Running a half marathon for charity is challenging enough, but add travelling in a severe snowstorm with many services cancelled and you can understand why my first overseas race was so memorable.
The challenge began innocently enough last September- my husband and I were comparing bucket lists and discovered neither of us had been to Paris.
A quick Google revealed the Semi de Paris (Paris Half Marathon) and as I had recently happily completed my first half marathon, I decided to sign up and make a family weekend of it.
Typically, I couldn’t find the website’s ‘Translate this?’ button on my mobile phone, so I completed the entire application in French – this should have been an omen, as shortly afterwards an email arrived with a medical certificate to be filled in and signed by my GP.
Apparently it is common that overseas events may require you to submit a medical certificate, but when I took it into my doctor’s surgery, they not sure what to do with it.
“There may be a charge,” the receptionist warned, “because I don’t think we consider it normal NHS work.”
By then, I had been in contact with the charity I was running for – Get Kids Going! – and the team there advised it was a simple form to be signed, so it shouldn’t cost anything. Fortunately, my GP agreed and signed it without further ado.
Fast-forward to the week of the race and I was permanently checking weather forecasts, as (Snow) Storm Emma was about to clash with The Beast from the East. There were snow flurries throughout the week and by time I left work on Thursday afternoon, it was snowing heavily.
My family left home as soon as we could, but it took me over an hour to drive from Newport to Ryde in the snow and miraculously we caught the Wightlink catamaran in a blizzard – it was a very bumpy ride.
We arrived in Portsmouth in time to catch an earlier National Express coach for London – this was a fate-changing stroke of luck, as the later one we were booked on was subsequently cancelled.
It took us six hours to reach our London hotel and all the time my mobile phone kept buzzing with more texts advising us of Eurostar services cancelled – but fortunately it wasn’t ours.
I could hardly believe my luck, as I would normally have flown, but all flights from Southampton and virtually everything from London airports was also cancelled.
We boarded the 7am Eurostar service to Paris on Friday morning, as planned, and the rest of the weekend went like clockwork. There was no snow in Paris and on arrival, we climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower, where my husband and I had enjoyed well-earned glass of champagne – we couldn’t believe we had made it!
I breathed a sigh of relief when I went to the race village to pick up my number, as my medical certificate, ID and covocation (race invitation) were accepted without a problem.
During the weekend we saw all the sights and climbed to the top of Notre-Dame and Sacre Coeur, so it was with slightly tired legs I arrived at the start of the Paris Half Marathon on Sunday morning.
It was pouring with rain and I was in awe of the sheer size of the event (45,000 entrants), but I had made it this far and I was just going to enjoy it.
The course goes from Chateau de Vincennes in the south-east of the city, through the parkland and out onto the banks of the river Seine, then up to Place de Bastille, before returning via the river and the parkland to the chateau.
I partly understood the final race instructions and marshals commands (given entirely in French) and I was pleased to finish in 2:23:04, which is about a minute off my PB.
It was a wonderful experience for me – and for my husband and seven-year-old son – and they are now hoping I will dream up a few more family race weekends away.
I am taking them to a trail race weekend on Exmoor in October half term, but my husband has asked if I know of any races in New York, while my little boy favours Legoland, so I think the (running) world is my oyster!