Ooh la la! What a finale to the season! About a week ago, I ran my 11th full marathon, which was in the French capital. while it did not go entirely according to plan, I still came out of it with a memorable experience and a new personal best time (AKA a PB) of 3:27:51, which was an improvement of 15 minutes on the previous time of 3:42 hours, which was set in Berlin In September 2017.
This is a race report covering the months of training leading up to the race and the race itself
Road to Paris:
After the Berlin marathon, I ran several races around the UAE, including several half marathons. with my times improving with every race: 1:33 In the Abu Dhabi Striders Half Marathon in November (Would have been happy with for a sub 1:40 finish), my previous PB was1:40 something), 1:29:54 at the Dubai Creek Striders Half Marathon in December despite the course being around 300-400 meters longer than 21.1 kilometers) and the best performance of the season in the HM distance came at one of my favorite races, the RAK Half Marathon with a time of 1:27:44. In addition to this, there were personal best times and podium finishes in 5, 10, 15 and 16-kilometer distances (going sub 20-minutes in 5k and sub-40 minutes in 10k in the process).
Most of these races were on Friday mornings, which allowed me to do long-ish recovery runs on Saturdays. As you can see from the times, they had given me some belief that I can have a decent time at a spring marathon. I had consulted the ABRaS Athletics head coach and friend Angeline Wehbe back in November 2017 about running the Dubai Marathon in January AND a spring marathon, and I was advised to focus on a spring marathon instead of risking fatigue and overtraining. I listened and it paid off handsomely in April.
As March loomed, a couple of things had to be addressed: I had reviewed my weekly mileage in January and February and I realized that I was not putting in enough mileage in training. The second and more pressing issue was that I actually had no clue which race to sign up to! There were quite a few options to consider, and I had to make a decision fast as there were arrangements to be made (primarily making bookings and applying for a visa). Ultimately my options boiled down to one of the following options:
– Manchester, Rotterdam and Paris – All on April 8th
– Vienna on April 22nd
– Prague on May 6th
Manchester seemed to be the most likely destination as several friends initially planned to do it (and there was a Manchester derby on the same weekend, and this was before the UEFA Champions League draw was made). Unfortunately, a couple of them pulled out, the only one who ended up doing it got an amazing time of 2:49 hours (Muy bien Mario!). Vienna’s course is not flat, but it would’ve been nice to do it as I would have been able to go see my father in nearby Budapest, his current city of residence after the race. We agreed that I will come later this year instead (will most likely be in September, as there will be a half marathon in the Hungarian capital!). Prague was too late into the season for me and I honestly did not fancy training well into late April. Rotterdam and Paris made sense, and I opted to do the latter, as it turned out, several friends signed up for it and it was a cracking race.
In hindsight, the Manchester Marathon wouldn’t have been a bad choice. The UCL draw was made after I had booked my flights and applied for the Schengen visa, and my team, Liverpool FC were drawn to play Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-final a few days before and after the Manchester Marathon. Too bad, would’ve been amazing to make it to Anfield for what was a truly exhilarating ‘European Night’! YNWA!
Going back to training, March was one of my most grueling training months ever. Double sessions twice a week on weekdays, racing on weekends coupled with slow warm-ups and cooldowns, in addition to recovery jogs. Add to that time spent on the stationary bike and in the pool to relieve the sore legs and to try and use other muscle groups, improve my stamina etc., countless push-ups, burpees, minutes of planks etc. to strengthen the naturally weak core I have. By the end of March, I had ran 395 kilometers (In March alone), which was more than I have ever run before in a single month.
As per my training plan and pace, I was aiming (more like hoping) for a pace of around 4:35 minutes per kilometer (Estimated finish time with that pace is about 3:13 hours). My average half marathon pace was between 4:10-4:15 this season, so I felt I would be able to hold the pace for most of the race.
Allez allez allez – The race:
The race was on a warm spring morning, and unfortunately, it happened to be the warmest and sunniest day of the six-day trip. I was hoping for a cloudy day with chilly temperatures and no or little drizzle at most, but hey, it’s still better than Dubai’s weather even in January.
The race started off well, I was on track for a 3:15(ish) finish, and was feeling great, however, around the 30km mark, I started having side stitches on my right rib, and by the 32km mark I got them on the left side, which limited me to a painful jog/walk combo for most of the last 10kms. The good work done in most of the race meant that I finished with that PB of 3:27 (Average pace of 4:56 min/km, which was still relatively fast for me considering how much I used to struggle with maintaining any pace faster than 6:00 min/km in long runs when I was training for previous full marathons).
The race was great, the course was beautiful with good support in most parts of the race, we started at the Champs-Élysées at 8:30(ish) am, and went on a big tour of the city, going past landmarks like the Louvre Museum, Place de la Bastille, Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower (Of course). The hardest points in the race were the infamous Paris tunnels and underpasses at around the 28k mark onwards. They were not ridiculously long, however, they did take their toll on many runners. The last 7k were through a big park on the outskirts of the city, and that was a bit of a challenge as it was getting quite warm by that stage of the race. The finish was special, with the Arc de Triumph visible in the distance and the runners cheering on each other to get to the finish line. I crossed the line and sat down for a while till my heart rate dropped and my body cooled down, before proceeding to collect my medal, get water, fruits etc. After the race, I caught up with my friends who ran it for the obligatory finishers’ pictures with the medals, flags etc. then had a big and fattening lunch (burgers and fries). The medal is really nice I should say, iconic, classy and ‘French’.
Would I recommend the race? Definitely, the expo was one of the better expos, it did not feel super crowded and chaotic as other big races I’ve been to (However, perhaps that is because I went there on Friday instead of Saturday). The race organization and the course are up to World Majors standard, and I will definitely consider doing it again in a few years time. The race and the trip, in general, changed my perception of Parisians, as almost everyone was quite friendly and warm. The only minor areas that I’d have liked to see done differently at the race were the water and support stations, which were on one side of the road (would’ve been easier if they were on both sides) and the marshaling, as some residential areas should have had more marshals. Some people tried to cross the course and some bright spark thought it was a good idea to cross it with his bike, he caused several runners to crash into him in the process. Hope nobody was hurt in the process.
For the number and data geeks, below are the km by km splits, 5km splits and race’s route map:
For anyone who would like to see some updates from the trip, I posted quite a few videos and pictures on my Instagram stories, and highlighted them on my profile. Feel free to check them at @OmarDXB! (screenshot below)
What’s next? Well, my target is to try and lose (more) weight over the summer, and to stregnthen my core, while enjoying some shorter distance races. I’m planning to do a World Major marathon, so let’s see how that goes. Till the next time!