I am an asthmatic and was never athletic. I did not even think that I could run a mile. But then I met my husband. He was always running on the treadmill three times a week. Then he took it up a notch by running outdoors, then signing up for races, then joining a running club. And before I knew it, I was jogging at the track, training for my first 5K.
My motivation to run races was to avoid boredom while waiting for my husband to finish a race. Marathons did not in any way appeal to me. I thought it was pure torture to run 26.2 miles. I believed my body would break should I attempt to do one. I had suffered from a stress fracture while doing my first half marathon. And most importantly, I did not think it would be fun.
I was no stranger to destination races. My husband and I have done 5Ks to half marathons in 11 US states, Israel, Malta, the Netherlands, Canada, Thailand and Cambodia. The Marathon du Medoc in France is a race featuring postcard-perfect chateaus in the Bordeaux wine region. Exploring vineyards from a completely unique perspective of running while tasting fine wine, cheese, foie gras, entrecote steak, oysters and even ice cream at the “water” stations seemed like fun.
I wondered if I could do it and signed up. I followed a strict marathon training plan for four months. I lived and breathed speed training, short tempo runs, long runs, aching muscles, dynamic stretches, foam rolling and massages. I said goodbye to my weekends of sleeping in or simply hanging out and relaxing. Summer road trips included long distance races and painful drives home. And just when I hit my training peak, I had another stress fracture scare. The last three weeks of my training involved physical therapy and cross training on a stationary bike. I questioned whether I should race and if I did, would I finish.
My husband and I spent a couple of days in Paris leading up to the race. It was our first time together in the city of love. We hit all the touristy spots that were familiar to us, but never visited together before. I stuffed myself with mont blancs, madeleines and macarons. I forgot about the marathon. But as the train from Paris to Bordeaux got closer to our destination, I became a nervous wreck.
Packet pick up was an eye-opening experience. Unlike Parisians, the people of Bordeaux were friendly and hospitable. Combined with wine lovers and runners from all over the world, the atmosphere was festive and electric. I sampled various local delicacies, but was very careful in tasting wine. My plan was to start the race well hydrated and would sip wine during the race. We spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing at a nearby beach, and carbo loaded at an al fresco restaurant in Lacanau Ocean.
On race day, we arrived early and joined other costumed runners at breakfast of croissants and hot chocolate. The start was something I have never seen before. There were circus performers, runners in every costume imaginable and floats of every size and shape. It was nerve wracking, but I could not help but giggle as I spied a group of men in milkmaid outfits.
Fireworks signaled the beginning of the race. My husband and I began our slow journey on paved roads. We caught sight of the first chateau as pavement turned into gravel. I did not think that at 10 am and 5 kilometers into the race I should start drinking wine. I cruised past the wine table and helped myself with water and orange slices. By the second chateau, when wine in a cup was thrusted at me, I drank what would be the first of many tastings.
As vineyard after vineyard blurred past me, so did the many offerings of the chateaus – flat soda, potato chips, cookies, cheese, fruits, chocolates, duck pate – you name it. By the halfway mark, at Chateau Lafite Rothschild, makers of the finest wine in the wold, I just had to linger and marvel at the scenery. I slowly sipped the vintage red that they offered in a proper wine glass and enjoyed every moment.
As I ran the next half of the race, the temperature rose to the 80s and the heat affected my performance. No matter how lively the bands and cheerful the spectators were, I felt every aching muscle in my body. All I could think of was, “one foot in front of the other.” Right before mile 23, I was offered the only white wine being served during the race, and I knew that around the corner would be oysters. The cool, lemony, briny bivalve taste boosted me for only a few strides.
By mile 24, I hit the dreaded wall. I felt that I had nothing left in me to continue. I was arguing with my husband as he pushed and motivated me. I was ready to drop dead. As the sweepers who made sure that everyone finished at the cut off time caught up to us, an old man approached and asked me where I was from. I said, “I’m a Filipina from New York.” He then asked me how many times I have done a marathon to which I answered dejectedly, “If I finish, Marathon du Medoc would be the first, but I don’t think I will.” He then told me that NYC was his first marathon back in 1982 and when he hit the wall, a spectator told him that he could do it. He said it was his turn to tell me that I could. He proceeded to pace slowly with me for about half a kilometer and instructed me to keep going until I see the finish line.
I knew there were 2 more food stops (steak and popsicles) before the 42 kilometer mark, but I did not stop for them. After six and a half hours, 26.2 miles and 20 cups of wine, I stumbled into the finish and cried as my husband hugged me. Although it was a fun experience, my first marathon was the toughest physical challenge of my life. I was not prepared for the things that my body did and felt during the race. But it was amazing to achieve something I trained real hard for. Since then, I have completed a couple of 5Ks and 10Ks, and a half marathon. I am not sure if I will run another marathon again. I am absolutely contented right now doing yoga and running to stay fit and healthy. And that is why, even if I do not run another marathon, I will continue to run as it has become a part of my way of life.
Written by Faith Azul-Evia. Faith is an avid flashpacker (a slightly older version of a backpacker with a bigger budget but still wants to avoid a packaged version of a destination) and believes that her travels start as soon as she steps out of her NY apartment building. She is in constant search of new places to explore, eat, drink, sleep, spa, run, hike and yoga. She has been to more than 50 countries on 6 continents and dreams of going to Antarctica someday. Follow her @faithflashpacks on Instagram.