being so off???

I had enough of being stuck behind the huge group. I had to run significantly faster than 3:10 pace to get past them.

You need space to run

km 10: 4:32

Even after 10 km the course was pretty crowded. There was some elbowing and pushing. I saw a couple of runners tripping and falling. I wonder what the later runners would have to deal with if this was the situation at 3:10 pace. There are a lot of complains about the organization on marathonguide. The awesome marathon experience might be hindered at slower paces.
km 11: 4:25
km 12: 4:29

Flat, straight and fast

km 13: 4:28

km 14: 4:38
km 15: 4:29

Apart from the tunnels later in the race the course was incredibly flat. There weren't many turns


km 16: 4:25
km 17: 4:22
km 18: 4:24

I hadn't the slightest clue of what the spectators were shouting in French. Yet they were inspiring. Their passion! Sometimes words are just words.

km 19: 4:26
km 20: 4:25

The second fastest...

km 21: 4:27

half: 1:34:20
My half marathon split was my second fastest of all half marathons I've run. Four weeks back it would have been a PR...

km 22: 4:24
km 23: 4:28

Water fountains

km 24: 4:30
km 25: 4:29

With the sun out it getting warmer. The water fountains (I counted atleast 3) were pretty neat. They reminded me of sprinklers in the lawn suddenly getting turned on while you're passing. There was a lot of shade along the course which helped.

The tunnels...

km 26: 4:28
km 27: 4:32
km 28: 4:27

We went under about three tunnels under the Siene. One of these tunnels was the one in which Princess Di's car had crashed all those years back. One of those "flashbulb memory" events for me.

There was no echo in the tunnels... It was a little warm in there. You'd come out to the sound of cheering and a welcome blast of cooler air.


km 29: 4:29
km 30: 4:32

On coming out of a tunnel at km 29, I looked to the left and saw the Eifel tower for the first time in my life! I had been expecting the tower to be at the 30km mark so this was unexpected.

I almost teared up ...

The three year old kid who kept begging his mom - "Mom please please can I see the Eifel tower. Please :(", finally got to see it... At km 29 of a marathon!

On some rainy windy dark days during my training runs I'd visualize running by the Eifel tower and it'd immediately give me a boast!


km 31: 4:23
km 32: 4:30
km 33: 4:25

On one of the bridges I saw a Canadian flag with something written in French. Thoughts of Montreal came to my mind...

Time on your feet

km 34: 4:34
km 35: 4:35
km 36: 4:32

During my training runs I keep telling myself it was about time on my feet and these will pay off later in a marathon. During the race I kept reminding myself about the same time... Get to 1 hr ... The Half ... 2 hours ... 2:30 ... 2:50...

Conquering the mind

km 37: 4:31
km 38: 4:33
km 39: 4:32

The last few miles are what make the marathon a challenge. Convincing my mind to keep running. If I lose the battle of the mind and I've lost. Slow down and you've lost. Walk and you've lost. There was never any question of me losing today! I was feeling pretty decent all through. I guess the question might be whether I could have suffered a bit more to save a few more seconds. Not for today. The goal was to get a BQ and not risk it doing anything stupid.

That happy feeling

km 40: 4:35
km 41: 4:42
km 42 + .2: 5:27 (at 4:32)

Obviously I was very satisfied to get the BQ but it was kind of weird. It was only in the last four weeks that I realized that I had a shot at it... So it had not been something that I obsessed over much...

The race finished in Arc de Triomphe as well. I found it funny that a couple of tourists asked me if they could take a snap of me. I would represent the - "Saw Paris marathon" in their memories :)

I didn't hold back on the baked goodies and desserts post-marathon. In fact before I left for the airport I spent all my spare Euros raiding a bakery. The lady at the counter was quite startled.

The numbers:

Time: 3:09:44
OA: 1670/31133
Male: 1620/25004

My country brethren

I was curious to see how many other Indians ran with me in Paris... Eight. Next fastest finish time ... 4:09. Mera Bharat mahan...

