This lovely area of France in the south-west holds one of the top marathons in the world. This marathon is often on the bucket list of runners. For Janice Chung, it was an opportunity to combine her love of France with a love of running. Here she shares her experience of competing in this marathon.

Oysters. Beef. Cheese. Ice cream. Granola Bars. Cookies. Chips. Wine.  Lots of wine. I was running the Marathon du Medoc in 2013 and this nourishment would get me through the 42.2 kilometers. It would not be one of my fastest races, but I didn’t really care. All I cared about was finishing…..sober.

Marathon du Medoc Bordeaux

I arrived in Bordeaux two nights before the big race. This gave me a chance to barely get used to the time change. After all, the race was scheduled for 9 am, which was 3 am Toronto time. The day before the race, I hopped on a bus for a two hour ride to Pauillac to pick up my race kit. When I arrived, it was as if the party had already started. There were booths selling pate, wine, breads, sausages and other delicious foods. But the best was the deal of a glass of white wine and 6 oysters for 7 Euros, which is the equivalent of about $10 Canadian. Why not indulge the day before the race? I’d be burning over 2500 calories, so what did I care! 

I had to get up early to catch the 2 hour bus ride back to Pauillac and when I arrived, I thought I had entered a carnival with the Cirque du Soleil headlining. Suspended by an incredibly large inflatable balloon was a trapeze artist who was doing flips in the air. The balloon was transparent and tethered to the ground. Techno music was blaring out of many speakers and there was definitely a party mood. 

The day was overcast and chilly but this didn’t matter for the 8000 runners, many who were dressed up in costumes. Every year there is a theme and this particular year celebrated “Science Fiction”.  Thousands of runners were dressed up, some with tutus and some in superhero costumes.  There was even a gentleman in flippers with a snorkel and an inflatable dingy around his waist. I do not know how he could run a marathon in flippers! Being somewhat more reserved, I did not dress up.

Once the gun went off, it was not necessarily a race to the finish, but rather a race to the first water station. But this was not a typical water station with cups of water. Instead there were hundreds of cups of wine laid out on the table for the runners to pick up and taste or gulp down. Plates of chips, crackers, raisins, cut oranges, and sugar cubes were also available. It was like a feeding and drinking frenzy. I was able to hit 18 of the 23 stations during the marathon. Some stations were too crowded. There wasn’t really pushing to get a glass of wine. We were just eager to drink and run on our merry way.

Marathon du Medoc France

My strategy was to take a few sips of wine at every station, and also accompany the wine with some water and food. I did not want to get drunk or pass out. While my intention was not to get a personal best time, I certainly wanted to finish the race….standing up with a smile on my face.  The lucky soul who finished first, however, got his or her body weight in wine.

The Marathon du Medoc is not just a race down a road but rather a race that winds through some of the most famous vineyards in the world such as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Lynch-Bages.

The grounds are open for runners to pass by the magnificent architecture and estates that have been around since the 1700s. The first marathon was created in 1984 by five Bordeaux runners, four of them doctors, who wanted to celebrate “pleasure, not pain” (as quoted in Forbes magazine).

The atmosphere throughout the entire race was fun and supportive. A number of times it must have looked like I was slowing down, because there was always a helping hand behind my elbow, encouraging me onwards or the crowd cheering  “Allez! Allez!” (Go! Go!). 

Near the end of the race, I just had to stop for some freshly shucked oysters. After gulping a couple down with some wine, of course, I saw eight runners dressed as “The Flash”---in bright red costumes. I cautiously approached them and asked them if I could have my picture taken with them.

Not only did they agree, but they also decided to lift me up in the air!  That certainly gave me a final burst of energy so that I could dash to the finish line, pausing briefly, of course to pick up an ice cream bar. It was the most delicious ice cream I had ever had. I even momentarily thought about turning around and getting another one, however, the end was near.

Crossing the finish line wasn’t the only thrill for me that day. What a treat it was to be handed a finisher’s medal, a bottle of wine in a special wooden box, a commemorative knapsack and a wine cup on a rope! I needed that cup because there was more wine to come in the wine and beer tent!


By Janice Chung


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