The last time I mixed alcohol with athleticism it almost landed me a £2000 fine. Following a night out with my best man and unwilling to wait twelve minutes I raced a departing Metrolink tram from Shudehill to Victoria Station. I emerged victorious but wasn’t permitted to board said beaten tram because apparently you can’t go through the tram entrance to the station. So to paraphrase Kipling “Oh alcohol is alcohol, and running is running, and never the twain shall meet.”
Yet one chilly February evening I sat in the Same Yet Inn listening to three Marathon Des Châteaux du Médoc veterans, T-Dog, Massage Hands and Be Nice, harp on about their annual running jaunt around the Bordeaux vineyards. The ‘Wine Marathon’ starts in Pauillac and the course meanders in and around the Médoc vineyards along the left bank of the Gironde Estuary near Bordeaux. It is the standard 26.2 miles (42.2km) in length but with twenty plus wine stops! Furthermore it is ran in themed fancy dress. Initially sceptical I was eventually drawn in and by night’s end my flights to Bordeaux were booked.
It would be my first Médoc but T-Dog’s 5th, Massage Hands’ 4th and Be Nice’s 3rd trips and every year they always dressed the same irrespective of theme. They wore mid 1990s France or Man Utd replica football jerseys together with Eric Cantona face masks. The Three Cantonas of Médoc. In 2019 Superheroes was the theme so I, with my 1992-94 Newton Heath inspired shirt, would join them as Le Quatrième Cantona. Eric, the superhero for the red half of Manchester.
Following a couple of eventful days in the beautiful city of Bordeaux race day finally arrived. We were up bright (well dark actually) and early for the 0630 shuttle bus to Pauillac. The weather did not bode well as it poured down nearly all journey. I, being the newbie, was immediately classed a jinx and christened ‘Rain Man’. Fortunately the rain cleared up and the sun came out just as we arrived in Pauillac.
The start area was thronged with excited athletic wine aficionados in Super Mario, Spiderman, Captain America, Wonderwoman and more costumes. We were treated to an aerial performance on high wires suspended above us then just before the starting gun two French Air Force Alphajets screeched overhead. We were a Cantona down as Massage Hands was ‘otherwise engaged’ so T-Dog, Be Nice and I set off with the principle objective of just beating the 6:30 sweeper cart. If we failed in that there’d be no medal or bottle of wine at the end.
Be Nice’s race strategy was clear, bypass the winestops up until half way then imbibe thereafter. The remaining three Cantonas would adopt the Jonathan Swift ‘better the belly burst than good liquor be lost‘ strategy and hit them all from the first at Château Haut-Batailley until the last at Château Montrose.
The first 6km was just like any old marathon. T-Dog restrained my natural instincts to settle into my usual marathon pace. ‘It’s not about time Mike, relax’. It all changed upon reaching Château Haut-Batailley when a fine Bordeaux was thrusted into our welcoming hands. Be Nice clattered on whilst we savoured the glorious Claret.
Standing waiting for Massage Hands provided time to observe the passing mass of dressed up runners. It was obvious some had preloaded given their already tottering gaits. T-Dog greeted those dressed in highly restrictive costumes with a ‘they clearly haven’t thought that through’ and those dressed in standard running gear with ‘they obviously didn’t get the email’.
Massage Hands finally caught up to us 10km in whilst at Château Gruaud-Larose. It was the third stop and the first to serve in wine glasses rather than plastic cups. Jesus it tasted divine and waiting around was no problem as we enjoyed a second and third glass. I had finally settled into Médoc pace.
The chateau wine stops rattled by on average every three kilometres. From the grandioseness of Châteaux Pichon-Baron and Lafite-Rothschild to the little one by the side of the road in Pauillac each one had their uniqueness and the quality of the wines was outstanding. Running through the dusty roads amongst the rolling vineyards was majestic however the amount of people seeking urinary relief amongst the vines was a tad off putting. I was advised to venture at least 30 metres in if I wanted to pinch a grape (btw that is not a euphemism).
The support along the route was incredible. Obviously given our get up we got many ‘oh ah Cantona’ and ‘allez Canto’ chants throughout from spectators and runners. One runner sidled up beside me and recited the famous ‘when the seagulls follow the trawler’ quote. Fair play to the lad. I only noticed one other runner dressed as their footballing icon, a Finnish FKW in a Norwich City away kit with Fantasy Football’s man of the moment Teemu Pukki on the back.
Whilst in the grounds of Château le Haye, bedecked in large multicoloured helium balloons, at 32km I got myself into and out of a little bind. My daughter was born in the late 2000s and she enjoyed an Icelandic show popular on CBBC called Lazy Town. I bumped into a group of Icelanders dressed as the lead character.
“You’re dressed as Sportacus aren’t you? From Lazy Town. Such a shame the lad died recently.”
“No he didn’t.”
“Yes he did. I saw it on the news.”
“No he didn’t. The guy’s a personal friend of ours. We saw him last week.”
“Are you sure? Really? Ah yes you’re right. It was the guy that played Robbie Rotten.”
Thankfully they laughed and we parted in good form.
Like all marathons the last 10km are the real tester. My feet were aching and my right abductor muscle was giving me some jip. The mind started at me and the nagging doubt about finishing tried to sow its ugly seed however the camaraderie eased me through it.
The last 5km was a long straight road back into Pauillac that could have been mind numbingly boring but for the pièce de résistance. As if the race had not given enough en route what with the fine wine and delectable aid stations we were treated to oysters, cheese, entrecôte steak and ice cream. How my stomach stood it all I’ll never know.
The finish arrived not long after the ice cream and as we approached the Three Cantonas spread out, clasped hands in the air, put our Eric masks back on, turned up our collars and sang ‘oh ah Cantona’ to the tune of La Marseillaise. 6:12:47, a marathon personal worst by multiple hours but as a wise man said ‘it’s not about time.’ We were handed our finishers medals and bottle of wine and then hobbled to the free bar, yes free bar, to rendezvous with Be Nice.
It’s hard to pick a favourite wine from the twenty but if I had to it would be the 2015 Frank Phélan at Château Phélan-Segur. An Irish name, his ancestor was a Wild Goose, but very much a delightful Bordeaux wine. My least favourite? A bullshit dessert wine I was tricked into drinking somewhere near halfway.
Médoc was terrific fun with so many hazy memories banked for the rest of my life. Although it is an epic moving piss up it is also a wonderful showcase of all that Médoc and then Bordeaux region has to offer. As Be Nice said “they know what they’re doing, they’re no fools.” Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc ensures that those that participate go forth and become vocal ambassadors for the region and its produce. No more will I ask for an Argentine Malbec or a Californian Pinot Noir in bars or restaurants. I’m an old world wine convert and from now on it’ll be ‘what do you have from Bordeaux?’