Monday, April 10, 2000

TR London & Paris Marathons Part 1

France and England
4/6 – 4/16/00

The planning for this trip started over one year ago. As soon as we confirmed that we were moving to England a few of my running buddies from Dallas stated that they would run the London Marathon if we were still here in April 2000. After we arrived in England, I discovered that the Paris marathon was to be held the weekend before London so I asked or challenged them to run back-to-back marathons with me.

These runners are part of an informal group in Dallas called the ‘BrookBachRock’ or ‘BBR’ which is an abbreviation for Brookhaven College, Bachman Lake and White Rock Lake – the three locations in Dallas where we would meet for our training runs. The group has run together for over sixteen years and has added and lost various members throughout that period as some runners quit running and new runners joined the group.
When I left Dallas the group had dwindled down to about five members of which only two were from the original group. But those two, Fred Giles and John Hubbard, plus another ‘original’, Dick Ballinger, whom had retired and moved to Connecticut, accepted my challenge. Another member, Holly Moshier, also accepted the challenge.

Now to put the mentality of these runners and good long-time friends in perspective I must point out that these are the same group that gave a demure, non-competitive, non-obsessive person -‘moi’- the nickname “Maddog”! How was such a name derived? Surely it could not have been as simple as trying to denote that the owner was crazy?
Everyone already knew that fact? No, the explanation I prefer came from a sports article that was written when I completed the 50 + DC challenge. One of my esteemed colleagues/friends provided the following quote: “We call him Maddog because he is so tenacious. When he is in a race he will not give up no matter how difficult the obstacles or conditions are!” I accepted that comment as a compliment and have used the nickname proudly ever since.

Our initial plan was to submit our entries through the normal lottery for the London Marathon and use the ‘Wallace Hilton’ as our base. Since London gets over 200,000 entries for only 30,000 slots they use a lottery system. Many local runners here in England have to try their luck for years before they ever get accepted. We had expected/hoped that overseas entries might get special treatment but no way! We combined our entries under one check, which meant all or nothing, and we were both surprised and disappointed when we received a rejection notice. But not to be daunted we decided to buy our way in by purchasing a race package through Marathon Tours in Boston. The marathon tour operators get guaranteed entry slots for overseas runners to combine with travel packages. The advantage is that they provide all the travel arrangements and guarantee an entry. The disadvantage is the added time and cost because you must accept their travel itineraries and this factor caused Holly to drop out.
But the others were still game and indeed decided to use Marathon Tours to book both London and Paris for them. I had already sent my entry in for Paris but now I had a small problem –no entry for London! I called Marathon Tours and spoke to the owner and reminded him of all the money I had spent with his firm (Greece, Antarctica and London in 86). And since I was sending him three customers for Paris and London, the least he could do was sell me an entry slot. He finally agreed to sell me a slot – for $180! That’s the most I have ever paid for a marathon entry but I was not going to leave London after living here for a year without running the local marathon! So the BBR were on for back-to-back marathons!

The plan was to meet the BBR in Paris, run the marathon and return to our home for a few days before they moved into the package hotel in London. Nicole coordinated a business trip to Paris so we could take our car and make a final wine run also. In the final few days there was a surprising but pleasant change in plans. Holly decided to come to Paris just for the Paris Marathon and John brought his wife Debbie along also for the Paris portion of the trip. Thus there were five members of the BBR and three spouses in the final count when we met in Paris a few days before the marathon (Dick’s wife Sue had always planned to come on the trip).

