It’s tough to imagine a more physically gruelling and mentally taxing test than a marathon. Named after an ancient Greek battle during which a messenger ran for so long that he dropped dead when he finally reached his destination, a marathon is not about having fun. It’s not even really about sport. After a while, you have to wonder what actually is the point of doing something demonstrably damaging and possibly suicidal? Surely there must be a more enjoyable way to cover 26.2 miles on foot?
For anyone who is fed up with the relentless solemnity of plodding around central London in the pissing rain, gasping for air alongside thousands of other unhappy, unprepared joggers, there is an event that may be right up your alley. The Marathon du Medoc is not your average agonising trudge. This is not a contest for the fastest time or most inspirational Facebook profile picture. This marathon is about one thing - wine.
Considered by many to be “the longest marathon in the world”, the Marathon du Medoc is more like a slowly moving music festival than a race. Throughout the winding, 26-mile course, running is punctuated by interjections from brass bands, orchestras and street food stalls. Participants are encouraged to eat and drink as much as they like from buffets of cheese and grapes set in the picturesque vineyards in the heart of French wine country. It’s altogether more civilised than the stagnant sweat-fest that typically defines the average pointless amble.
Though water is available, the undoubted highlights of the event are the 20 or so wine pitstops that line the side of the route. Runners are invited to sample some of the best booze from the chateaux of Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, Médoc and Haut-Médoc. As more wine is drunk, the slower the race gets, and the more fun it becomes. Although running under the influence might not normally be advisable for anyone looking to post a competitive time, in Medoc it’s kind of the whole point.
Things get even better if you actually manage to win the thing. The first male and female to complete the race both receive their weight in Medoc wines, whilst anyone who finishes in the top three is awarded a case of top quality plonk. There are also prizes for fancy dress, which is, understandably, quite a significant part of the tradition.
At the end of the day, covering more than 20 miles on foot over the course of a single day is no mean achievement, whatever the context. Just like any intense physical examination, the Marathon du Medoc requires serious thought before participation. However, the challenge is undoubtedly made that much easier by the prospect of near endless wine, cheese and oyster and steak bars at kilometres 38 and 39. Understanding what motivates someone to sign up for a marathon can be tricky. If they were all like the Marathon du Medoc, maybe more people would get on board.