Paris, New York, and Nairobi Marathon
Last year, I found myself running several marathons around the world, but the three following marathons were the highlights. Read along for my personal experience and some useful tips what to expect from majors marathon!
October 2021: Paris Marathon
I signed up in June for the Paris Marathon. I was so excited to run it that I was quite surprised to find out later that it is not one of the 6 Major Cities Marathon. (A dream of every runner is to run all of them.)
Unfortunately, with my competitive nature, I sometimes put a lot of pressure on myself to perform in races. Running is, for me, a very mindful sport, where I can put my mind and heart into it and thrust myself to an incredible meditative stage. Besides advocating for nature and our planet, I love training for my endurance races at a semi-professional level/ professional level.
Before the race started in October, my father passed away suddenly. By the end of August, I stopped my training, unable to find motivation anymore. One week before the race, I decided to push forward with training. This time is for what runners call tapering, when you shouldn’t push hard anymore for your runs. But I still did, trying my best to get back into shape again. I was about to run not just for me, but also for my father.
All French races require a medical certificate to join the race. This requires a physical checkup from your doctor showing that you are fit enough for the undertaking. Thankfully, even with the tight timeline, my doctor gave me the approval.
Overview what to expect from the Paris Marathon:
The race starts and finishes at the Arc de Triomphe. It would have been more convenient for me to get a hotel near the start line, since the morning of the race, I had difficulties getting to my starting corral. Paris is indeed a big city, and you’ll get to see beautiful iconic sites during your race: Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysées, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
The weather can be very unpredictable in Paris, but during October 2021, the weather was the best I ever had during a marathon. A light breeze of a beautiful autumn weather of about 22/23 celcius degrees.
The race itself has some cobblestones along the course which was not a problem for me, although others were quite annoyed by it. At the end of the race, there are some elevation gains. The tunnels can be a sore point for runners after you hit the famous “wall” after 30 km, which I certainly did in this race. For me, my “wall” is stiff, exhausted arms. Guess I should do more strength training for my arms!
My Paris Marathon Experience
The race starts on the Champs Elysées; the starting line, bag drop and finish line are all in the same area.
At this race, they are strict about the closures of the corrals, so make sure you come in time.
I really love the warm and light energy at the starting line, with some very relaxing music blasting through the speaker. As my motivation and energy was speeding up, so did the music and crowd along the race! I felt similar to how I did in my Athens marathon—I didn’t have enough space to run my pace (maybe I just started at the wrong corrals, I don’t know). It was sometimes so crowded that during the race, I felt like I ran another 1 or 2 kilometers trying to get around people. I met two German guys on the day of my race. The first guy split up from the two of us after the first kilometer.
Mental Game in Paris
The other guy and I were running together for 10 kilometers (due to his injury, he couldn’t keep the 4:30 min/km pace I was running). I kind of energized myself through the music and my good mood. Everything was fine until I hit the wall. The last 10 km was a mental game for me. I felt that I pushed myself too hard for the first 32 kilometers, with my right calf and quad seizing up. It was not fun anymore; I literally dragged myself through the last stage of the run.
But at the end, nearing the finish line, I gave it all. I did not take my running watch with me like all the other runners did, so I had no idea when I finished my race. Seeing the end result when I finished, a sub-3:30h Marathon, I was elated. Not my best one, but I was happy with it, especially without training! I am eager to get back to my sub-3:00h mark!
Fuel Stations at Paris Marathon
Along the course, there is water and some fruits. Aid stations were every 5 km. At the finish line, I got some water and fruits (apples, oranges, bananas).
I have the tendency to not drink or eat during my whole race. I don’t know how my body still functions. As I mentioned before (I think in my South African blog post), I can also hike for hours or half a day without drinking any water. But I would rather recommend everyone to hydrate themselves during the run.
Reflection of the race
I loved how scenic the course was. I enjoyed the small amount of spectators along the race, compared to the New York Marathon 3 weeks later. And compared to others I did enjoy the inclined course along the Seine.
Performance-wise, I think I could do much better. I realized I need to improve on my speed and strength in my arms. The most important thing to me was running the race in remembrance of my father who taught me to never give up and that I can become anything I want to be in life if I work hard and stay disciplined. Thank you, dad, for helping me grow.
October 2021: Nairobi Marathon
To make it short I was not sure if I could get into the Nairobi Marathon race since it was only reserved for the professional runners and some semi-professionals.
