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Marathon du Medoc: Running France's long-distance drinking race

By Bryan Pirolli for CNN
updated 6:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The Medoc Marathon, held on on September 13, 2014, will see 10,000 competitors strive to run 26 miles and sample as many glasses of wine as they can handle. The Medoc Marathon, held on on September 13, 2014, will see 10,000 competitors strive to run 26 miles and sample as many glasses of wine as they can handle.
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Marathon drinking session
Sailing a sea of wine
Racing to the next drink
Dance breaks
World of wine
Glass half full
Galloping gourmets
Limber up, then drink up
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Held annually in southeastern France, the Marathon du Medoc pits runners against 26.2 miles and many glasses of wine
  • Last year 3,300 runners from 53 different nations joined 5,200 competitors from across France
  • Organizers lay on extra water stations and medical provisions to help runners cope with the rigors of a boozy run

(CNN) -- I'd already run about half the marathon when the next refreshment table came into view.

Thirsty and needing to stay charged for the next 13 miles, I elbowed my way through the crowds of runners and grabbed my drink of choice.

A nice glass of full-bodied red wine.

This is how it rolls at the Marathon du Medoc, an annual festival of wine and running near Bordeaux, France, in which competitors strive to complete 26 miles and almost as many glasses of the local vin.

Now in its 30th edition, the race is something of a legend for marathon runners.

Last year I was among 3,300 runners from 53 different nations -- Japan, Canada, Australia -- joining 5,200 competitors from across France.

Sure, there are prestige races in London, New York, and Chicago, but the gustatory element is lacking. Even the Paris marathon fails to offer much more than bananas and water.

Instead, this marathon weaves through scenic vineyards in the Medoc region, starting in the town of Paulliac, where some of the best Bordeaux wines are produced.

The run has a time limit of six hours and 30 minutes and is nicknamed "the longest marathon in the world" with little exaggeration.

In 2013, only about 1,100 runners finished under four hours and thirty minutes -- the other 7,400 were in no rush, if they finished at all.

Hairy body suits

To compare, the 2013 Paris marathon had an average speed of four hours and 10 minutes.

As if it's not enough that we're all drinking, the marathon is themed each year, with nearly every participant dressed in costumes.

Last year's theme, "sci-fi," saw runners dressed as aliens, "Avatar" characters and a few daring Chewbaccas in full hairy body suits.

Just need to add some sequined feathers and coconut bra to complete to look.
Just need to add some sequined feathers and coconut bra to complete to look.

For this year's race on September 13, 2014, 10,000 competitors are expected to dress to the theme of "Carnival around the world."

Increasingly popular, places are hard to come by and many entrants race it competitively to win prizes of -- yep -- wine.

While the Medoc hasn't resorted to operating the lottery entry systems recently adopted by the Chicago and Paris marathons, competitors now face an online scramble to sign up during several registration waves scheduled by organizers.

With more runners than ever expected, locals in Paulliac are getting ready for the 2014 event.

Organizers, too, are bracing themselves, preparing more medical care and water stops than typical marathon events to help runners through the stresses and strains of long-distance drinking.

Competitors, meanwhile, are likely putting in last-minute training -- early morning runs and extended evenings at their local bars.

Polish national Hanna Gierzynska-Zalewska, a Medoc Marathon connoisseur, will run it for the third time this year.

"There are people from all over the globe running this marathon but somehow at that race we all speak the same language," she says, "and it's not only the wine talking."

Marathoner Tarun Kumar, 42 years old from Mumbai, is hoping the race will bring the fun back to running, but is hesitant about the unique refreshments.

"Wine, food along the course would be hard to resist and I have no idea how my body will react," he says.

Dance break

Back on the road during my attempt, jogging from chateau to chateau through the vineyards, most of the other marathoners were staying hydrated as I was, tastings each property's wares.

It's not every day the Rothschild family opens up its chateau to thousands of sweaty runners, but there we were, stretching our calves, glasses in hand.

Runners can try extra fancy foot work if their legs aren\'t about to give out.
Runners can try extra fancy foot work if their legs aren't about to give out.

The runner's high mixed with slight inebriation and at about the 22-mile mark there was what seemed to be an obligatory dance break as we neared the home stretch.

In a bit of pain but eager to complete the last few miles, we guzzled bits of steak, ice cream and oysters with white wine (never red with oysters -- we're not animals).

My belly full and my mind slightly adrift, I crossed the finish line with the rest of the pack, ready for a good stretch and nap.

My time of six hours and nine minutes wasn't going to break any records, but I thoroughly enjoyed every glass of wine offered along the way.

I wasn't the only one.

Amy Carlson traveled from Minnesota to do the marathon in 2013 -- her first ever despite a distaste for running.

She donned a space cowboy suit, complete with antenna sticking out of a cowboy hat and silver body paint for the race.

"I've watch other marathons where friends have run and everyone looks so miserable, checking their watches," Carlson said.

"This event was a joyous 26.2 mile block party."

Marathon du Medoc, September 13, 2014; 5, Rue Etienne Dieuzede, Pauillac; +33 5 56 59 17 20

Bryan Pirolli is a freelance journalist based in Paris.

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