Jumping Hurdles While Running in Paris

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jumping Hurdles While Running in Paris

Trusty ol' running shoes...
Somewhere between the first cramp in your side to the first sensations of runner’s high that leave you feel like you could keep going forever, you start to realize what a challenge it can be jogging through Paris.

Gone are the days when the university gym offered me numerous treadmills complete with cable TV and air conditioning.  Long gone, in fact.  A student again but paying much less tuition, I am also left with many fewer options when it comes to exercising.  The Sorbonne isn’t exactly known for its gym facilities – I think it has more of a track and field arrangement similar to those that Greek gladiators trained on, if not the same ones.

But running is free, and I live in a city best experienced by foot, with motorbike, bicycle, boat, and bus trailing behind.  But no one ever said at what speed one must explore foot.  I prefer an increased rate of discovery clad in comfy New Balances and some gym shorts, running the streets and parks.  But this is no easy feat while dodging dog poo and old French grandmothers…

For instance, while running along the walls of the St-Louis Hospital, I start to realize how hilly Paris really is.  With “buttes” everywhere, it should come as no surprise, but a gentle stroll towards the Butte Chaumont doesn’t tax your lungs like a jog will.  The stretch from the canal towards Colonel Fabien and onto Butte Chaumont is a constant challenge that my little legs are just starting to familiarize themselves with – and hopefully my lungs will join the game soon, too.

But once I come down from the hill and back along the canal, I can breathe easy.  Sure, the cobblestones can be tricky, but it’s flat and fairly constant.  Then, while hopping along to the beats of Lady Gaga, I get frustrated as I realize how much standing happens on sidewalks.  We're all guilty of it, but in that moment, it enrages me.  It’s called a trottoir for a reason – we’re meant to trot on them.  It’s not a standwalk, is it?  Get out of my way and let me run.  Thanks. Er, merci.

Fortunately on Sundays, the canal is blocked to traffic and the streets are free to roam.  Bikers, joggers, and strollers all descend on the car-free pavement.  It’s then that you realize, around mile 2 or 3, that a certain population is bound to get in your way – children.  Tiny, sticky-handed children just learning how to use a scooter or a tricycle will inevitably ride right into your path, not yet aware of things like consequences.

Running will also, ultimately, make you feel like something of a rock star – or an eternal outcast.  While many French joggers are rocking polo shirts or, at the other end of the spectrum, spandex running suits, I suit up somewhere in between.  I like my legs and I have no fear showing them off, wearing appropriately-sized running shorts and a tee shirt while frolicking along the streets.  Apparently this look isn’t as “in” as I’d like it to be and the midday shoppers and ladies who lunch look at me like I’m crazy.  Shorts in March?  It’s not that weird.   I take their staring as a compliment.  I do have nice calves…

After this overload of hurdles and difficulties while on the go, I took it as a sign from the Parisian gods that, when in doubt, don’t run in Parisian sidewalks and streets.  It’s too complicated and you’ll be so frazzled by scooting toddlers and stationary pedestrians that you won’t be able to find your rhythm, delaying the gratification of running without, well, stopping. 

So, succumbing to the Parisian norms, I finally hit the Jardin des Plantes to give it a try.  Fortunately, I arrived just as the firefighters were making their way into the gardens for their daily run.  I guess it’s not the worst lesson to learn…

Other great places to run? The Tuilieries for level terrain, Butte Chaumont for hill training (and lots of it!), Parc Monceau, Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, or the ever-classic Luxembourg Gardens for more pompier fun!


  1. Love it! I can perfectly seeing you dodging old bitties in the way and leaping over small children in a single bound! The pompiers? Oh yes, the pompiers! I have to trek across Parc Monceau every AM to get my kids to school and the site of our local firemen mid-workout always puts a little spring in my step! ;)

  2. i used to catch the firemen playing baseball at cite u at weekends when i ran - ah happy days... ;)

  3. I was always interested in the runners in Paris since the city is so clustered at times! It seemed like the most serious came to the gardens and parks, but what a great way to move through the city. Hope your footings are going well!