Vive le running

Posted on July 22, 2012

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This morning I took a walk amongst the forests at the back of Chateau Rigaud with my mum and brother.  We talked briefly of the rise in popularity in France of ‘le running’ … it’s huge here.  The sheer amount of races in their calendar speaks volumes and no wonder.  The landscape is breathtaking from the provincial vineyards that surround me now to the rugged rocky terrain of the Alps and the Pyrenees. I think back to my year at business school in Marseilles and remember the fabulous coastline we enjoyed there … albeit more for endurance events of the partying variety …

So post walk … and post another gastronomic feast for lunch, I’ve been reading a little about the history of running in France.  Interesting!

Did you know?

It was a Frenchman who gave us the competitive marathon? Michel Bréal suggested to the organisers of the 1896 Olympics in Greece, that a marathon should be included to commemorate the original run of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC. And a Frenchman, Albin Lermusiaux, was one of only four foreign runners to take part — alongside more than a dozen Greeks.

Many years later, le jogging started to really take off in the 1980s and has become a way of life for a huge number of French people. Between 8 and 10m French people run and there are over 5,000 races per year in France alone – more than anywhere else in Europe.

The Paris Marathon is of course the biggest – starting right in front of the Arc de Triomphe and continuing down the Champs-Elysées, the course checks off some of the greatest landmarks in the world so it’s a race that is as much about soaking up magnificent monuments as it is about a flat and fast dash from A to B.

After Paris, the best-known event is the Marathon du Médoc in September. The world’s greatest party with a spot of running in between. Strictly for fun, the event is founded on four pillars: health, sport, conviviality and fun. In truth, however, the reverse order applies.  Most runners are in costume – there is an annual theme – and all 20 aid stations are stocked with wine and oysters, steak, cheese and fois gras. The course meanders through more than 50 châteaux including many of the big names in French wine.

The same concept has been rolled out to other regions now too … the Marathon du Vignble in Alsace, the Marathon de Provence Luberon and La Champenoise in the Champagne region.

The Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc, on the other hand, is a marathon with about three more marathons thrown in. Starting from Chamonix, the course takes runners over 103 miles of Alpine terrain, through three different countries and more than 30,000 feet of altitude changes. Even the winners’ take over 20 hours … I know a number who will be on the start line this coming 31st August … GC included … and feel inspired and motivated by the challenge that awaits them.

It’s a super tough race with high Alpine tracks, a beautiful course, long, long climbs and great views — UTMB is France’s ultimate illustration of the rise in trail running. I think races like these attract us runners who want to run for pleasure in the mountains instead chasing a personal best.  It becomes all about the journey rather than the destination and one race alone can be like a lifetime of calm seas and rough storms. Testing your own personal limits is of course another great pull.

This time last week I was running the Ice Trail and that alone was a brutal slog taking me 14 hours to complete.

Further afield, the Marathon des Sables was conceived by a Frenchman. Patrick Bauer created the race after he crossed the Algerian Sahara in 1984. Now each year, hundreds of competitors do the same for the 250km six-day race and Racing the Planet, amongst other race series have copied the same format in other extreme pockets of the world. A good half-dozen major events on Nepals’ race calendar are French run too.

I write this on the lawns with the sun beating down but when the temps start to cool, I shall be getting ‘all in’ myself and hitting the vines and villages that surround me.  And I shall smile at the knowledge that hundreds, possible thousands of others, in fabulous France will be getting their daily fix at the same time.

Vive le running!

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