Le Marathon du Medoc

Historical post written by: Caelim Parkes.

Start/Finish in the village of Pauillac near Bordeaux.

Le Marathon du Medoc is not your average marathon. It’s a test of stamina both on road and through various vineyards. It’s a test of your sartorial elegance and chance to compete against some of the best disguises France has to offer. It’s an endurance event offering you the opportunity to taste 22 different wines, mixed with a little food. And it needs to be done inside 6h30m.

It’s not a race for breaking any PBs.

Team South Africa…James Deane, Karen Triegaardt and, myself along with a few adopted (honorary?) Africans..Christine Chambers and the Phillis’s, Tim and Shannon, left the UK feeling pretty smug. The weather for London that weekend was going to be filthy, and as everyone knows, the sun always shines in France and the wine flows.

Wrong. We landed in the rain.

For the unaware, the Le Marathon starts and finishes in the village of Pauillac, about 50km north of Bordeaux. The heart of the Medoc fine wine producing region. The route winds it’s way past famous old chateaux’s (Lafite Rothschild, Leoville Las Cases, Pomey to name a few), through their vineyards and first run in 1985 as a celebration of wine.

In order to receive your finishes medal, you have run in a `disguise’ and finish within the 6h30m time limit, Which is pretty tough given you have 22 stops to make along the way for wine tasting, and 4 food tasting stops to fit in. It would appear the medical concerns raised by mixing alcohol and exercise concern no one.

The race is run in fancy dress, or disguise as the French insist, this years theme being `Islands and Exotic places’ Interpret that, as you will.

Now the French take their disguises seriously. Blame it on Mary Antoinette. We thought we put a real effort into ours, but we were left a distant second (see the attached link for pics). They also take their wine seriously. So we joined in and started tasting the local vintages shortly after registering at lunch on the Friday (race was on Saturday…another plus). Carbo-loading was given up and wine tasting, Foie Gras enjoying and staying dry (it was still raining), were embraced. The team left nothing to chance, or untried. No surprise there.

Saturday arrived to the gentle patter of another rain deluge. This didn’t deter anyone. Slightly hung-over and dressed spectacularly badly, we headed for the start. It’s not often we are left quite so short when it comes to making a fashion statement. I happen to pride myself on my collection of ties for instance, but here the locals had gone to town. And while the rainfall intermittently, coffee was drunk and the last passengers dropped off we could only amuse ourselves with what the locals call `the disguise’.

The `race’ was a blur. Deane and myself found the first wine stopped at 1km and got stuck in enthusiastically. So much so, we lost everyone else. Chrissie and Karen bolted off and left us for dead. We moved to the second wine stop..a mere hundred meters on and tried a few more…and then again..painfully at some points there was a good kilometre or three break between wine stops.…and this was the story of the day. Surrounded by disguised people, walking..ambling..running..pushing stuff..drinking wine..meeting and greeting and generally allowing the wine to wash over us. Live bands kept the atmosphere going and the locals handed out the wine with endless energy and enthusiasm.

We found the girls at about half way along with the Phillis’s who’d taken a more relaxed approached (who had binned the run and just drank).

The second half of the race had to be managed carefully. We needed full value from the wine stops, but also needed to be inside the 6h30 cut off. We also had to make sure we didn’t end up like a few other revellers…asleep under a tree. We did brilliantly and timed our arrival at the food stops well enough to get stuck into the Oysters, ham, sirloin, ice screams and face painting and still leave enough time to walk the last 4km and finish in a time of 6h08m. We chastened ourselves for not spending an extra 20 minutes at wine stops along the way, but then cheered ourselves up by finding a beer tent. A top performance all round.

The evening ended dry (weather wise if you had any doubt), with a meal in Pauillac while the marathon party and band kicked off and the fire works lit up the sky. I don’t think we really made the most of the evenings’ entertainment…but it’s best to leave something for next year.

Little did we realise that was just the midway point to the weekend’s amusements. The best way to get the stiffness out of the legs after a long run/amble, is to go on a long walk. Surrounding the marathon, are a number of other events involving the local wine farms. On Sunday, we partook in a 10km walk through the vineyards of the Chateaux Blagnain. Again, in the rain!! The rain did work in our favour as it forced quite a few of us into a small tent covering a wine tasting table and afforded us the opportunity to meet some other like-minded athletes. The wine quality ranged from excellent to mediocre depending on what part of the vineyard you were tasting in and ended up on the local village football pitch where lunch was being served.

We arrived slightly late (waylaid at some of the wine stops), only to find the congo line around the dance floor had already started. Shannon was a little miffed she hadn’t been the instigator!! The band (playing the usual mix of bad 80’s hits) and food were passable, however, the fact that there was a large wine barrel in the middle of the room was brilliant. Once your bottle on your table was empty, you took it over the wine barrel…and topped it up. We ended up closing the venue…or being suggested we leave and head to a grass lawn. Amazingly, they left the wine barrel!!

The afternoon provided further amusement. The details of which you are going to have to pay for. But it would be fair to say the marathon weekend felt like an extreme event….a marathon, a 10km walk and much amusement. Although unlikely to gain any Hawaiian recognition. Sadly.

The theme tune to the weekend: `I kissed a girl’, by Katy Perry. Entries open in January. We’ll be doing it all over again. The 2009 theme will be `Circus’.

Travel notes: Fly into Bordeaux airport on the Friday. Do a search on accommodation in the Pauillac region, but AVOID the Tour Hotel Medoc (it’s made up of prefab buildings in the middle of a local business park and your friends will hate you). Book early as stuff fills up quickly and you want to be closer to the area than far away. The organisers have tastings, chateaux visits etc going on all weekend, so best be close enough to make full use. We then flew back on the Monday afternoon after spending some time in Bordeaux, which comes recommended.