In the past 11 months I’ve run five half marathons. My times have ranged from painful (2:26 in the heat and humidity of NYC in August) to not so bad (2:05 on an overcast fall day in London), but each time there have been some real highs and some annoying lows. In the first race, it was the combination of my iPod shuffle freezing up at the moment my hips were trying to convince me to just lay down under a tree for a minute that brought me down, but the sight of that first finish line that brought my spirits through the roof. In my second race, the annoyance of the NYC Road Runners volunteers disappearing after mile nine (leaving me with no hydration for the final four miles) itself disappeared as I ran along the Coney Island boardwalk.
The race this weekend was similarly both incredible and disappointing.
Friday Becky and I arrived in Paris in the evening. Our hotel was centrally located, and perfect for what we needed. We wandered over to a restaurant she loved (she had lived and studied in Paris before) and ate some excellent French food. Escargot really is super yummy.
Saturday we made our way to the park to pick up our race numbers and chips, and then wandered around, eventually settling into the park across from the Louvre with baguette sandwiches, soaking up the sun (it was FREEZING but still bright and sunny). Paris feels like a dream whenever I’m there. I love it.
Saturday night we met up with one of Becky’s friends, who was also going to run the next day, near the Eiffel Tower, for some Italian food. We were going to go up, but the wait was too long.
Sunday was actually freezing. Not just “oooh, it’s chilly out” cold, but COLD. My hands were numb for awhile once the race started. The organization for 27,000 people was not great at the beginning. Near the bag drop they had five toilets. At the Royal Parks Half marathon, they had about 25. We were able to use the restrooms and make it to the start with about 10 minutes to spare, but I know loads of people either gave up or started late.
The course was amazing. Running down towards the monument to the Bastille, with people cheering us on in French, was phenomenal. It was sunny, the Seine was sparkling, and I felt really good. The refreshments every 5 km were great – fresh orange slices (although the peels make for one hell of a race hazard), sugar cubes, bottles of water – and the backups at them were minimal. I was on pace to finish around 2:03 as I hit the 15km mark, but as my training this round wasn’t my best, I did lose some steam near the end.
However, after I passed the 20km mark, I sped up. I was excited – while I couldn’t still break 2:10 again, (which was my personally revised goal, after losing three weeks of training in January), I could get close. Everyone was speeding up, as we could see the finish line. So close!
And then we all stopped.
About 50m from the finish, with the clock ticking away, laughing at us, we stopped. You see, they did not organize the finish chute properly. Timing these days is all done by chips that people wear tied to their shoes (or with disposable chips that one need not return). After the race, volunteers cut them off and keep them, as they are just on loan to the racers. That takes some time, so these folks are, in a well-planned race, well out of the way of the finish line. Either off to the side in a completely different area, or far down the chute. Unfortunately, the fact that there were not enough volunteers coupled with them being WAY TOO CLOSE to the finish line, meant there was a huge back up. I felt really bad for the people, like Becky, who literally jumped over fences to run around the crowd, then jumped back in at the finish line to cross it but who didn’t get that feeling of running, full sprint, over the mat and knowing that you did it! I also felt for people who were set to PR and then just had to stop. My final official time was 2:19, but if I’d finished flat-out it would have been around 2:11. That’s so not cool.
Becky and I found each other afterwards and spent the evening moaning about the soreness (I think the cold did not help), raving about how cool the course was, and eating great food.
It was overall a really good experience, and one I’m glad I had, but definitely not something I will do again in Paris, as the organizers really let us down.
The next one is in Birmingham in July. Only 800 people, so I could definitely come in last. Should be fun!
And as a Post Script: This apology made its way to the website today (this is their English translation; I’m sure it flows much better in French):
We kindly ask you to accept our excuses for the inconvenience on the finish area
On the 18th edition of the Paris Half-Marathon, due to important modifications of course owing to Tramway programs, we liked to change the start and finish areas.
On the start, we organized the zone by allowing more entrances on the left and the right, for more convenience.
On the finish area, we organized a complete change and unfortunately underestimated fluxes, considering the breath of the way.
The timing chip collection and the medal distribution could not be correctly made for many runners whose time of arrival is spread between 1h50 and 2h20.
We are aware that this is of our whole responsibility and kindly ask you to accept our excuses for this inconvenience.
From today, we analysed this anomaly in term of organisation and we shall make fats decisions which are obvious to avoid that such situation reproduces in future.
Except this problem which certainly is not negligible, we hope that this 18th edition took place in good conditions and that you enjoy the event.
The organisation committee.