What started as a little idea turned into reality whilst I was too busy to notice. Before I knew it, I was on my way to Paris to attempt to run the marathon and cycle home the next morning within 24 hours. Quite the duathlon pickle.
The results: Marathon: Janine= 3:46 Tom= 3:19 // Paris-Bristol 28hrs (with a little help…)
That Pesky London Marathon *shakes fist*
Every year towards Christmas time, I look forward to receiving my London Marathon rejection letter in the post.
2015 was no exception – but this particular year I thought ‘well, this is annoying. This happens every year. I’ll book Paris instead’.
Somewhere around this time I casually decided it would be a good idea to purchase a one-way ticket on the Eurostar and cycle back home to Bristol after the marathon the next day. It sounded like a fun challenge, a multi-day duathlon, which would take in 26.2 miles of running and 250 miles of cycling. (And the equivalent of one and a half times up Snowdon in climbing on my bike.)
I wasn’t entirely convinced that this plan would materialise. Unfortunately, the appealing opportunity for this to be fantasy was taken away the moment that Tom Coe, a BAD Tri club member, got wind of it.
Now, I’m going to take this opportunity to point out that Tom has qualified as an age group triathlete no less than three times, run the Green Man ultra marathon twice and done a multi-day marathon series (three back to back in Cornwall). In short, he is quite fit. He thought it was a good, if mad, idea. Foolishly I pretended that I meant it, and so we booked our one-way tickets to Paris.
Tom not only decided to join in with this adventure, he also launched a fundraising campaign for Water Aid UK, and did a little practise cycle ride from Exeter to Cornwall in hurricane Katie over Easter, whilst I was lying on my Mother’s sofa, drinking rose and eating several litters of Lindt bunnies.
By the time April rocked around, Tom had raised the best part of a thousand pounds (now around two!), and just for good measure, his Mum rowed the equivalent distance of Dover to Calais to ‘make it a triathlon’. There was no going back now.
Unfortunately, in early February, I got injured by falling into a giant puddle whilst running, and with a splash my marathon training came to a halt at around 11 miles, and no further. Yikes. I had ripped some tendons in my foot and had an inflamed one on the back of my knee that flicked across every time I straightened my leg and was hurting at around 4 miles into a run.
On the lead up to the adventure, both my physio and my sports massage therapist advised against the marathon, ‘it’s the worst possible training for sprint triathlons’, ‘it’s a recipe for injury’, they said. My well-meaning friends said ‘pull out now, then you won’t be tempted – it’s not worth risking ruining an entire triathlon season for.’
I entirely agreed. Yet made no attempt to actually defer the thing. Somewhere in my mind I was running it. I just hadn’t admitted it.
As the day drew nearer I just felt more and more aware that deep down, I knew I was running it – training or no training. (It was no training.) I’d originally signed up for it wanting to run a sub 3:45 (good for age for a gal, you know, because our uteruses fall out if we run faster). I didn’t want to fail at this good for age mission, but I knew this would be at best unlikely without training, and at worst, foolish to try with injury implications.
The reality of this lack of decision-making around the marathon meant that I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for attempting to cycle around 200 miles without sleep the day after a marathon, but in hindsight I think that not really thinking about it was probably a good thing!
Getting from Bristol to Paris
Simply getting to Paris was a feat in itself: cycle to Bristol Temple Meads station with enough time to stop for a coffee at Harts bakery on the way, then cycle across London to catch the Eurostar in time for lunch. At Harts I had a date and nut energy bar instead of an almond croissant to be healthy. Ate the bar, went back in for the croissant.
I found Tom at Temple Meads. He wasn’t hard to find, he was the one with the bold yellow Mavic helmet and slightly bewildered expression, “What? We need to pre book bikes onto the train?!” First Great Western had introduced this rule only a week or so ago, along with absolutely no way to actually book your bike onto the train. Magic.
We haggled and won. Actually they just let us put our bikes on the train with absolutely no drama. I fastened Contessa with a lock about as thick as a hungry garden worm on the basis that Tom’s bike would then get nicked first.
And then we were in London, weaving in and out of Friday morning traffic through the centre, from Paddington to King’s Cross; possibly the riskiest aspect of the days that lie ahead. We arrived at St Pancras unscathed and warmed by the spring sunshine that occasionally found us in between the tall city buildings.
Then we walked like pond birds in our cleats to underwhelming ‘Eurodespatch’, where a suspiciously laid back guy inexpertly wheeled our bikes away from us. It was precisely at this moment that I had a window into the separation anxiety a mother must experience when she first leaves her bundle of fun at a nursery.
