I've been looking at the Marathon du Medoc for several years. This year, for a variety of reasons, was THE year.
A little background - I did my first marathon last year in Cleveland. The temperatures got very hot, I walked a lot - basically "hit the wall" over and over and over... not fun.
So, I started looking for a marathon where I might improve my time, but would not feel huge pressure to run fast and could meet my goal of running strongly and feeling in control all the way (or almost all - it is a marathon after all and that wall is always out there!) Medoc is a "fun marathon" complete with wine, chateaux, costumes, and a general festival atmosphere. I also am motivated by destination races - and it is in the wine country near Bordeaux, France.
Like the obsessive-compulsive runner that I am, I trained throughly. I even did an 18-mile run with wine every two miles... The race goes through 22 chateaux with wine tasting.
We booked through Marathon Tours, and it was a great experience. After a day of wine tastings, we visited the small expo and bought souvenirs.
The night before the race the hotel had a fire alarm go off. Like good cautious people we went to the lobby at 3AM - and were not allowed to go back to our rooms until 4:30. Not exactly ideal the night before a race, but check out the cute young firemen in their armored helmets!
Got up early to eat, dress, and catch our bus. Lots of warnings about not missing the cut-off (6.5 hours!) and about starting ahead of the floats so you wouldn't have to wait too long before crossing the starting line. Good thing there was a toilet on the bus, as we did not get there early enough to use the ones at the start. Group pictures of the tour group and then we were off to the starting line. The race theme was "science fiction" and I was pretty pleased with my Star Trek bike shirt and red miniskirt. But others were FAR more creative. We had the black and white swans from Swan Lake (not on-theme, but really cool), blue people from Avatar, Princess Leia slave costumes (on men as well as women), Princess Leia white dress (in mini-skirt version), and lots of other creative stuff going on.
The starting line was like no other I've ever seen. Aerialists performed. Confetti was shot from cannons. The entire crowd was dancing and clapping in unison to the music. Finally we started - managed to see my husband in the spectator crowd shortly after crossing the start line and we were off to the first chateau.
Huge crowds for the wine tasting at the first stop, so I skipped it - but I stopped and tasted at most of the others in the first half (there were 22 in total, plus separate water/food stops). No gels or Gu or sports drink, but I'd brought gatorade powder and mixed my own, as well as bringing my chews and beans. I was so distracted that I didn't start taking them until about mile 8, but it all worked out OK. I was a little hyper about my time the first half, and having difficulty converting the kilometer markings to miles to figure my pace, but by the half-way point I knew I was in reasonably good shape. There was a big crowd there, and my husband never did see me go by.
After that I stopped at about every other winery. There were no toilets - it is traditional to go in the grapefields... so you would look out over a grape field and see the heads of costumes sort of floating just above the vines. I discovered that when a runner came up behind you and said right or left, they wanted you to MOVE that way - not that they were passing on that side. Sometimes they'd just poke you in the ribs.
The costumes were a constant amusement. At one point a tiny Japanese girl in a mini-skirted Princess Leia outfit was swatting the thong-wearing Superman runners on the rear with her light-saber and yelling "allez, allez". Crowd support was great - a lot of people made a picnic afternoon of it with elaborate picnics on tables and glasses of wine. They would chant a popular soccer-stadium chant and runners would chant it back. Or they would chant "Ont nes pas fatigue" (we are not tired) and runners would chant that back too (it was a popular chant as we partied on the bus after the race too).
In the last couple of miles I switched to walking at the kilometer markings instead of just at the wineries... and slowed... looking for a convenient grape field - but of course the last couple of miles were by the river with no concealment so I ended up waiting to the very end to find a toilette...
Runners were spending more time at the stops now - dancing, drinking. I passed up the oysters at mile 23 and the ice cream at mile 24 - but did hit the rare roast beef and the next station. Then cruised on in with a big smile at the finish to collect my back-pack with the bottle of wine and my medal. [Picture coming - the official pictures turned out well, but I don't have them downloaded yet!]
I decided that the slogan "Le marathon les plus longue du monde" (the longest marathon in the world) meant that you will run your slowest time ever! So my goal of speeding up was not accomplished, but running strong and enjoying myself certainly was. Many people lingered at the last stops because they were now sure of making the cut-off - I came in 35 minutes before the cut-off and over 3000 runners came in after me but before they closed the gates.
It certainly lived up to the other slogan "the most fun you can have while running a marathon".