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.

Reunions (and a bit of stalking) in Paris

When I was nine, my best friends were twin girls, four years my senior, who lived next door. Their dad was a bank manager, so they were Irish nomads who moved house every few years. When I was nine, the twins and their siblings moved to a village in an adjacent county, Wexford, less than 100km from Kilkenny. Other than one visit to stay with them, when I vomited in the back of their dad’s car (from eating too many sweets on the sleepover), I never saw them again. I don’t think my spewing over the car was a contributing factor. The twins’ departure from my life was a major, sad event, one which I recall vividly. Back in the pre-internet days, when a telephone call to Wexford was prohibitively expensive, our friendship hadn’t a chance.

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My own children have bid goodbye to many friends during their short lives. When I chaperone their tearful leave takings, I insist on saying it’s not goodbye forever, it’s until next time. I recall the twins and the vomiting and I vow to do better. I mean it when I say that they will see their friends again even if they are moving to the other side of the planet. All this is a long introduction really into how last week I found myself in Paris with four teenagers, aged 12-15. Selfless mother that I am, I travelled from Dublin with my two daughters, to meet up with my eldest’s two friends who now live in Houston and San Francisco. One of the friends, who is Dutch, lived in Paris for 8 years before relocating to Perth, where we first met and understandably his family love the city so much that they visit annually en route to the Netherlands. Spending time in Paris with people who know where to go, how to get there, and can suggest great places to eat, while also being great company, really makes for a spectacular holiday. I might even go as far as saying that I relaxed and enjoyed myself. I know! Incredible! IMG_1089

After five great days of being tourists with insider guides who didn’t charge a fee we took a taxi to Charles de Gaulle Airport to return to Ireland. Our reunions hadn’t finished yet however. Serendipity meant that another friend of my daughter’s, from our time in Kuala Lumpur, was arriving in Paris from Toronto, and we managed to meet her and her mother for coffee and a catch-up. Yes, my children do think such meetings and international travel are normal, no matter how much I try and explain that they’re not. The Wexford situation is beyond their comprehension in this instant messaging age.

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As we approached the airline check-in desk, I spied the familiar figure of Colm Tóibín, probably Ireland’s most famous living writer, coincidentally from the friend-robbing county of Wexford. I was as excited as a teenager bumping into Harry Styles but managed to keep my rapture under wraps channelling my energy instead into explaining to the check-in lady in Frenglish exactly whom she had just served. She was oblivious to Mr Tóibín’s celebrity status and possibly thought I was slightly mad. I’d met Mr Tóibín a couple of times at Kilkenny Arts Festival a few years back but remarkably he didn’t seem to recognise me (!). I’m pathetically bad at shoving myself forward (while sober) so this particular reunion was wordless and only experienced by one party. Some people might call it stalking but I promise, it was inadvertent. Remarkably no one else appeared to recognise him during all the time we sat in the departure lounge – he on his laptop, me pretending not to be watching him on his laptop, or back in Dublin airport in the line for Passport Control, me admonishing my daughters for staring, lest he actually notice me – for the wrong reasons. I guess not everyone thinks that writers are like rock stars but this brush with multi-Booker-nominated celebrity, whose career I’ve long coveted, topped off what turned out to be one of the best weeks I’ve had in years.

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