Monday, 6 September 2021

A weekend in Paris!

 What a fantastic few days!  This summer has been...different.  I spent too much time in school, a week away on a course and never really felt I'd had a break from work.  So the few days we'd planned away were just what I needed.  

We decided, way back in January/February when it looked as though all travel restrictions would be over, that we would travel to Paris to run the Semi-Marathon.  There were five runners and one supporter in our group, and we followed the ups and downs of the Covid travel restrictions carefully over the following months.  We planned as much as we could and had the inevitable mad scramble to sort out tests and certificates and, eventually, early on Thursday morning we were on our way.   Paris was warm and sunny when we arrived at lunchtime, we did touristy stuff that was great fun but not really the subject of this blog, went out for dinner, drank red wine - all that good stuff.  

Friday morning was BEAUTIFUL so, of course, we went for a run - a 5 mile gentle sight seeing trot and photo shoot.  There may have been a little grumbling about 'food babies' and slightly sore heads but the run certainly sorted us out and we headed back to the hotel for a hearty breakfast.

Saturday is parkrun day.  I'd already run the parkrun in Bois de Boulogne prior to the 2019 Paris Marathon so I was keen to go somewhere new.  And if I am totally honest I am not 100% convinced that I could have found the start of that one again - which would have been embarrassing when travelling with friends.  Luckily there is another Paris parkrun: parkrun de Montsouris and after some research we realised that there was a bus route that took us right from our hotel to the park. 

We arrived at the park in good time, which is just as well as we weren't quite sure where the start was, luckily it was near to the toilets that we were also looking for.  parkrun in France is a lot more low key than parkrun in England so it is sometimes a little unnerving to be standing in the middle of a park at 8.45am, wondering if you are in the right place, tentatively approaching a stranger and starting a conversation in school girl French, often the stranger will be a fellow Bri (either expat or tourist) who is also looking for the start.  Then at about 8.55am parkrun appears by magic!  

The welcome from the event team was warm, the course was explained to us and we walked to the start.  I'd arranged to meet up with an old friend of mine who lives in Paris and to run with him - Covid has meant that we haven't seen each other for a very long time.   I chattered away as we ran around the park three and a bit times.  There was a short (quarter mile) uphill section on each lap but the rest was down hill all the way.  And the park is gorgeous.  If you had dropped me into the park and told me I was in Kew Gardens or RHS Wisley I would have believed you.  We also went over and under a railway track  - which the boys loved!  There was so much to look at as we trotted round, interesting buildings, pretty plantings and attractive vistas, unsurprisingly the park was being well used by locals - lots of other runners, yoga, boot camps, children playing, dog walking etc.   It was so very different to my expectations of an urban park - probably the prettiest park I have ever seen.

After the run we went to Chin Chin cafe.  I've been to lots of post parkrun coffees, but I have never felt so welcome as I did on Saturday, it was great to talk to the team and to other runners - results were processed so speedily we were able to thank the volunteer before we left. One of our group got a parkrun PB so we were all in high spirits for the journey back to the hotel.

Of course, the main reason we were in Paris on this particular weekend was to run a half marathon and I'd be lying if I said that the fact that the French call a half marathon a 'semi' didn't elicit some childish sniggering!  When we booked the race we had no idea of what mass races in a Covid era would look like.  We'd put in accurate time predictions for finish times and not thought too much about it.  The final race instructions put us into something of a panic.  The start times were spread out over much longer than we had anticipated, While four of us were due to start at 9.18am one of our group was not timetabled to set off until 11.05am.   We had a 5.15pm train to catch and we'd all quite like to be able to shower first.  Another consideration was the heat, Paris was, in comparison to Hampshire, roasting hot!  The thought of having to run from 11am until 1pm didn't appeal.  We began to consider how we could smuggle  our friend into our starting pen with us but, just on the off chance I thought I would ask at the expo.  I was amazed at how easy it was - I just explained that we were worried about missing our train and asked if a change of starting pen was possible 'Mais bien sur!' was the answer much to our relief.  Trying to change t-shirt sizes was a whole different story!
Before

We arrived at Place de la Bastille on Sunday morning to a seething mass of runners.  Paris races don't seem to have an army of volunteer marshals, so it can be a little daunting trying to work out where you need to go! We showed out blue armbands that proved that we had been vaccinated so that we could get to the baggage drop, some of us braved the portaloos and are forever scarred by the experience, and made our way to the start.  There didn't seem to be any designated pens - we all sort of wandered towards the start line and were released in waves - I think we crossed the line at about 9.35am.  

The route was, very roughly, the first half of the Paris marathon but in reverse.  Shade was at a premium as the sun beat down.  I ran the first 5k with Husbando before we went out separate ways.  I wanted to run this as a 'teensy bit faster than marathon pace' run - but I am useless at pacing so just ran.  I looked forward to the shade of the Bois de Vincennes - forgetting that the roads were so wide that there was barely any shade. 

I'd forgotten that there is so little 'crowd control' on races in Paris.  In London races the the whole route is pretty much lined with volunteer marshals, often with loads of railings to stop pedestrians wandering into the route of the runners and crossing points would be manned.  On Sunday we often had to avoid people darting across the road (with or without children in tow), cyclists and electric scooters on the route.  I think these were slightly less dangerous when they were coming towards the runners as we could see them approach - when they tried to overtake us it was terrifying!  One lady, very smartly dressed, got quite upset at the runners trying to pass her as she stood in the middle of the road with her five, large, German Shepherd type dogs - one of whom was relieving himself in the middle of the road! 

After
Music and cheerleaders along the route provided entertainment, and I spent most of my time doing the mental maths needed to convert kilometres in to miles.  The maths gets harder the further I run.  I even forgot that a half marathon is 21(and a bit)k - I managed to convince myself for a while that it was 22k, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that people were shouting that there was 1k to go as we got to 20k!  It was really hot by now, and I don't think I have ever seen so many people in trouble at a race before.  At one point one of the race photographers stopped taking photos to help someone.  With so few marshals on the route it really was down to everyone to look out for everyone else.  

The last 500m seemed never ending.  It went on for miles as we ran around the monument in the Place de la Bastille, but suddenly the end was in sight.  And our one woman support crew was there to cheer me on!  I knew three of my friends were ahead of me - turns out we finished at roughly two minute intervals.  I was pretty please with being 21st in my age category, until the first finisher in our group announced that not only did he get a PB but he was also 3rd in his age category! 

I dashed off back to our hotel rather than hanging around - I wasn't braving those portaloos again - and I swear that the 450m walk to the Metro station took me far less time to walk than it took me to run the last 500m of the race!  

It was a fabulous weekend!  Great friends, great food and great to be running abroad again (even if we seem to have spent hours doing covid tests and completing forms).  I enjoyed the race, loved my post race hydration and was thrilled to be able to run a half, have a fabulous lunch and be back home in Hampshire by 9pm that evening all ready for the start of a new term on Monday. 




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