Dégustation – My Médoc

The last time I mixed alcohol with athleticism it almost landed me a £2000 fine. Following a night out with my best man and unwilling to wait twelve minutes I raced a departing Metrolink tram from Shudehill to Victoria Station. I emerged victorious but wasn’t permitted to board said beaten tram because apparently you can’t go through the tram entrance to the station. So to paraphrase Kipling “Oh alcohol is alcohol, and running is running, and never the twain shall meet.”

Yet one chilly February evening I sat in the Same Yet Inn listening to three Marathon Des Châteaux du Médoc veterans, T-Dog, Massage Hands and Be Nice, harp on about their annual running jaunt around the Bordeaux vineyards. The ‘Wine Marathon’ starts in Pauillac and the course meanders in and around the Médoc vineyards along the left bank of the Gironde Estuary near Bordeaux. It is the standard 26.2 miles (42.2km) in length but with twenty plus wine stops! Furthermore it is ran in themed fancy dress. Initially sceptical I was eventually drawn in and by night’s end my flights to Bordeaux were booked.

It would be my first Médoc but T-Dog’s 5th, Massage Hands’ 4th and Be Nice’s 3rd trips and every year they always dressed the same irrespective of theme. They wore mid 1990s France or Man Utd replica football jerseys together with Eric Cantona face masks. The Three Cantonas of Médoc. In 2019 Superheroes was the theme so I, with my 1992-94 Newton Heath inspired shirt, would join them as Le Quatrième Cantona. Eric, the superhero for the red half of Manchester.

Following a couple of eventful days in the beautiful city of Bordeaux race day finally arrived. We were up bright (well dark actually) and early for the 0630 shuttle bus to Pauillac. The weather did not bode well as it poured down nearly all journey. I, being the newbie, was immediately classed a jinx and christened ‘Rain Man’. Fortunately the rain cleared up and the sun came out just as we arrived in Pauillac.

The start area was thronged with excited athletic wine aficionados in Super Mario, Spiderman, Captain America, Wonderwoman and more costumes. We were treated to an aerial performance on high wires suspended above us then just before the starting gun two French Air Force Alphajets screeched overhead. We were a Cantona down as Massage Hands was ‘otherwise engaged’ so T-Dog, Be Nice and I set off with the principle objective of just beating the 6:30 sweeper cart. If we failed in that there’d be no medal or bottle of wine at the end.

Be Nice’s race strategy was clear, bypass the winestops up until half way then imbibe thereafter. The remaining three Cantonas would adopt the Jonathan Swift ‘better the belly burst than good liquor be lost‘ strategy and hit them all from the first at Château Haut-Batailley until the last at Château Montrose.

The first 6km was just like any old marathon. T-Dog restrained my natural instincts to settle into my usual marathon pace. ‘It’s not about time Mike, relax’. It all changed upon reaching Château Haut-Batailley when a fine Bordeaux was thrusted into our welcoming hands. Be Nice clattered on whilst we savoured the glorious Claret.

Standing waiting for Massage Hands provided time to observe the passing mass of dressed up runners. It was obvious some had preloaded given their already tottering gaits. T-Dog greeted those dressed in highly restrictive costumes with a ‘they clearly haven’t thought that through’ and those dressed in standard running gear with ‘they obviously didn’t get the email’.

Massage Hands finally caught up to us 10km in whilst at Château Gruaud-Larose. It was the third stop and the first to serve in wine glasses rather than plastic cups. Jesus it tasted divine and waiting around was no problem as we enjoyed a second and third glass. I had finally settled into Médoc pace.

The chateau wine stops rattled by on average every three kilometres. From the grandioseness of Châteaux Pichon-Baron and Lafite-Rothschild to the little one by the side of the road in Pauillac each one had their uniqueness and the quality of the wines was outstanding. Running through the dusty roads amongst the rolling vineyards was majestic however the amount of people seeking urinary relief amongst the vines was a tad off putting. I was advised to venture at least 30 metres in if I wanted to pinch a grape (btw that is not a euphemism).

The support along the route was incredible. Obviously given our get up we got many ‘oh ah Cantona’ and ‘allez Canto’ chants throughout from spectators and runners. One runner sidled up beside me and recited the famous ‘when the seagulls follow the trawler’ quote. Fair play to the lad. I only noticed one other runner dressed as their footballing icon, a Finnish FKW in a Norwich City away kit with Fantasy Football’s man of the moment Teemu Pukki on the back.

Whilst in the grounds of Château le Haye, bedecked in large multicoloured helium balloons, at 32km I got myself into and out of a little bind. My daughter was born in the late 2000s and she enjoyed an Icelandic show popular on CBBC called Lazy Town. I bumped into a group of Icelanders dressed as the lead character.

“You’re dressed as Sportacus aren’t you? From Lazy Town. Such a shame the lad died recently.”

“No he didn’t.”

“Yes he did. I saw it on the news.”

“No he didn’t. The guy’s a personal friend of ours. We saw him last week.”

“Are you sure? Really? Ah yes you’re right. It was the guy that played Robbie Rotten.”

Thankfully they laughed and we parted in good form.

Like all marathons the last 10km are the real tester. My feet were aching and my right abductor muscle was giving me some jip. The mind started at me and the nagging doubt about finishing tried to sow its ugly seed however the camaraderie eased me through it.

The last 5km was a long straight road back into Pauillac that could have been mind numbingly boring but for the pièce de résistance. As if the race had not given enough en route what with the fine wine and delectable aid stations we were treated to oysters, cheese, entrecôte steak and ice cream. How my stomach stood it all I’ll never know.

The finish arrived not long after the ice cream and as we approached the Three Cantonas spread out, clasped hands in the air, put our Eric masks back on, turned up our collars and sang ‘oh ah Cantona’ to the tune of La Marseillaise. 6:12:47, a marathon personal worst by multiple hours but as a wise man said ‘it’s not about time.’ We were handed our finishers medals and bottle of wine and then hobbled to the free bar, yes free bar, to rendezvous with Be Nice.

It’s hard to pick a favourite wine from the twenty but if I had to it would be the 2015 Frank Phélan at Château Phélan-Segur. An Irish name, his ancestor was a Wild Goose, but very much a delightful Bordeaux wine. My least favourite? A bullshit dessert wine I was tricked into drinking somewhere near halfway.

Médoc was terrific fun with so many hazy memories banked for the rest of my life. Although it is an epic moving piss up it is also a wonderful showcase of all that Médoc and then Bordeaux region has to offer. As Be Nice said “they know what they’re doing, they’re no fools.” Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc ensures that those that participate go forth and become vocal ambassadors for the region and its produce. No more will I ask for an Argentine Malbec or a Californian Pinot Noir in bars or restaurants. I’m an old world wine convert and from now on it’ll be ‘what do you have from Bordeaux?’

(L-R) Be Nice, Massage Hands, yours truly, T-Dog

I’ll always have Paris

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.

Première arrivée

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.

Jim Morrison’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery

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.