After winning a place on the Ecotrailblazer’s team to represent Call of the Wild shop in Co. Sligo at Ecotrail Wicklow – I was introduced to the world of trail running. I thoroughly enjoy many sports and usually just ran on roads. The Ecotrail event just opened my eyes up to new terrain and new sites. Instead of doing the concrete jungle run around the block from my house, I was exploring new parks and forests. In my hometown of Sligo, there are lots of trails and many can be found on www.sligowalks.ie . They all vary in length and incline with Knocknarea mountain being my only mountain run.
It must be known that I still count myself as a beginner and almost feel not worthy to be contributing to a trail running forum. I enjoy running and I thoroughly enjoy trail running now but I am no way a fast runner. I motivate myself by increasing my distance but not necessary increasing my speed. I am slow but steady. I love the euphoric feeling you get after running – I get it every time. Ecotrail Wicklow was a super introduction to a trail race. I opted for the 18km which turned out to be 19km with lots and lots of hills. It was a glorious day, and the atmosphere was fun and friendly. There were times during that race where you just had to walk the uphill and you would meet people also walking and all of us chatting or catching our breath. It was so well organised and the non-alcoholic Wicklow wolf beer at the end was the icing on the cake.
After this event, I wanted more. I knew Ecotrail was part of a network of worldwide events and decided I would try Ecotrail Paris over the St. Patrick’s Weekend. It was a bonus this year as it was a double bank holiday, so I didn’t even have to take annual leave. I flew from my local airport Ireland West Airport Knock, I had to go via London as there was not direct flight. I arrived in Paris last that evening so got a taxi to a hotel that was close to the Eiffel Tower. I picked this hotel as I thought the race finished at the Eiffel Tower. This was my first mistake and one I didn’t realise until I had finished the race!
As we arrived on St. Patrick’s Day it was obligatory to enjoy a few pints – race day wasn’t until the 19th (2 days later). I opted for a light activity the next day and booked an Electric Scooter Tour of Paris via Air BnB Experiences. I wanted to rest the legs, and this just involved steering and balance. It was my first time on an electric scooter. It was €15 for 2 hours plus €15 for scooter rental. I have to say it was excellent. The guide was very willing to take photos and even videos without me even asking. He brought the group to all the main attractions and some hidden gems. We whizzed up the Champs Elysees, around the Louvre, photo stop at the Arc de Triomphe and of course the Eiffel Tower. It is a super tour if you only have a short stay in Paris.
The next day was race day and included in the entry ticket was a metro ticket to get you to the start point. There was a good atmosphere at the start, an excellent bag-drop facility, refreshments, toilets, and music. It was a very sunny day and dare I say it was too warm. I love the atmosphere of attending a race in a different county. The only other one I had done abroad was a 10km race in Porto over the Christmas break the previous year.
The Paris route was 90% trail with some welcome cover from the sun when running through the forests. As there were other distances running some of the same paths there were signposts where the trail would deviate for the course you were on. I got to the first waypoint/time check which I thought was at the 9km stage, but it was not, it was just over 7km – this was my second mistake, not having a watch. At this waypoint, there were refreshments and for some an equipment check.
There were lots more rules entering this French race than the Wicklow one. For instance, you had to send in a medical cert from your doctor to say you are in good health to complete the race, another was the equipment. You had to bring a phone with you, a small food container, a cup for water, a survival blanket and Identification. I really didn’t think I would need a survival blanket for the 18km, so I emailed before event and yes there were all mandatory. I was able to buy this cheaply anyway and I guess a good item to own. The race felt long because it was a new terrain and because I thought I was halfway there at one stage when I wasn’t. I persevered and only stopped when I really needed to. Anytime I go running at home, I never really allow myself to stop unless it is a mountain run where I just must stop and walk uphill.
I thought I had eaten enough before the race, but next my stomach started rumbling. I had a large breakfast, but I left it 3 hours before the race, I did have a banana an hour before too. I also had a gel that I normally don’t use and drank this as I ran. I was still hungry. I have a fast metabolism and know I timed breakfast wrong – third mistake. I should have eaten 90 minutes before the race as that is what I normally do when running. I did have difficulty that morning sourcing a big breakfast (vegetarian) and most was croissant, coffee, and juice which I had but then ordered avocado toast as well. It still wasn’t enough for race day or maybe it was enough but too long of a lapse.
At one stage, I saw the Eiffel Tower, but it was so far away… I really began to feel disheartened thinking I’ve so much more to go but then suddenly, I could hear music and shortly after a finish line arch. I was like this isn’t the Eiffel Tower, but I will take it! I was relieved and sprinted to the finish. The finish line gift was a poster which does not compare at all with the aluminium mug and beer received at Wicklow. In fact, most of the posters were put into nearby bins and I must confess I didn’t bring mine home either. There were refreshments at the finish line which is what the food container was for but at this stage I had my hands opened begging for food.
I got a few pics on a podium they had and with the help from other runners and my broken French I was able to get the correct train back close to my hotel. I had a huge feed and treated myself to Champagne. Pourquoi Pas! So, what I now understand about the finish is that the 80km race was the only race to finish at the Eiffel Tower and the 30km and 40km were not far from it either.
It was also the evening of the French Rugby final game at Stade de France, so the atmosphere was electric. I had planned to go out again after my shower but ended up raising my feet in the bed and watching the coverage in French on TV.
I had one more day in Paris, so it had to be Eiffel Tower and some more celebratory drinks. There is an option to climb the steps of the Eiffel Tower to the 1st section, but my legs said no. Reluctantly, I took the lift and went right up to the top and yes had another glass of Champagne there. It really is worth the money to go up, it gives fantastic all-round views and is such an iconic monument. It was time now to unwind and relax, enjoy the Parisian restaurants and bars before returning home the next day.
I learned a lot on this trip, and I feel better prepared for the next one. I’ve decided that EcoTrail Valencia in October will be my next trip. Although I could get a direct flight from Dublin for this one, I’m going to go out again from my local airport via London. The Ecotrail Valencia has 3 distances, 20km, 43km or 80km. I’ll be opting for the 20km, but I’ll have a big breakfast 90 mins before the race, know where I’m going to be finishing and have a watch!