Running The World: France

Today’s Running The World interview is from my favourite country in the entire world, France. I did a French degree and spent about a year over there and I just adore the place. Proximity to France is one of the things I most miss about living in the US.

So when I was reading Emily’s blog and saw a comment from a French runner who had just moved to California, I pretty much pounced on the poor girl in my excitement. Alas she had chosen the dodgy half of California (the south) so we couldn’t be IRL running buddies, but over the past few months, we’ve become great online running buddies. So it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Marjolaine.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, I am Marjolaine. I am 30. I am French and I moved to California (Camarillo, North of Los Angeles) with my better half, Mathieu (who I call my personal playboy), in January. Moving to California was a dream of ours after a trip there in September 2011. I have always been fascinated by living in a foreign country (especially the USA) and speaking another language (it’s a little bit magical, don’t you think?). So, after my studies, I made that happen. I lived a year in England, in 2007. With my playboy, we spent 6 months in New Zealand, in 2009, exploring this amazing country in a van. I lived a year and a half in New York, in 2010-2011. And now, California ! We love it so far, and, hopefully, we will settle in there.

Marjolaine xxx
Marjolaine crushing her 10k in Paris (Love the race details bit at the bottom)

How did you get into running?

I discovered running in middle school with a cross-country race which was held every year. To my surprise, I wasn’t bad at it. I can’t say I was a sporty girl at the time. But, I always liked the effort, the sense of accomplishment and the hard work that you have to give in sports, in general. I kept running, once in a while, during my studies, to relieve stress. It was really occasional. I carried on this way when I started working, just to “do something”.

I moved to New York for a year and a half in 2010. I dreamed so much about this town and about Central Park, that when I arrived there I promised myself to go running in Central Park once a week. Then, I decided to register for a race (a 5 miler), my first one, in June 2011. I trained for it, raced it and loved it. And I was hooked ! Back in France, I carried on running.

I like having a race as a goal. I make my own ‘training plans’ and I like having this structure. I ran 5 milers, 10K and half marathons. I don’t run lots of races because I am scared to get bored with running. I usually run 4-5 times a week. I always did road running, but, I would love to try trail running. I am pretty sure I would love it.

Tell us about running in France. How popular is it?

When I left France to go to New York (in 2010), running was pretty low-key. No fuss around it. There were races and famous ones, but it wasn’t something super-hyped. You know, in France, we don’t have this sports/healthy culture that we can find in the USA. Going to the gym is not so usual or so common for “normal people”. It is even something people laugh at : you go to the gym if you are a bodybuilder. BUT, it is changing.

I came back to France at the end of 2011. I think the buzz around sports and running started in 2012-2013. Now, running is popular. Going to the gym is becoming more and more normal for young adults. Running is definitely growing and fun races like mud races or color runs are arriving in France.

When I lived in France, I ran a little but never saw other French female runners.  I’ve always kind of assumed French women don’t run – was that ever the case or was I totally wrong? Or are things changing?

That is totally true. At first, when it was not so popular, running was more a man thing. There were races and runners around, but it was not the norm. It was a small community of sporty people. It was not cool to run. Now, running is a trend (at least, in Paris, not sure about how it is seen elsewhere) and things are changing. The recent buzz is mainly focused around women. So, now, both women and men are running. There are still more men than women at races, but I think female participation is growing.

What is racing like in France? 

The races are generally organized by the towns where there are held or running organizations — a famous one is A.S.O. Challenges –  or running clubs. But, in big cities, sports brands are also organizing them (or maybe only sponsoring them… sometimes it is not really clear who does what). You can find lots of different types of races from 5K to marathons. There are also trail races.

Registration fees are less expensive in France than in the USA. For example, I ran Paris half marathon in 2012. I registered in advance and I paid around $40. Of course, in big cities, it is usually more expensive. In smaller cities, you can run a half marathon for $25. Depending on the size of the event, the race experience is different.

Marjolaine in xxx racing in Albi
Marjolaine in red at the back, racing in Albi

How does it compare to what you’ve seen racing in California?

Ah ah ! I will do a post on that topic on my blog. I can say that there are more women than in France. Here, it seems to me that there are as many women as men at races. People are more friendly and come to speak with you easily. I love that ! Also, in the USA, races are not always about performance and competition. There are lots of people who are here just to have a good time, even if they don’t run fast. So, there is always a festive spirit which is not always there in French races.

What are the biggest races in France?