To say it was a fun time would be putting it in very simple terms. We explored Paris together - well some of us. John and Nicole had to go off to work on Friday while the rest of us explored Paris (or shopped). But we terrorized Paris together the rest of the time. We did the city tour thing and wandered around the Louvre. Some ventured off to explore the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame and MontMartre. But we always met up for dinner including a great dinner cruise on the Seine on Friday evening. It just happened to be a birthday weekend for John and Dick. So everyone adopted the Maddog marathon diet – lots of food washed down with copious amounts of beer and wine! But we did get serious the night before M- Day, eating pasta and going to bed early. And M-Day turned out to be a fine day. The weather was cool and sunny.
The marathon started on the Champs Elysees next to the Arc De Triumphe. Fortunately the hotel selected by Marathon Tours was right next to the Arc so that we were able to walk to the start. The course passed through or by most of the major tourist sites in Paris such as Place De La Concorde, Jardin Des Tuileries, the Louvre, Place De La Bastille, through the Bois De Vincennes and past the Parc Zoologique and the Hippodrome de Vincennes, back along the Right Bank of the Seine past Notre Dame, the Grand and Petit Palais, Tour Eiffel, Palais De Chaillot, and through the Bois de Boulogne to finish on Avenue Foch next to the Arc De Triumphe.

We had decided before the race that it would be all or none; i.e. we would all finish together or not at all and the latter was not really an option! With 30,000+ runners and the narrow streets of Paris the race was very crowded and it was difficult at times trying to stay together. But we eventually worked out a system to keep each other in sight especially at the water stations and even for ‘relief’ breaks. Our goal was to finish in 3:45. We ran at an almost perfect pace except when Fred took the lead so we fired him quickly. And even though all of us went through a typical lull at some point during the race we pulled each other along to cross the finish line hand-in-hand in 3:45:12! Time to celebrate! So after our showers, rest, etc. we met and headed down the Champs Elysees to celebrate and enjoy a victory dinner.

On Monday the group had to separate and go different ways. Nicole had business meetings in Versailles on Monday and Tuesday so we decided to move to a hotel in Versailles. Since Dick and Sue were returning to England with us they accompanied us to Versailles. That gave us the opportunity to explore Versailles while Nicole was working and made it easier for her to get to her meetings. The rest of the group stayed in Paris because they planned to take the Eurostar direct from Paris to London on Tuesday. While they shopped and continued to explore Paris, Dick, Sue and I explored the Chateau Versailles and the town. As it turned out the Chateau and most of the town were closed on Monday but we were able to walk around the gardens or Parc of the Chateau and visit the Grand and Petit Trianons. The Grand Trianon was a ‘small’ castle or retreat built by Louis XIV in 1687 at the far end of the park to get away from the constraints of power and the crowd of courtiers at the Chateau. The Petit Trianon was built for the private use of Louis XV in 1760 and is situated in the middle of a botanical garden. It took us all afternoon just to walk around the park and to explore the old quarter of Versailles. We arrived back at the hotel about 6pm – and no Nicole? Nine PM and no Nicole and no message? I figured that she probably had to go to dinner with the NT people but normally she would always leave me a message. So finally we went to dinner and when we returned about 10:30pm –still no Nicole? I waited another hour and was in the process of demanding that the front desk contact the police when in walks – Nicole! She had left a message but the hotel had lost it! And they didn’t even offer us a bottle of wine or a drink to sooth our nerves?

The following morning Dick and I did an easy run through the gardens and park of the Chateau. They are so vast that we figured that you could run a 10K within the park without ever having to loop on any of the dirt paths. While Nicole was wrapping up her meeting, Dick, Sue and I visited the Chateau Versailles. It is the biggest palace I have seen in Europe –and I have seen a lot of them. Although it is grand and some rooms such as the Hall of Mirrors are definitely decadent, I have visited other castles such as the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia that are more gaudy and decadent!

But now it was time to make the long drive back to England. But first we made a stop at a local wine shop in Versailles where we bought four cases of excellent and high quality wines such as Margaux, Pauillac, St Emillion and Medoc to take back to our wine cellar in the US. We also bought four cases of inexpensive red wines to carry us through our final six weeks in England. Then it was a long 7-hour drive around Paris, across France, through the chunnel, across England, around London and back to Stortford. The rest of the BBR were already on their easy 3-hour Eurostar journey from Paris to London – but they didn’t have eight cases of great French wine with them!

And I guess I need to split this report into two sections to give everyone a rest. Rejoin us in England!

No comments: