I want to share a post with you, written by a friend of mine, Mike Evennett about his experience of the Paris Marathon.
September 2016, I registered for the Paris marathon after missing out on a ballot place for the 2017 London Marathon. This was to be my first marathon and I wanted a big city, big field, big crowd experience for my first 26.2.
I took up running in December 2015 and by the time I registered for Paris 9 months later, I had completed several 10k’s and several half marathons with PB’s of 38:16 and 1:26:37 respectively. It’s safe to say I was hooked and contracted the ‘running bug’. I was looking forward to upping my winter training and being fully prepared to go to Paris in fine fettle.
The hotel and flights were booked for me and my support crew (my wonderful wife and daughter) and my sights were firmly set on not just completing my first marathon, but doing it feeling comfortable and healthy. This was to be my ‘A race’. Though I had registered for others in 2017, Paris was the ONE. Both financially and emotionally, I had invested a lot. Everything had to be perfect.
I designed a personal training and diet plan. It was going well. I was upping the miles, competing in other races and feeling nothing but excitement ahead of Paris. April 2017 couldn’t come soon enough.
Mid-December, multiple training layers and short days but festive spirits were high…….. I was in to the final couple of miles of a 16 mile run when it happened. With audible expletives, I screamed out as a shooting pain tore through my right knee. It felt like bone rubbing on bone and with that I hobbled home. Now to put this in context, I have a history of knee bother. As a teenager, I had Osgood-Schlatter Disease, a common cause of knee pain in growing adolescents. It’s generally an inflammation of the area just below the kneecap (patellar tendon) that attached to the shinbone (tibia). Only this adolescent continued doing sport and didn’t listen to the firm suggestion of rest from the doctor. I weakened my knees and took regular pain in to adulthood. I always tried to console myself with the fact that Steven Gerrard had the same problem growing up and that this must happen to all finely tuned athletes at the top of their discipline! (tongue firmly wedged in cheek as I type).
Once I shuffled home, I did the recommended RICE, knowing I would need some significant rest. I wasn’t too worried. Christmas was coming and it would be good to have some quality family time and not pound the streets. My only concern was that I’d have to dial back the festive treats for fear of piling on the pounds. I’d be fine in a week or two and resume training, plenty of time before Paris.
By January my knee was still sore, even when walking. I struggled if seated on a train or in a tight spot where I couldn’t stretch my leg out. Mid-January and a month without running, I felt less discomfort and thought I best get out and test it on a gentle bimble. Sadly, and rather worryingly my knee hurt almost as soon as I strode out. I was now starting to get mildly worried as my training plan had slipped and the miles weren’t in the bag. Paris was 3 months away, still time I told myself. The only problem was, this knee wasn’t getting any better. I manged a couple of gentle runs per week to try to keep some fitness, but it was one step forwards, two backwards. I was getting paranoid about my lack of long runs and now had genuine fears about being able to run 26.2 even if my knee was tip-top. I’m sure I was a nightmare to live with. Not only was I worried about missing my A race, but I was simply missing that freedom and feel good factor us runners crave and are hooked on. I would drive past other runners and look on in envy, wishing I could be out there with them. Why was this happening to me? Injury can be so cruel, in those moments, you convince yourself that no one else ever suffers them and that it’s only you!
My training plan was now completely out of the window and I was averaging about 20/30 miles per month for December, January and February, nowhere near enough for marathon training. It was early February that I took myself to a physio and had regular sessions. This didn’t really make a difference. I had now started to completely realign my targets. If I was even in a position to run Paris, I would be happy just to complete, in whatever time, I just wanted to make it, especially as my hotel and flights were non-refundable. Either way we were going to Paris that weekend, I thought I couldn’t face being there and seeing runners while watching from the side.
One Sunday night in February, I posted about my injury woes on UKRunChat hour. Many people offered tweets of support and suggestions, however one person went out of their way to offer support and guidance. Steve Bonthrone, PT and running coach, kindly offered a facetime call to see if he could be of any support. I doubted it as I was wallowing in self-pity and thought I had tried everything before, but he sounded like he knew more than me, so what harm could it do? He sounds like a nice chap and genuinely wanted to help me. This I LOVE about the running community. There is real oneness and desire to see others succeed and achieve.
On our first facetime call, Steve asked me to step back from the camera so that he could asses my stance, my bandy legs and how I walk. He then asked me to do a few exercises. We had a long chat, for well over an hour and Steve’s positivity was infectious. He identified that I could have an issue with my hip-flexor and a balance issue, along with a long-term problem in my foot/ankle. He gave me some exercises to do several times a day. Now I’ve tried all sorts; from physio exercises to online running coach techniques. I wasn’t convinced. I know my knee and the history problems. Despite this, I thought I will be faithful to my commitment to Steve that I would try his recommended exercises which focused on balance. I had never done anything like this before, so maybe it might just make a small difference.