BQ! Yesss...

Not so fast. It appears that the folks at the BAA have been aware of the possibility of me qualifying for their race.

Not wanting to deprive me of a goal in a fine race like Berlin they changed the qual time in 2013 to 3:05...

So you have a BQ for 2012...

All this BQ for me means for me is that I can finally dig out that Boston marathon finisher shirt from 2005 (which I ran that with a running club entry not as a qual). Symbolism...

I don't intend to run Boston in 2012. London's on the tap for Spring 2012. I've got to run all the five majors while the ability and motivation is still there. After London all I'll have left is Chicago.

Why run?

During this process I got a new perspective on what running means for me.

It's not about...

- Winning (that's for Kenyans/elites - we race against ourselves)
- The race (2 days/year)
- A time (And... So...)
- Finishing (Been there done that)
- The medal (How often do I open my medals drawer? Once/race)

It's about the journey...

The journey where:

- You are smiling drenched, chaffed, bloody and muddy after a 22 miler in a downpour. That odd sense of satisfaction.
- You feel that urge to run up the stairs at work first thing in the morning
- You definitively conclude that you are insane to be running in a snow storm but run anyway. You find yourself marveling at the beauty of nature...
- Your seven year old niece wants to race you because she is certain she can beat you. She adds that she is faster than all but 2 boys in her class.

It's about living...

It's about feeling alive...


Next up is Berlin. It's unlikely to provide the same drama as Paris. More like marathons #2-21.

- I'm in pretty decent shape already.
- Recover mentally. Enjoy running. Base build. Train.
- It will be summer in Seattle. Think light, dry, sunny, cool.
- Classes end in May. Free time to ...
- Berlin is probably one of the fastest courses in the world. The site of the current WR

"Incentives drive behavior"

The parting words of our Econ prof a couple of quarters back ...    ----- Oktoberfest in Munich

Merci Becoup Paris. Ich bin ein Berliner :)


Blogger Plodding Blogger said...

Well done on your sub-3:10! I ran Paris this year, too. I completely crumbled in the final third of the race unfortunately. But onwards and upwards, as they say!

I wasn't aware BAA qualification had been lowered to 3:05, so thanks for the info, too (BAA qualification being a medium-term goal of mine).

I'm running Berlin in September but I seem to remember the BAA qualification window closes two days before the race or something - d'oh!

Anyway, I'll be following your blog with interest. Well done again and keep up the hard work :-)

4/25/2011 2:32 AM  
Blogger Sub said...

Thanks!! Your report was a good read!

I'll be following your blog too! I've already picked up some useful info in there - I didn't know that the ballots for London opened tomorrow :) Given that they fill out in less than an hour it sure is good to know...

Well, in theory you could still use a Berlin time to register for Boston 2012 but it's likely to have filled up by then...

4/25/2011 10:21 AM  
Blogger Plodding Blogger said...

Glad to know I don't just ramble useless garbage ;-)

I like your 'why run' explanation by the way - really sums it up for me and probably a lot of others. I definitely feel most alive when I run.

So you entered the London ballot then, I take it? They reckon a 1 in 4 chance or something, right? Fingers crossed at least one of us makes it!

4/26/2011 11:34 AM  
Blogger Sub said...

Yup. I did :) Though I entered the overseas ballot so I don't know whether that decreases or increases my odds...

I noticed that my 3:09 would have qualified me for a Good for Age entry if only I were a UK resident :) Oh well...

4/26/2011 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Cliff said...

Great report. I'm going to be an idiot now and say that if the Eiffel Tower was on your right you were going the wrong way around.

5/04/2011 3:40 AM  
Blogger Sub said...

Thanks!! Yup, you're right - directionally challenged me :) It was to my left. Correction made :)

5/04/2011 7:13 AM  
Anonymous Cliff said...

Thanks. I had the joke at you expense before I noticed what your time was. I should have shown you waaaay more respect. Well done!


5/04/2011 2:14 PM  

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