I was very lucky to be able to run in La Rochelle. We had arranged to take our two daughters to Europe for a holiday at the end of 2015, and having already been to Namibia in February 2015 I felt a bit guilty putting any marathon focus into the family trip. I tentatively put the question to Craig about whether it would be OK to run a marathon while we were away, and he immediately encouraged me to enter!
Entering any marathon that involves Google Chrome translating as you go is always a challenging prospect. French marathon rules say you need a certificate from your doctor to say you’re healthy enough to enter, and this has to be uploaded once you’ve paid your entry fee. I accomplished all of this, and we were all set.
Three weeks before we were due to leave the terrible terrorist event occurred in Paris. From this, significant public events, including the Lyon Light Festival that was going to be one of the highlights of the trip, were cancelled. There were emergency laws in place prohibiting gatherings of people, and use of the roads for other than vehicular traffic. There was doubt around La Rochelle proceeding. I desperately searched for another marathon, and targeted finding an alternative in the UK, as we were flying home from London. There were three marathons available – two were trails and were already at capacity; and the last was a country road marathon, again sold out. I emailed all three and it was the small village marathon event director who said that I was welcome to run his marathon if La Rochelle was cancelled. What a great guy!
One week before the La Rochelle marathon it was confirmed it would proceed. La Rochelle is a beautiful city on the west coast of France, and significant distance from Paris. It has a wonderful harbour and coastline, as well as fairly scenic parks. The course was two laps. Bib pickup was fairly stressful as security was extremely tight – only runners were allowed in and there were long queues.
That night we were able to secure a table at an Italian restaurant down on the harbour – runners everywhere!
Marathon morning arrived with light drizzle. Our daughter Emily whipped out her iphone and played a range of greetings and encouraging messages from my running friends! How wonderful – I thought it was very special.
There was a stirring rendition of the French national anthem, and we started. I was actually quite anxious running in the crowd for the first 2km – we were close to a massive crowd and there were just so many runners in a tiny space. So busy is the start of the marathon that some years ago the pack was split into two – the women and all men aged over 45 years start in one place; and all men and seeded women start in another place. At 2km or so the two packs converge.
We headed out toward the coast and swung to the north, running into more drizzle. I was very surprised to see a large number of runners, mainly men, stop (on the course – right in front of others!) and pull out waterproof running jackets and zip them on! The French clearly don’t like getting wet when they run, and yet the temperature was quite mild – I was in a singlet and shorts.
The crowd support was awesome, except they were calling out encouragement in French! People looked straight at me and called, time after time, “Alles Arn”. I had no clue what they were saying. With about 5km to go I stopped when I saw my family and asked Craig, whose French is pretty good, what they were saying. He said “they’re saying Go Anne”! Of course they were! They weren’t saying Anne – they were pronouncing it Arn. Wish I’d known that for the 37km before that and I might have been even more encouraged.
So Craig and our daughters saw me a few times on the course. They were able to walk around the city centre and pop up on the course, which was excellent. There were a few shorter stretches that were a bit lonely because my French is terrible and it is hard to pick who speaks English and who doesn’t when you’re running. There was an awful moment when I turned a corner and a runner was on the ground, clearly very unwell, with others gathered around him. I hope he was OK.
The final 2km was wonderful. We were on cobblestones which aren’t altogether ideal for running but were just so charming and part of the atmosphere.
My youngest daughter Verity leapt out with about 500 metres to go and ran with me to the finish.
I struggled with my very lame French at the end. There were queues to get the event jacket (I got in the wrong queue and hence came away with the wrong size), and different lines of people everywhere. The French are very good at lining up and very good at taking their time. There was a nasty moment when an overwhelmed security guard tried to prevent people leaving the area by skirting around the temporary barrier – he picked up the metal fence and shoved it into the crowd to push them back. I thought his behaviour was terrible and just so dangerous and unnecessary.
Verity and I walked back to find Craig and Emily. As well as the jacket I had received a rose and a dozen oysters! The seaside port is renowned for oysters and every participant was given a dozen. And the homeless people in the city ate lots of oysters that night! They had them stacked up around them as you walked past.
One of the highlights of the day was coming back down to the harbour that evening for dinner. The place was packed and the atmosphere was like a carnival – just lovely. We had an amazing dinner at a seafood restaurant.
La Rochelle marathon was number 7.