If I had to run a marathon – and having done three, I would think seriously about it first – I would look for one that met certain conditions.
Firstly, none of that urban rushing around city streets, like London, Paris, Berlin and Boston. No, it would have to be through the most pleasant countryside, ripe with birdsong, the skies filled with the soft baggy furniture of clouds, trees gently swaying in a cooling breeze and the heady scents of Nature wafting me along my way. Then, you can forget all that over-priced running gear and expensive shoes that don’t make you go one jot faster. No, it would have to be casual dress, fancy dress even, with runners dressed as archetypal burglars complete with swag bag, or onion Johnnies…
Thirdly, I’d replace all the watering stations with a relaxing layout of shaded tables and chairs where we could pause for a while, enjoy a glass of wine, some cheese perhaps, a little paté or foie gras, before rejoining the throng, and ambling along to the next feeding station, preferably no more than one kilometre distant, and with a bus service.
And finally, I’d lop off that silly 385 yards imposed so that the race would finish in front of Queen Victoria. She doesn’t come to many events these days; she’d never notice. Although, come to think of it, those 385 yards have had their uses in the past: it’s the distance I run like the blazes at the start of a race, and then hang on for the remaining 26 miles.
Anyway, where would I find such a marathon?
Well, the answer is Bordeaux; the Marathon du Medoc, to be precise, a race by definition if loose of interpretation that gives a whole new meaning to hydration. It’s not on a par with Tours de France of old, when riders would often pull over for a fag or a coffee and chat, but it’s getting there. Not least because rather than water or energy drinks as the official liquid refreshment, you get increasingly sozzled on some of the finest wine in France.
And – because this is France – instead of power bars, energy would come from gourmet delicacies such as oysters, moules frites, foie gras, cheese, steak and Îles flottantes.
Tempted? Well you won’t be alone. Last year, with 35 countries taking part, the organisers had to reject over 40,000 applications for the 10,000 spots available to competitors.
According to the official site, the marathon was created in 1984 by a group of fans of the sport, and despite the large number of runners, preserves the spirit of the founders, an event built on health, sports, conviviality, fun.
Autumnal French fun run
Each September, the participants run through the Medoc region, passing spectacular vineyard landscapes and fairytale wine-producing chateaux, some serving as ‘water stations’ where the runners enjoy tastings of illustrious red wines, music, food and other amenities, which collectively constitute the main difficulties that militate against staying on track and finishing the race.
One of last year’s finishers says: ‘After the first chateau, the stops come thick and fast, the wine and food – biscuits, waffles, fruit, sweets, cheese, bread – go down far too easily, and the temptation to stop for an impromptu boogie to the many wonderful local bands stationed along the route is too hard to resist’.
The prize for the winners, male and female, is the equivalent of their weight in bottles of Grand Cru, which must be something of an incentive to put on weight during the race, although personally I would see the winner as the last person to cross the line, not because they did so, but because they actually found it, an occasion no doubt imbued with staggering indifference.
Details at the www.marathondumedoc.com website.
Dr Terry Marsh has written extensively for magazines and produced guidebooks for walkers to the French Pyrenees and the French Alps.