For road runners, the biggest races are Paris Half Marathon (held at the beginning of March) and Paris Marathon (held at the beginning of April). They are international events too.

For ultra-runners or trail runners, the race called “Saintélyon” is really famous. It is a race between two big cities (Saint Etienne and Lyon) which is held overnight. There are different options to run it : solo (75, 45 or 21 km / 46.6, 28 or 13 miles) or relay (2, 3 or 4 people). Another famous one is “Les 100 km de Millau”, a 62-mile race.
Also, I have to mention one very unique and very French race : “Le marathon du Médoc”.  It is a marathon, on the road. Along the route, you can see castles and on the course, you’ll enjoy very French things: wines and food (oysters, charcuterie etc). I know, so French! You don’t run it for performance!

The Saintelyon race - an overnight trail race held in the Alps in Winter!  Source
The Saintelyon race – an overnight trail race held in the Alps in Winter!

What aspects of running haven’t made it across the Atlantic yet?

I know about relays like Ragnar Relay you have in the USA, where you have a big team and vans and multiple legs to run and a beautiful course. I read about them on American running blogs and would love to try once. I never heard about something like that in France and, when I was there, I would have loved that kind of relays to be organized. We have quite a bit of beautiful countryside to run into ! For sure, I would have been the first one to try to make a team. So, who knows, Ragnar Relay, if you read me, I am totally cool with being your ambassador in France for your first race there. I know some pretty beautiful places to run 🙂

If a traveller was going to do one French race, which would you recommend?

If you want big ones, you go with the ones I mentioned earlier!

 How big is trail running?

I am not really sure yet. I think the ones who were running well before running became cool are into trail running right now, or were already into it. But as running is newly popular, most people are exploring the more conventional running races.

I could handle running here s'il vous plaît.
I could handle running here s’il vous plaît.

 What are the cool (running) kids wearing these days?

Nike is definitely ahead in the brands which are taking advantage of the running trend. If you want to be cool, you have to follow Nike. They are organizing races and events. They held running sessions every week in Paris.

We don’t have brands such as Lululemon or Oiselle in France… yet. To be honest, it was quite boring to buy sport clothes in France. The only options you had were Nike or Adidas, and specialized shops. But, it is changing. I am pretty sure sports shops will pop up.

What do French runners use to fuel and hydrate?

I think it is quite the same things that you have in the USA : gels and sport drinks. During races, at the water stations, you also generally have slices of oranges, sugar and dried apricots. There is nothing really specific to France.

(Cat’s note: On her blog, Marjolaine mentioned that she uses sugar cubes as fuel during races. I’m intrigued by this. So much cheaper than gels and basically the same thing,apart from salt on hot days. I’m trying this at my next race). 

What are the popular magazines and podcasts?

You can find magazines such as ‘Jogging International’  or the French version of ‘Runner’s World’, and specialized ones for trails or ultra. They were there before the buzz. As running is a new trend, new magazines are being launched. These new ones try to be more hyper than the already existing technical ones and they essentially target young women. I can think of Vital for example.

Podcasts… I don’t even know about that in the USA ! (you’ll have to fill me in ;-)) So, no, nothing like that in France, at least, from what I know.

Yeah, I'd happily run in Paris as well.
Yeah, I’d happily run in Paris as well.

Who are the French people’s running heroes?

I don’t think we have any in France. I know, in the USA, you have people like Lauren Fleshman or Deena Kastor. In France, marathoners are not cool or well known. At least, for now… I can’t even give you a name of a French marathoner.

How big is the social media/twitter/blogging world in France? Any examples of who we could  follow?

There is a community of running bloggers: Runosphere. You can find lots of different blogs there. I know they organize pasta parties in Paris. Also, lots of new running blogs are popping out. For Twitter, I can’t tell. I don’t have an account. But lots of things are definitely happening there.

I have some blogs I personally love because they are well written, funny, and a little bit different than the “typical” running blogs. There is Emmanuelle, from Running Sucks. Her posts are always really well written. She is funny. And, she goes beyond the obvious running posts. She asks herself questions and makes us think about it too (“Do runners love pain ?”, “Does running make us happier ?”). It’s interesting, well thought out and it opens the debate. Another blog I like is Daddy’s Got The Beat. He doesn’t take himself seriously. It is full of second degree and irony. Well, you know French people love that !

How do you say ‘I love running’ and ‘I am a runner’ in French? Vital vocabulary for when we visit. 

