Our close European neighbour, France, has plenty of options for runners in search of a destination event that has a certain je ne sais quoi...
There's nothing like Paris in the springtime they say. And anyone who’s run along Avenue Foch for the final stretch of Paris Marathon can testify to that. The marathon, coupled with the city’s half marathon in March, makes the French capital a major player on the international running scene. The two races aren’t the only running events of significance in the city, though. In fact, the whole country is brimming with exciting races, ranging from runs through vineyards to events in more palatial surroundings. We take a look at what running delights our Gallic neighbours have to offer.
Mid-stride In Paris…
We’ll start in the capital. The Paris Half (or Semi de Paris) on 2 March is both a testing event in its own right and perfect preparation for those taking on the full marathon on 6 April. Run predominantly through the east of the city, the relatively flat course goes along the Bois de Vincennes and the streets of the 12th arrondissement before finishing at Porte Dorée.
Then in April comes the daddy - Paris Marathon! The race sees 40,000 competitors line the streets of the Champs Elysées as they prepare for a race full of architectural delights and French flare. Starting out life in 1896, the marathon stands proudly today as one of the most popular races in Europe as well as being one of the six Majors. If the running doesn’t leave you breathless then the sheer number of historical landmarks on the course will.
You’ll pass by many of La Ville-Lumière’s tourist attractions including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Place de la Bastille, with sections of the race taking you along the Seine.
A Grande Day Out
If you think the aforementioned races are the only major running events in Paris, au contraire! For a race that attracts thousands of runners from around the globe, the Paris-Versailles la Grande Classique (28 September) is something of an unknown quantity to most British runners. The main reason for this is that the 16k race clashes with another major European race – Berlin Marathon.
One Brit who does know about the Parisian event is Graeme Yeoman. The Milngavie native took part in last year’s race and told us about its cosmopolitan nature: “There were runners from all over the world. I met people from Costa Rica, Australia, California and loads of Brazilians. I didn’t meet a single other Brit, though, which is maybe surprising.”
If you elect to skip the German capital for the French one, the 16k race goes from the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine and up the Cote des Gardes before going through woodland and into Versailles finishing at the Palace.
And it also gives you a chance to sample the sardonic wit of the French, as Graham testified: “The roadside was packed with people shouting “On n’est pas fatigué!” - “You’re surely not tired!” - which, of course, I was!”
Renowned for keeping runners well refreshed, Bordeaux’s Medoc Marathon (13 September) has something a bit stronger than isotonic drinks to keep you going. Thousands of flamboyantly dressed runners tackle 59 vineyards, with wine provided at every drinks station! If all that wine sounds like too much for you to handle, water is also available.
La Champenoise on 17 May is in a similar vine, I mean vein, with the half marathon going through the Champagne valley, with drinks stations offering - you guessed it - champagne! The course takes participants through vineyards and villages and even a wine cellar. A notable highlight is the race prize - your weight in champagne!
Those expecting a walk/run in the park should be cautious. The race isn’t easy, starting with a 4k climb and featuring several undulations throughout. Part of the Challenge de la Convivialite (literally the challenge of conviviality) set of races, the emphasis is on enjoy yourself rather than getting a PB.
Yes We Cannes!
A relatively new event to the French running calendar is the Riviera Marathon on 9 November. The route from Nice to Cannes goes through a number of small towns - evocative places such as Antibes and Juan-les-Pins - where you get great encouragement from a strong local support. The majority of the race is spent alongside the Mediterranean Sea, so you won’t be found wanting for gorgeous views.
As you would expect from a nation renowned for its culinary offerings, runners are well catered for with well-stacked food and drink stations. One participant described the stations as being ‘almost like a buffet - all types of fruit, chocolate and sandwiches’.
After reading about these options, your appetite should be thoroughly whetted for a French adventure. So why not get your passport out, head across the English Channel, and take part in the French running revolution! Sports Tours International offer travel packages for Paris Marathon, Paris Half, Medoc, and Riviera Marathon. For more information go to Sports Tours International's website.