The anxiety dissipated within about 30 seconds, as my mind flicked to the next task at hand. Customs, Passport control but most importantly; coffee. And finally, we were on the Eurostar, Paris-bound with a one way ticket. When I told a friend about this adventure he said ‘well, I suppose that’s one benefit of being an ironwoman – saves on airfares.’
And then it was time to pick up our bikes from a french dude puffing on a cigarette, and cycle in Paris, where the rules of the road seem to have no rhyme or reason – there are bike lanes, but they send you across the middle of busy cobbled roads where the traffic cuts straight across them (maybe in some attempt to decrease the number of pesky cyclists.)
But I took the risk, I had to get this photo somehow:
Before the Marathon
Rain came that evening and Paris was cold. I ventured out for dinner and shivered, I’d never travelled so light. All I took with me was running kit and cycling kit, no coat. I was planning to run (if I ran bien sur) in old running kit and then send it on to pastures new, leaving me with my cycling clothes and no luggage to get back with. All I had was the tiniest tube of moisturiser with SPF and a travel hairbrush. I took a bottle of perfume too. I wanted to feel a little bit glamorous whilst I was there, I was in Paris after all, but sadly the opposite was true – I had also taken a questionable penguin Christmas jumper from the kid’s section at Sainsbury’s as part of the disposable clothes selection, I was a sight for sore eyes wearing that with my running leggings to dinner that night. The Parisian’s were having a good look. But at least I smelled good, oui.
Pre marathon, I lay awake into the wee hours trying to decide whether to run it. The next morning I woke up two hours late for any marathon prep anyway, at 8am with a dead phone battery, Apple is trying everything it can to get me to upgrade, this took the biscuit. My start time was in little over an hour! I went down to see my friend Jane who was running it and ready to leave. I said ‘I’m not going to run it’. She headed off to the start. I almost immediately felt sad and changed my mind.
With less than half an hour until the gun, I pulled on my running leggings, cycling vest top and Castelli windproof. No vaseline, no breakfast. I went down to reception. ‘Ou est le Champs Elysees?’ I said. ‘You av to get le metro’ said the moody yet helpful receptionist, Eric. ‘Non I need to run there, I don’t have long’. Eric gave me confusing directions so I just legged it out of the hotel and started running in the vague direction of the Arc de Triomphe.
Just in the knickers of time I saw a cabbie having a rest. I took my moment and asked him for directions. Moments later, after many confuzzled and perplexed expressions from yours truly, I was in a cab getting a free ride to the start. I do like these Parisians.
The sun was beating down. It was only 9.20am but hot, hot, hot and I was still wearing the boil-in-the-bag cycling windproof. I headed straight to the starting pen, balled le windproof up and stuck it in my back pocket. So there I was, about to run a marathon in 20 degrees, with ball of a jacket in my back pocket, no training, no breakfast and no vaseline. Zut alors!
Sunday: Le Paris Marathon!
Going to that race turned out to be the best last-minute decision ever. The weather was glorious. I smiled and enjoyed the lovely crowds and people saying ‘allez allez Janine!’. I grinned as I ran past the Eiffel Tower, stopped several times to shimmy in chilly fireman hosepipe watersprays. I ate bananas and sucked on deliciously sweet and hydrating oranges every 5km, I was eating breakfast on the run.
The first 15 miles felt amazing. I had only run up to 11 miles in training and that was six weeks ago. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that 10 miles, 11, 12, 13 and beyond all ticked away nicely with me running sub 8:30, which was the goal in order to get a good for age time.
At around 17 miles my legs started to hurt and I had to start using mental tactics. Miles 17-26 were suddenly slower, I went from 8:15 on average to over 9 minute miles. Despite this, It surprised me just how quickly the miles ticked off, and I amused myself by chatting to people in Ironman t-shirts and anyone with english shirts on. I was elated to see the mile 25 mile marker, I knew I had a PB in the bag and some pretty bad tan lines. I got a personal best by 15 minutes finishing with 3:46, only a couple of minutes off my original goal. I went for a post-race massage opposite my hotel, and then attempted to nap.
6am Monday: Le Grande Depart – Paris to Bristol
Napping went as successfully as sleeping did that night; the long cycle home through the night was playing on my mind. I eventually slept just five hours and at 6.30am the following morning I was on my bike, navigating Monday rush hour in the dark in Paris.
The moon was out and the mood was fairly tense. There wasn’t a lot of conversation between the two of us, but our nerves were thawed by a rising sun and the gradual disappearance of what felt like an endless city of traffic.
