I have spent the last week on holiday in France. Last Thursday I did my hilliest 5k ever in the mountains of the Cantal region of France where my uncle lives. My route consisted of 2km of rocky trail and 3km of roads. The first 2km were extremely wet and uneven – it rained heavily that morning and there was even a little stream forming and cascading down the road. The steep downhill section has an average gradient of -10% and a maximum of -29% and goes on for 0.6km. At the bottom of the hill I could see the rolling mist over the mountains and the track to the local monastery… and not much else. I was very relieved to get on to a tarmacked road, though this was as steeply upwards as the last section was steeply downwards. 95m of climb in the next kilometre! Thankfully the last two km were a gentler tarmac down and a gentler tarmac up. All in all my run had 181 metres of climb which is like Bradford parkrun and Hadleigh parkrun put together. It was worth it, though!
By Saturday I was out of the mountains and in Paris for parkrun du Bois de Boulogne. I may have entirely engineered my trip so that I would be in Paris for parkrun day. BDB is one of two parkruns in Paris – the other is Montsouris in the south, which I hear is also very nice, but BDB appealed more to be because I do like a bit of tree cover and also no one ever seems to take more than 30 minutes at Montsouris. (I assume this is because its attracts fast runners and not because it’s a lightning fast course, though maybe I am wrong and missed out on a PB there.) I stayed nearby and reached the Bois on foot, but if you’re coming from the centre you will need to take a tube to Porte D’Auteuil. The nearest toilets are also at the tube station. The park is quite big and the parkrun quite small (20-40 runners unless the Paris Marathon is on, then more like 150) so don’t just turn up in the park and hope for the best – make sure you have a map showing the start with you. (While getting that map, have a look at some French parkrun lingo! A marshal is an “aiguiller” which is from the same root as the word for “sewing needle”. A run is a “footing” and the tail walker is a “fermeur marcheur”)
Everyone meets at an information board very close to the start. A gaggle of tourists were already there when I arrived at 8:30 but the volunteers and French runners didn’t arrive until much later. The run briefing was mainly in French but with key parts repeated in English. I was quite amused that the run director asked “Do we have any runners from Paris this week?” instead of “Do we have any tourists?”. There were three runners from Paris, for the record. I was by far not the furthest travelled, as there were tourists from Bushy Park, Riverside and Fountains Abbey (both in the North), and two from Australia (all of whom seemed to have equally dubious reasons for just happening to be in Paris on parkrun day).
The course is a little bit complicated but it is very well marshalled and signposted (one turn had no less than three arrows pointing the day). Basically it starts with a small downhill tarmac section that takes you to the main gate of the park. There then follows the “grande boucle” which features about 1km of trail through denser, piney forest, then down the wide central avenue back to the main gate again, then one and a half times round the “petite boucle” which is a tarmac path through some less dense woodland and the same central avenue you just ran down. On your second time round, the finish is where the central avenue begins. It’s probably easier to get an idea from my Relive video than my description. There is a small incline near the main gate (30m elevation in the whole run) but on the whole it’s pretty flat. The trail is more of an impediment than the hills.
Samuel Snail at the finish line, and me with the two Australians (Terri and Dawn) and fellow cow cowl wearer Nicky from Fountains Abbey.
I had fully expected to be last, so I was very pleased that the two Australia runners both proclaimed themselves to be slow, and that their definition of slow matched mine. I wasn’t going to be left behind in the forest by a bunch of Mos and Paulas. In fact, one of them turned out to run at exactly the same pace as me, except she took a few little walk breaks on the hills and was faster than me on the flat bits. This was good as we were constantly catching each other up, exchanging some words of encouragement before one of us overtook. It was really nice to have someone to run with. Usually I only get words of encouragement from my friends as they lap me! I assured her that she’d finish before me due to my lack of capacity for a sprint finish — I am a One Speed Runner — and sure enough, in the final stretch off she went to finish a whole four seconds before me, just getting into the 36 minute bracket, while I had to be content with 37:03. I was still delighted with this time as it was my fastest since Barking in March, on a somewhat hardest course. I was equally pleased to learn that my antipodean running partner had got a new PB – by one second! I hope chasing me up the hills was partly to blame for that.
I was also very pleased that I wasn’t last – four people finished behind me, although one was the other Australian lady whom I am certain would have been far quicker if she hadn’t kept stopping to take photos.
Delightfully, the post race refreshments consisted not of lousy Mr Kipling cakes like you get in the UK but little custard and apricot tarts, pain au chocolat and croissants. I had decided to lift my ban on dairy and sugar whilst in France (because it really would have entailed living on lettuce baguettes at times) and enjoyed two of these. I believe that there is a cafe to the north of the park which the runners go to, but my hotel was in the opposite direction and I had a date with the Eiffel Tower so I said my au revoirs and shuffled off.