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  • Monday 1 April 2002

The Médoc Marathon is perfect for wine lovers. NELL NELSON ran the 42km race, enjoying one or two glasses of Lafite-Rothschild en route.

It is not often that one thinks twice before drinking a free second glass of a premier grand cru classé, but then I was in the middle of running the Médoc Marathon. When I trotted up the gravel drive to Château Lafite-Rothschild, the air was rich with the intoxicating smell of unleashed fruits. A large bird covered in feathers from head to toe was at the refreshment table with a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild 1994. 'Voulez-vous un verre de vin?' he asked, then offered to refill my glass; it was too tempting – the deep red tannic wine was a welcome change to the litres of water I had been knocking back for the last two hours and 25km.

Many runners dress up for the annual race, and, as a Scot, I had chosen to run in a kilt with a tartan sash and a Jimmy wig – a tartan bonnet with a ring of ginger hair attached to the brim. Others were far more imaginative – four runners were dressed as surgeons carrying a stretcher with a body (not real) and a gendarme was running with a prisoner handcuffed to his wrist. There were hosts of angels, men covered in feathers, Flintstones, priests, bumble bees, Supermen, cows and clowns.

This year 8,000 runners, mostly French, took part in the marathon. The gun fired at 9.30am on Saturday 8 September from Pauillac's main street and we were off, although it was hard even to break into a trot until some of the faster clowns, fairies and devils broke away. After 1km at La Rose Pauillac, some 'runners' were already stopping off for the first glass of wine of the day. Every 2.5km there were refreshment stops of water, sliced bananas, oranges, chopped ham, cheese and fruit cake. And to keep morale up, there were 50,000 spectators and 3,000 volunteer workers, plus 45 bands and orchestras, from local aspiring teenage rock bands belting out Tom Jones, to housewives and children beating their saucepans, to full-scale orchestras playing under the turrets of a château.

At the last 5km, more interesting food appeared – thousands of freshly shucked oysters served with Graves wine at 37km. I have never tasted such sweet but salty sea-perfumed oysters. A kilometre on and it was entrecôte steak cut into bite-size pieces, then cheese at the next kilometre, and then grapes. By this stage, many people were walking or breaking into a half-hearted trot along the poplar-lined road of St-Estèphe, but there is a need to keep moving, as the time limit is six and a quarter hours. Never have the words Arrivée been so welcome.

The day wasn't over. After collecting our medals we went into a big tent pitched by the Gironde, where there was still more food and wine. The loudspeakers played 'YMCA' and all the Scots, devils, clowns, fairies, Flintstones, cows and clergy I had met along the way punched the air and sang along.Later that evening runners are rewarded with a firework display on the quay and a disco. This year 38-year-old Frenchman Philippe Remond won his weight in grand cru wine for making the fastest time – 2:31:19. My own time was more than double this – but I bet he didn't accept the second glass of Château Lafite-Rothschild 1994.

Nell Nelson is a food, wine and travel writer, based in Hong Kong.

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