Here’s a little known fact: I was once heralded as an athletic prodigy.
This surprise announcement was made one cold morning in January, 2001. Stood on the school field, the wind making my teeth chatter, I listened nervously as our PE teacher described our route. It was cross-country day: a day that had borne witness to its own legends and folklore throughout the school. Tales of children collapsing, kids vomiting and one particularly haunting story of a girl lost forever somewhere between the leisure centre and the local Tesco store, were well known. Our cross-country run was the childhood equivalent of an ultra-marathon, set somewhere in the deepest, darkest Sahara.
Except that ours would take us 2 miles through suburban Buckinghamshire.
Eventually, the whistle blew and we set off: a panicked mix of adrenaline and fear that the boys might be watching, fuelling us. I remember Jennifer Lopez’s smash hit ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’, running through my head as I legged it through the mud. Eventually, I reached the field – the home strait – and realised that I’d broken away from the group. Perhaps it was Jennifer Lopez’s motivational words, but I was winning. Despite a now agonising stitch, I veered wildly towards my PE teacher as she shouted furiously at me. I felt like I was having a stroke; double vision and vertigo causing me to run like a drunk. As I crossed the finish line, feelings of intense relief and nausea washing over me, I vowed never to run again.
I then retched all over my new trainers.
Bag: Fossil Maya Hobo
It’s ironic that almost 17 years later, I would therefore find myself on another starting line. Surrounded by pink balloons, heart shaped bubbles and runners dressed as Adam & Eve, I was about to reignite my running career: a real-life phoenix from the flames. Thankfully, this time I wouldn’t be running across a boggy sports field in ill-fitting shorts, but through a blossom-filled park in Paris. Paris. I was here to run the Love Run Paris – a 7km event, co-sponsored by those romantic folk at lastminute.com. Unlike my PE teacher, who ensured that every sporting occasion had an element of misery attached, this event sets out to make running fun; combining fitness with what the French celebrate best – amore.
Offering runners pink heart balloons; bulging goodie bags; a pre-race and after race party; photo booths; inflatable flamingos; competitions; and your very own cheerleaders, the Love Run Paris laughs in the face of miserable cross-country races. Yet, pink memorabilia aside, the run has one final signature move; a move that not only promotes love, but, I imagine – tests it. To be able to run the Love Run, you must run it with a partner and be bound at the wrist. Because what says ‘I love you’ more, than running a sweaty 7km in perfect, athletic unison?
Having arrived in Paris the day before, Claire and I woke up early in our boutique hotel, Hotel de Banville – ready for our athletic feat. With views over the Eiffel Tower and offering a number of uniquely personalised rooms – each christened with its own name – the hotel was a lovely, peaceful place to stay. We were in room ‘Gabin’; one filled with hardbound books and softly glowing Edison light bulbs. It was a little Parisian bolthole in the middle of the sprawling city, and soon became our home for the weekend. With the morning light streaming through the traditional shutters, I nervously drew wobbly hearts over our faces, trying to distract myself from memories of 2001. Once the mediocre face painting was complete, our laces tied and our running playlists uploaded, we were ready: walking out into the city of love, ready for our race of love. The run was being held in Bois de Boulogne, a vast park that used to be a Royal hunting ground – an idyllic spot where French royalty would seek out prized deer and boars, amongst a forest of English oaks. These days, whilst you’re unlikely to see French royals trotting past, the park remains filled with clusters of forest; woodland trails; ponds; tulips and roaming peacocks. For art-lovers, the park also boasts the Louis Vuitton Foundation – a fantastically modern exhibition space filled with contemporary art.
Following the sound of cheering and music, we found ourselves in the Love Run village – a haven of pink hues. For 9am in the morning, the atmosphere was brilliant. On stage were a crowd of enthusiastic trainers, getting people to dance and bounce in an effort to warm up. This was no place for silent lunges or awkward hamstring stretches. Spotting the Lastminute.com staff, we pushed through the mass of pink balloons and Tarzan outfits, making our way to their beach-inspired stall, collecting our hot pink running gear and obligatory pink sunglasses. We were also handed our ‘cuff’ – a band that would ensure we ran all 7km together.
After having our photos taken – surrounded by inflatable flamingos and palm trees – we joined our fellow runners, jumping, singing and dancing our way through a warm up. It was still only 9.30am on a Sunday morning. As every couple had heart balloons attached to them, the sight was brilliant: bouncing hearts and twirling ribbons filling the sky. There were no nerves – everyone was excited, even me. If only my PE teacher could have seen me.
