I ran the 16km (10 mile) Paris-Versailles race on my first Sunday in France, just under four days after landing. Since I went to Oktoberfest the next day and now have a cold, that might have been a bad plan, but I wanted to see if racing overseas would be different. I also wanted to hear if French people make funny noises after running uphill for 2 km.
The first thing I noticed was that the race appeared to be completely unsponsored, so the expo was very low on freebies. I got a neon green technical shirt and a number, but that’s it. As in, I didn’t even get pins. I also noticed something strange about the course map—the fuel stations were listed as “sucre (Soo-cr) et des fruits (froo-ee),” which I assumed I was reading wrong.
On race day, I strolled down from La Muette with my aunt, and crossed over the bridge to the Eiffel Tower start line. Only after I took this picture, though.
For a race of more than 20,000 people, it was pretty laissez-faire. Waves of 350 runners every minute: first-come, first-serve. I can attest that most French people smell just fine, because I spent 45 minutes with my face in their shoulders. Can’t say the same for the open-air urinal stations that were clever but would never work in the States. The course wound along the Seine on a major road, and ran through two tunnels. Except for a brass band every couple kilometers and a handful of spectators, there was not a lot to look at but other racers and apartment blocks. By the time we got out of the city into Meudon, I was so glad to see grass that I didn’t even care that we passed a corner café full of men laughing at us slogging (I did have to walk) up the Côte des Gardes hill.
The second half of the race, however, was peaceful and pretty. Paris-Versailles is put on in association with Office National des Fôrets, and some of the proceeds went to reforesting the royal forest of Meudon, where we spent the last few km. Shaded, rolling hills, a few sweeping views of hillsides, and the most hilarious part of the race: hitting the sucre et fruits stop and realizing it was literally sugar cubes and a bunch of Frenchmen feverishly cutting up oranges. This is what you call “missed photo opportunity.”
All told, I hit my leisurely goal of running the race in under 1:45, though my high hopes for post-race baguettes and Brie were dashed. A few quick photos (official race photos here) in front of the Chateau de Versailles and a 30-minute train ride later, I was glad to be done running. I generally enjoy the stereotypical relaxed French lifestyle, but I think I prefer American races where you can high-five police officers and get a beer at the finish line.