The last time I finished first in something was the 400m at my secondary school sports day in 1992. It was a splendid early summer’s day and I distinctly remember that Friday I’m in Love by The Cure was riding high in the charts at the time. I was unable to defend my crown the following year after a friend that was an alright 800m runner dropped down to the single lapper and turned out to be phenomenal at it. The fast fecker would go on to represent Ireland.
For as long as there have been Parisian parkruns I’ve wanted to do one so after spotting a cheap flight option I booked an early March trip. After in-depth research similar to the priests that upgraded the Holy Stone of Clonrichert in Father Ted I opted for parkrun de Montsouris.
Two other PAC tourists, Guirgunator and Adrian, also bought in and we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport on Friday evening and a budget hotel within the airport grounds was our kip for the night. At 0715 on Saturday we checked out and headed for Montsouris. Our hotel was merely 100m from the train station and RER line B offered a direct journey to our destination.
As the train trundled through Paris’s northern suburbs my inner historian was grabbed by two neighbouring stops. The first was Drancy which having read Paul Webster’s book Pétain’s Crimes years back I knew held an internment camp during World War Two for French Jews prior to being transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Le Bourget followed where Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis touched down at the local airfield following the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927.
At 0820 we arrived at Cité Universitaire station. As we entered Parc Montsouris it was clear that it was going to be an uppy downy one rather than a flat affair. Built on the site of an old quarry the area was transformed into a park under the orders of Emperor Napoleon III in 1869 to give green space to local Parisians.
The northeast point of the park was the parkrun rendezvous area and all the usual hallmarks were present. There was the flag, runners and volunteers although not adorned in hi viz vests, or gilet jaunes, perhaps to escape a skull cracking by the gendarmerie. The run brief was simple enough. Three anti-clockwise laps of the park, keep to the path close to the perimeter fence on the right, prepare for the steep hill and to get the full 5k take the outside line.
I’ll not bore you with a self indulgent run commentary but I crossed the line in 20:23 gratefully receiving token 0001 for the first time in 262 parkruns. I was elated to be first finisher and I’m trying so hard to stick to the parkrun ‘it’s a run not a race’ parlance and not scream out loud ‘I won a race, I won a bloody race!’ Never did I think a first finish would ever occur nor do I think it likely to reoccur. I’m an okay runner but usually accept a top ten percent finish as a great personal achievement. The caveats are numerous but hey you can only run against those that turn up on the day.
Also being a Man Utd fan in Paris shortly after Solskjær’s men defeated PSG had something of an ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel about it but like the Reds I too came away with a very positive result.
The overwhelming majority of the 38 finishers plus volunteers were British immigrants living in Paris or British visitors, mainly from Glossop, so the parkrun itself didn’t necessarily feel French apart from the location and the ‘tous les samedis à 9h’ on the flag. The post event meet up at the nearby Cafe Chinchin however gave it the Parisian air we were looking for and, I kid you not, there was even a women wearing a beret smoking a Gauloises cigarette sat outside.
After a coffee and a chinwag there was a presentation by SAP, a group raising awareness about organ donation. In France organ donation is ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’ like in the U.K. which to me is a wholly more appropriate and efficient way of going about things. Two organ donor beneficiaries talked about the inspirational things they have achieved following donations and both take part in the arduous La Course Du Coeur every year, a 750km organ donation awareness run from Paris to Les Arcs in the Alps. Complete heroes as were their donors. To be a U.K. organ donor then please register here.
We decamped from Chinchin at 1130 and based on a parkrunner recommendation headed to Tour Montparnasse. The view of the city from the 56th floor after riding the insanely rapid elevator was breathtaking. Following lunch atop the tower we headed over to Notre Dame, took in the fantastic Shakespeare and Co bookshop (a recommendation from a Paris-based old school friend), ambled along the Seine and then people watched outside L’Ebouillanté in Marais enjoying a good few glasses of Minervois red wine in the glorious afternoon sunshine.
My travelling companions had an earlier flight home than me so we bade farewell at Châtelet-Les Halles station. I had just enough time before my flight to fulfil a long held ambition. My fascination with The Doors started from the Jim Morrison poster that adorned my sister Katheryn’s bedroom wall. I just love their music and on previous trips to Paris I haven’t been able to shoehorn in a pilgrimage to Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery. This time though I succeeded in paying my long overdue respects to a musical icon.
I’m enchanted by Paris. I absolutely love the place. Since the 2015 terror attacks I’ve felt a tad uneasy about going back but I’m pleased that I did. Yes the armed French troops patrolling the streets give the feel of a city on the edge however the place still is magical. As Thomas Jefferson said “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty and in the point of life.” All Jefferson needed to add was a parkrun barcode and a pair of Brooks Ghosts and he’d be bang on.