10 Sep

Medoc Mayhem

Runners dressed as buches of grapesIf you think that running a marathon is a mad idea - all pain and no pleasure. Simply something you would never consider. Read on, we might be able to change your mind…

In a sleepy corner of south-west France near the city of Bordeaux is the town of Pauillac. Each September, Pauillac wakes up and throws one of the best parties in the world - ‘bigger than the carnival in Rio’ enthused one of last year’s revellers. The festivities last for three or four days and the locals really go to town.

There are noisy dinners, the best of the region’s wines are available on tap, everyone gets dressed up, there are bands and music everywhere and huge crowds cheer on the participants with Gallic fervour. Have I forgotten anything? Just one thing, hard to believe, but they throw in a marathon too - just for that extra bit of fun!

Even before you get there, you’ll have to give some thought to your costume, or as the French organisers like to say your ‘disguise’. The theme last year was ‘sci-fi’, which produced a throng of Yodas, daleks and Klingons, etc. 2014’s theme is ‘countries of the world and their carnivals’, so expect to see berets, kilts and lederhosen on display. Nobody is remotely interested in who ran the fastest time, the winner is the person voted to have created the best costume and they become a celebrity!

Despite the fun aspects of the race, the ‘Medoc’ is nonetheless a real marathon, 42.195 km measured officially. The organisation is superb - there are 3,000 volunteers (and reports suggest that the volunteers could not be more helpful, sampling drinks and other provisions, ensuring that they are of a suitable standard for the participants). So plenty of advice and encouragement (there are an estimated 100,000 spectators too) as the runners wind their way around the charming course with its circuit of over 50 chateaux.

Now we get to heart of the matter - the fun and the conviviality. Firstly, the fun starts well before the start line with the eve of race ‘pasta party’. Usually there’s a shortage of pasta but plenty of local meats and top-notch wines which encourages the 1,500 who attend to let their hair down, launch into a hearty ballad or two and generally forget that they’re running 26 and a bit miles the next day. The serious upside to this frivolity is that restorative sleep is unlikely to be affected by the pre-race nerves.

The big day starts with what is basically a fashion show as entrants check out each other’s costumes and give spectators an opportunity to view the colourful, and often risque, outfits on display. As the music plays - expect reggae, rock, jazz, salsa and classical both at the start and throughout the course - and the excitement mounts, it’s time for the serious business of running. Running that is to the first of the refreshment and food stands.

Now for the real business of the day visiting the Medoc region’s world-famous chateaux and sampling the world’s most respected wines (Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Latour will be on your ‘to do’ list) at 23 drinks stations along the route. This is where the disciplined ‘runners’ who’ve trained properly for this event come into their own. A few early quaffs to maintain a good humour, a couple of small glasses around half-way, and then some thirst quenching work in the later stages.

And the party doesn’t end there. Post-race, a quick shower, costume on to a hanger and it’s out for an evening of … er, fun, with a huge ball open to all, a fireworks display and a Pauillac vibrating to the sound of numerous bands and full of lots of those wonderful little rustic restaurants.

Check out the details for organised trips to the Marathon du Medoc at the Sports Tours International website.