It became increasingly apparent that between Tom’s imperial language and my metric that we’d not left ourselves adequate time to cycle the 140 miles from Paris to the coast in time to catch the 5pm ferry.
There’s only one ferry per day, and we didn’t fancy a night in La Havre. I cannot fathom how this happened; we’d had a thorough night of planning in my friend Mike’s kitchen, involving about 5 minutes on Strava route planner and then an hour eating rocky road and discussing little to do with timings and routes.
As such, we didn’t get time to stop for breakfast, and I was hungry like the wolf. Despite eating cereal bars from my back pocket one after another and a giant bag of cashew nuts, at 40 miles in I really needed a Patisserie. I was fantasising about buying a baguette that one might mistake in length for a mighty sword. We eventually spotted a good candidate – it was carb mecca. I squealed upon entry to this Aladdin’s cave of donuts and pies and the longest baguettes that I ever did see with my weary-eyes.
Back outside, Tom was checking train times to La Havre just in case we needed it whilst I fuelled up and amused myself for a bit:
At 70 miles, having navigated all sorts of terrains most unsuitable for expensive carbon bikes such as thick mudslides and rubble, we came to a stop to think.
With another 70 miles still to go to the port, we knew that we weren’t going to make it at this speed of progress. I couldn’t do a lot more than 15mph, and then we had all sorts of weird routes and roads to contend with that slowed us down further. We really needed to have left at midnight, not 6am. Tom was now in deep thinking mode, and I was in emergency initiative mode. I spotted a little petrol station across the road, and knew that this was our only hope of getting out of a sticky situation.
Gorgeous French Countryside
‘Uhhh, *sideways glance* taxi por deux personnes et deux vélo?’ I smiled. The lady in the petrol station didn’t speak english and my French is extremely basic. ‘Deux vélo! Non non non,’ the lady shook her head and smiled kindly. Hm. At that moment I saw their Landcruiser outside the window and grabbed my moment. I pointed at it and smiled. She laughed. Ten minutes later Tom and I along with our bikes Bill and Contessa were making said Cruiser muddy, wheels off in the back headed for the ferry. Tom was understandably disappointed and already talking about coming back the next week to do it again. I was happy. I ate a muffin. Life was good. Bien.
The plan, although 70 miles short, was back on track. That night we both ate two dinners and slept very little. The cabin was extremely hot, I was an absolute zombie. An apprehensive zombie, whose legs hurt a lot when climbing the steps to the ferry cabin. Just a night awake, 107 miles on my bike and a house move stood in the way of me and a bed. All I could say to thinking about this was allezzzzzzzz.
The first 20 UK Miles (Total 90 Miles): We are Nightriders.
Sat on the UK Border, waiting for the departure (they made us wait for what felt like an hour before disembarking the ferry ‘apron’) I was nervous. Tom wanted to get back for 6am to see his girlfriend in Millennium Square, and I had a house to complete on. This meant cracking on, and we agreed on a pace of 15mph all the way back home. We met our support crew Chris (also from BAD Tri) in Portsmouth, and wended our way up to Southhampton.
The first 20 miles was horrendous. I was bitten by nerves, too hot, too cold. Tom started singing which helped. We departed the ferry at 10.20pm and were due to stop in Southampton 25 miles in for our first pit stop, where I ate a dry veggie burger from Macdonalds. ‘I can’t do it’ I said. I was having quite strong fantasies of curling up under the sleeping bag in the support car by now, It was approaching 1am. ‘Yes you can,’ Chris said. ‘But there’s always the sleeping bag in the back’. Crazy talk – onwards to Salisbury it was. 25 miles until the next pit stop.
20-45 UK Miles (Total 115 Miles): Beyonce and a Bonk.
For the most part, the next 25 miles felt great. Nerves had melted away with a Macdonald’s inside me. I’d warmed up and the second winter jacket layer was gone. I was wearing my Fierlan high-viz jacket and singing along with Tom, who had a constant hum on by now.
The night was setting in, the roads were quieter. It was starting to feel like an adventure again – and then I bonked, in a most untimely fashion. Properly, totally and utterly bonkified. One minute I was singing Beyonce and the next minute, bonk. I was singing ‘Halo’ because there was an actual halo of light in front of us. ‘There’s two of you,” Tom said. Chris was behind in the car and the mist had fallen.
The cold was creeping in, and I was cycling into a ring of mist with two shadows of myself directly ahead of me. It was quite eerie. By the time we reached Salisbury I was cold and my brain had slowed down. Tom was talking to me and it was literally taking me several seconds to understand what he was saying.
