As I was out for a run today (trying not to get heat stroke from the lovely Virginia summer heat), I found myself thinking about my upcoming marathon training, and possible races to run in the future. “Unofficially” training for the next couple of weeks, then “officially” training immediately after, I am preparing myself to run the ING New York City Marathon this November. One of the most popular races in the United States, it hails runners from all over the world. Due to the large number of applicants, runners are allowed to race as long as they are chosen via a random lottery, or if they are running for a charity.
Across the pond, another extremely popular race piques my interest. The race is the Marathon du Medoc, and is held in the Bordeaux region of France, and is a 26.2 mile circuit that passes through many vineyards and Château’s (59 of them actually, including Château Beychevelle, Château Gruaud-Larose, and Château Lafite Rothschild, just to name a few). The Marathon du Medoc prides itself on being the “le marathon le plus long de monde”, or “the longest marathon in the world”. Measuring in officially at 26.2 miles, it is the exact same length as all other official marathons in the world.
So, what makes it the longest?
Instead of the referring to the Medoc Marathon as the longest marathon in the world, it should really be the slowest marathon in the world. The organizers of the Medoc Marathon stress that this is not the race for those looking for a PR (personal record, for you non-runners out there) or looking to finish as fast as possible. This race is all about having fun and enjoying the camaraderie of their fellow man (and woman!).
The night before the race, there is a huge party at one of the Château’s, called the “Centipede evening”, where runners imbibe on plenty of great food and baskets and baskets of great wine, which is followed by a 20-piece band that plays until midnight (dance party, anyone?). In fact, it’s not that uncommon to get drunk the night before the big race at this event (or at many of the other smaller dinners at various Château’s throughout Bordeaux).
On race day, almost everyone is dressed up in costume and ready to have fun, as there is always a theme for the race each year (for 2011, the theme is “animals”). The race departs at a not-too-early 9:30am from a Chateau in Pauillac, and winds around the pastoral countryside with beautiful old vines to gaze out upon. What makes the Medoc Marathon unique from all other marathons in the world (other than parties the night before, of course), is that instead of water and Gatorade at the aid/rest stations, runners will find wine and gourmet appetizers/meals waiting for them! Now I think you’ll understand why the Medoc Marathon is the longest/slowest marathon in the world….
Imagine running along a beautiful countryside road in the middle of Bordeaux and you come across the first rest stop. You won’t find plastic cups filled with Gatorade here, but instead wine glasses, not cups, glasses, filled with a bit of the grape. There are stations like this every three miles throughout the entire 26.2 mile course. Runners also find themselves noshing on steak, cheese, ice cream, and even oysters and pâté in addition to wines such as a Lafite Rothschild.
Runners are trained to eat right and avoid alcohol in order to stay healthy and run safely. How is it that thousands of runners can complete a marathon fueling themselves on wine along the way?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, serious recreational runners drink more alcohol than non-runners. It is not uncommon for a seasoned runner to have a glass of red wine with dinner the night before a race, even though it has been shown that alcohol decreases strength, power, speed, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.
Despite these negative effects of alcohol on athletes, it has been shown that moderate red wine consumption is beneficial to human health. Red wine, consumed in moderation, has been shown to increase “good” cholesterol, which prevents “bad” cholesterol from clogging the arteries. It is also a muscle relaxant, which lowers blood pressure. Components of red wine, such as resveratrol and flavonoids, have antioxidant benefits for humans, and may also help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
While these components (and likely others) in red wine are beneficial for athletes and non-athletes alike, the alcohol component of the wine is more detrimental. Alcohol is not a good source of hydration, and actually dehydrates you during the first 24 hours. After the first 24 hours, the alcohol no longer shows this dehydration effect. However, by that point, one is likely more dehydrated than they should be for a long run.
Professional nutritionists say that drinking alcohol three hours prior to a harder run is not a good idea, however, if the runner is already accustomed to consuming alcohol on a regular basis, then one drink with dinner is not a big deal and will likely not decrease performance of that athlete.
So, how can runners handle the large amounts of wine given to them throughout the Medoc Marathon? First, maybe don’t pound back the entire glass at each stop. Do a tasting, and that’s it. Follow that with plenty of water (8oz for each drink you consume) and carbohydrates. The rest stops along the Medoc Marathon are known for having plenty of food, so eat eat eat! Try to be well hydrated before the race, and if you’re partying it up at the Centipede evening the night before, be sure to have at least 8oz of water for every glass of wine you consume. Finally, if you’re not used to drinking much alcohol, then don’t try to push it. Pace yourself, eat some food with your wine, and take your time.
The Marathon du Medoc is for the wine-loving tortoise, not the hare!
Eat, drink, be merry, and RUN!
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!