I was lucky that I got into it at the last minute. To show and inspire others that you can run in anything you want, even if it means you don’t have the best running shoes. I chose to run my race in flip flops! I really loved the race (even though it got quite hot before noon time). There was no crowd which is very uncommon for any race around the world. But I saw some children whom I greeted with a big smile and waved at them. I did run quite often in my morning runs in Cape Town with my flip flops as well. I even remember once someone came up to me in the city and was like “Oh weren’t you the girl who ran in her flip flops today in the morning?”.
The race is mainly flat with some uphill crossing bridges but in total it is quite manageable. I had a good pace but when the elite runners passed me by I felt quite like being a snail next to them.
I will never forget that moment in my life; And I really admired all of them, their hard work and discipline in running. They inspired me so much, I definitely want to get much better at running when I see them running next to me. The Nairobi race was very special to me, because it was my first marathon on the African continent and I would say it is my all-time top 3 races I probably will have in my life.
I was very happy to finish the race as the 30th amongst women. I think only 2500 people participated in that race, therefore I had plenty of space to run, not dodging people like in Paris.
And I probably will always be nostalgic and content thinking about my Nairobi Race and as the professional athletes proved to me I can do much better I am looking so much forward to chasing more PR’s and challenges!
November 2021 – New York Marathon
The New York Marathon is what I would call a lifetime experience!
When they say NYC knows how to put on a race, they were not kidding. Seriously, if you can only run one marathon in your life, pick up New York.
Plus if you are freaking injured on your right leg and you have to run the full course praying a miracle is happening for you to cross the finish line. I had a serious problem before running this race because I did 3 marathons before racing the New York Marathon. In total I ran from the beginning of October until November 4 marathons every Sunday and New York was the last one. Now you can imagine what kind of a pain I did to my body and what I had to drag myself through during that race from the beginning until the end. Thank God everything was marked in miles, somehow 26 miles sounds better than 42 kilometers. I don’t know, I thought it was better tricking my psychological mind.
Running for Komera
I wrote an essay about the genocide in Rwanda in middle school. Since watching the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” I had always wanted to visit Rwanda, which I eventually did in 2019. I was fascinated and totally fell in love with the “Country of 1000 hills.” Living in Eastern Africa, I feel more and more the importance of giving everyone the chance to achieve a better and more sustainable future by having proper and free education.
I want to quote one of my biggest idols: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
In Rwanda, Komera means “be strong, have courage!” Running has had a huge impact in my life and on the lives of people across the globe. It is an incredible tool to access your inner and powerful strength; therefore, I was competing in the NYC Marathon for Team Komera. I felt very privileged to run and represent Komera and their values to use sport as one of the main tools to teach young women about their self-confidence and strength and to show her that every girl can run!
Support Young Women
Komera is an organization which supports young women and their communities through sport and scholarships to schools and universities. Komera started in rural Rwanda to assist girls who have the desire to pursue secondary education but who lack the resources to do so. As a leadership incubator, Komera invests in inspiring young women taking action toward self-empowerment, a cause that is very near to my heart.
I strongly believe in long-term commitment to support young women to graduate secondary school and transition to university, jobs, or businesses as leaders and visionaries in their communities.
I do believe each of us can make a change in this world with our own skills and abilities, and I wanted to raise my voice and actions in this marathon to inspire girls around the world and especially the girls in Rwanda that everyone can achieve their goals in life, when you work hard and have the privileged chance to invest in your own dreams.
Here I want to mention that I am very thankful to my sponsors Perfect Corp. and Cyberlink and Terry who are helping me to raise awareness towards sustainability and empowering women around the world!
Everything can be achieved if you put your mind and your heart into it. Especially when you have fullest support of people who believe in you!
Why Run New York
If you are a runner, I will list a few bullet points on why you should attend this Marathon.
- It is the largest marathon in the world with more than 50k finishers in 2019 and nearly 100k applicants annually. Besides, it is one of the World Marathon Majors.
- Everything is greatly organized, even during COVID: The Expo and picking up the bib, the transportation to the starting line on Staten Island and the fuel plus aid stations along the course. Or maybe because of COVID, everything was less crowded (thank God)!
- A challenging and sneaky course: If you are a hill and trail runner, the New York Race is like a dream come true. I think I crossed 5 bridges in New York during my run, but it felt like infinite bridges to cross, especially with the injury I had.
