April 10th, 2005
By Mike Roberts
Anita wanted to do another marathon. So, for Christmas, I gave her a surprise trip to Paris to run their little race. The gift went over pretty well, except for one disgruntled friend who gave his wife a gym membership for Christmas, a gift the wife did not find amusing or comparable to a French vacation. After dropping the kids off at the grandparents (it’ll take a while to rebuild that burnt bridge), we left Kansas City Thursday morning and traveled to Philadelphia for a 6-hour layover. Then, at 7:15 p.m., we boarded our Air France flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport north of Paris. We arrived Friday morning around 8:30 a.m. Although we both took a few naps on the flight, my sleep total from Wednesday night and Thursday night was a combined six hours. After deplaning, we hopped on France’s very efficient rail system and headed into Paris. Because we couldn’t check into our hotel until 1:00 p.m., we dropped off our bags , went to the expo, bought some race souvenirs, grabbed some lunch, returned to the hotel, and slept for three hours. Later that afternoon, we walked around for a few hours, ate a nice dinner, went to a pub a few doors down from our hotel, and found ourselves asleep by 9:30 p.m. Fairly inauspicious beginning.
Woke up Saturday morning after twelve hours of sleep. Ridiculous. Usually, the day before a marathon is spent on the couch, keeping hydrated, and eating a few more carbs than normal. Not us. We instead decided to explore Paris. By foot. All day. We had a nice breakfast, grabbed some delicious paninis for lunch (they became favorites), saw the sights, ate pizza for dinner (closest thing we could find to pasta), foolishly grabbed a few after-dinner drinks at another nearby pub, and went to sleep at a decent hour.
For some illogical reason, I was not worried about the race. My training, for one, could not have been much worse. I started training late because of post-Ironman recuperation and the holidays. And instead of running 12 miles on February 19 like I was supposed to, I opted instead for a 16-hour adventure race with Dave, which turned out to involve 9 and 1/2 hours of running/trekking. I followed that insanity with a 19-miler the next weekend, then a 12 the following, and then a 20. When I woke up the day after the 20-miler, my repaired right knee was very stiff and painful. Knowing that I had overtrained, I decided to skip the last three weeks and 100 miles of training. So, despite going into the race injured, badly undertrained, sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, dehydrated, and improperly-nourished, I fully expected to be able to run a 3:30 marathon (after the injury, I knew a 3:16 and a Boston ticket would have to wait).
We both woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty strong. The weather was overcast and forecasted to reach 60. Because the race started three miles from our hotel and was supposed to be well-organized into color-coded corrals, we left an hour before the 8:45 a.m. start. Big mistake. The train ride took 35 minutes. Apparently, there were others going to the race via subway. When we emerged from the station at the Arc de Triomphe, we found pandemonium in the form of 35,000 runners. We dropped off gear, grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer, and made our way to the starting line about 15 minutes before the start. There were no corrals. Just 35,000 crammed people. We couldn’t get to the front via sidewalk, as they too were jammed . . . with spectators. So, we slowly snaked our way in and around the runners toward the front. But, after a while, the mass of humanity became too dense, and there was simply no way to go any farther. We were stuck behind 27,000 people, whether we liked it or not. And I, for one, did not.
At 8:45 a.m., the gun went off. We, of course, would not be moving for several minutes. Two things that puzzled me about the start were the lack of trash cans and porta-johns. Sure, at American races, there are