08 July 2007

Every June since my freshman year of high school I’ve run the Tacoma Sound to Narrows. It’s a 12-kilometer road race through Tacoma’s Ruston neighborhood and Point Defiance Park and this would have been my seventh year in a row. Along with Thanksgiving and my little brother’s high school graduation, the Sound to Narrows was one of the things I was pretty bummed about missing this year, so I decided to find myself a replacement on this side of the pond.

Searching through websites like Active Europe and Courir en France, I was able to find a race in Paris scheduled for the same weekend as the Sound to Narrows back home. La Francilienne was only 10 kilometers long, but with a course that wound through the hills of Montmartre, I had a feeling this race would be able to challenge the S2N’s reputation as having one of the hilliest courses around. I paid and registered through Active Europe and excitedly circled June 10th on my calendar, but on June 9th I began to realize that if this race was indeed going to be my Sound to Narrows, it was going to be the horribly disorganized, very French version.

Looking up directions the night before the run, I found a notice on the sponsor’s website – because of the first round of legislative elections (to take place June 10th as well), the race would be postponed until June 24th. That’s odd, I thought, Isn’t the second round of elections happening on June 24th? Sure enough a few days later a new notice appeared on the website – La Francilienne would in fact not be taking place until July 8th – this morning.

Since my goals for the S2N are usually along the lines of Don’t die and don’t walk, I didn’t do a whole lot of preparation for my French fun run. Rachael and I got home late last night from visiting a Science Po friend at his home near Lyon and had a dinner of sandwiches on the TGV in lieu of the optimal pre-race carb load. I woke up at 8h30 this morning, got dressed in my yoga pants and a tee shirt and grabbed a Balance Bar (mailed from home) to eat on the metro ride up to Porte de la Chappelle.

I had no idea where to go when I exited the metro, so I found a sporty-looking man and followed him to a tiny parking lot next to the Stade des Fillettes. This was apparently the place, though I could hardly believe it. In Tacoma, the S2N is an event. Roads are shut down for the runners, sponsors set up huge tents of giveaways near the start line in Vassault park and upwards of 10,000 people run it every year. In this tiny parking lot were maybe 10 runners milling around two tables. At the first were two women (who seemed to be the only organizers) checking people in for the race and passing out tee shirts. At the other table were neon curly shoelaces on sale for 10 euro a pair (I don’t know why).

In Tacoma all you need to register for the S2N is a check for 25 dollars – in France, you can’t participate in any physical activity without a note from your doctor certifying that you are physically able. Luckily I knew about this rule from taking hip-hop classes at different studios all year, so I was ready to exchange my certificat médical for a race number when asked for it. With the help of four safety pins, I became number 85, though if there were actually 85 runners there, I’ll eat my running shoes.

As the runners who were already there began stretching in anticipation of the 11h départ of the race, more and more extremely fit people in spandex jogged into the parking lot and pinned on their race numbers. There I was in my scrubbiest work-out clothes in the middle of about 30 people wearing various marathons de Paris tee shirts and one apparently homeless man who ran in a trench coat, frantically changing my race goals from Don’t die to Don’t lose, don’t lose, don’t lose.

In a race of thousands (or of any number in the U.S.) I’d generally fit in at the middle of the pack, but as I was surrounded by more and more spandex it hit me once again that this was France. It’s hard enough to find people who like to run here, let alone sign up for races. It made perfect sense that the only people who would even consider running a road race would be the fittest of the fittest Parisians. In the middle of my process of completely psyching myself out, a sweaty man jogged into the parking lot and sat down for a drink of water. He was apparently the winner of the 5k, but for his efforts there was no finish line, no cheers, no nothing. All he had to do was jog back into the parking lot and pick up his trophy (and change race numbers, as he was also scheduled to run the 10k).

Once the rest of the 5k finishers had arrived, we moved out to the sidewalk to wait for our départ. (Keep in mind that this was a group of 40 people at the absolute maximum.) At ten past 11h the third organizer wandered into our midst and asked what time it was. Oh! Il est parti! Allez-y. (Oh, it’s started! Okay you can go). With no arrows to guide us, we started off following a teenager on a bicycle.

I shouldn’t have been so worried about my speed – even in a race of the fittest French people in Paris, I still found myself smack in the middle of the pack with a nice group of evenly-paced people to run with. Once I got over my fear of completely losing the race, I realized we had something else to worry about – the fact that there was nothing anywhere telling us where to run except for three teenagers on bicycles riding back and forth along the line of runners. For the first few kilometers we were fine – everyone was still close enough together that we always had someone to follow, but as the fastest runners began to fade into the distance and the slowest runners began to peel off behind us, we found ourselves with nothing to lead us.

Somewhere around Gare de l’Est, my racing goal changed yet again. Don’t get lost. Once we lost sight of the last runner ahead of us and the nearest cyclist, my group’s new strategy became Ask people sitting in cafés which way the runners had gone at every large intersection. It worked fine because we were all running for fun – if any of us had time goals in mind this might have been a problem, but we had one couple with a pedometer telling us how far we’d gone and plenty of Parisians willing to guide us.

