Marathon Du Medoc is not your typical marathon… And our lead up to race day was not typical either – we’d done our last sets of ‘specific training’ in Burgundy practising our French wine drinking and pre-race carbo-loading had been at a Michelin starred restaurant. It was going to be an entertaining day out!
Marathon des Chateuax du Medoc had been on the bucket list for a while and when our friend Hanlin, a veteran of the event, said he was keen, we locked it in for September 2019. We also convinced a non-running friend, Kt, to join us. Everyone thought the race sounded brilliant – French wines, compulsory fancy dress, beautiful chateaux… but a marathon still means covering 42km on foot. Even if you’re walking, that’s a long distance to cover in a day!
The morning of the race we woke up early, to catch a bus from Bordeaux to the start point at Pauillac, about 90 minutes away. Spirits were high and it was great to have a first look at the many different costumes for this year’s Superhero theme. Our bus was full of Hulks, Wonder women, an Einstein (‘not all heroes wear capes’) and some spectators with a kangaroo (I didn’t quite understand). In our group Mark was Sailor Moon, Hanlin was Captain Planet, Kt was a Power Ranger and I was Rainbow Brite (not 100% a superhero but a hero of mine from childhood). There was last minute face paint application (guess who) and a growing sense of excitement about the race ahead!
When we arrived at Pauillac, there was none of the usual pre-race visit to bag drop, warming up or stretching (other than some choreographed A-skip). Instead we had a slow walk to the start line, taking photos and marvelling at the different outfits, with quite few a comments of “how will they make 42km in that?”. For a lot of men, dressing up seemed to imply wearing a dress/ladies outfit…
One particularly intriguing costume was a contraption where a bottle of wine was held just out of reach – a “Bordeaux Marathon Motivator”. It was also interesting to see what constituted a superhero in different countries – there were Vikings, Ninjas, South Africans running with Mandela photos and lots of French people running with baguettes! Obviously the French are naturally superheroes!
One of the rules of the marathon is that in order to get a medal, you need to finish in front of the sweeper cart. This is a person drawn float with lots of brooms and although the sweeper cart nominally finishes in 6 hours 30 minutes, it depends on the drunkeness of the sweeper cart team in any given year. As Kt found out towards the end of the race, the sweepers take great delight in poking the slower runners with the brooms, blowing whistles in runners’ faces and cajoling them in French!
We assembled on the start line, but before we set off, there was a display of flying superheroes (acrobats on wires) above the crowd. We started towards the back of the pack, and didn’t realise just how slow it was going to be. Although we all started together, due to our different running (and drinking paces) Mark and I ran together, after doing the first 5km with Hanlin and Kt ran her own race.
The first stop was Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste for second breakfast which included croissants and other pastry items. The crowds were thick and the paths through the vineyards were quite narrow, made even worse by the floats from the local chateaux which caused massive bottlenecks. This led to heaps of runners (me included!) racing through the vines to get around the congestion.
After the 5km marker, there was the first wine stop which was ridiculously crowded. We decided to continue to the next which was 3km down the road at the beautiful Chateau Lagrange. There were lovely hedges and topiaries, I was concerned for the gardens with a bunch of (beginning to get drunk) people traipsing through. Each year there is a different route through the vineyards of the Pauillac region, and the pond at this chateau is normally later in the event and hence more enticing for drunken swimming/skinny dipping. However, there were still some people keen for an early splash!
The southern loop continued on, and there were more and more drinks stops. Highlights in this section included passing the “Spider Pig” float, the stunning Chateau Pichon Longueville, dancing to one of the chateau bands with some French baguette men and getting into the spirit of running and drinking! Lowlights included running past a pig on a spit that smelt amazing but wasn’t ready for eating, losing Mark after visiting the vines for a toilet stop and some of the costumes on the course… quite a few times we had to pass people because their costumes didn’t leave much to the imagination (European men in g-strings). We needed a few bursts of speed so we didn’t run behind their behinds.
This year’s course was a figure of eight shape, and we finished the first half back in Pauillac. There were a few km through the town where locals and supporters cheered us through, and then we popped back out into the countryside. The day was beginning to heat up and we drank lots of water in between the wines. There had been a selection of food along the course – lots of fruit, sweet items and biscuits – I smashed a lot of biscuits!
Around the 25km mark we passed some very famous chateaux – Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Mark had been looking forward to tasting the wine here, but of course they weren’t going to be offering Grand Cru to drunk runners!
In the northern section there were locals having delicious looking picnics on the side of the road whilst they enjoying watching the struggling runners. One picnic even had a spit roast that smelt amazing. By this stage I could definitely have eaten something other than biscuits! Luckily at Chateau La Haye, around the 30km mark, along with the wine tasting they had wine jellies and icecreams. The vineyard had been decorated with lots of balloons and was (not unusually for this race) very festive!
Through this section we were running faster than the giant roster float, but taking longer at the drink stops, so it became a bit of a companion. Lots of people had slowed to a walk and it felt good to realise that we had only 10km to go, which marathoners know is where the race starts! We had lots of time up our sleeves and could enjoy the final couple of stops without the threat of the sweepers and their dastardly brooms.
Our favourite stop was at Chateau Phelan Segur (34km). It had some of the best wine on the course (worth more than a few tasting glasses…), a great band playing traditional folk songs and as a bonus was very insta-worhty. We chatted to some Irish ladies dressed as peacocks (Super Peacocks?) and joined in the dancing.
All too soon, we were at the final drink stops at Chateau Meyney and Chateau Montrose. It was time to make the most of the wine, ambience and selfie opportunities! The last 5km stretch along the Gironde River had no designated drinks stops but there was food on offer with stops for oysters, steak, cheese and icecream. It was not the highest gastronomic experience we’d had in France, but considering the number of drunk people they were feeding, it was pretty good. How many marathons serve oysters on course?!
By this stage the pace was very slow, I’d begun to feel a slight strain of my calf. This was not what I expected would cause me an issue on this marathon, I’d assumed tipsiness or the heat would be the main barrier. It was probably some wayward dancing… Even though we were running at a snail’s pace, everyone else was walking by this stage so we were still overtaking groups of superheroes. Mark kept running ahead to get photos, particularly when we ran past a large group of Batmen, as my nephew is Batman obsessed and we thought he would enjoy seeing his Auntie beating them!
We trotted along to the finish line – dusty and tired – but happy to have completed “Le marathon le plus long du monde”. We were rewarded with lots of finishing gifts including a boxed bottle of wine, cup to enjoy some more drinks, nag to keep everything safe, a rose of the ladies who finished and of course a medal.
The finishing area was more like a big party, with lots of food and more drinks for those who hadn’t got enough on course. It was good to stretch out on the grass and catch up with Hanlin, who finished not long after us. After about an hour we had to head back to the bus. I was concerned for Kt as we hadn’t seen her at the finishing area and it was going to be hard to get back to Bordeaux alone. Just as the bus was about to pull out of the parking area, Kt hobbled aboard. She had finished just in front of the sweeper cart and was super happy to have completed her first marathon! On the way home there was singing on the bus, a toilet stop for the desperate Hulks and a lot of tired, tipsy but satisfied runners.
Even though this was not a serious race, the fitter you are, the more you can enjoy yourself on the course. We had heaps of time to admire the lovely chateaux (i.e. pose for selfies) and really soak up the party atmosphere at the different stops, but would have started nearer to the front if we’d realised how slow the first section was going to be.
All in all, this was a fantastic experience and definitely a highlight of our trip to Europe. We’d recommend this race to anyone who enjoys dressing up, red wine and doesn’t mind some running too! Santé!