Marathon du Medoc by Ian Hammond

How did I get here?

I find myself writing this review in the same manner in which I began this epic marathon……..drunk! Actually I tell a lie, I’ve had a glass of red wine or two and maybe just a little tipsy. The marathon on the other hand, I believe I was stuck somewhere between intoxicated and hungover, let’s just call it no mans land. How did I come to be in such a sorry state before a 26.2 mile run? Like all good stories, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.

The beginning

Almost thirty years to the day I met a like minded 11 year old. As timid and nervous adolescents, we were about to embark on our secondary school education. It was the beginning of a fruitful friendship that as we grew older led to pubs, clubs and lads holidays. Unfortunately, our lives took different paths, Mike went to university in Hull whilst I joined the RAF. We didn’t see or hear from each other for quite a few years. That was of course until the dawn of social media and in particular Facebook. We both saw pictures of each other running half and full marathons. I think our conversation went a little something like this:

Mike, we should enter a race together one day

Yeah that’s a great idea, what would make it even better though is if we did one abroad

Mike, I like your thinking, let’s do it

8 years later (blink of an eye)

So we did, about eight years later! See ladies, when men say they are going to do something they do it, it just takes a little time and planning!

Mike and I met at a hotel near Stansted airport the night before we flew. We had a lot to catch up on so it only seemed right to do just that, over a bottle of wine, or two. We were up until 3am, probably not the best preparation for a marathon, particularly as our flight was at 9am! Nevertheless we were in high spirits, boarding the plane with a distinct lack of sleep did not harm our positivity in anyway.

We arrived in Bordeaux, caught a bus to the train station and following approximately a one hour journey, found ourselves in the quaint, but lively little town of Pauillac. We were actually running in a team of four, fortunately we found our other team members (in the form of Mikes uncle and cousin), on the train.

Arrivée à Pauillac

I imagine that Pauillac only comes alive once a year, but boy does it awaken! The whole place was buzzing. We made our way straight to the centre to collect our race number, ready for the following days race. Collection point was some sort of leisure centre/hall surrounded by hundreds of outside stalls. Most stalls were giving things away for free, including wine! Our marathon had already begun, well the drinking element anyway.

With a collection of giveaway goodies, we crossed over the road and pitched our tents (yes tents) on the first patch of grass we came to. When Mike and I put our tents up, other than the building we were next to, there wasn’t anything else within close proximity. That however would later change!

Time for a spot of lunch

We found a lovely little restaurant that was offering a three course lunch for runners. The food was fantastic, and the wine wasn’t bad too. The four of us spoke about the ensuing challenge, Mikes uncle had completed it before. He was here to enjoy the moment, not break any records, music to my ears!

We had a couple of hours spare before we attended the pasta party. We used our time wisely, for five of those minutes I took my running kit out of my small bag and laid them neatly next to my sleeping bag. Ok ok, I threw them out and we went back to the stalls for more free wine.

PASTA!!! PARTY!!!

A small journey was made to the pasta party. As the name suggests, the party was a party with pasta. On arrival we were greeted with a band playing an assortment of party hits, more stalls with free food and nibbles and yes, you’ve guessed it, more free wine too. The red wine on offer here was the nicest I had ever tasted, it was going down well, too well! The band had us up dancing and we duly obliged. It was 6pm, the evening before the big race and we were giving it large! It’s probably safe to say, we were well oiled. This however was just the outside, inside an extremely large hall lay line after line of tables. At the far end of the hall, there were numerous cooks, cooking fresh pasta with a variety of choices to accompany it. With each meal came a starter and a desert and did I mention the wine on the tables? Each table had bottles of wines running down the length of each table. If you drank what was on offer, the very kind volunteers replenished every bottle. I’m convinced that that night between the four of us, we easily reached double figures in the number of bottles we drank. It wasn’t big, and probably not very clever!

Pasta party
PASTA!!! PARTY!!!

The hall had a great big stage at the one end where bands graciously played a host of further smash hits. We were all, and when I say all, I refer to the hundreds of people within the confines, merrily dancing on the tables having the absolute time of our lives. We were surrounded by French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, American, Canadians and Australians amongst many other nationalities. Each and every one of them happy to share there story of how they found themselves running the Marathon Du Medoc and told with such enthusiasm and with the broadest of smiles.

More wine (before that Marathon had even started)

After the best party ever, we staggered back to our tents at what I am told was about midnight. I was ready for bed, however, do you remember me mentioning the vast space Mike and I had around our tents? Well that was no more, now encroaching our space, was a variety of tents incorporating a large group of French runners. Neighbours that we found, were ready and prepared to drink and dance into the early hours of the day. We were invited to attend and consume their wine, we thought it rude if we didn’t oblige. I crawled into my sleeping bag at 4am!

