A marathon… with wine? That sounds a little mad! But it’s exactly the concept behind the Medoc Marathon, which runs through the Medoc wine region near Bordeaux. I signed up for this race with three friends from London: Stella, Melanie and Cat. We wanted to go and have a fun time, run together, and drink lots of wine! It was going to be Cat’s first marathon, and it was great to be able to share that experience with her.
Cat and I stayed in Bordeaux whereas Stella and Melanie had booked a dodgy motel closer to the start in Paulliac (1.5hr outside of Bordeaux). We met up at the start with what we thought was plenty of time for the other three to pick up their bibs, drop bags and find some breakfast to eat. Unfortunately, noone we spoke to seemed to know where the bibs were, and our broken French wasn’t helping much either! While I lined up in the very long baggage queue, the others finally found their numbers just in time to hear the start horn go off. We were late!
But that didn’t matter. The brilliant thing about this marathon is that it has a very relaxed atmosphere, and most people want to run it as slowly as possible. In addition to the 20 wine stops on offer, we would also be served steak, oysters, cheese and ice-cream along the course. And with a theme of ‘Music in 33rpm’, all participants were encouraged to dress up in fancy dress as they ran the course. We chose to go as ‘Hotel California by The Eagles’, complete with ‘no vacancy’ signs and scary eagle masks. No-one we met really understood it, but that doesn’t matter!
Medoc Marathon though does have a strict cut-off time of 6:30. This is enforced by a colourfully adorned sweeper bus complete with broomsticks to ensure participants stick to the time limit. It is fine to go and have fun, but you need to make sure you don’t get cut off. I was a bit concerned about this, and so had a grand plan: run the first half in ~2:30, make it to 37km by ~5:30, and then still have an hour left to get through the last 5km, which is where all the food was.
With so many enthusiastic runners on the course, the first few kilometres were fairly chaotic. The first wine stop came after only a few kilometres, and even though many people chose to skip it (including us), traffic slowed to a walk. This happened again for the second wine stop, and when we decided to get our first drink at the third one there were still so many people jostling and crowded around. Given how many wine stops there still were to come (and how much wine there was at each one!, it was a bit ridiculous that everyone was so frantic at these early stations.
Inside the first 5km we met up with another friend Kate, who had lost her group and proceeded to run with us. The running was fairly slow and very pleasant, our group essentially didn’t stop talking with each other the whole time we were running. The scenery was stunning too: running through vineyard after vineyard, getting to pass through the grounds of fairytale chateaus - it was incredible. Every stretch of the race was just beautiful.
The weather wasn’t behaving as well, however. The forecast had been threatening rain for days in the lead-up, and although it was bright and sunny when we started it did then proceed to pour. This made the paths through the vineyard very muddy, and my shoes were disgusting afterwards. Thankfully the rain wouldn’t last long before the sun came out again, but it did come down four or five times during the run. Luckily for the worst one we had just arrived at a wine stop and were able to huddle under the shelter - along with hundreds of other people who’d had the same idea!
We were stopping at every wine stop to get a drink and take a photo, and so the alcohol was flowing. With the running though, it didn’t seem to be having too much of an effect, and we were also trying to be dilligent and drink water from the many aid stations littered throughout the course. Although people were getting slower & more sociable as the run went along, I didn’t see anyone who had gone too overboard. My favourite moment though was when we saw a guy jump into a chateau lake - and the security marshal just stopped and took a photo of him before telling him to get out! Brilliant.
The halfway mark came at the ~2:45 mark and I wasn’t too concerned that we would finish in time. Surprisingly it felt like the kilometres were passing rather quickly, probably because there were so many things to break up the distance (wine stations, aid stations, chatting). Cat was powering on wonderfully, we were all very impressed.
After that the wine stations started getting closer and closer together. There was one point where we had just walked out of one and started getting ready to run again when we saw the next station only some 200m ahead! By 28km I was definitely starting to feel it (and was starting to complain about the hills!), but the wine also made things fun. We danced to a band playing at one aid station, at another made people sing Happy Birthday to Stella (who’s birthday wasn’t for another few weeks, but shhh), and ran around flapping our wings while laughing loudly.
At some point we met some other London runners, lost Kate, found Kate again and all the while kept drinking wine. My memory starts to get hazy about the finer details but somehow we were still running. I had to stop to fix my costume at one point and then sprint to catch up with the group. My watch said we were running at 5:00/km pace but it felt like it was 100kph. Running while drunk is hard!
In the last 5km we were treated to the food: first oysters, then delicious pieces of small steak (could have eaten so much of that). At the somewhat disappointing cheese and grape stand Kate and I got separated from the rest of the group, and spent a panicked few minutes trying to contact them and find out where they were in the course. They’d gone on ahead past the ice-cream stop, but waited for us to catch up so that we could regroup and finish the race together.
We came down the red carpet hand-in-hand to raptuous applause from the spectators either side. I was very pleased that our 6:23:39 was under the cut-off but still long enough to prove we had truly enjoyed the experience. But mostly, I was so happy to have shared the experience with my friends, and to have had such a fabulous day. Cat finished her first marathon strong, and the rest of us were thrilled to set a ‘Personal Worst’ time. Medoc Marathon is an experience like no other - we’re already talking about going back!