‘J’aime courir’ is ‘I love running‘.

I am a runner‘ is more complicated. Assuming you’re a woman, the correct phrase is  ‘Je suis une coureuse‘. But we also use the English word with a French twist…’Je suis une runneuse‘. It’s not a true and correct French word, but people use it. However, the most common way would be ‘Je fais de la course à pied‘ (lit. I do running).

If I landed in your country, where would you send me to find out about running routes, groups and races?

That’s a tough one… I never ran with a running group and found my routes just by lacing up and going outside.

In the center of Paris, you can aim for the biggest parks. Le Jardin des Tuileries (next to Le Louvre) is well known, on the week-ends, to run. You also have Le Champ de Mars (next to the Eiffel Tower) or run to the Seine. There is also the Canal Saint Martin, on the North East side of Paris, or Le Jardin des Plantes, on the South East. I would recommend to go running in the mornings, otherwise you’ll have to struggle with all the people who just want to be outside to have a nice walk. Outside of the city center, you have 2 big parks very well known by runners : le Bois de Boulogne (West side) and le Bois de Vincennes (South East). Don’t go there at night, but during day time it’s safe.

As far as running groups are concerned, I don’t really know either… sorry ! If you want to follow the formal route, you can join a track and field club. It can be really competitive or not depending on the club. Try the French Athletics Federation.You can find the clubs across France on their website.  If you want to join a less formal group, I can think of the running sessions held by Nike on a weekly basis in Paris. I checked online and it seems everything is happening on their Facebook page :

 Marjolaine, thank you so much for your help putting this together! Marjolaine has a great blog about her SoCal running exploits. It’s newly available in English so go, read it! Or you can follow her on Instagram HERE.

Warning: do not follow her on IG unless you enjoy being tortured by photos of baking you can’t eat! 

For other Running The World interviews, click HERE. 

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathryn says:

    Great series – these “running the world” posts are wonderful! Fascinating interview. I also love France and the Marathon du Médoc looks amazing!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Doesn’t it!!! I def want to do that one time, even if I have to walk it. I’m so glad you love these posts, I really love doing them!!

  2. Sharyn says:

    Hi, I’m new to your blog, but can I say how much I enjoy your running the world series. So inspiring to read about all these amazing women and the joys and challenges they face in running in different countries all around the world. I’m getting back to running after a break of many years and these posts just make me want to lace up my shoes and run. Thanks 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment, you made my day! I really love doing this series simply because the women I’m talking to are all so incredible, I totally agree!! It’s fascinating discovering the different challenges and joys of running in different countries! Anyway, thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment, it really makes me happy when people comment.

  3. Thank you very much Cathryn for this great interview of Marjolaine. Running is definitly more and more “cool” here in France even if we are still lagging behind American and British people ;). Running groups are beginning to grow, on this website for example : Sorry for my English wish is not very strong !

    1. Cathryn says:

      Your English is great, thank you SO much for reading and commenting. I’ve started reading your blog too – it’s so good to read French running blogs! I’m so glad running is becoming more popular in France! Thanks for the link to too!!!

      1. I didn’t even know this link. She is hiding things from me !!! 😉 (just kidding)

  4. Jen says:

    Adding Marathon du Medoc to my list!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yes!! I’d somehow stagger that one myself.

  5. glamskibum says:

    Loving the Running the World series you’re doing, very interesting!
    I’d like to add my 2 cents to running in France though. I live in the French Alps so I can answer the trail running question. It is HUGE. The definition of trail running is also different than in the US. Trail running here involves elevation gain, running on a flat beaten track isn’t really considered trail running. However, there are organized “city trails” poping up in various cities.
    The most famous/toughest trail race is the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (166 km +9,600 m). Alot of trailers (that’s what trail runners are called here) wear Salomon because it is a French brand based in the Alps.
    I don’t know of any popular blogs, but popular athletes are Kilian Jornet and Emilie Forsberg. They’re not French but they train in Chamonix and are part of the Salomon team.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Hey, thank you so much for commenting and adding so much info! I’m a bit of a stalker of the Salomon Trail Team – I have such a crush on Emelie Forsberg. Isn’t UTMB this weekend too?

      I am so jealous of you living in the French Alps. I honestly try to persuade my husband every week to move to Annecy and buy a B&B. It’s my dream!! All those mountains!! In the meantime, SF isn’t bad!

      Thanks for following the blog, I really appreciate it.

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