Thursday, August 25, 2011

Running circles around Paris

Everyone knows that Paris has a lot to offer as a tourist destination. But who would have thought that it would be such a good place to train for a half marathon.

Alison I spent a week taking in the sights and sounds of Paris, at which time I was also in full training for the Irish National Half Marathon Championships (to take place on Saturday 3 September in Waterford). Sometimes it can be difficult to fit training in around sightseeing activities when abroad. Particularly in large and busy cities, where the options for suitable running routes can be limited.

But with the help of the Iphone, google maps, and the velib city bikes scheme (so that Alison could come adventuring with me), Alison and I industriously explored the city and uncovered some excellent running routes and facilities that made training easier. We were also assisted, in no small part, by this useful website about running in Paris. I didn’t get a chance to check out all of the suggested running locations that I’d heard about (because I was busy running track sessions), but I was impressed with the routes that I ran.

It turns out that Paris is an excellent place to train (as well as just to visit generally). Here is why:

Promenade Plantée (garden path)

This is a 4.5-kilometer elevated pedestrian walkway on what was formerly a railway line. The path starts near Place de la Bastille (close to Gare de Lyon), winds above the streets of the 11th and 12th arrondissements of Paris, occasionally dips to street level, and ends near the Bois de Vincennes (conveniently, right beside the Paul Valery running track and outdoor pool). Access is also available via several gates along the way. Bizarrely, the Promenade Plantée on its raised platform above the city is lined with all sorts of trees and gardens. It has been accurately described as 'a running oasis of traffic-less-ness and nature that bypasses the hustle-and-bustle of the Parisian streets below'. Well worth checking out.

Bois de Vincennes (Vincennes Park)

In the 11th century, the Bois de Vincennes was a royal hunting playground. Today the public park is the largest and greenest area in Paris. Essentially it is a forest park with a web of trails (and some roads) spanning through it, not unlike ‘the Labyrinth’. Once you disappear into the surprisingly thick and rugged forest, you forget that you are still in Paris. I reckon the Park is probably just over 10km in circumference. So you could probably jog around it in about an hour. But you’re much better off getting lost on the trails within the park and trying to find your way out. The Park is on the eastern side of the city, about 4km from Bastille or Republique. The park is home to several lakes and gardens, a château, a zoo, and even a Buddhist monastery. You can hire boats and paddle around the lakes. It’s a very cool place.

The Seine

The Seine is the river that runs through central Paris. Running along the Seine pathway (which runs continuously for several miles) will take you past some of the city’s most famous monuments and under some of its most famous bridges. You will be distracted along the way by numerous impressive and noteworthy sites including Notre Dame, the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower. At this time of the year the path is busy with tourists, and there is also a man-made beach on the edge of the path crowded with sunbathers (strangely). The path is fairly wide, so as long as you get your run in early (before 10am) then you should be able to hold a steady pace without too many tourists getting in the way.

Public access athletics stadiums

Parc de Vincennes alone has five running tracks within its boundaries. We paid a visit to the Paul Valéry centre on the city side of Vincennes, after reading that a couple of running clubs train there on a Monday night. The track is part of a sports centre with tennis courts and 5-a-side soccer pitches etc. There is also an outdoor pool across the street. The track was accessible through an open gate from the southern side of the sports complex, and there is also a hole in the fence on the eastern side. I ran four sessions on the track over the course of the week: 16x400 off 60 seconds, 5x1mile off 2 minutes, 10000m tempo (25 laps), and 10x800 off 2 minutes. This was particularly handy since my Garmin was out of action.

Parc de Luxembourg

This is a relatively small park (about a mile around) in the South side of Paris. Yet I’m mentioning it as a jogging option because it’s so beautiful that you’ll be happy to run several laps around it. This is a ‘must see’.

Paris to Versailles

The Paris to Versailles race is a big event on the local running calendar. The 16km race starts near the Eiffel tower and finishes by the Palace of Versailles. I decided to reccie the route in case I ever decide to run this race. It was pretty boring, and quite hilly. On the upside, you can save yourself €3 by avoiding the train fare and the spectacular panorama of the 'Musical Gardens' behind the palace is worth the hike. Not to mention the ice cream. You'll need a map, preferably a GPS map on a smart phone, to negotiate your way there through the suburbs in the south-west of Paris.

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