Our young Mr Harrison has taken a break from his dissolute life-style to get in shape and spend his time running 1000 miles this year in aid of charity. Gareth’s chosen beneficiary for his efforts is the excellent mental health charity MIND, who as many of you will know do a lot of excellent work across the North East and beyond to support those facing problems not to mention their families and carers too.
If you would like to drop a few bob in to support Gareth’s efforts, his Just Giving doings can be found at – www.justgiving.com/Haz1000
All donations, no matter how large or small will be gratefully accepted.
Friday 1st April – Thursday 7th April
Distance to Date – 370.33 miles
I woke up on Friday morning feeling human for the first time in a few days and spent the night packing and double checking my bags for Paris – generally I’m packed and set to go in ten minutes but if I’d checked to see if I had my medical certificate and my running shoes once, I’d checked twenty times and on Saturday morning, we were off. All of the training to date had led to this point and my first task was to pick my bib up from the expo over there, which shut at 7pm. All being well, we were due to land at 3 and I would have time to drop our lass and the bairns off at our hotel and hot foot it across to the southern suburbs to get what I needed and relax for the next day. I’d run over the possibility that the flight would be late and I’d have spent thousands of pounds and god knows how much effort to get everyone out there for the world’s biggest custard pie when I missed the expo by five minutes but thank Christ, everything was on time and I had time to get everyone to the hotel in Oberkampf (cool area by the way) and head out on the metro to the expo at Porte de Versailles.
The journey coincided with kick off time at Carrow Road and I was able to follow the match, underground on my mobile with a flawless 4G reception. Not the ideal start to what I hoped would be a great sporting weekend and I had some funny looks as I barked ‘Fucking hell man, United’ louder than I should have but to be honest, my mind was on the race the next day and the time spent on the metro by myself over there let me think ahead to the next morning. By the time I arrived at the expo, the adrenaline was absolutely bouncing around me and when I picked up my bib and bag for the marathon the next day, I was really excited. I was surrounded by people who I was going to be sharing the experience with the next day and this being my first marathon and Paris being Europe’s biggest meant that I was in awe of the size and organisation of the pre-race event.
By the time I got back to the digs, my parents who were also staying there had shown up and it allowed me to have a bit crack with a fellow Mag (my da!) after the crushing result at Norwich but we didn’t dwell on it – I think we’re both secretly looking forward to some trips down memory lane to Hillsbrough, the City Ground and Elland Road next season. I slept pretty well and woke up early to cram as much porridge down my next as was humanly possible, said my goodbyes and arranged to meet them all just after the 15 mile marker and head off on my own to the start next to the Arc d’Triomphe. It was a beautiful, cool Paris morning and the trip across took about 45 minutes and when I came up the stairs at Charles des Gaulles Etoile to see the Arc towering in front of me, I felt genuinely emotional. I wandered round for half an hour taking in the scene and made my way into the start pen only to get chatting to two lasses from Newcastle who clocked my NUFC shorts!
I was trying to stay as calm as possible to not expend any energy but with the sun belting down and some cracking French house music pumping out on the Champs d’Elysee I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. By my race start time at 10:15am, it was 22 degrees on the most glorious day – glorious other than the fact it was a mile hotter than anything I’d trained in for the past few months and then I was off, I was running a marathon. The first five or six miles floated by almost in a haze – I’ve always liked Paris but seeing it on foot with thousands of other people like this was a really special experience and as we snaked down Rue de Rivoli, through Bastille and on down to the Bois de Vincennes, I just wanted to soak it all in. After looping round the Vincennes, you double back on yourself and my focus was on meeting everyone at 15 miles.
I saw them all at the bottom of the Boulevard Bourdon as planned and seeing my little daughter running up the
street beaming put a tear in my eye. I stopped and chatted for a minute to them all, sharing hugs and kisses before heading off for the ‘business end’ of the race. Shortly after seeing them, you head down to the Seine and past the Eiffel Tower and up until about 18 miles I was absolutely fine and then bang, my first leg cramped up. I hadn’t mentioned to this point, but the camaraderie and support both from the sidelines but also from other runners was humbling and as I winced in agony, fellow runners who had enough to worry about themselves stopped and pushed the cramp out of my leg, offering bananas and energy drinks and I was soon up and hobbling off. It struck in the other leg about a mile and a half later and my thoughts of running the full marathon like a hero started to take on a more realistic outcome – I was six miles from the finish and I needed to get there. Somehow!
By this stage of the race, there were plenty like me, shuffling along and if the ‘wall’ is a real thing then I hit it between about 20 and 22 miles before the race took us into the Bois de Bologne. I’d read that this was the toughest part of the race as support thinned out as you worked your way through the huge wooded area but funnily enough, it almost gave me a second wind. Being a sports nut and stadium obsessive, I loved running past Roland Garros and the racecourse at Auteil and as the miles ticked down to hit 24, I knew I was going to finish and a check of my watch told me that by continuing to shuffle/walk/jog along then I would make it in less than 5 hours.
I can’t do justice to the feeling of the final few hundred yards seeing the finishing line looming down the Avenue Foch – I remember punching the air and a guttural roar coming out of my lungs as I crossed the line and I stumbled down the packed boulevard to have a medal put round my neck and meet my dad at a bar in the shadow of the Arc for one of the most welcome pints I’ve ever sunk in my entire life.
We all had a magnificent few days of eating, drinking, sightseeing, drinking and seeing the bairns even more excited than me at the finish line at Disneyland and I felt genuinely privileged to have experienced what was one of the best days of my life in a city which is planted firmly in my heart. I’m writing this a week after the race itself and I’ve already forgotten about the pain in parts of the last six miles and I’d absolutely love to run another marathon in another one of the world’s great cities. For now, I’ve got another 630 miles to get through this year and thankfully, the body has held up – I’ve already done something I never thought even vaguely possible and I’m looking forward to making the 1,000 miles my ultimate achievement this year.
Thanks for the sponsorship to those that have stuck a few quid in – if you’d like to donate, my page is www.justgiving.com/Haz1000
and thanks if you’re bothering to read all this patter aswell, I do realise it’s just a lad waffling on about something that is very personal (some might say self indulgent!) but I’m loving keeping a journal of it all and thanks for putting up with me!
Gareth Harrison – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892
As well as running around the North East and some of Europe’s capitals in his spare time, Gareth is also the deputy editor of this fine publication as well as one of its most long-standing and prominent contributors. Gareth has made great contributions to true faith down the years and he’s also published in this latest issue. You can get at the latest issue of true faith simply by clocking on the image below. true faith is available exclusively in 100% digital format and works superbly on PCs, Lap-tops, Smart-Phones, Tablets and I-Pads. Its absolutely FREE. We all hope you enjoy it.