Can a Bridge Player Complete a Marathon?

Pour la version française, cliquez ici (For the version in French, please click here)

For once, here’s an article that doesn’t talk about bridge! I’m going to tell you about my adventure with Christophe at the Paris Marathon.

It all started a year ago when Christophe signed me up with him, casually asking if I was interested. I had been regularly running for 2 years now and had already completed 2 half-marathons, but doubling that distance was a whole different story.

To avoid unbearable suffering on the big day, I had to start by significantly increasing my training load. No more leisurely jogs, it was time for the weekly long run, gradually increasing the distance until reaching 30 kilometers! All of this, in addition to the various interval sessions that never seemed to end. In total, I averaged 70 kilometers per week, usually divided into 5 sessions, trying not to get injured… Unfortunately, that’s what happened to me last April when I had to stop everything for a month due to a right knee that didn’t seem to appreciate my efforts at their true value.

Getting back into it after this incident was quite difficult, as I basically had to start from scratch. But I was serious and followed my training plan to the letter, especially the strength training sessions, which were particularly tough. It wasn’t easy either to fit in my long runs on weekends with bridge events, sometimes having to get up early on Sundays to not miss the first match! Nevertheless, I improved fairly steadily and soon set the goal of finishing in 3h10. To give you an idea of my level, it’s a bit like being a low expert in bridge: you’re light-years away from the best who finished in 2h05, but you’re in the top tenth of participants: there aren’t many who are better than you…

Having been lucky enough to avoid a new injury despite a few warnings, I registered for the Paris Half, which took place a month before the dreaded Full Marathon, to test myself! I planned to start at my marathon pace, aiming for a finish in 1h35, and to speed up if I felt good. Bingo, I felt particularly fit and finished under the 1h30 mark, which I didn’t really think I was capable of!

However, I had some concerns as I felt I lacked a bit of endurance, which is also what the performance analysis tool I use, Runalyze, told me. People often ask me what motivated me to do 10 laps in a row of the same 2-kilometer park loop, well, I think I can say that seeing graphs, arrows going up or down, and various noises telling me if I ran well or not were a main source of motivation! (Yes, I didn’t need much). Nevertheless, I was quite confident about the first 30 kilometers of the race… before entering unknown territory after that. I told myself that in the worst-case scenario, I could just finish with a slow jog.

I was quite stressed before my departure and I didn’t sleep much, which I am quite used to since the same happens to me during bridge championships. On the Parisian metro towards the Champs-Élysées, there was a high density of runners, most of whom seemed more stressed than me since their bibs all indicated that they started after me (IE, they showed up way too early): races with many runners start in waves. I was in the 4th wave, starting at 8:27 am, for those aiming between 3h and 3h15. I arrived just in time for the start of the elites, although it was so crowded that I couldn’t see them: some people were even standing on the barriers at the metro entrances to witness the top Ethiopian and Kenyan runners!

My start time was not long after these elite athletes, and I joined my wave in the heart of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to meet up with Christophe, start my watch, and begin the race. Here we went!

The first difficulty that I hadn’t really anticipated was that a fairly large number of runners were registered in a wave that had absolutely nothing to do with their level, and given the density on the road, they were particularly annoying to overtake and avoid. I regularly had to make my way through, especially in the first 5 kilometers. This inevitably resulted in additional meters at the end of the race that I wasn’t particularly keen on running…

As expected, the first 30 kilometers went very well, I felt comfortable and stuck to my target pace perfectly. I enjoyed the nice scenery and the cheering of the many people along the roadside: passing by Place de la Bastille, they overflowed onto the road and left little space to pass, it felt like being on Alpe d’Huez during the Tour de France! I tried to pay attention to my nutrition with energy gels that I had carefully prepared, as well as hydrate myself well (when you’re thirsty, it’s already too late!). And then came the dreaded 30th kilometer, called “the wall,” because many people hit a wall at this point… And it happened, I suddenly had no more energy and felt that these last 12 kilometers were going to be very long. I had mentally prepared for this scenario and switched to jogging/survival mode, like many people around me. I dug as deep as I could but the tank was empty, especially between the 35th and 40th kilometers on an endless slight uphill. On top of that, I saw my average pace slowly but surely decreasing, which was mentally a killer. Fortunately, the last two kilometers were downhill and I even allowed myself to speed up a little to finally cross the finish line in 3h18.

I was completely exhausted and sat on the sidewalk of Avenue Foch after picking up my medal, a t-shirt, and refreshments. My face was covered in sweat salt to a degree that I didn’t think was possible, and I recovered as best I could by staring into space – so much pain! Strangely, I felt better quite quickly after that and I was even able to play a bridge match with Christophe in the afternoon, although it didn’t turn out to be particularly successful. I was still happy to have made it through, and I was already back to training to try to break the 3-hour mark next year. 😃

I am now heading to Alpe d’Huez, but not for cycling! – I will be playing in the Winter Bridge Games, and you can read my blog reports from there in the following days…

– Luc

Editor’s note: Christophe also managed to complete the marathon within 3h30, which makes it 2 out of 2 bridge players, a remarkable 100% success for the bridge community representation!

Posted ByLuc Bellicaud

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