Allez! Allez! Allez! – Paris Marathon 2019

Set in the heart of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the Paris Marathon 2019 was certainly an unforgettable experience packed with an amazing route, featuring the most magnificent monuments and sights of Paris.

As some may agree, every marathon brings about a different set of challenges – be it the weather, road conditions, arduous training, or enduring the excruciating pain and exhaustion during the race.

Even though it was my third time participating in the marathon (previous two in Singapore), I was exceptionally thrilled by the thought of doing one overseas. But what I looked forward to the most was to relive the extraordinary experience again – the very extremes of human emotions one can ever feel from the start to the finish line.

After a week of recovery and consolidating my thoughts, here’s a full recap of my experience on the 2019 Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris!

“What were the highlights of the race? For me it was definitely the memorable route coupled with scenic views of the city and the spontaneous enthusiasm of the crowd, heartily cheering for the participants every step of the way.”

Pre-Race

Race Entry Pack Collection:
Participants could start collecting their race packs from T-minus three days at the Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles, located on the far southeast of Paris (accessible by metro).

1-Race Pack Collection
Entrance to Race Pack Collection Expo

The bib collection booths were segregated by our allocated race numbers and estimated completion time. There was hardly any queue when I arrived at around 7 pm on the first day of collection. Thereafter, participants can make their way down the hall to another collection point to receive their running bag containing the freebies and sponsored items.

Don’t forget to find your printed name on the large-scale board amongst the tens of thousands of other participants. Since I had the privilege to be working in Schneider Electric (the main sponsor of the marathon), I was part of this awesome community of 7,000 #SEGreenRunners taking part in the first ever carbon-neutral marathon.

2-Board and Race Pack
Left: Board with every participant’s name | Right: Race pack contents and my personal gear (i.e. shoes, GPS watch, shirt, pants, socks and knee guard)

Mobile App:
The Official app for the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris is by far the most comprehensive and useful racing app I have come across. Here are some highlighted features of the 2019 version:

  • Preparation guides and training plans
  • Weekly challenges and prize giveaways
  • Live-tracking of participants during the race 3-Race App

SE Marathon Paris 2019 App – User Interface

Race Day

Marathon Route:
Similar to previous years, over 50,000 participants were flagged off along the famous avenue of Champs-Elysées, right in front of the Arc de Triomphe. It was around 8:30 am when I watched the first flag off for the main cohort from the live telecast online. I took the chance to munch on my oats and banana before making my way to the starting point, where I would be starting with the final wave at a target pace of 4hr30mins.

4-Race Route
Paris Marathon 2019 Race route (taken from the SE Paris Marathon website)

Start Point:
While making my way to the starting point, I was surprised to see those overly exposed makeshift toilets, probably for men who weren’t shy of the watchful eyes surrounding them. Upon seeing the long queues behind the enclosed portable toilets, this was probably a more pragmatic set-up. There were about 20 of these along the whole stretch towards the starting point, but it’s always best to relieve yourself before arriving.

5-Start Point
Left: In front of Arc de Triomphe | Right: Portable toilets near the start line

Brace Yourself for the Cold Breeze:
I could still remember shivering in the cold weather (3-5°C) before the start of the race, waiting close to 30 minutes prior to the flag off. Some of the participants came well-prepared with an extra outer layer wrapped around them. There was even a dedicated jacket disposal area located just before the start line for people to discard their jackets. Nevertheless, you will see everyone tossing their jackets all over the road – don’t be surprised if one flies across your face.

The Race:
This year we witnessed the addition of two beautiful structures – the Opera Garnier and the Place Vendome, which were between the 2km and 3km mark. Since participants were flagged off at staggered timings, it wasn’t as crowded as I would have expected during the first quarter of the race. I managed to breeze through other runners easily without having to play a game of dodge in zig-zag motion.

6-Opera and Vendome
Left: Opera Garnier|Right: Place Vendome

Official Pacers: You will spot them easily with a towering flag sticking out from their backs. I observed a couple of such pacers for each respective timings, and they seem to spread out at least a few hundred metres away from one another. With the vibrant colours and gigantic font size of the pace timing, you will most certainly not miss them if you intend to follow a pacer.

Pacer
4hr 30 min pacer with pink flag!

Shortly after the 10km mark, runners were greeted by the serenity of the largest public park in Paris – Park Bois de Vincennes – where it was generally peaceful and quiet throughout. With all the greenery that surrounded me, I could feel the elemental energy of mother nature channelling through my body, allowing me to better focus on my cadence and breathing.

Just before hitting the halfway mark of the marathon, runners then emerged from the first green space of the route to pound on the streets once more. At this point, I was starting to feel a sharp pain on my left feet that was going to pose a problem for me. The real challenge begins from this juncture, and refuelling was key to sustaining participants for the second half of the marathon.

21km mark
Semi Mark – 21km!

Feeding & Refreshment Zones:
Placed every 4-5km after crossing the halfway mark, volunteers at feeding stations were giving out mineral water in tiny bottles that were easy to grab and go, as well as a variety of food like bananas, sugar cubes, dry fruits and gingerbread. Each of these stations stretched for over 100 metres, which provided ample space for participants to stream in and out without facing massive congestion.

In addition, there were random stations along the route filled with buckets of water, which I believed were provided by the fire departments of Paris for runners to cool themselves down under the scorching afternoon sun.

Road to 30km:
Much to my “pleasure”, we had to run through not one, but several momentum-breaking upslopes and downslopes situated along the Seine river as we crossed bridge after bridge every kilometre, until we reached the Eiffel tower at the 30km mark.

Eiffel Tower - 30km
The Eiffel Tower at 30km mark

Final Stretch:

“When your legs can’t run anymore, RUN WITH YOUR HEART”

It was during the toughest stretch of the race where I was touched by the most remarkable moments that I would never have expected.

“Allez Bertrand! Allez!”
I was rather surprised that members of the public were actually shouting our names, giving us that much-needed motivation boost to keep going. It didn’t just happen once – I swear I heard my name at least 5 times.

When I succumbed to walking to relieve myself from the unbearable pain in my legs, an elderly participant came up from behind and gave me an encouraging pat on the back.

There was this other moment where my legs almost gave way, but a random runner swiftly grabbed me by the side of my shoulders to make sure I was all right.

I could sense that everyone around me was still going strong towards the last quarter of the race as we entered another huge Park – Bois de Boulogne filled with multiple twist and turns. Hardly anyone was walking, and it spurred me on to keep up as well. With each heavy stride I took, I longed to see the end of the park as I frantically pushed ahead, in hopes of hitting my target timing.

In the park
Entering the second park – Bois de Boulogne

Finally, after crossing the 42km mark, I could feel this indescribable surge of feelings when I saw a zealous crowd cheering their hearts out for us.

after 42km

With the finish line in sight, I powered through with whatever remaining energy I had in me. And with the crossing of the finish line, I managed to hit a satisfactory timing under 4hr 30mins!

Results
Official Race Time 🙂

From feeling good to frustrated, doubtful to hopeful, motivated and euphoria – it was nothing short of incredible. I also felt immensely grateful for all the support I received throughout this journey.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I felt the Paris Marathon was a fantastic experience that exceeded my expectations. Not only was it well-organized, it allowed me to discover the city and its people in a beautiful light. I highly recommend it to every runner out there, looking to challenge him/herself, and to enjoy the lovely sights of this lovely city. Whatever that reason may be, you will surely not regret adding this to your bucket list and checking it off.


Check out my race video on YouTube via this link: https://youtu.be/swWopJvv5e0
(filmed entirely on my S8!)

Till next time, ciao! 😊


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