I heard the singing behind me getting louder and louder. Suddenly a man, singing loudly in French, squeezed between my friend and me. We laughed when we realized he was wearing nothing but a wig and thong along with his running shoes. I moved over to give him more room, but quickly jumped back over as I realized that I was about to get run over by a large number of people dressed as chickens pushing a giant chicken float. And this was just the first kilometer! Welcome to the Marathon du Medoc, I thought as I smiled and picked up my pace.
My friend Amy and I for years would joke that the Marathon du Médoc was the only marathon we’d ever run. It’s 26.2 miles through the vineyards of Bordeaux, France featuring 23 stops for wine tasting and food like oysters, steak, and ice cream. Oh, and all this has to be done in a costume based on the year’s theme. I mean, if you’re going to run a marathon this should be the one, right?!! Then last year the joking became serious; let’s do it! we said to each other.
Registration for the marathon opens in March and usually sells out instantly. It’s extremely popular and they only take 8500 runners. For these reasons, we decided to go with a tour. (We chose Marathon Tours & Travel and absolutely loved it. We had so much fun and met an amazing group of people!) Among other things, going as part of a tour gave us guaranteed access to the race, accommodations, and a bus ride into the town Pauillac where the race begins.
Despite all of the craziness, it is still a marathon. And it’s timed! You have to complete the marathon, wine stops and all, within 6.5 hours or you are not considered a finisher. No finisher’s medal and finisher’s bottle of wine for you. There’s actually a sweeper cart covered in broom sticks that is pushed by people running a 6.5 hour pace. If you fall behind them, your race is over! Amy and I were determined to finish the race and began to train to run a marathon.
Then life happened. I herniated a disk and was out for 6 or so weeks and Amy was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma. We were both a mess and the time till the marathon was inching ever closer! But, we joked with each other, while the running portion of the training wasn’t going so well, our wine training was going amazingly well.
During the last 3 weeks before leaving for France, we were each finally able to get some decent runs in and, while we had no idea if we would finish or not, we at least both felt like we could run the course. We never did try drinking wine while running, so how we would fair with that was a great mystery!
Amy and I spent a few days in Paris, then headed down to Bordeaux to join up with our tour group. The group was a great mix of all ages of couples and friends and siblings and people who came on their own. What we all had in common, though, was that we liked to run and we liked to have fun. Who else would ever sign up for a race like the Marathon du Medoc??!!
Race day dawned gray and cool and, as our bus drove us the 45 minutes from Bordeaux to Pauillac, it began to rain. The bus parked and we all made use of its bathroom (nothing brings you together like 48 people sharing one bus toilet!) and then began to make our way to the stating line.
The rain let up as we were walking, but the clouds remained, keeping the day humid but not horribly hot. As I have said, part of the marathon is that you must wear a costume. This year’s theme was Superheroes and we soon began to see every type of hero you could imagine. You had your classic Marvel superhero’s, your country-specific hero’s, your generic spandex and cape combos, your Disney costumes, and your I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on-here costumes. Then there were the men in dresses. So many men in dresses: Wonder Woman, Sailor Moon, Disney Princesses, Harley Quinn, lots of tutus, etc, etc. The parade of costumes kept us entertained all day!
The start of the race was like no other I’ve done. Usually I, and everyone else around me, are bundles of nerves, waiting for the gun to go off so we can take off as fast as we can, knowing that a race usually equal pain. But this starting line was one big party. High above us on lines crossing the street, acrobats dressed as superheroes and an angel (?) preformed stunts as music blared popular pop songs. The gun went off and, even though we were kind of towards the front, it took us awhile to walk across the starting line. We finally got across and we were off, moving at a slow jog with the crowd of other runners.
Amy and I had a plan which, for the most part, we stuck with for most of the race. We had decided that we would skip the first two stops just to buy us some time and because of how crowded we knew they would be. The crowd was still thick and slow moving as we approached the first stop which, in addition to wine, featured croissants. But we didn’t stop and slowly made our way past the second stop as well. By the third stop we were ready to fulling participate in the race and made our way onto the chateau’s grounds.
At each wine and food stop the crowd would usually slow to a walk as we made our way onto the grounds. Then we would walk up to the table with the wine tastings (many were served in real wine glasses), take whatever food they had, continue to walk forward while drinking and eating, stop to take a couple pictures and listen to the live band, grab some water, and then walk back out of the grounds. Once back on the road we would begin to run again.
There were also traditional aid stations every so often with water and coke and lots of fruit and potato chips and energy bars. It was actually a really great selection. What there were not a lot of were Port A Jon’s. This was because, as we quickly realized, the preferred and accepted bathroom for men and women were the vineyards. Need to go? Run in between the vines, take care of business, and off you go! Just remember that next time you’re sampling an organic wine from Bordeaux!!
The race route took us not only on the main roads, but also on many dusty paths between vineyards and chateaus. We ran through a few small towns as well, all of which were filled with cheering onlookers, music, and more than a few rouge wine sampling’s. The course made a figure 8 which put you near the start around the halfway point. Many people planned to only do half and took their time at each stop during those first 13 miles. But Amy and I wanted to finish and, when we hit that halfway point well ahead of where we thought we’d be, we began to get excited. We could finish!
The beginning of the second half had a number of hills as we made our way out of town and back into the vineyards. The sun had come out at that point as well, so it began to get hot. The crowd was noticeably thinner now, but everyone was still in a great mood; laughing and joking and singing as they ran along.
The chateaus were must closer together here and we had a point where it felt like every few minutes there was another wine stop. Up until this point I had not felt the wine at all. I guess because it’s mainly sugar, my body was just using it as energy and sweating the rest out. But now, with so many stops so close together, I finally felt the wine I had been drinking all day. So did everyone else, I’m guessing, as the parties at each stop were getting louder and people began to hang out longer.
The final 3-ish miles were on a shade-less road paralleling La Gironde River. The chateaus were over, but the final two stops made it all worth it. The first, at around mile 23 was an oyster, champagne, and steak stop. I had originally thought there was no way I could eat oysters while in the middle of a race, but once at the stop I thought, how can I not eat one??!! Then, the final stop with just a mile to go was ice cream. That cold and sugary snack was just what was needed to push through the end of the race.
I crossed the finish line at around 5.5 hours. My first marathon completed! I immediately saw others from my group and we had a great time cheering for others as they crossed. Most everyone reached the finish line smiling and laughing and often holding hands. No exhaustion and grimaced faces clicking off a Garmin watch or checking times- just pure fun!
If you enjoy running or wine or fun at all, then you need to do this race! If you have never done a full marathon (like me and Amy), it’s a great one to do because it’s so much fun. If you’ve run a lot of marathons or races, it’s a great one to do because the lack of pressure is a refreshing change. Oh, and if you really, really just can’t keep yourself from competing, the winners do win their weight in wine. So there is always that… Maybe next time.
You can find out more about the Marathon du Medoc here.