Marathon du Médoc

By Alexandra Stone – May 1, 2013

The Marathon du Médoc is the premier running event for oenophiles. It begins in the small town of Pauillac, an hour’s drive north of Bordeaux. The course meanders through vineyards and past 22 chateaux that provide local delicacies and wine to runners along the way. Each year, there is a costume theme, and this year's was “Animals.” I was ready to embrace my inner animal and run through vineyards and drink some excellent wine with my partner in crime, my friend Shelly Henry.

My bacchanalian running adventure began with a ten-hour flight from Austin to Paris. We arrived early the next morning and spent the day eating fabulous food, drinking espressos, and wandering the streets of Paris. The next day, we took an eight-hour train trip to Bordeaux. I spent most of that ride napping and munching on a baguette, Nutella, and an apple I had brought with me. In Bordeaux, dozens of runners all wearing un-chic running shoes on their feet or tied to their backpacks disembarked. I was 100 meters from the train station when I realized I’d left my carry-on backpack and running shoes on the train. Mon Dieu—the marathon was in less than 24 hours and I had no running shoes! Much to my relief, there was a running store in town. We had just enough time to pick up a pair of shoes before we needed to catch the shuttle bus that was delivering us to the packet pick-up site in Puillac. Miraculously, I found the brand and size of shoe that I wore and made it to the bus.

The marathon festivities began that evening at packet pick-up, which included a festival with dozens of food and wine tents as well as live music. We wandered in search of dinner and found many places selling roasted meats, cheeses, breads, and decadent desserts. Shelly had a sensible ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette, and I had a crepe filled with Nutella and strawberries. Although this was not the ideal pre-marathon dinner, it was delicious! We went back to Bordeaux on the shuttle bus and got a good night’s sleep.

We awoke at 5 a.m. on marathon day. Although the bus to Puillac left at 7:30 a.m., we needed time to put on our fancy animal costumes and eat a breakfast that would sustain us through a day of running and drinking. I was the “Queen Bee” with glittery wings, antennae, and a black-and-yellow striped top, and Shelly was a giraffe with horns, tail, and the characteristic brown and orange markings painted on his shoulders. The hotel provided a decadent French breakfast specifically for the marathon runners that included eggs, meats, cheeses, yogurt, croissants, pastries, clotted cream, jam, Nutella, and fruits. I couldn’t help but indulge in some Nutella with my fruit and yogurt and several shots of espresso. As always, Shelly was more sensible and had his usual juice, eggs, and toast. We spent more time enjoying breakfast than we anticipated, almost missing the bus to Puillac.

An hour and a half later, we arrived in Puillac and, since we didn’t understand the French language announcements, we simply followed the procession of costumed runners to the start. A cannon was fired and the marathon began! The first four miles wound through the cobblestone streets of downtown Puillac, where the crowds were dense and the pace was slow. When we reached the first aid station/wine stop, everyone came to a halt and had a bit of wine. Since I was just standing there, I figured I might as well have a sip! Afterwards, we left the town and ran out into the vineyards, where the pace picked up.

I had conducted extensive research on the wineries located along the course and devised a “race” plan that involved drinking at the six best. The first winery on my list appeared at mile 13. I insisted on having a glass. Shelly switched to my plan after tasting the wine I had suggested. As we progressed along the course, I noticed many runners were emptying their bladders among the vines along the way and concluded that urine gave the local wine its fantastic je ne sais quoi.

At mile 17, we stopped to sip more wine and snack on a baguette and chocolates. Shelly had some pâté. It was important to eat during this marathon; otherwise, I worried that I would get too tipsy and never finish. At mile 20, the servers wore white gloves as they poured a lovely merlot into gorgeous wine glasses. We joined in with a group of some two-dozen runners who were dancing to a jazz band. As soon as Shelly finished his glass, it was miraculously refilled; since it would have been tragic to waste such good wine, I waited for him to finish his second glass.

The last wine stop was at mile 23. It was the biggest party on the course, and there were oysters and sparkling wine to be consumed while a rock band played. A large crowd of people was dancing, and I wouldn't have been surprised if many of these revelers never made it to the finish. I had an oyster and some refreshing bubbly before proceeding but I couldn't tarry; we had to cover 3.2 miles in 45 minutes before the course closed. As I approached the finish, I had a spark of inspiration: I sprinted and launched into a cartwheel as I crossed the line, receiving enthusiastic applause. A volunteer gave me my finisher’s medal and bottle of wine, and the next volunteer handed me a large plastic cup filled with wine and pointed me to the finishers’ party tent.

The party at the finishers' village was epic. There was a bar in the middle of the tent with an endless supply of wine. Tables were piled with sandwiches, fruit, chocolate, cookies, and cheese. Shelly and I sat in the shade and enjoyed the fact that we were drinking wine while sitting and not running. We slept soundly on the bus back to Bordeaux.

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