We spent the last few kilometers of the race running up and down various hills and staircases around Sacre Coeur. At one point we stopped to ask a group of bicyclists if they’d seen any number-wearing runners go by – arms raised immediately to point in about three different directions, so we just chose the least hilly and kept on. At the 9-kilometer mark (provided for us by the pedometer) we spied a group of racers standing halfway up a set of stairs. Il est parti où? (Which direction?) we shouted up to them. After giving us a rather confused look, one of the women pointed up to the top of the stairs. C’est l’arrivée là (That’s the finish line). We stared skeptically up at the lone man with a camera, but jogged up and were greeted with quick congratulations before being sent around the corner to a park for drinks and the race results. I’m not quite sure how we cut an entire kilometer out of our race, but we weren’t fast enough to place anyway so I suppose our inadvertent cheat doesn’t really matter.

In true French fashion, the S2N’s typical fare of orange slices, sliced bread and water from Costco and Roman Meal was replaced by a snack of San Pellegrino sparkling water, apricots, madeleines and brioches. The winners received their trophies, we each received a pile of goodies and all 40 of us headed back down the buttes Montmartres. Being the only American, I was the only one who seemed to notice the total lack of organization, but even I wasn’t really surprised. This is France after all, and what would my experience here be if not baffling and disorganized?

My loot – for a 10 euro entrance fee we each scored two tee shirts, a keychain and a one-strapped backpack. Not bad, eh?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

From a U.S. newspaper. Maybe this is why there were do few runners at the 10K.

Tim

Nation and world roundup
PERSON IN THE NEWS

SACRE BLEU! THE PRESIDENT IS GUILTY OF ... JOGGING

You’d think the French would be proud of their new president for working off all that brie and Champagne. But Nicolas Sarkozy’s jogging habit is an un-French, right-wing conspiracy, suggests Paris’ left-wing newspaper Liberation. In response, British commentators gleefully conclude: The French have lost their minds, again.

Alain Finkielkraut, a leading French intellectual, recently demanded that Sarkozy give up his “undignified” exercise. Strolling is the proper activity of the thinking person, he claimed.

Sarkozy also has fueled French suspicion that running is for self-centered individualists like Americans, reports Charles Bremner, Paris correspondent for the Times of London.

Readers of British press Web sites are piling on. One post read: “No decent conservative would dream of jogging. It’s a vulgar, untraditional form of self-advertisement that might frighten the horses. What’s wrong with croquet?”

Anonymous said...

From La Liberation an exerpt.

http://www.liberation.fr/vous/263939.FR.php

COURIR DERRIÈRE DES IDÉES
Plus fondamentale, la polémique qui fait rage sur Internet : courir, c’est de droite, ou de gauche ? Tout a commencé, bien entendu, par des commentaires sur la foulée présidentielle. Puis son symbole. Puis ses valeurs. A ma gauche, l’auteur du site diner’s room s’est auto-attribué le prix du blog le plus «no-jogging». Parce que «le jogging est nuisible à toutes les choses et de toutes les manières. Il nuit à la santé, à l’élégance, à la marche, à la dignité des mutilés de guerre, à la prostitution.» . Réplique illico d’une des vedettes de la toile, Loïc Le Meur, aussi joggueur que sarkozyen. Et âpre défenseur de tous ces jeunes «successfull entrepreneurs» qui ont juste envie d’être bien dans leur corps et de se dépasser. Qu’ils soient de droite ou de gauche. Le débat fait sourire Odile Baudrier : «On avait tenu le même dans nos pages il y a quelques années. Le jogging, bien sûr, se retrouve du côté de la performance et de l’individualisme, valeurs traditionnellement attribuées à la droite. En même temps, la recherche du bien-être, c’est surtout hors clivage.» On pourrait ajouter que le contact avec la nature, c’est plutôt écolo. Et le sport accessible à toutes les bourses, carrément communiste. «Traditionnellement, les intellectuels français ont toujours eu un certain mépris pour le sport , souligne Patrick Mignon. Seule la tête compte. A l’inverse, c’est vrai, les régimes totalitaires ont toujours mis l’accent sur le développement exclusif du corps. Entre les deux, on oublie trop souvent que les humanistes de la Renaissance prônaient une éducation totalement équilibrée, partagée entre le physique et l’intellect.» N’empêche, Mitterrand, lui, il marchait.

parisian cowboy said...

Salut Halley,

Pas mal du tout.... moi je pense pour l'idée que courir c'est de droite.... evidemment pas pour de vrai, mais comme Sarko et Fillon passent leur temps à courir... l'idée commence à pénétrer dans les cervaux...

Bonne continuation à toi ! Moi j'ai terminé sc po et j'attends l'ENA en sepembre.

see you soo, big baboon.

ColourMeCrazy said...

Wow, you usually run 12K? I run for 15 minutes and I'm done ;-)

Hehe - it's funny to think that it was so badly organised that runners could actually get lost during the course! Glad to hear that you made it to the end though - congratulations!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if your blog is still active, but I was delighted to find out about a small (disorganized it may be compared to US standard races) race in Paris. I am an avid runner and will be in Paris on June 17. But would be willing to change my travel date to accomodate a small race in the city of light.

I love your report as it is rare to find one about any Paris road race. Congrats on having the courage to do one. It looks like this year, if they don't change the date, will be on the 16th of June. I would like more info before I change my travel date however. It just might be worth the bragging points, the t-shirts, keychains, and the backpack.

A bientot.
Mageline

I'd like to hear from you if you have the time. Thanks.
magelinek@yahoo.com

Paula said...

Wow 10 euro for curly shoelaces sounds like way too much. You can buy them here for much cheaper. http://www.shoelaces.ecrater.com/c/739246/curly-shoelaces-no-tie-elastics Hope you are enjoying Paris. It is a beautiful city.

Curly Shoelaces said...

Wow that sounds like a really high price on the curly shoelaces!