A week later, we had another call and Steve offered some further exercises to build up my balance and the muscle around my knee. After just a week it was hard to notice any positive difference, but I was starting to think there was some improvement so I continued.
Over the next few weeks my knee was getting stronger and the pain duller. I was back out running slowly and steadily. I had lost quite a bit of fitness that I had pre-Christmas/injury. Alas, I was running again – great news! I spoke to Steve regularly, I began to build up the miles and I began to believe. Steve offered mental advice and almost trained my mind as much as my body. I had gone from feeling miserable to feeling positive, I think Steve noticed a change in my attitude and my wife certainly did!
In March I decided to enter a last-minute half marathon to test the knee as I hadn’t gone above 10 miles. I completed the Wrexham half in 1:38:09, slow compared to my PB of 1:26:37 just 5 months earlier, but I completed and pain-free!! I did feel physically unfit and probably ran a bit too fast considering the lack of miles I had in the bag. However, I was running again and happy!
Now, with just 4 weeks until the Paris Marathon I had to get some LSR’s in. I only managed two before taper time. An 18 miler and a 20 miler. On both runs I felt good and had no pain. I was even averaging 7:50 min miles. I couldn’t believe the progress I had made under Steve’s remote tutelage. We continued with the calls right up until race week and focused on the mental preparation and race day itself. I was now feeling totally confident that I would complete my first marathon. We arranged to meet in Paris and to also meet others from UKRunChat after the race. I couldn’t wait! In the days leading up to the race I literally felt like a kid waiting for Christmas Day. I just wanted April 9th to arrive! I also couldn’t wait to meet Steve and thank him personally for all he had done. There was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be running in Paris without his support.
My wife, my daughter and I travelled to Paris on Friday April 7th. After checking in at the hotel close to the start line on the Champs Élysées, I went straight to the expo on my own to register, collect by bib and have a mooch around. I really enjoyed the atmosphere at the expo and freedom (from said wife and baby) and to have a look around at all things running. It was a good move to go on the Friday night as this freed up the Saturday to chill out and have a walk around Paris, soaking up the pre-race atmosphere.
Race day and to the start line. A place I didn’t think I’d be just 6 weeks earlier. I was feeling pretty fit and my knee was totally pain-free. I was still doing all the exercises that Steve introduced me to and fully attribute them to my now strong knee and new-found ability to balance on one leg without toppling over in a messy heap. I was so excited to be here and couldn’t wait to get under way. All my pre-race build up went well, I slept well, fuelled well and felt hydrated. It was to be a hot one on the course, with temperatures reaching 24 degrees, so hydration was crucial. I made my way to my wave in plenty of time and without hassle.
And so, we started, actually running down the Champs Élysées and towards Place de La Concorde with 50,000 other runners. This was surreal and awesome. I was pacing myself steadily and felt good. The atmosphere was superb as we ran through the city centre seeing the sites, cheered on by locals. At no point, did I even think about my knee. I was totally confident in it. My only concern was staying hydrated and well fuelled in the heat. Sadly, the conditions got the better of many competitors and it was a common site to see other runners end their race early or even worse, requiring medical care. Fortunately, my plan was working, I took on board water at every stop and used Totum Sports and SIS gels every 10k. Before I knew it, I was entering the final few kilometres and the end was in sight. I found it tough in the final couple of K as the tiredness and heat kicked in, but nothing was going to stop me maintaining pace.
Seeing the finish line, knowing my wife and daughter were in the crowd was an amazing experience, one I will never forget. I crossed the line and completed my first ever marathon in 3:20:10. I was an emotional wreck. The biggest and most overwhelming feeling was one I can’t really describe. It was as if breaking that focus and concentration left me in a bit of a daze and mentally fatigued until I got some water and enjoyed the wonderful fresh fruit on offer. Steve, a Paris veteran, told me about the orange segments. He wasn’t wrong, they were without doubt the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life! I enjoyed every moment of this, taking it all in and kissing my medal upon being presented with it. I was a marathoner!
Later that evening I met up with Steve and others from UKRunChat to share a well-earned beer, exchange race stories and most importantly, thank him for all he had done. It was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Steve. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t have even made the start line without his guidance, never mind complete a marathon. I’m certain we will keep in touch and share running tales and experiences and hopefully compete in some together.
Thank you Steve
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