Marathon du Medoc, Telegraph Men, 19 Sept ’13
The following article was published on 19th September 2013 in my Telegraph Men column ‘Wild Running’.
Love is…running the world’s most romantic marathon
Deciding what to give your girlfriend for her birthday can pose a problem. She might expect a bouquet of flowers and luxury box of chocolates. Or a slap-up meal out in a posh restaurant. Maybe a day out at a spa. To say nothing of diamonds, a pair of Louboutins or a Fendi handbag.
The last thing she’d be expecting is a full-scale marathon. Especially not one that requires you to wear fancy dress, drink copious quantities of wine, en route, and do it all in a cut-off time of 6 hours 30 minutes, alcohol and sunshine notwithstanding.
But this was the fabled Marathon du Medoc, a glorious race that involves picture-book chateaux, several glasses of the Haut Médoc’s finest wine, and the chance to run shoulder-to-elbow with over 8,000 other wine lovers who, in obedience to the 28th edition of last year’s theme of ‘History’, are disguised as anything from cardinals to courtiers. (This was 2012. Sadly, having just completed the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, the chances of me running anywhere further than the bus stop this September were fairly remote.)
Despite the unusual aspects of this race, a full 26.2 mile marathon still demands a measure of respect and organisation. But running through the customary pre-marathon check list over coffee and croissants at 6 a.m. was hardly the usual experience.
1 Ensure you’ve run in your kit before.
I have to admit, this was the first time I’ve ever run in a full Roman general costume, especially one that my helpful girlfriend had unwittingly cut so short that it required a pair of shorts in order to maintain my modesty. I didn’t fancy trotting down Wandsworth High Street in that.
2 Avoid drinking alcohol before a race.
Would the couple of glasses of champagne and a glass of wine that I’d consumed at a party the night before have any noticeable effect? Only time would tell.
3 Avoid alcohol during a race.
Could be tricky. Will they be serving water along with the Chateau Lafite?
4 Don’t stop too long at checkpoints.
How long is ‘not too long’? Sampling some of the best claret in the world could take a minute or two.
5 Never eat anything you’ve not tested out in training.
In theory, an excellent idea. But with foie gras, mussels, pâté, entrecôte and even an ice cream apparently on offer, I wasn’t entirely sure there was time to practice with these.
6 Carbo load in the 24hrs leading up to the race
Tick! The ‘Milles Pâtes’ pasta party, the night before, lived up to its name and I admit I took full advantage of every carb on offer. But had I overdone it? We would see.
Pit stop: Medoc runners refuel on oysters
As a sub three-hour marathon runner, I’d normally expect to be near the front, hammering it out in a vain effort to get a new PB. But this is one race, where you want to take your time, especially when you’ve suggested to your girlfriend that you run it together – something we had wisely never done before.
Deciding we wanted to get our value for money, and not being one to turn down a free drink or two, Zayne and I made a pact to sample wine at every opportunity. Bearing in mind there were over 20 ‘wine degustation’ points along the course, not to mention the offer of beef, mussels, and cheese, this could be as much of a physical challenge as actually running a marathon.
With our capes flowing behind us, surrounded by thousands of extraordinary disguises, we had barely been running for 10 minutes before we came across our first ‘degustation’ at the Chateau-Croizet Bages. Raising our glasses, we inspected the wine, shoved our noses in for a sniff, took a swig, grabbed a quick photo opportunity and we were off, before the wine had so much as settled in our stomaches.
But as the miles slowly and very enjoyably ticked by, the temperatures rose to a sweltering 40 degrees – which when you’re running a marathon fuelled by Chateau Lafite and cheese, left us doing a good impression of Frodo approaching the Black Gate of Mordor. Our initial enthusiasm for taking photographic proof of each of our wine tasting sessions started to wane. Fatigue began to creep in as the gravity of running a marathon during a heatwave hit us.
Indeed, by the time we’d ‘hit the wall’, we were nursing a hangover, suffering a severe carbohydrate deficit and fending off dehydration. But with an orchestra playing at every corner, the incredible support from the crowds, the offer of an ice-cream as we ran the last kilometre, by the time we’d crossed the finish line hand-in-hand we couldn’t stop smiling.
‘Don’t say I never give you flowers,’ I told Zayne as we shuffled over to the refreshment tent, holding our goody bag containing a bottle of wine, T-shirt and a beautiful rose, given to all the female finishers.
‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘but most girlfriends don’t have to fly a thousand miles and then run a marathon to get them.‘
Tobias feels the effects of one too many ‘wine degustation’ stops
Marathon du Medoc facts
Tagline: ‘The world’s longest marathon.’
Where: Starts and finishes in Pauillac, near Bordeaux, France.
Entry Cost: €78 for the marathon only or €115 with the Milles Pâtes.
Distance: 42.2 km
Difficulty rating: 4/5
Number of competitors: Limited to 8,500
2013 winning time: 2hrs 26mins – Guibault Thierry
Tobias and Zayne’s time: 5hrs 04mins
How to enter: Entries open around February/March, but as this is a very popular race, you’ve got to act quickly, especially as 2014 is its 30th anniversary. You can also enter as a group, to ensure that you and your mates get a place too. Another option is to enter through the official travel agency, Tuttiquanti (firstname.lastname@example.org or +33 5 57 85 84 84), who offer packages that include race entry, bus transfers and accommodation.
Where to stay: Accommodation in Pauillac is quite scarce, so a good idea is to stay in Bordeaux, where it’s possible to book a bus transfers or train to the start.
What to wear: The 2014 theme is ‘Carnival’, so expect to see plenty of people dressed in lederhosen, clown outfits and feathered crowns.
How to get there: There are regular flights to Bordeaux with Easyjet, British Airways, and Air France. And for around £200 return, it’s also possible to take a train from London to Bordeaux, via the Eurostar to Paris – although this option takes around seven hours.