|Photo by Sathish J via flickr|
Tobias Mews, The Daily Telegraph, May 07, 2015
I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but when I first heard of a 50-mile ultra marathon that followed a network of trails into the heart of Paris, before climbing 328 steps to finish on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, I just knew I had to do it. I finished work early one Friday in March, jumped on the Eurostar and two and half hours later, arrived at the City of Light all set to run the EcoTrail de Paris.
Paris doesn't really sound like a trail running destination - or, at least, it didn't to me - but those in the know testify that the French have a passion for this kind of sport. In the UK, one might expect a couple of hundred people at best to turn up for an ultra marathon; in France, you can expect several thousand.
And the EcoTrail de Paris is one of the most popular of the country's 2,500 annual trail races. First launched in 2008, the race is still relatively new - but that hasn’t stopped upwards of 6,000 people entering any one of the four events on offer, from the lung busting ‘La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel’ to the 80km main event, there’s plenty on offer for all abilities.
For anyone who, like me, has an incurable case of 'running FOMO', there’s no option but to do the 80km, which is the only one to actually finish on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. With 90pc of the route on beautifully maintained trails, it presents the ultimate way to see Paris on foot.
As the first part of the name suggests, the USP of the EcoTrail is the environment. From the get-go at the Isle de Loisirs at St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, huge signs everywhere encouraged competitors and spectators to recycle. Even the portaloos were wooden drop shorts, where you unceremoniously grabbed some saw dust to sprinkle on your number two. And because it’s all about leaving as light a carbon foot print as possible, one of the pieces of kit that you're required to take along is a small cup - to avoid wastage at the aid stations. Considering how many runners were taking part, that saves a lot of plastic cups.
Bearing in mind that the aid stations were quite far apart - the first being at 13 miles with the second (less for a water stop at 27 miles in) not being until 34 miles - self-sufficiency is fairly important. Especially if you want to stay topped up with carbs. That’s if there were any. France’s idea of on-course nutrition is somewhat different to the British. Where we might perhaps have energy bars and gels, they have Emmentel cheese, pepperoni, warm soup and bread. It wouldn’t have surprised me if there were croissants and foie gras in among the feast.
Any food was welcome, because the undulating course that has a comparatively meagre 1500m of ascent sucks the energy from your legs with surprising venom. A succession of short yet sharp hills quickly reduce you to a purposeful, hands-on-knees style walk.
Indeed, it was during these ‘walking moments’ that I found myself questioning the midday start for a 50 mile race that only the quickest would complete in daylight. But then I realised that if you’re going to see the City of Light in all its glory, especially the Eiffel Tower, then you need to be finishing in the dark. The 324m ‘La dame de fer' is bathed in 20,000 bulbs that sparkle for 5 minutes on the hour every hour, from nightfall until 1am, when the Tower closes. Which also happened to be the cutoff for the race.
In short, the EcoTrail de Paris was a lot harder than I’d expected. Indeed, at just over midway through the race, on catching sight of the Tower at one of the check points, I tried to imagine what it would feel like after 50 miles of running to climb the 328 steps and see Paris sprawled out beneath me. But then the reality of what still lay in front of me reared its ugly head, and I began to shiver uncontrollably with the cold. Although I’d already run 30 odd miles, I had another 20 or so to go and now was not the time to start day dreaming.
The gruelling hours rolled by. Finally, there it was - the finish line some 115m above me. A mixture of spectators and bemused tourists hovered around the base of the Tower, which up close is well and truly enormous. After a curious security inspection (just in case I was carrying anything malicious) and being given an entry ticket, I suddenly found renewed energy and bounded up the steps, as I had done up the Gherkin last year, using the banisters to swing myself around the corners, overtaking a few surprised runners in the process.
Initially I tried to keep count of the 328 steps that would take me to my final goal - but quickly lost track. Crossing the line some 8hrs 18mins after I set off at lunchtime, I stumbled towards the edge of the tower to get a proper view of where I’d just come from. There beneath me, Paris was sprawled out like an illuminated picnic blanket, as millions of people settled in for the evening, seemingly unaware of the monumental toil and jubilation EcoTrail contestants were undergoing.
And since we left no trace of our activity, they may never know any better ...
How to enter
The 9th edition of the EcoTrail de Paris will take place in March 2016 (exact date TBC). Entries for the 80km event are limited to 2,000, so keep an eye out on the website as soon as entries go live.
For those not up to 80km, there are 30km and 50km options, as well as an 18km race in pairs and even a selection of walks http://www.traildeparis.com
How to get there
If you’re going to follow the eco-theme, then there’s only one option for getting to Paris: the Eurostar . Offering regular trains between London’s St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord, it’s not only faster and greener than flying, but also allows you to take more luggage.
Anyone with an extra night to kill can take advantage of the train company's 2 for 1 offer for entry to Paris's museums and galleries.
Where to stay
Being Paris, there’s an unlimited number of hotels, hostels and B&Bs. But if you want to find somewhere not too far from the finish line and at a reasonable price, then try www.airbnb.com
This article was written by Tobias Mews from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.