As I rounded the corner to see Notre-Dame glistening in the sunlight, I began to feel better: I’d reached 11K, or halfway. I hadn’t died, I hadn’t thrown my race number in the Seine, my arthritic toe was still in one piece and I’d finally stopped breathing like a frightened ferret. It looked like I might actually finish this race – my second half-marathon since I started running nearly a year ago.
Hallelujah, the voice inside my head cheered. I even felt a bit proud – as a 45-year-old mother of four children aged between two and 11, it felt good to do the first 10K in 58 mins. I stopped frowning and started smiling; I took in the ever-cheering Parisian crowd and the steel bands drumming us along the streets. If I carried on, I’d be under my target time of 2hrs 10 mins – significantly faster than the 2hrs 20 of my first half-marathon, last October.
There were seven of us from Elle magazine running club doing the Paris half-marathon on the morning of Sunday 2 March, in the middle of Paris fashion week (which I attend twice a year as the editor-in-chief of Elle). I had to finish in enough time for me to be spruced up and in the front row at that evening’s Givenchy catwalk show at 7pm. No pressure, then …
I set up the Elle running club, for both readers and the Elle team, last year. We tweet at @elleukrunning and post a popular blog on elleuk.com. Our first event was as media sponsor of Nike’s We Own the Night women-only 10K in Victoria park, London, in May – a race I was obliged to start alongside Paula Radcliffe. At the time, I thought: “10K? I’ll never be able to run that far.”
But what I didn’t know as a novice jogger how addictive this sport is, how it captivates you and carries you along in a wave of blissful meditation. And I didn’t know about “the zone” – that glorious, endorphin-induced feeling you get that makes you want to run for miles and miles, free from all the worries and stresses of daily life.
Why had no one told me about this before, I wondered? I don’t have time for the gym. The only space in my day for exercise is time between work and family, so I started to run the 5K home from the office to my house. Not much of a training plan to start with, but as the sport increased it’s grip on me, untangling my muddled mind, reshaping my pregnancy-stretched body and relaxing my tense shoulders, I began to take the whole thing more seriously. I noticed along that way that more and more women love to run. So that’s why we set up the Elle running club, working with Nike, Sweaty Betty and former Olympic triathlon trainer Tim Weeks, who now runs the very popular Psycle class in London.
The club isn’t about personal bests, it’s not about competing and it’s not cliquey. It’s about getting women of all stages together to enjoy the sport. The colleagues I run with have many different emotional reasons for jogging or sprinting alongside me every Wednesday lunchtime when we set out across London from the Soho office. We often leave with gritted teeth and a reluctant mood but come back flushed of face and full of enthusiasm for the rest of the day. I have been known to spend the afternoon in meetings in my running gear.
So how did our race end? The seven of us clocked times ranging in between 1hr 47 and 2hrs 11. Once I’d done the first 10K, the mental battle began. “Just think about the next 5K,” advised Tim, who was running alongside me. The runners started to spread out at around 13K and I was heartened to still be overtaking – but when we hit the only hill in this race, at 16K, I went silent, cursing my lack of strength and wishing I’d put some more time into weight-training at the gym. It wasn’t a particularly steep hill but it knocked the stuffing out of me, and I wasn’t able to pick up speed due to my negative attitude.
The mental switch had flipped, and if Tim hadn’t been there, I think we’d have been looking at 2hrs 20 again. But he talked me up and I sprinted the last 1.5K to come in at 2hrs 8mins 35secs. I was light-headed but overjoyed, and within minutes of drinking a bottle of water I was desperate to do it again.
And work? I made the Givenchy show, but my battered toe denied me my usual heels. I wore my spare trainers instead, hoping this would be viewed as a new fashion trend.
Lorraine’s top tips for beginners
The Semi Paris was our first group race, and as an amateur runner I’d like to share a few titbits for anyone else contemplating taking their jogging to the next stage:
1) Running without music in a crowd (40,000 ran in Paris) is brilliant. I feared I’d never make it without Britney and Kanye to keep me going, but Tim persuaded me the atmosphere was half the joy of this well-organised and good-humoured race. He was right.
2) Don’t change your long-run routine. Eat what you normally eat for brekkie – we had eggs, toast and two coffees. If you don’t take water normally, don’t do it now. If you don’t use gels, don’t do it now. Just put your trainers on, lace up and go.
3) Don’t wait until just before the start to queue for the loo. Do it an hour before – queues can be huge.
4) Rest is as good as training the week before the run. I had a terrible cold seven days before the race and was holed up in bed in a hotel room during Milan fashion week, foolishly contemplating going for a run. But Tim was having none of it and advised total rest, and at the end of that week I ran a 5K personal best of 27mins after a week of sleep and food.
5) Wear layers to the start and drop off your bag at the last minute. Don’t try and do it bag-free in winter – you’ll freeze waiting for the start.
6) Remember to smile. Running is fun, especially along the river, in the sun, as we did.
Elle’s running club is at elleuk.com/beauty/running