Who goes to Paris and doesn’t take the opportunity to run the world’s most romantically-shaped parkrun course which happens to be located in one of the green lungs of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne? Well a lot of people apparently. With an average attendance rate of 33 people, after almost three years, it’s not only tourists who are missing out on this gem of a 5km. The city’s 2.2 million residents, many of whom are presumably runners, have also proved immune to the charms of parkrun of which there are currently two events in the French capital. The second, parkrun Montsouris, started in October 2016 and has an average weekly participant number of 21.5.

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parkrun is a little less popular in France than in England;)

I’m a big fan of small parkruns so low attendance isn’t a complaint just more of a concern. When a parkrun is dominated by tourists, it must be more challenging than usual to fill the volunteer roster. In fact, a couple of weeks after our visit, I saw on Facebook that the event in Bois de Boulogne had been cancelled due to a shortage of volunteers. Looking at the event list, this appears to have been a one-off so kudos to the core event team for that.

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Attendee and volunteer numbers for Bois du Boulogne parkrun April to Sep 2018.

We were staying in the 16th, about 2km from the start line, so I jogged to the Bois Du Boulogne with the aid of Google maps. To be honest, I was fretting all week about making it to the start line, and more importantly making it to the toilet, just before I made it to the start line. There is a public toilet at the entrance to the park at the Porte d’Auteil metro station but I completely bypassed this, unintentionally. The good news for nervous bladder owners is that the Bois du Boulogne being a park, has plenty of shrubbery. Even better, unlike in Australia, you don’t have to worry about dying ignominiously with your pants around your ankles thanks to a poisonous snake lurking in the undergrowth.

Once I found the parkrun flag, I discovered a huddle of excited, fellow tourists. There were two girls from New York doing their first ever parkrun, and an elderly couple and their daughter from the UK. I also spoke briefly to a West Australian on holidays, whose local parkrun I had done on New Year’s day this year.

Our event, on June 30, turned out to be one of the busiest of the year, the weekend of Paris Marathon notwithstanding when numbers swelled to 190 (April 7).

The English gentleman, who was in his seventies, claimed that it was his dream to die while running parkrun. We laughed as if this was a joke but I knew exactly what he meant; parkrun was his happy place and a testament to being active irrespective of age.

In addition to worrying about getting to the start line, I had also spent much time in my hotel frowning at the description of what looked to be a very complicated course. The problem wasn’t my French but my inability to convert the words into an image in my head that made sense of the map on Google. I was oblivious to the heart-shap until I had finished and saw it on my Strava profile!

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The wonky-heart-shaped route of Paris Bois du Boulogne parkrun.

I needn’t have fretted – as is usually the case – as the marshals did a perfect job of keeping runners on track and turning in the right direction. The marshals and the Run Director all spoke English which was very generous of them. They probably knew the chaos that would ensue offering directions in French. The course is flat, with a combination of tarmac roads and trails paths, so it’s a good course for a fast run if you’re in the mood.

A young Australian, one of the small band of regulars at Bois de Boulogne, was celebrating her 100th parkrun and had brought cake but I couldn’t stay as I had a flight to catch to Copenhagen.

I have a number of French running buddies in my Nomad group in Perth so I was aware that to enter any race in France, one has to provide medical clearance. I assume that to avoid being called a race, parkrun in France publishes the results not in order of crossing the finish line but in alphabetical order by first name. It’s quirky, n’est pas? Your parkrun profile will still record your placement as with any other parkrun globally.

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Results in alphabetical order.

In the end, all the worrying was a waste of time – when isn’t it? – and I was very glad that I hadn’t surrendered to the voice that told me to drop this parkrun tourism lark for an easier, more sedentary holiday (as I have done on trips to Singapore and Melbourne). I may not have gone up the Eiffel Tower, nor seen the inside of the Cathedral of Notre Dame since 1985, but in the summer of 2018, I did complete parkrun du Bois du Boulogne in Paris. If you get the chance, I recommend that you do the same.

Perry Lakes parkrun

There’s nothing like the launch of a new parkrun to draw a crowd – of parkrunners. The launch of Perry Lakes parkrun last Saturday was no exception despite a temporary return of winter temperatures and rain. What better way to start the weekend than to huddle with your tribe, teeth gritted against the cold, rolling your eyes at the lunacy of wearing shorts and singlets in the rain, knowing that by 9 am you’ll be delighted that you made the effort? Well, 272 people thought it was a good idea in Floreat on Sep 30.

I’ve been to a few launches, but this one was particularly close to my heart as my Nomads on the Run squad trains at Perry Lakes every Monday morning. We stick to the paths mind you, so this was a new adventure as the route offers up an opportunity to go off-road and negotiate softer, yet more challenging, surfaces.

Perry Lakes is a beautiful 80-hectare reserve with two lakes teaming with birds, a grass oval beloved of dog exercisers, and asphalt and concrete paths under tree canopies that, in summer, offer a welcome respite from the sun. There are also clean public toilets (a Nomad obsession) and a water fountain or two. Really, it’s yet another gem that Perth offers walkers and runners (and dogs). In fact, Perry Lakes was the location of the 2016 World Masters Athletics Cross Country Championships.

On Saturday, the Mayor of the Town of Cambridge, Kerri Shannon, was there to say a few words, welcoming parkrun to the neighbourhood. In his run briefing, Event Director Jon Storey, (who has run over 300 parkruns), mentioned swooping magpies and unleashed dogs as potential hazards on the route but really, as a Perry Lakes regular, I think the biggest danger is tripping over one’s own feet on the cross-country sections. Obviously, for normal people, this is no danger at all, but for the minority group ‘Runners Prone to Tripping’ of which I am a fully signed up member with the scars and hospital bills to prove it, the prospect of negotiating an uneven surface was daunting.

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Perry Lakes parkrun route, with the first kilometre marked in blue, is two laps of this course.

The route is two laps of the park. It starts on a wide asphalt path – traffic-free on weekends – then after about 900m turns onto a cross-country section, around 400m long, which is a little more demanding in terms of foot placement and balance. I did however not fall so yay for me – twice!

The next section is on a concrete-turns-into-asphalt path with a return to grass – clipped and even grass as it’s part of the dog exercise area – at around 1.8km. At 2.1km, there’s a change in surface again as runners enter another tufty grass, cross-country section before a return to asphalt and a u-turn, marking the almost halfway point and the start of the second lap. I’d estimate that about 2km of the flat 5km course is off-road, of which only 1.2-1.3km is on uneven grass.

As expected, I found the tufty grass tough to run on which is kind of funny for someone whose home parkrun requires 800m of negotiating sand, rocks, seaweed, and hyper-active dogs. I did manage it more speedily on the second lap which makes me think that mastering this cross-country lark might be a question of practice – unlike plodding along on sand, which after more than 80 parkruns, is still most certainly the boss of me.

The volunteers as always were well organised and encouraging with several familiar faces from the Perth parkrun family. Many in attendance were, like me, visiting from other parkruns, but 56 people turned up to walk or run their first ever parkrun. Welcome to the tribe first-timers. Saturday morning just got awesome.

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Courtesy of Perry Lakes parkrun Facebook page

If you’re new to parkrun, or wondering how it works, head here.