Behind all questionable decisions, there’s usually a bottle of wine.
Or in this case – two. One night, over a glass of cabernet, I decided to celebrate my 42nd birthday by running 42km.
Did I mention there was wine involved in this decision?
Luckily, my good friend was enthusiastic about joining me. But I was concerned about keeping up. Her slight frame and gazelle like qualities were one thing, but she was also an accomplished runner who did the NYC Marathon. Could I level the playing field between us?
So I had one condition: we had to run the Marathon du Medoc, a race in the Bordeaux region of France. At this marathon, runners stop at 22 wine tasting stations (“stations du degustation”) with samples from some of the best wineries in the region.
My reasoning? As an accomplished drinker – field leveled. Conveniently scheduled to take place the day after the gazelle turned 42, we clinked our wine glasses and toasted our brilliance.
That is, until I registered six months later and realized that I needed a medical certificate showing I was fit to participate. Apparently, running for 5 plus hours while drinking booze can be a health hazard. Who knew? And how to train for something like this? I had fantasies of filling my water bottle with a fine Bordeaux and getting out there.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending: I trained, I got my medical certificate, I ran Medoc, and I lived to tell the tale. But more importantly, I’m pretty sure my life was spared so I could tell you how you can do it too.
At first, I couldn’t run 5k without thinking that poking my eye out would be more fun. And downing a little Merlot afterwards? Forget about it. But it got better – 10k became a breeze – then 15. After my first 21km, I felt euphoric. I could do this!
Arriving via snail mail, the race day package has all information about how to get around on the day. But more importantly, it has an inspiring route map, complete with an artful legend depicting small half-filled glasses of red wine dotting the route. The first one appears at the 1km mark. I was incredulous, certain of my demise, but still – that little bit of excitement was growing again.
I arrived in Geneva the week before the race – and perhaps this is where the last bits of preparation brought me to my peak fitness level. My girlfriend and I ate and drank like champs. We ran on bucolic country roads at the base of the Swiss Alps, iPods happily exchanged for the gentle tinkling of cowbells. On clear days, we could see the snow capped Mont Blanc across a sparkling Lac Leman. Once, I gleefully crossed the border into France just so I could brag that I had run from Switzerland to France in one day.
I ate croissants, lots of them (I’m carb loading right?), drank copious amounts of espresso (it’s a pain suppressant), and guzzled gorgeous wines, lots and lots of wonderful wine. I had to be ready for race day!
We took Easyjet from Geneva to Bordeaux – but let me assure you – there is really nothing EASY about flying with them. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” certainly applies here.
The airport in Bordeaux is charming, with its own surrounding vineyards and giant bottles of wine towering on baggage carousels. There is a distinct message that if you like wine, you might be in the right place.
We rented a car and set off on the relatively straightforward drive. We stopped for a late lunch at the WY Winery, which is a significant departure from the traditional Chateaus in the area, and made me feel like I was back in Napa. It seemed wrong to drink wine the day before the race, but my excellent companions disagreed.
When the espressos came I was introduced to another specialty of the region: Caneles. Then we picked up our race packages, where the party atmosphere was in full swing. The night before the race, there is a huge pasta dinner and after party. It’s also where you can check out other Libation Marathons – such as Japan’s Sake marathon or the Marathon du Cognac. Really.
Where to Stay
You can camp in the area or purchase lodging arranged by a local travel agent at the time you purchase your bib number. These people know what they are doing and book all of the rooms in advance, complete with coordinated shuttle services to and from the race. We stayed at Hotel la Tour Intendance and loved it.
Unlike many marathons, the 9:30am start time is very civilized. Lots of time to wake-up, have breakfast and put on your costume.
Wait, what? Yep, this marathon has an annual theme and you are expected to dress for it. Almost everyone wears a costume and it’s a fabulous way to start conversations.
For those of you who haven’t read that famous short story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe, the moral of the story is this: he realizes that the only person he is running for is himself; and if he wins, it will cease to be about him. This is that kind of race. I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, ‘will run for wine’ because that is about as competitive as it gets. But instead, I was dressed as Princess Leia.
If you have to run a marathon in your lifetime, this should be it. The wine was spectacular, generous portions often in glass stemware (some wine is too good for plastic cups apparently). The people are beautiful. From the happy, laughing runners at your side, to the townspeople cheering you on and handing out their own homemade baguettes, cake and yes, even French fries. The children lining up for high fives, the numerous massage stations for tired legs, the live bands and the breathtaking scenery of majestic chateaus and endless vineyards.
This is a course that does not fail to deliver happiness at every stretch. It’s hard to hit the wall when the last 5km includes stations with oysters, steak, smoked ham, fromage and of course, my raison d’etre – ice cream. The finish line doesn’t disappoint either with a bottle of fine wine just one of your well earned prizes. Bragging rights alone should last a lifetime.
After the Race
Believe it or not, you will still want to eat later. We chose Chez Jean Restaurant in Bordeaux, but you would have to try very hard to get a bad meal anywhere – it is France after all.
The next day we opted for a private walking tour to keep the legs moving. We had a wonderful guide by the name of Sibylle from the agency 3B voyages. Once back in Geneva, we booked ourselves in for well deserved foot massages at Mau.
But I know what you are still waiting for: my time. An impressive 6:10:16. There’s a reason it touts itself as “Le Marathon Le Plus Long de Monde!” When something is this good, you don’t want to rush it.
I met my goal though: to finish without incurring death/alcohol poisoning/injury. So what are you waiting for? Registration opens at the end of February and sells out fast, so get out there and start training! But don’t expect to see me along the route. I ran the best marathon of my life that day. Why mess with a good thing?
– Angelique Jenney
(Photos: Angelique Jenney and Le Marathon du Medoc)