Monday, 18 June 2012

Maraisthon 2012

Marais is the French word for marsh and this marathon was around the picturesque canals of the Venise Verte in the Marais Poitevin.  The Maraisthon is only in its third year and I have to say that they have their organisation really sorted out.  As well as the marathon itself there was a separate 10k run and an 11k guided walk (with food stations!) in which used sections of the marathon course.

We arrived the day before, camping for the night and attending the Pasta Party. The event is an eco-marathon so everything is very "green".  All the signs, bags, bibs and so forth were environmentally friendly and, like the Eco-Trail de Paris, a lot of effort went in to minimising the ecological footprint of the event.  For example, china plates and metal cutlery meant that there was much less waste from the Pasta Party.  And there was a really good blues band, too.
Picking up the dossard was very easy.  In the goody-bag was a plant and a choice of either an embroidered towel or bottle of Pineau.  We struck lucky here as the organisers decided we could have both, largely because I think they were pleased to have foreigners at their event.  The plant was a Lemon Vervaine which is reputed to keep mosquitoes away so that will be planted by the terrace ASAP.

Crossing the villages in and around Coulon, the course is a mix of roads, dirt paths and raised wooden walkways through the canals that criss-cross the marshlands.  Two 20k loops with a 2.2k mini loop in-between making up the distance.  The scenery was varied and ranged from wild wet marshlands to dock-sides and through a couple of pretty villages.

And it's flat.  Very flat.  Even Amsterdam wasn't this flat because of the underpasses and large bridges.  The weather was pretty good too.  Although it was sunny, the temperatures were only in the mid-20s, a gentle breeze kept the air moving and there was a lot of shade on the course.

 So, obviously, I had a great race and turned in a good time?
Um, no.
A seriously upset stomach from around 16k meant that this turned into a real grind for me.  Frequent stops cost time and disrupted my rhythm.  In turn, this dehydrated me a lot and I couldn't take in enough water to replace what I was losing.  Between 33k and 40k I had to walk as running brought on really unpleasant cramps.  Fortunately, I caught up with my hydration at 40k and finished at a slow jog, sparing myself the ordeal of walking across the line.  Just as importantly, the other symptoms subsided for a while which was good as I had totally run out of loo roll and tissues.  I got in just as the clock ticked over the 5h30m mark but completing the distance without giving up was the real victory.
Personal discomfort aside, I had a fantastic time at the event.  The walkers criss-crossed sections of the course so that there was often support and encouragement.  My wife and eldest daughter caught up with me several times around the route and we were able to really enjoy the countryside together. And, for the very first time, there were people I knew at the finish line which was a real bonus.

The course was well marked and generally well marshalled.  There was one marshal at a junction who didn't indicate which way the course turned and I had to ask.  He said (translating loosely) "That's up to you.  Did you want to run a marathon or not?"  I'm sure this would have been funny in other circumstances but I was tired, feeling pretty ill and I had had to stop running and still had no idea where I should go.  Eventually, he did show me and I went off fuming.  As I thought about it over the following couple of km, I did realise he was, of course,  a volunteer and that without the assistance of such people, the events just couldn't go on.  So, on the next loop, I made a particular effort to smile and wave at him on the way past.  I don't know what he thought but I felt much better about the whole thing.

At the finish line, even the bling was eco-friendly and they awarded finishers an edible medal.  Again, the organisers were very kind and provided a second medal for my daughter to eat.  I was a bit the worse for wear by now so we abandoned our plans for the afternoon, struck camp and headed for home.  I'd love to go back to this event another year and we are definitely going to be back in the Marais Poitevin for a few days this summer to explore this lovely region.