My Life in Paris: Hold on to those compression capris because I’ve just signed us up for the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique in September. Are you game?” I asked my sister, Wendy, after I got her on Skype-O-Vision. “Bring me my gear, O crowds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire!” she quipped, not missing a beat, before adding, “The first Brack sister over the finish line buys the macarons.” Marché conclu! It’s a squeal.
And just like that, I added training to my summertime agenda. The Paris-Versailles race route has always been this prancing queen’s favourite. Flaunting a mile-long hill with a hefty incline, here is where the French Revolution really got cooking when the Paris market women marched off to Versailles to raise hell with the royals. It took them over six hours to make the trek, but it shouldn’t take us so long – not with shoe innovations and fit pompiers (firemen) to encourage us with words of charm.
I can’t think of a better way to get to know the terrain and flavour of Paris. Even the training runs are idyllic, especially in Montmartre. With its panoramic view of Paris and abundance of steps, I channel my inner Rocky as I charge up the hill to Sacré Coeur. Fully appreciating the Neo-Byzantine stunner in all her fragmented beauty, I never fail to lose my head, much like the Patron Saint of France, Saint Denis – who, after some Romans gave him the décapitation treatment in Montmartre, reportedly picked up his own head and walked another eight kilometres, stopping only once for water. It just goes to show how important hydration is while getting physical!
Keeping fuelled and motivated while racing in France is never a problem. These affordable competitions typically boast live music, spectators and all the essentials – like water, fruit and nuts – along with sugar cubes and dark chocolate. Upon crossing the finish line, medals and prizes are presented, not just to a handful of ‘winners’ but usually to all who complete the course. In addition to the standard T-shirt, depending on the race, I’ve been given wine, cheese, oysters, long-stemmed roses and compact mirrors. I’m as far as it gets from Usain Bolt, but by living in France I’ve amassed enough trophies and medals to topple a second-hand Ikea bookshelf.
A few years ago, I recruited five friends to compete as a team in La Parisienne. This all-female race is a crazy mêlée of 30,000 gazelles vying for a spot out in front, while charging through the narrow streets surrounding la Tour Eiffel. I knew we couldn’t win, but we could at least run with style, outfitted as Greek goddesses in gold lamé chitons. Unfortunately, however, it turned out that I was the only one of my little troupe who had trained at all. My teammates arrived with pocketbooks in hand, more eager to have a good time than set a record. We slowly trudged along the Seine between cigarette breaks and stops to check out the fetching shop windows. Glittering in the late afternoon light and waving flags, it took us well over an hour to complete the 6.7-kilometre course.
Shortly after our late arrival, surrounded by photographers (at least we had crossed the finish line holding hands, in picture-perfect sync), it was announced that my équipe, ‘Les Furies du Monde’, had snagged the ‘costume award’, presented by the Mayor of Paris. Imagine our surprise, even the biggest losers were winners! Some say, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.” I say, “If you don’t dress for the occasion, you aren’t really competing!” Now I’m pondering what to wear to the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique…
In 2003, Theadora Brack moved to Montmartre to write for the travel site Eurocheapo.com. She runs her own blog, a field guide to Paris: www.peopleplacesandbling.com
From France Today magazine