What happened when I ran the infamous Marathon du Medoc

Among the reams of marathon advice online and in print, there’s one common thread – nothing new on race day. Given this, it seemed somewhat ridiculous that I toed the line of my first marathon merrily ignoring it – I hadn’t trained in my race outfit (eBay’s finest sailor costume) and my nutrition strategy (mostly wine, a few gels) went totally untested. On this occasion though, I wasn’t alone: I was taking on the legendary Marathon du Medoc, 26.2 miles through the vineyards of Bordeaux with 23 wine-tasting stops, live music and compulsory fancy dress.

Since its launch in 1985, Marathon du Medoc has escaped its well-kept secret status and now attracts 8500 runners each September – up to 20% travelling from abroad – to enjoy its festival atmosphere. Starting in the small town of Pauillac, the route trails past breathtaking chateaus and through endless vineyards in an anticlockwise loop, with the final 4K stretch heading down next to the Gironde estuary.

Having trained for two marathons and not made the start line for either due to a handful (or legful) of painful injuries, the low-pressure vibe of Medoc really appealled to me – you’re free to walk, jog or run the course, and nobody is in PB territory when they’ve sunk a few shots of burgundy anyway. The only catch is there’s a six and a half hour cut off (introduced to prevent runners having a tad too much fun on the course), after which you no longer receive a finisher’s medal and additional bottle of wine.

(Related: The drinking runner's handbook)

After a security check (all corkscrews were confiscated before the race), we ambled towards the start line – set underneath a three-man band on a stage hanging from a crane – amid showers of confetti and cheers from locals hanging out their windows. The lack of staggered start times meant the first few kilometres were crowded, with lots of people-dodging and the occasional bottleneck.

The crowds thinned out though, giving a better view of the rolling vineyards and spectacular fancy dress. 2017’s costume theme was ‘Music in 33.3RPM’ – record music, a theme that was taken literally by some (those in fascinators made with small vinyl records with plastic wine glasses stuck to them) and more generally by others, such as my group who came as the Village People. The sheer dedication to the costume cause was remarkable, with tributes to pop acts past and present as well as some perplexing but nonetheless entertaining costumes (such as the man wearing nothing but a thong and a strategically placed race number).

(Related: 9 tips for running in fancy dress)

By the time we reached the stunning Chateau Pichon-Longueville at 4K, the group and I had settled into a comfortable pace and had our first al-fresco toilet stop, and therefore were more than game for our first Medoc tasting experience. With a sample of red in hand (served in an actual wine glass rather than a throwaway plastic cup - fancy) we made the most of the chateau backdrop for a photo op before heading onwards.

While Medoc is infamous for its wine-swilling and drunken antics, it’s all very laid back – it’s not a beer mile (which requires participants to drink a 355ml can of beer per 400m lap) and nobody’s going to force you to down as much wine as possible. In addition to wine sampling, the aid stations are remarkably comprehensive, packing freshly sliced bananas, apples and oranges as well as biscuits, full-sugar Coke and water. This is an improvement on previous years – I’d heard horror stories of no water on the course and brought a full 3-litre Camelbak, to the bemusement of my fellow runners.

(Related: How well do different drinks hydrate you?)

A few short rain showers did little to dampen spirits, though by the 15K point issues with costumes rose to the fore. My sailor dress took to chafing me in the armpits, while a running buddy’s inflatable horse costume began to sag like a weary cloud. We stopped at the next wine station to queue for a portable toilet – a fatal error, given the large number of people waiting for just two cubicles. By the time I’d escaped portaloo purgatory, the sweeper float had begun to creep up on us. Marched along by marshalls and topped with multi-coloured brooms (in case its sign bearing the words ‘Fin de course’ and the time limit didn’t make it clear enough it what it was), the looming float briefly overtook us as we waited for our final crew member. We sprinted ahead as fast as costumes and wine consumption would allow, until we were comfortably back with the crowds.

As would be expected with a marathon drinking session, memories blur a bit during the second half of the race, but suffice it to say my longest run of 9 miles meant that for the latter stages my legs were well below par. The final 5K was along the Gironde estuary – flat, but a seemingly neverending straight line. Wine stations are replaced by local food ones at this point, though at almost 24 miles I found few things less appealing than sampling fresh oysters – ice cream, however, was an essential sugar source to power me through that all important final kilometre.

But there we were – after one ice cream, 23 wine stops and a lot of sunscreen application, I found myself running down the red carpet for the final 100m. I crossed the line in 6 hours 25 minutes – a quick enough finish to qualify for a medal and, importantly, more wine, but slowly enough that I made the most of the Medoc atmosphere (my Garmin tells me I spent 1 hour 10 minutes stood still, but as yet lacks the technology to tell me how much of that was spent drinking). While a few run the event as a competitive race (the winner is awarded their own body weight in wine), most are there for the joy of running and drinking – and with those as two of my greatest loves (#balance), I couldn’t think of a better first marathon than Medoc.


Book your Marathon du Medoc entry and accommodation through Tutti Quanti. Prices start at €245pp.