You don’t need to be an experienced runner to know there are a few basic rules to marathon running. Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, get a good nights sleep, eat a hearty breakfast and make sure you’ve trained in your race kit. Pretty simple. So, when I turned up on the start line of my 12th marathon with a hangover, on 4 hours sleep, an empty stomach and a leopard print skirt, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line in one piece…
Marathon du Medoc claims to be ‘le marathon le plus long du monde’ (the longest marathon in the world). And now I know why…
Medoc is one of those races on every marathoners’ bucket list, quite simply, it’s the craziest marathon on earth. Rather than the usual water and electrolyte stops, there are around 20 wine stations hosted by different châteaus around the beautiful Medoc region in France, proudly waiting to let you sample their finest red whilst you have a dance to a live band before you run along to the next one!
Gourmet food stops including oysters, steak, cheese and croissants line the route, as well as the usual banquet of fruit, crisps, crackers and fig rolls you seem to get at every European marathon, and everyone is in fancy dress. Fancy dress is the Marathon du Medoc law.
Whilst it’s certainly a race with a difference, it’s now so successful, this year was the 31st event and it sold out within 24 hours! In all credit to the organisers, despite its huge popularity they still limit entries to 8,500 to avoid compromising the race experience.
Gemma, Martin and I had been excited for months, we flew to Bordeaux (the nearest main City where we were staying) on the Wednesday, which would give our bodies a chance to get used to the toxic levels of wine that would be necessary for success (sensible training approach).
Friday was registration day, so we headed to race HQ in Pauillac where they had set up a little race village with a few stalls and a bar (obvs). Registration was a little chaotic but the queue was short so could have been worse!
We had a few beers (and maybe a champagne…hey, we were on holiday!) and walked along the river where there was some wine tasting and various food on offer (the snails did not look happy). Martin and Gemma had a plate of oysters (my previous history with oysters is that they always make me throw up, today was no different but I tried) and we enjoyed the sunshine.
Part of our race package included a pasta dinner party and, this year, it was hosted at Château Senilhac. On arrival we were greeted with a live band and several tables of wine and crisps before being invited into the marquee for dinner. The best way to describe the whole look and feel of it is exactly like a wedding!
Dinner was chorizo pasta to start and duck and pasta for main (not ideal if you don’t eat chorizo or duck but I worked around it!), and some kind of foamy meringue thing for dessert. By this point, we’d made some new friends and all had way too much red wine (to add to the white wine, beer and champagne…) so Martin decided it would be an awesome idea to have a few games of ‘who can inhale their dessert the fastest?’. 5 desserts each, another magnum of wine, and a fireworks display later, it was definitely time to go home.
It was a pretty long drive back to Bordeaux which meant we didn’t stumble into bed, a little worse for wear, until 1.30am. With a 5.30 alarm it wasn’t ideal. The next morning was a bit hazy and a bit rushed but we headed out in the dark and rain to get the coach back to Pauillac for the start. The coach was 40 minutes late. The driver was lost. It was raining. We were not impressed, especially as we’d rushed out without taking breakfast (5 deserts might not have been a bad idea after all).
Finally, the rain had stopped and we managed to arrive hour before the 9.30 start. We quickly realised our hangovers weren’t alone, but the atmosphere was thick with excitement as people buzzed around all smiley and wide eyed in their fancy dress outfits, it was a far cry from the solemn seriousness that usually graces marathon day morning.
This year the theme was ‘dressed to the nines’ but there were a real mix of outfits from dresses, shirts and bow ties to a full on Moulin Rouge cart, if you were in regular running clothes, you really hadn’t understood the spirit of the event!
The entertainment started early – a giant silver ball suspended over the start line dangled acrobats on aerial silks as they twirled above the crowd and, before we knew it, we were off! The start was slow going but we weren’t in any rush. The official cut off time is 6 hours 30 so, for those who are serious about it, the ideal finish time is 6:29:59!
It wasn’t long before we reached the breakfast stop at 2k, tables of mini croissants and pastries, I was starving! Buttery pastries aren’t my usual choice of marathon day brekkie so I conservatively picked up 2 mini croissants and we ran on, I didn’t want to be sick in the first 30 minutes!
Wine was served from the 5k marker, it may have only been 10am but it was delicious! We knocked it back and jogged on. The wine stations came thick and fast for the first 9 miles and we revelled in the novelty of legitimately boozing whilst running, what was technically, a race.
Each station came with well dressed waiters in the château grounds, some with live bands, but all with plenty wine and snacks as we guzzled back glass after glass. There was a section in the middle with fewer wine stops and this is when the rain hit us, there was a LOT of rain! It was around this time we realised that a marathon is still, errr, a marathon and it’s still a bloody long way!
Around the half way mark I started to feel quite sick, probably not surprising, but I was seriously weighing up the risk of splattering the vineyards with the very grapes that had once grown there. Luckily, the feeling passed! The second half saw more fabulous châteaus, amazing red wine, entertainment and beautiful vineyards, but the rain wasn’t going anywhere.
Our paced slowed as we spent more and more time at each wine station, we started having 2 or 3 glasses each time and, at 20 miles, we were even given a healthy shot of whiskey…when in France right?! The gourmet food came in the last 4 miles, I guess they didn’t want too many people feeling sick when there was still a fair way to go.
We dined on oysters (kept this one down), cheese, steak (not me), more crisps, and (if they hadn’t run out by the time we got there), ice cream!
I’m not sure whether it was the wine, lack of sleep or my post ultra legs (can I still use that excuse?!) but, by this point, my legs were feeling pretty stiff and all I wanted to do was walk. Martin insisted we run so, giving it my best shot, I broke into a jog, but all I heard were fits of giggles behind me…apparently what I thought was an elegant jog was actually a very stiff shuffle. Drunk, soaking wet, and slightly broken, it looked like the Marathon du Medoc had got me exactly where it wanted me, a bit of a mess.
We managed to jog the last mile or so and crossed the finish line together in 6:28:59, couldn’t have timed it better! Tired and happy we headed to the finishers tent, obviously it was time for our free beer! The beer tent brought more carnage as we bumped into a fellow Chaser, and we inadvertently got ourselves involved in one too many rounds of drink downing with a big group of rugby lads. Well, what else would you do right after you finished a marathon?!
The evening brought more wine, more champagne, more live music and a pretty spectacular fireworks display. Another very late and drunken night, but an exhilarating experience with 2 of my favourite people!
Despite the nature of the event, we only actually saw one person in need of medical attention which is far fewer than any other marathon I’ve run. There’s plenty of water when you want it and, as long as you’re marathon fit and in good health, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a really enjoyable run and take advantage of everything on offer. Do it with friends, do it in fancy dress, do it with a smile on your face and do it with a glass of wine in your hand, but make sure you do it.
It’s clear Medoc are very proud of their marathon and they certainly should be, it’s a beautifully extraordinary and unique event and they’ve found the winning formula. We absolutely loved every minute of it (well, almost, Martin got stroppy in the rain at 15 miles) and I’ve already decided it won’t be my last time.
Medoc, you were glorious, until next time, merci et bonne nuit.