- I seriously HAVE NEVER EVER experienced anything like the crowd in New York. Even just for the crowd, I would run this race anytime again if I get the chance, for that alone. The energy of the city and its people radiates, and it makes a huge difference in your ability to run faster or, in my case, to keep moving forward. Running New York is like partying and racing at the same time.
The Expo and Bib Pick-Up
No one can pick up the bib for you. You need to show your ID and race confirmation sheet. After your bib, you can pick up your shirt, sponsored by New Balance. There is also a New Balance Area where you can buy clothes, etc. So much consumption everywhere, hooray!!
Get to the Starting Line
Race Transportation is quite easy. I took the Staten Island Ferry early in the morning and then caught a bus to Ft. Wadsworth where the starting line is. The time I had to wait at the starting area outside of the corrals before I got to the lineup was a pain.
Seriously, I was waiting for 2 hours freezing in the cold autumn of New York. I was dressed in multiple layers, but it didn’t help a lot. Because there is no station to drop off my clothes, I bought some clothes in a thrift shop a few days before so I can donate them inside of the corrals before the lineup. The weather was a little bit too chilly for me, especially in the morning while sitting around in the grass.
At the Runner’s Village, all corrals are separated by colors. Your Bib will say which wave you’re in. They had water, coffee, bagels etc. and areas to donate or throw away clothes before running the race.
Be prepared for multiple waves (pro wheelchairs, pro women, pro men etc.). You have to be in your corrals within a certain time frame, and they close 20 min before your start. Then you will walk to the Verizzano Bridge, and that takes some time.
The Course: 5 Boroughs of New York
You start in Staten Island, and I think the first 3 kilometers are over the Verizzano Bridge, which is also the highest incline to start with. Brooklyn is fairly flat, and the crowd support gets bigger and bigger. New York just starts to roar up with its crowd into the sky. You spend about 16 kilometers in Brooklyn before heading into Queens. Then you cross another bridge.
After this bridge, you feel Manhattan’s energy coming over you. Running down First Ave, the crowds get crazier, and you feel a whole lot of support as you head into the Bronx. After a short distance, you finally cross your last goddamn bridge and head back to Manhattan on 5th Avenue. Gosh, I nearly died, and I stopped running when I entered Central Park. My legs did not want to move anymore. Then you still hit some small hills within Central park.
Lessons I learned at the NYC Marathon
After receiving my medal and a heat sheet, I could not grasp that I finished the race, despite all the pain I had to bear.
Sports, especially running, have such an immense meaning and impact in my life. Therefore, I learned a lot in this marathon:
When you run for others and you feel the support and love from the girls you run for, the support from your mother and friends, it makes you feel like you can move mountains. Despite the injury on my right leg and all the shi*** immense pain, I was powered by support.
I probably will never run 4 marathons in 4 weeks ever again.
How fascinatedly amazing the human mind is when your body shuts down and your brain is forcing you to move and move and move… I saw it on TV before when athletes do Ironman, and some of them nearly blacking out close to the finish line, but I had never experienced it myself until this marathon.
For the first time, I walked in a marathon. I walked the last 3 miles (about 5km) of my marathon. And I was glad I finished in 3.5 hours.
To get to the starting line in Staten Island, I walked 5km, which bothered me a little bit.
The New York crowd was so supportive; I’ve never seen so much support for runners during a marathon. And I crossed how many bridges? It felt inevitably endless to me.
Follow Me On My Marathon Races in 2022
All in all, I have never been a person to be proud of finishing a marathon. But for the first time, I was! Bearing all the pain, I thought my finisher medal was well deserved. It belongs to the girls I ran for, to all the amazing women and girls in this world!
I felt I was only able to run because I reminded myself all the time why I‘m running this marathon. „Komera“ – Be Strong, Be Confident. Giving up is not in my blood.
Thanks to all the support for the girls and from the girls!
4 thoughts on “Marathon Race Reviews of 2021: Paris, New York, and Nairobi Marathon”
Respect Hong!!! That is really impresive
Danke danke lieber Thomas 🤗💪🏻😁
Such a inspiring story for everyone! Thanks for your strength and determination! Also listen to you body and take time to heal so you can improve 👏😜✌
Thank you so much Gloria, but you‘re also an inspiring person to me! I‘ll try my best to recover and come back better than ever before. Love you!! Xx