So at the next pit stop I immediately got under the sleeping bag and sucked on a mug of black coffee, and then ate almost an entire Soreen malt loaf as if it were a Mars Bar. The coffee, Soreen scoff and warm-up stop worked like magic. I’d sufficiently perked up and ready to head towards the next stop – Warminster in another 25 miles.
45-70 miles (Total 140 Miles): Greased Lighting.
Ah, the dead of the night leg. We cycled through what felt like endless country roads and didn’t see a single car for hours. Not one. The clouds parted and the stars shone brightly above our four wheels. Horses neighed when they heard us pass, and there was the odd rumble of a train, a jubilant tweet of birds in the trees (shouldn’t they be sleeping? I thought to myself). I asked Tom whether the train rumble was in fact a UFO. Weirdly I thought it might be.
We whizzed through little village after little village, singing the entire score of Grease, fuelled by KitKats. We sang Greased Lightening speeding past cutsie little houses with the stars shining down, breathing in that lovely cold fresh smell of country night air. We asked Chris to go on ahead so that he could sleep, but also so that we could see the stars and feel the still of the night around us. I covered up my front light now and again and it never failed to make me smile.
In little cycles, I would find myself worrying about another bonk. The bonk I’d had earlier was my second only, ever. I’d experienced it first on the 140 mile Wiggle Dragon Ride. There is no question about it, you know when you’ve done it. It’s like getting drunk for the first time and wondering if you’re drunk yet – if you have to ask, you’re probably not. Bonking is not nice, you forget to drink and can’t make your brain work. Now and again when I would worry about another impending bonk, Tom would helpfully ask me to add numbers up. I came up with a handful of more exciting things I could do to entertain / distract myself, and these included:
- Drinking water
- Eating KitKats
- Making up rhymes
- Standing up on my bike
- Covering up my light and looking up at the stars
Tom is a sailor and so we sung lots of sailor songs, there was one about pulling the wings off a bird on a windowsill which was really mean but it made me laugh. My spirits were reasonably high and my legs felt good.
I had decided by this point that this really was a great way to stay awake all night eating KitKats.
When Warminster finally arrived, and we’d cycled 160 miles in total, the first light of dawn was upon us. Seeing the orange glow was spine tinglingly awesome. Cycling all night long and into the dawn is something everyone should do. I felt like I was in different world. I ate another KitKat to celebrate.
When we arrived at the next pit stop, our amazing support crew Chris was curled up fast asleep in the car. Tom and I grabbed some provisions without causing Chris to so much as stir. We headed on for the final push to Bristol – another 35ish miles and we would be home!
70-107 miles (Total 172 Miles): Our Second Rush Hour
This was the surreal section; the sun came up, and the Tuesday morning rush hour began. We weaved through traffic in Bath to get to the bike path, it was so strange, cycling past all of these morning people.
Millennium Square awaited us, bathed in sunshine. It was 9am when we finally arrived. Tears had finally found me on the Bristol to Bath cycle path, around 4 miles out of the finish. A mixture of relief and waves of nausea had made me cry. It was an emotional day; when I got back I completed on my flat and moved house. I went to Zazu’s kitchen for a massive english breakfast and deliriously hugged the guy who works there. He gave me 42% off my bill and announced ‘one for every KM you ran in Paris’. Nice.
I was surprised and a little perplexed with the reactions I had once home. A lot of people have said ‘you’re mental! And a few people have said ‘inspired! and ‘chapeau!’ I just thought it sounded like a fun idea, but upon reflection, the reality was much harder than I gave the idea credit for.
When I got back home I didn’t think a lot of it, had a couple of days of rest and then got back on the horse (bike). In hindsight I should have rested properly, because it was a really big deal; so I am resting now. The funny thing is, I was worrying about doing the marathon because I thought it could ‘put me out for the whole triathlon season’, yet the marathon went really well – it was the overall tiredness that has had an impact on me. I am injury free but I won’t be competing now until June, I’ll be finding new ways to rest.
Thank you BAD Tri! (And especially Tom and Chris)
I have no doubt that this crazy idea wouldn’t have come to fruition without having joined BAD Tri. It’s such a great place to meet other people who love swimming, cycling and running enough that they think that bonkers ideas are just totally doable, and don’t even think to question them – I love that sense of spirit. Go BAD Tri! It been an an epic adventure, and not one I’ll forget in a hurry. Oh and there’s still time to sponsor us 🙂