Beautiful conditions, a marathon in miles and a marathon number of château
in which to sample the most recognised and renowned wines in the world, oysters,
steak, cheese and dancing – there is no equal to the one and only Marathon du
For some poor sods the race is a race, a stunning and scenic
one at that, but for anyone with sense they realise it’s one of the most
entertaining runs in the world. Assuming you can commit yourself fully to it. The
race is set around Paulliac, a small and typically French town on the edge of
the grand estuary that splits the Gironde and Bordeaux region. This not your
typical marathon, there are no local hotels and the parking is an indication rather
than anything official.
A large contingent of harriers and friends committed
themselves to the ‘ultimate GTE’ experience of running a marathon in fancy
dress while consuming the equivalent of a couple bottles of wine and drove down
to a campsite on the Atlantic coast free from the August French holidays.
Apart from a 5m tall bottle of wine, one of your first
sights at registration is the sweeper, a wheeled contraption covered in upturned
brooms, klaxon and scary clown visages. This is the vehicle that keeps the race
moving (rather than just drinking and dancing) and marks the 6hr30 cut-off time,
probably the only race where the only pacer marks the end of the race.
We found our way to on race morning easily enough, with
every nook and cranny covered in vehicles and costumed participants (I didn’t mention
that costumes are compulsory and the theme was ‘Tales and Legends’) – so we
took the British approach and extended the Lidl parking spaces they had forgotten
to paint in for us. The actual start is a cacophony of sound, people, circus
and glitter. Seas of costumes surround you with every conceivable take on the theme
possible, some of the efforts are spectacular with ships and carriages being
pulled or carried by teams of runners. We felt suitably underdressed as our party
of Greek Gods (and one superman) and immediately lost each other in the crowds.
Within 1km you come to your first wine degustation, where it
became apparent that the clowns were hot on our heels and made the actual pace
required apparent. This wasn’t in my best interests, I’d been suffering severe
shin splits the past couple of weeks only amplified by the Wednesday night
pavement pounding. A marathon isn’t known as the best idea, but I pushed
through to see just how much I could do.
It took the next few km and stops to clear the sweeper’s
klaxon and the blitz of the early and overused tables where we thankfully
spotted the tell-tale sign of Neil ‘Atlas’ Clark. Despite costume reservations
at the start, a 6’3 blond lady and a 4ft inflatable globe were actually pretty
good markers to keep us together.
Each of the next 22 stops (I lost count), from the grand
palaces of the Premiers Cru (Lafite Rothschild and Latour) to the many smaller
vineyards had water, wine, music and general craziness. Some offered plastic
cups while Latour would not let themselves be undersold and insisted on sizable
measures in proper wine glasses. Mouton was not so welcoming, offering no wine
at all, but a welcoming pond for many runners to cool off in. We insisted on
full enjoyment of the event, all stops must be adhered to and the race time
must be maximised to fit in as much merriment as possible.
In the last 6km along the waterfront there are oysters and
white wine, barbeque steak, ice creams and more. Some may question the sanity
of an event fuelled by rich red wines, cake, biscuits and even beer in some
places, but there are apparently more medical staff per person than in any
marathon, this was certainly evident along the route as we were flanked by
motorbikes, ambulances, projectile vomiting and Zeus tasting the terroir after
a brief off-piste adventure.
After the race you’re presented with your goodie bag (more
wine) and there’s a free beer tent to celebrate, recuperate and dehydrate yourself
further. There was then time for a spot of dinner with more wine and for 3
intrepid harriers, partying into the night and sleeping rough until the sun
came up. I can’t recommend this race enough if you can get in and you can survive it.
Needless to say, my shin splints that had crippled me
walking just to the event were nowhere to be found, my conclusion to this is
that no one has ever run through them to a marathon distance while consuming a frankly
outlandish quantity of wine. Another one for the medical books.
Of the 7666 finishers, first harrier home was Matt who was
sadly with a group of friends who had not quite understood the point of the
event. As a result, I have disqualified him and written the report myself.
3497 06h06m32s CLEMENTS MATT
5346 06h29m49s STEELE EDWARD
5347 06h29m49s AUSTIN STEVE
5348 06h29m50s CLARK NEIL
5349 06h29m50s TURNER GEOFF
5351 06h29m51s LARKIN HAYLEY
6501 06h47m32s BATES EDWARD
6502 06h47m32s TSANG CAROL
Andy Joad (retired due to injury)
Eric Schofield (retired due to overenjoyment)
We were also accompanied by Sam and Harrison Joad, Bea Venezia, John Bee (of Eridge fame) and former harrier Maddie Doherty
(more photos will be made available once cleared with those present)