If you can run a marathon with diarrhoea, then you can probably do anything
- Credit: Archant
There was a T-shirt in front of me, as there always is when one is a running a marathon.
The girl wearing it was a little on the stocky side.
I mean it kindly.
There aren't so many of us chunky marathon runners and whenever I see one who is a little Liz-sized, I must confess to a burst of relief.
At least there is one here as big as me, I think to myself!
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I know these are the kinds of thoughts one isn't supposed to admit to out loud but I'm writing this so it doesn't count.
Anyway, her T-shirt said, 'This decision was made while drunk' and I knew exactly what she meant.
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My running buddy, Karen, had rung and said, 'We haven't got into London, shall we do Paris, instead?'
I don't think I even paused.
Later of course, after it was all booked and paid for, I'd thought of everything.
We'll probably get killed by terrorists/die in a plane crash.
We actually have husbands and children.
We will have to fit four hour training runs around full time jobs and families.
As it happened, none of the worst case scenarios occurred but there is always some factor in a marathon for which one has not prepared.
In my case, it was another of those things one isn't supposed to talk about, but as I'm writing this, it's still OK, right?
It began on the Friday morning a few hours before my flight.
When I told Karen, she shuffled a little away from me.
'No, you can't have a drink of my water!' she said, later. 'For the whole weekend!'
I spent much of Friday night and Saturday morning in the loo.
We were also travelling with a friend of Karen's I hadn't met before.
The fact that her bed was right outside the only toilet fuelled my certain confidence that ever after she would only think of me as Karen's pooing friend, or worse.
I went to 'la pharmacie'.
'Je voudrais quelque chose pour, er, le diarrhoea?'
The lady smiled kindly (whoever says Parisiens are rude hasn't been to Paris lately) and brought me some Imodium and other 'anti-septic' pills.
'But don't take too much or it can lead to, er, ze other?'
'Er, consti-pa-tion?' I suggested in a French accent.
'Oui,' she said, gratefully. 'Oui.'
If only I could have. Instead, every time I went to the loo, all that came out… OK, there are some things that even I won't write about.
Yet, on Sunday morning, I found myself at the start line with Karen, determined that having come this far, I would get through this somehow.
It was a beautiful day on the Champs Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe stood proudly behind me. My stomach felt…empty.
Only 26 miles to go.
I'd done London last year in 5 hours 18.
Allez, Liz! Allez!
The first five miles were fine. Karen (a much better runner than me) and I kept pace and the experience of running down the Rue de Rivoli past the Louvres was magnificent. As every runner knows, there is no feeling like a marathon.
The loveliest people run them too.
A group carrying a disabled man the whole way in a sedan chair brought Karen to tears.
Charity runners, though not nearly as prolific as London, nonetheless made up a good number of the field.
One lady's shirt said she was running two marathons in two weeks (London being the other) for Parkinson's.
A man passed us with a sign on his back saying, 'Non-voyant'.
If that's not humbling, I don't know what is.
Not that I needed much humbling.
Karen, as usual, had soon left me for dust (we have an agreement to always run our own race and never look back) and the heat was soon starting to tell.
I drank far more water than normal and one mile felt like three on a normal day.
When I dug deep for my usual reserves, they weren't there.
Then, around 16 miles, the stomach cramps started.
I passed portaloos but couldn't face them.
Once I started, I wouldn't be able to stop!
No! I struggled on.
Around mile 18, we reached a tunnel. Was this where Princess Diana..? Stop that. The last thing you need is morbid thoughts, right now. A sign on the tunnel wall said, Success is 1pc preparation, 99pc determination.
Thank God, I thought, since I've only got the latter. No amount of training could have prepared me for this.
The heat seared. It was 28 degrees.
I saw the Eiffel Tower.
I no longer cared.
By mile 20, my stomach was in agony so I walked a bit – something I always pride myself on never giving into.
I felt like Cersei in Game of Thrones with a voice in my head shouting Shame! Shame!
But at least I hadn't pooed myself.
By mile 24, my 'running' was barely getting me an inch per stride.
Then a David Ginola look-a-like hugged me.
'Vas-y, Liz,' he said, reading the name on my bib.
I'll admit this seemed to help a bit.
As did the sign saying PAIN IS JUST A FRENCH WORD FOR BREAD.
A woman singing a bored version of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black which made everyone snigger a little meanly.
All the people who turned up for no reason other than to cheer up us runners. And yes, I do mean you, Man in the White Underpants. I thank you.
With a mile to go, another man patted my arm.
'You're doing really well,' he said.
I'd already been running for over six hours.
It would be The Worst Time Ever!
I had turned staggering into a new running art form.
But then, as is always the way, I saw the 26 mile sign and suddenly stomach cramps and aching limbs were forgotten as I sprinted for home, only narrowly beaten by a man who flew past me like Usain Bolt.
When the end is in sight, it is amazing what you can find inside.
As the 'Finisher' T shirts were handed out, I hovered near Femmes, medium, only for a smiling French lady to step forward and place a shirt in my hand:
'Large,' she said, firmly.
It fitted like a glove. Of course.
I'll spare you the details of the visit to the toilet that followed this race but suffice to say that, rather like when I saw the chunky runner in the T shirt, I felt something of a burst of relief.
Anyhow, the thing is, and why I'm writing this, is to say that if you can run a marathon in that state, then you can probably do anything, can't you?
And it's always nice to be reminded that you can do anything.
Dear Karen was so relieved to see me still alive.
'Sorry I lost you,' she said. 'Have some of my water.'
I shrugged and hugged her for it couldn't have mattered less – I can think of nothing worse than someone slowing down for me and have never minded in the least running along, quietly and doggedly, on my own until the end.
'You know the rule,' I replied.
'Run your own race. Never look back.'
The marathon. It's life, isn't it?