Paris + Running = Bliss
By Theadora Brack
Jet setting to Paris? Cuckoo for running? Well then, why not just go with the flow, pack the shoes, and compete in one of the city’s grande classiques?
Here’s the squeal: Racing in France is thrilling. The excitement is palpable, even before the gun sounds. Every race is different and half the fun is getting into the groove of the course du jour. Plus, I can’t think of a finer way to hobnob with Paris’s past and present, than by charging cheek by jowl with the compression-clad, while dashing past the bright sights of the city. Gushing all Proustian: It does the trick every time.
As Papa Hem once preached: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus, you remember them as they actually are.”
That goes double for traveling by foot. In fact, I am training for a few upcoming races. So tighten your laces. Here are a few of my favorite races in France. Bygone it, Atalanta—Ready! Set! Bolt!
1. La Parisienne (18th edition)
Meet the course that intensified my budding obsession with racing in Paris. All dolled-up in a sea of pink, the start of this all-female race is a wild fracas of 35,000 goddesses, panthers, and gazelles stampeding through the narrow rues surrounding la Tour Eiffel. Go solo or race as an ensemble for fun. Wearing gold lamé, my équipe, Les Furies du Monde, once snagged the costume award, presented by the Mairie de Paris.
Date: September 14, 2014
Distance: 6.7 km
Starts: In front of the Trocadéro and finishes at the École Militaire
Booty: Roses, medals (1.6 oz.), and fitted-racing shirts
Terrain: Gentle hills
Sights: La Tour Eiffel, the “Princess Di tunnel” at Pont de l’Alma, and Champ de Mars
Post-race: Get your Zen on at the nearby Guimet Musée National des Arts Asiatiques.
2. Paris – Versailles: La Grande Classique (37th edition)
After the Paris market women hotfooted it on over to Versailles to raise hell with the royals, the French Revolution really got cooking. It took them beaucoup hours to make the jaunt, but it shouldn’t take you so long—not with cushy asphalt, newfangled shoes, and dashing pompiers on your side, inspiring you with words of cheer. Take heed: Halfway there, you’ll meet with a mile-long hill with a hefty incline. But what goes up must come down, so prepare for a fast descent as the great palace comes into view at long last!
Date: September 28, 2014
Distance: 16 km
Starts: At la Tour Eiffel and ends Versailles
Bling: Medals (2.1 oz.) worthy of an aristocrat
Terrain: Think Supreme(s). As in, ’ain’t no mountain high enough!’
Tip: The pompiers usually run at the back of the pack
Post-race: Go for Baroque; cool off afterwards at the palace fountain shows to the sounds of Lully!
3. 20 Kilomètres de Paris (36th edition)
Attention to detail is this race organization’s forte. Though 30,000 runners may be chomping at the bit on the Pont d’Iéna, it’s not an issue since the race start is staggered, easing up on the stampede mentality. Line-up is first-come, first-served. A confession: I weep every time the Armée de l’Air fighter jets buzz the crowd, trailing tri-colored smoke in their pre-race fly-by salute. It’s stirring!
Date: October 12, 2014
Distance: 20 km
Starts and finishes: At la Tour Eiffel
Awards: Striking medals (2.2 oz.), shirts, and souvenir chips with the race logo
Terrain: At times bumpy (cobblestones) and woodsy (Bois de Boulogne)
Perks: Every 5 km you’ll find nuts, figs, sugar cubes, dark chocolate and live music
Post-race: Swing by the Musée du quai Branly!
4. La Corrida de Noël d’Issy-Les-Moulineaux (38th edition)
Imagine running, not with the bulls, but with thousands of Santa Clauses! This could very well be your worst nightmare or a dream come true, but I wouldn’t miss it.
It’s a frenetic case of “Christmas Meets Mardi Gras”—so come in costume. The ride out to Issy, via metro or bus, will give you a chance to scope out your fellow competitors and touch up your pointy elf ears!
Date: December 14, 2014
Distance: 10 km
Starts and Finishes: Palais des Sports Robert Charpentier, in Issy-les-Moulineaux
Gifts: Shirts, medals (1.5 oz.), and mulled wine
Sights: Look for elves, angels, ornaments, Elvis’s, and at least one running Christmas tree, complete with tinsel garlands and presents
Post-race: Stay for the cool-down disco session. Yule love it.
5. La Marathon de La Rochelle (24th edition)
I always place a premium on race location, perks, and atmosphere, and this race has got all three in spades, to boot. Sugar cubes, dark chocolate, and some bubbly Coco-Cola Light reign here along the historic waterfront route. Yes, I was in heaven! Blaring its own signature recipe for a rousing epic weepie race start, I have never failed to cry. In the moments leading up to the start signal, the air fills with Wagner’s thrilling Ride of the Valkyries. O pleasant rapture seen!
Date: November 30, 2014
Distance: 42.1 km
Starts and Finishes: In the historic port
Gifts: Jackets, long-stemmed roses, a box of fresh oysters, and medals (4 oz.)
Terrain: Historic and flat
Sights: La Rochelle’s “Vieux Port” and handsome towers
Post-race: Enjoy a beer, along with your box of oysters at one of the waterside restaurants. Bon Appétit!
In the words of William Blake: “Bring me my Arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire!”
Important Tip: Before your trip, be sure to get a signed note from your doctor. A handwritten sentence on your doc’s letterhead, stating that there are “no contraindications for [your name] participating in running competitions” will do. This is one rule that can’t be bent. No medical certificate means: no race bib.
And thank you, Roger Manley, for sharing your gorgeous photographs! You captured some supreme catnip-worthy moments!