Suddenly, it was time to start – the crowd counting down from ten. Sadly for Claire and I, we could only count to ten in French, so were forced to improvise until the crowd reached three, triumphantly shouting ‘DEUX’ and ‘UNE’, with our fellow runners. What followed was perhaps the best time I’ve ever had exercising. For 7km we were a bobbing crowd of pink balloons and grinning faces. Couples dressed as Mario Cart characters, Kings and Queens, a naked Adam and Eve (leaves delicately in place), and German and French flags, ran alongside us. It was like being in Wacky Races. For the entire race, everyone cheered each other on, took photos of each other’s outfits and helped each other along. We even stopped and danced to the steel-drum band, overlooking the pretty rowing boats on the water lily covered lake.
Despite the events of 2001 and Claire’s problematic hip flexor (worsened by the damp, because apparently we’re now elderly), we ran the entire way – smiling and laughing for a full forty minutes. Although we may have picked up speed when we spotted a camera – gliding past like seasoned athletes – the 7km did not feel far. In fact, thanks to all the distractions, it flew by. Running down the home strait, waving at my imaginary fans, I was relieved to see that there was no passive aggressive PE teacher waiting for me, just an entire cheerleading squad, cheering us on.
As we ran across that finish line, I felt like the female equivalent of the Brownlee brothers. Heroes.
But the Love Run didn’t end there. Once we crossed the finish line, we were met by stalls of fruit, drinks and most importantly – cake. Piles of it. We were also handed our goodie bags and Love Run t-shirts, and left to wander: having our photos taken, helping send giant bubbles into the sky and joining a disco-inspired warm down. Despite travelling to dozens of cities, this was one experience that we’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying. Perhaps it’s little wonder that so many of us sign up to races across the world.
A run and a party over, all before 11am, meant that we had the rest of the day to explore the city (albeit a little stiffly). Ever the advocates of a balanced lifestyle, we headed straight to our favourite tearoom in Paris: Angelina. Situated opposite the Louvre Museum, Angelina was founded by confectioner Antoine Rumpelmayer in 1903, and named after his beloved daughter-in-law. A now iconic Parisian institution, Angelina’s has welcomed guests ranging from Coco Chanel to Proust, allowing them to dine on the finest macaroons and patisseries in town, in the most beautiful of settings. The belle-epoch designed interior glitters as you walk in, with chandeliers sparkling and the sounds of clinking china filling the room. For two hours, we drank the thickest chocolat chaud we’ve ever had (it was effectively molten chocolate), ate éclairs and demolished caramel filled choux pastry, thus triumphantly undoing every bit of calorie-burning exercise we had completed that morning.
Sugar rush complete, we headed to our favourite Parisian clothing store, Des Petits Hauts. These shops epitomise Parisian chic, combining that French aptitude for fashion with a sprinkle of glitter, a handful of golden stars and the odd appearance of a cat face. Their stores are filled with pastel coloured interiors and sparkling lights, and are such a pleasure to visit. Be sure to stop by when you’re next in the city!
Managing to resist the persistent call of my credit card, we next headed up the infamous hills of Montmartre: home to the Sacré-Coeur and of course, our favourite film – Amélie. Walking up rue Lepic, a bustling street filled with bursting cafes, boutiques and restaurants, Montmartre confirmed itself as one of our favourite parts of Paris. A walk up this steep avenue will not only take you to Place du Tertre – the artist-filled centre of Montmartre – but also past the famous Moulin de la Galette, one the last remaining windmills in the area. For true Amélie fans, be sure to pay a visit to Café des Deux Moulins – the real, working café where she waitressed, or explore Rue Saint-Vincent, which borders the vine-filled gardens. Not only was this one of Amélie’s favourite areas, but is also a photographer’s dream: filled with cobbled avenues and pastel coloured buildings.
A cold March evening now drawing in, and our joints slowly seizing, we made the trip back across the city for the obligatory viewing of the Eiffel Tower. The sun setting, we made our way to the Trocadéro, for views of the most-visited paid monument in the world. Standing proudly since her creation in 1889, the Eiffel Tower – once described by its fellow Frenchmen as ‘useless and monstrous’ – somehow encapsulates the magic of Paris. As the sun set and the tower began to glow, we reflected on our whirlwind, love-infused trip to our favourite city. Taking part in something as crazy and wonderful as the Love Run allowed us to see Paris from a new angle: a park we would never have visited, with a crowd of people we’d never have met. We felt less like tourists and more like welcomed residents; joining a gang of fellow love runners for a brilliant few hours. Once the run was complete, we could resume our usual role as token tourists, and explore Paris with the help of a guidebook and a clutched metro ticket. The perfect sight-seeing combination.
At 8pm, the tower began to glitter; a dazzling sparkle that lasted for five minutes and one that drew cheers from those surrounding us. It was our very own gold medal; a round of applause from the city of love, for a race we loved. It was the perfect end, to a perfect day.
Find out more below on how to spend the perfect weekend in Paris, whilst getting those legs moving and heart pumping!
This is a sponsored post in collaboration with lastminute.com.