Race day

It was race day, I woke up fresh as a daisy, eager to run 26.2 miles. I am of course lying. I actually forgot to set my watch an hour ahead so when I thought it was 7am it was actually 8am. The race started at 08:30! If I could, I’d have probably panicked and rapidly changed into my running kit. I    didn’t panic and there was absolutely nothing rapid in my movements. Without a drop of water passing my lips or the slightest crumb of breakfast chewed between my teeth, I mercifully made my way to the start line.

We were at the back of a long line of runners, each and everyone of them donned in fancy dress. There were giant hook a ducks, big furry animals, guys all linked together dressed as a roller coaster and moving in a way in which a roller coaster would. Another was dressed as one of those half time interval trolley pushers at a theatre, and yes, he was handing out free popcorn to everyone too. But for me, the best one was the two guys pushing a huge BBQ, cooking sausages, burgers and bacon as they ran. We stayed quite close to them, the smell was enduring! We were dressed as circus strongmen. Mike used a permanent marker and drew a big curly moustache on his face. I was reluctant to do the same. I was starting a new job on the Monday, I’m not sure turning up on the first day with a faded drawn on moustache would give a good first impression.

Ian and friends in fancy dress
Bonjour

At the very back was a team of six runners all pushing a rather large trolley with numerous colourful brooms stuck to it. They, we later realised were known as the sweepers. There purpose was to run the race in six and a half hours, and keep everyone in front of them. However due to the intense sun and heat of the day, that time was extended by about an hour.

The Start

So the race started, I moved my right leg in front of the left one and broke into a very slow kind of jog. With each step there was a tandem thud in my head, my first thoughts were ‘how am I going to finish this’? Now I’m sure you are all aware of the term ‘hair of the dog’. We hadn’t even completed the first mile, when we came to our first running station. Each station had food of some description, and of course they had wine too. I was probably in a state of no return, I along with many others took the ‘hair of the dog’ option. I think it worked, I can’t quite remember. I finished the race so I guess it must have.

Music, wine, food, run (repeat)

In all there were 21 stations, each and everyone of them offering their own unique taste of wine. But it wasn’t just the fine tastes of culinary delights and sumptuous wines that were on offer. Most were playing inspiring music, whether that be over a tannoy or one of the many bands. In actual fact, around the 12/13 mile mark there was a rock band that if you shouted loud enough, they’d play the song of your choice. It was great! We stopped for a 5 minute breather, not much of a rest really as running was temporarily substituted for dancing!

Vineyard
Dirigible vines

Enough with the wine

I reached about 17 miles and the wine drinking stopped for me, the taste of wine had now literally ran its course. I wasn’t deterred though, despite being a little tired, I was still loving every minute. The views were stunning! The routes would take you through the grounds of many chateaus, where if you fancied it, you could jump in the lakes for a quick cooling off. This was actually quite funny, especially when you see the hook a ducks jumping in and people literally pretending to hook them out. The terrain varied between road and off road. The off road were generally stoney paths, not the best really, but hills were pretty non existent. The hardest battle was the sun. There was very little shade throughout the race, the free hats handed out the day before were a blessing in disguise.

Fin

We finished the race in a solid 7 hours exact, solid in that it was a nice round number and solid in the knowledge that we served the purpose of what the race is about. We laughed, like I haven’t laughed in a long time, we danced like real party goers and we ran, quite literally like I’ve never run (and drank) before! But the fun didn’t end there. Crossing the finishing line led to yet another party, only this time it was free beer on offer!

Approaching the finish
Fin

Major goody bag time

For our achievement of completion, we were each given a medal, picnic cool bag, sports bag, a t-shirt, two glasses with Marathon Du Medoc printed on them, a thing that hangs round your neck to hold said glasses (a bit like hands free drinking) and a bottle of red wine beautifully presented in its own casket. The wine you were given can range between a £5 and £100 pound bottle, it’s a bit pot luck. There is an app that will tell you exactly how much your wine is worth, mine was £17:50.

Fortunately, that night we were booked into a hotel. The shower was very welcoming and strangely enough, it didn’t take me long to fall asleep. We woke early in the morning to catch our flight home, I felt surprisingly good. I had had the best weekend ever, met some absolutely amazing (yet crazy) people and have never seen humanity in such large numbers in such high spirits (and not just because of the wine). It was everything a race should be, bringing like minded people from across the globe together, to have the time of their lives. I was still buzzing!

Next year?

I never trained for this marathon, and to be quite honest, I don’t think it is vital that you do. I would absolutely, 100% recommend anyone to do this race whether you drink or not. It would be impossible not to have the time of your life. I am planning on doing Marathon Du Medoc again, I have the thirst for more! So come on team Shrewton, let’s do something with a twist!