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Copyright Lucinda Bayliss

Topping up the tannins at the Marathon du Medoc

by Tim Heming
Sunday 18th September 2016
Tim Heming raises a glass to the revellers of annual chateau crawl in the south of France.

Forget the beer mile… that uncouth slurping of ale in double-quick style. Instead, turn your head to a cultured stroll through 26.2 miles of France’s finest wine aisle.
This is the Marathon du Medoc, a race even the staunchest of ‘non-runner/will-never-be-a-runner’ can be excited about, where the objective is to potter around as slowly as possible (keeping within the six-and-a-half hour cut-off) and – in all respects – savour every last drop.
The premise is simple enough. Nine thousand runners (and it’s fastest-finger-first for entry, as it sells out in a few hours) arrive at some ungodly hour of the morning in Medoc, the pride of the wine region, and an hour’s drive from Bordeaux.
So far, so marathon, so what? The first thing that sets the Marathon du Medoc apart from your regular race is the fancy dress. It’s mandatory. And given the theme of this year’s 32nd running of the event is the rather broad ‘Tales And Legends,’ wacky attire ranges from Robin Hood and his band of merry men to a squad of Zlatan Ibrahimovics, Manchester United’s self-styled messiah of Swedish football. 
Throw in fully-grown men in baby-grows, a flutter of fairies and the real messiah, a cross-bearing Jesus, who turns up every year (presumably in case the wine stocks run low), and it’s as if the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has rocked up to a stag do.


The upbeat vibe before the start suggested most have already hit the vino as mythical creatures on stilts frolic about during a curious opening ceremony, two gymnasts climb pretty ribbons and a contortionist leaves little to the imagination whilst cavorting in a plastic bubble. 
If it was utterly bizarre, it was at least an uplifting contrast to the usual marathon preamble; the sight of grisly runners discarding garments to be collected for the homeless, as those with slack bladders very literally piss all over the altruistic gesture. 
But nothing about Medoc could be said to be ‘normal’ and it’s all the better for it, particularly when a tightrope walker totters precariously over the starting gantry and the onlookers wonder whether we’ll be seeing rather a lot of claret, rather too prematurely. 
So the race. Well, that consists of lolloping from one glorious chateau to the next sampling the grape juice whilst keeping cunningly ahead of the ‘broom wagon’ - the cart that mops up the stragglers (it's easy to spot, it's got a dozen upturned and protruding brooms and is pushed by a bloke with an uncanny resemblance to Trigger from Only Fools And Horses ). There are 20 (yes, TWENTY) chateaus in total, and they come thick and dangerously fast. (See Mark Johnston’s wonderfully curated list of names, prices and pacing strategy here)
The scenery is majestic. The chateaus, with their mix and match architecture - from medieval forts to Renaissance palaces - lord over acres of sun-drenched vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see… as half a dozen sweaty, staggering superheroes take an indiscriminate slash amongst the vines.
If this is not appealing enough, the wine growers are clearly out to impress, hoping to outdo one another with everything from manicured lawns to effusive volunteers, bellowing brass bands and, of course, the quality of the wine.
The first chateau, Lynch Bages, arrives after just a mile-and-a-half, but perhaps the pick – if not too obvious - is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild, at 16.4 miles, where a bottle can fetch up to £11,750. By the time you reach Chateau Montrose with just over three miles to the finish, the previous pasty complexions of northern Europeans have turned the shade of a full-bodied Malbec and it’s time for the non-liquid sustenance to begin. 
Steak, corn-on-the -cob, cheese, ice cream, oysters – deliciously salty and by the bucketful - are laid out as you turn for home alongside the Gironde river, where the idea of an energy gel as laughable as the trio of male mermaids with their coconut shell bras. 
Back into Medoc for the finish and a hospitality tent where everything is free, they serve delightful – and surprisingly welcome pate and foie gras – and where the ‘runners’ stop and the alcohol keeps flowing. All finishers collect a medal, a rucksack, a red rose (ladies only), a t-shirt… and another bottle of red. Just what we need. More wine. Verdict: Intoxicating.
For more information on the race visit www.marathondumedoc.com/
The race sells out incredibly fast. To make sure of a place and take the hassle out of the logistics, book a two, three or four night package through Sports Tours International. Prices for the 2017 marathon will be released in December. For more information and to get on the waiting list visit: www.sportstoursinternational.co.uk/events/medoc-marathon

All photos by Lucinda Bayliss

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