Upping the ante – Paris Marathon 2016

Our President Rebecca Gatt is a busy woman of modern day. Besides running her own business of aqua physiotherapy for dogs, and having a family with two young daughters, she heads the LRC administration as well as weekend club long runs. All this without losing sight of her personal progress as a runner and hitting important milestones while going on about it all. Here’s her own take on running her first Marathon in Paris this year.

”I started running about 5 years ago, after having my second child as a challenge to myself to run a half marathon. No one was more surprised than me when I actually started to enjoy it and continued running after the half marathon! I needed the motivation so I joined the Ladies Running Club coaching group and started to race more, get faster and set myself goals. After doing my second half marathon I knew it was only a matter of time before I would do a full marathon. I didn’t want to rush into it and attempt one before I was physically and mentally ready; wanted to prepare myself well so that I would enjoy it, not suffer, and hopefully want to do more!

For the next couple of years I suffered from a few little injuries and through this learnt how to listen to my body and avoid over training. I started to think more about a full marathon. Last October I had been almost a year injury free and I had applied for the London marathon
ballot but was unsuccessful. After the LRC 10K race one of our members Ramona told me that she had applied for the Paris full marathon. “Ejja Beck, join us! It will be fun!” she told me. But a full marathon?! Will I manage? “Yes of course!” she said.

I went home on a high after a successful race organisation, with my head full of dreams about running a marathon in Paris! There was no ballot required, I just had to enter…. A quick message to my husband who was abroad asking him what he thought… “Sure, why not?!” was his response. So that was it. I signed up.

For the rest of the day I felt weak and a bit dizzy. What on earth had I done? Was I really capable of running 42.2K?! But after speaking to my coach and a few other marathon running friends I calmed down. If so many others can do it I can too!

Then down to the hard work – the training! The marathon was in the beginning of April, so after Christmas I started to increase my weekly mileage and my weekly long runs, following the programme given to me by my coach. I did many of my long runs with Ramona and her friend Etienne, who was also doing Paris marathon. You definitely want company for those kind of distances, and their experience, advice and support was invaluable to me! I remember my first 30K run, which was quite a hilly one. My legs felt really wobbly by the end! Soon after I did a 32K run, again a bit hilly, and by the end I could barely keep moving. Uh-oh, was I going to be able to do this? I realised then that being my first full, my body was not used to those distances yet. Putting hills into the equation was probably not wise this time round; I would only end up injured. So we did the rest of our long runs on mostly flat routes, and sure enough I started to get used to the distance. At this time I was also experimenting with hydration and fueling while running, an absolute must with marathon distances, and I found some gels that suited me. Three weeks before the marathon I had my longest run
of 36K! This was it – time to taper.

A week before the marathon I got every runner’s worst nightmare – a little pain in my foot. However this is quite a common phenomenon which I call pre marathon paranoia. Many runners will report getting a little niggle before a big race and most times it goes away and turns out to be nothing, so I just tried to ignore it (and sure enough I barely felt it on the day).

We travelled to Paris three days before the race. I have learnt from experience that when racing abroad you need to be very careful not to overdo it before the race itself! So we kept walking to a minimum. We did a bit of very relaxed sightseeing and I was also careful about
eating simple carb rich foods. Food can also be an issue when racing abroad – another thing I learnt the hard way when eating too much pub food before Edinburgh half marathon! Thankfully in Paris it was quite easy to find good food.

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The morning of the race I was so excited! I had thankfully managed to get quite a good night’s sleep. I didn’t feel like eating much but I forced myself to eat knowing that I would need the fuel. I met Ramona and Etienne at the start where we took photos, dropped our bags, and used the toilet a few times just to be sure! I was completely in awe of the sheer enormity of the event. 57000 applicants! The Champs Elysee which is normally so busy was completely clear of traffic. Despite these large numbers the organisation was impeccable; everything went smoothly; there weren’t even queues to drop off and collect the bags.
Finally we got into our starting pens and very soon after started moving forwards towards the start. We crossed the start line and were off…

I had my race plan in place as advised by my coach. Everyone (except my coach!) had told me that for a first marathon I shouldn’t worry about the time and I should just take it easy and enjoy it. But deep down I really wanted to break the 4 hour mark, so I started with a comfortable pace which would hopefully allow me to do this. The route starts in the city where there was lots of crowd support, then after about 8K it goes into one of the parks. It was quieter here but that was fine. I was always amongst lots of runners and I was feeling good. The first 10K passed easily. At around 17K we came out of the park and back into the streets, where once again there was lots of crowd support. We passed the half marathon mark and I was amazed at how good I was still feeling! There were still lots of people and many percussion bands, which provided a real boost with their music. The atmosphere was fantastic! We then had a long stretch running along the river. There wasn’t much space as there were so many runners but it was never really a problem; I had managed to keep a pretty constant pace and continued to do so. At this point I managed to see my husband
and the other partners who were frantically running around Paris to support us. This was a real boost too! At about 32K there was a big model of a broken wall with the words ‘You’ve just broken the wall’ or something similar. Now I was starting to feel tired but certainly not
like I had hit any walls or was about to, which I was very relieved about! We went into quieter roads at this point and into another park.My coach had told me that with 10K to go I should ‘go for broke’, so I did try to pick up the pace a bit, however I found that I wasn’t
able to maintain it for long. The tiredness was really starting to set in now. I had been taking my gels as planned and plenty of water but my body started to feel weak. There was still quite a bit of crowd support in this park which definitely helped. I remember little kids
holding out their hands to high five the runners, and whenever I needed a boost I would run by and high five them! With 5K to go I was so tired. I don’t remember being in pain or breathless; just exhausted. Like I wanted to stop running and sit down. There was no
doubt in my mind that I would finish but I was certainly struggling to hold the pace I wanted!

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With 2K to go I saw my husband again and he tried to run a bit with me. I was so tired I couldn’t even speak to him, I just gave him the thumbs up and kept going (he was thrown off
the course very soon after!). Suddenly we went round a corner, went through the gates of the park and there ahead was the fish line in all it’s glory, framed by the Arc de Triomphe. There was a sort of red carpet on the floor and stands on either side with spectators cheering. What a welcome! I imagined what Olympic athletes must feel like! I gave it my all and ran (or staggered!) across the finish line, where finally I could stop running and stop my watch. It took me a few moments before I could start moving and I started hobbling towards the finishers area. I was really really stiff! I looked at my watch and saw 3:52:55. 3hrs 52mins… I had done it! Broken the 4 hours. I was ecstatic but too exhausted to think about anything much. I desperately needed water but first I had to collect my finisher’s t shirt and
medal. Then there were huge tables with water and fruit and I took some orange segments, which were delicious! I collected my bag, met the others, and we all sat on the grass nursing our aching limbs and soaking up the fantastic atmosphere.

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I found that I wasn’t able to eat anything for a good few hours as my stomach was a bit upset from the gels and stress of running, however we all met later for a lovely steak dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. Needless to say, I was extremely sore the next day, and could
barely go down stairs or sit down! I also had some rather horrible toe nail issues, but none of that mattered, nothing could take away the awesome feeling of completing my first marathon. As soon as I finished I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do more marathons, and when I
got back home I felt rather empty, and I found myself googling European marathons to start thinking about my next goal! I haven’t quite picked one yet but I certainly have a few in mind, and can’t wait to plan my running year for 2017!”

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