Having (not) completed Race to the Stones in 2017 and DNF’ing at around 49 miles I was determined to complete a race of a similar distance (at least a 50 mile race) and the EcoTrail Paris appeared on my Facebook timeline in November 2017. Billed as a race featuring 92% trails around Paris with a finish line on the Eiffel Tower the race was too much to resist so I booked a place.
Being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease means that are some complications that can interfere with running such as being susceptible to getting abscesses in a place where you would least want one. Three weeks before the race I had started to develop an abscess and tried to head it off at the pass with a course of antibiotics.
Two courses later it was still lingering which meant emergency surgery just 5 days before the race. Depending on the outcome of the surgery there was a good chance that I wouldn’t make the race but it went well and there was a chance I’d make the start line. And I did!
With a 1215 start I had an opportunity to get out for a little run to get ALL parts of the body working correctly. Suffering from the dreaded Runner’s Trots A LOT, I have found that going out for a short run of a mile or two prior to a big race helps get things moving and fingers-crossed prevents issues later in the race.
Running around Paris early in the morning does mean that I get to photograph some of its more famous sights without any traffic or tourists getting in the way.
En Route to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
Part of the race fee included rail and bus travel to the starting line and there were multiple trains that I could catch (plus my first ride on a double decker train!). I always prefer to arrive at a destination early but I wouldn’t want to be hanging around in the cold for too long. Not knowing exactly how long it would take me to get there I opted for one of the middle trains.
I had been monitoring the weather all week and it had varied from dry to snow to rain to overcast to freezing cold to not-so-freezing cold. The latest weather forecast predicted it to be chilly with us missing the snow that was further north but heading out of Paris on the train it started to rain. Hopefully it would pass over so that it could be a dry race.
Arriving at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines after connecting via race bus, there was going to be a 90 minute wait until the start. I purposefully didn’t bring a drop bag so that I could leave the finish straightaway so was stuck with only the clothes I’d be running in. In hindsight I should have brought some cheap clothes to bin rather than being chilly.
At the start there were hot drinks, Coke, Iced Tea and cake on offer so did some last minute carb loading whilst topping up on caffeine.
Assembled on the start line with 2197 other runners we were all eagerly awaiting to start the run and promptly at 1215 the stampede began – both ahead on the course and to the nearest tree for a number of the men!
The first five miles was a tour of the Saint-Quentin pond and a taster of what was to come. Despite being predominantly flat the terrain was very wet and muddy and despite best efforts it was difficult to avoid getting wet feet so early into the race. Leaving the park there was a brief respite running alongside a velodrome and more tarmac before it was back on the trail and more mud. Conditions were deteriorating with light snow falling making it feel colder and making conditions under foot even more challenging.
Buc – 14 Miles
Arriving at a snowy aid station at Buc was a welcome relief due to needing the toilet and it was also a my first opportunity to sample what food would be on offer. Compared to some aid stations I’d experienced it wasn’t the best spread on offer but having cheese was a bonus and sugar cubes were a great way of getting sugar fix. I’d wish I’d made an effort of bagging up the food and taking it with me rather than solely relying on the Tailwind which I’m still unsure about on long races.
Exiting the aid station down onto the picturesque La Bièvre river the legs were feeling a little tired so I told myself that I’m going to have to start power walking sections. It wasn’t what I’d planned on doing, or in fact wanted to do, but after a DNF at Race to the Stones, and recent health issues, I was determined to get to the finish and I had to strike the balance between not burning myself out and getting to the Eiffel Tower.
The path alongside the river quickly ended and it was back onto forest trails. I try to hold off from using headphones for as long as possible so that I can take in the sounds of the trail and I was rewarded with the sight of a startled deer shooting through the woods behind me. Unfortunately was too quick for me to turn on the phone to take a photo.
Prior to the race I had downloaded the GPX file so had an idea of the type of elevation that I would expect but I completely underestimated just how many hills there would be and by now I was starting to experience them fully. The hills themselves are never an issue but I was conscious of not making good time particularly when combined with walking other sections.
With a few miles to go to the next aid station at Meudon I was feeling slightly nauseous which may have been due to the Tailwind. I had come with SOS Rehydrate as a backup so would start using that in conjunction with the Tailwind from now on.
Meudon – 28 Miles
The light is beginning to fade as I reach Meudon, the second aid station on the route and this one only has water available. I knew this in advance but was hoping that they may have included a few bits of food or at least hot water but it was plain old regular water. The phone battery was running pretty low so it was time to take the charger out of the bag and plug the cable into the… oh crap! It’s a micro USB cable and not a lightning cable! With 20+ miles left to go, the phone was going to have to be switched off so no more photos of music.
Bottles filled with SOS and Tailwind, on with the head torch and off into the night. Straight away runners were needing assistance by volunteers to get up a steep and muddy embankment. Shortly after leaving Meudon I reached the Orangerie du Meudon and Parc de l’Observatoire which would no doubt have been stunning in the daylight. Whilst on the way to the Orangerie I passed someone huddled in a bus stop wrapped in an emergency blanket – a sign of how cold it was getting.
I latched onto another runner from the USA for a couple of miles which was great for both of us. When running alone it’s great to feed off other runners to help push you along. Unfortunately it was soon curtailed as we began to encounter the worst mud of the race so far. For the next 2 miles there was a wide river of up-to-ankle deep mud that was completely unavoidable. There was no alternative but to plough through it and get wet, dirty and cold. At times it was safer to avoid slipping by going through the deepest sections.
Cruelly, exiting this muddy section the route passed a sizable French Restaurant which smelled so good. I would have paid good money for a steak at that point but instead I dipped into my pocket and finished off the remainder of my Burton’s Fish ‘n’ Chips!
The next aid station at Chaville was around 3 miles away and I had found myself in a small group including a couple from the UK (there weren’t many of us running). Along this part of the route there were a number of sections which were narrow which meant we continued together as a group. Great to keep moving together. We then hit one of the worst sections of the race – a gully that was beyond ankle deep in mud and difficult to keep vertical. We were all barely moving through this section and one of the UK runners in front fell at least three times.
Chaville – 35 Miles
Arriving at Chaville meant a chance to get some food although at this point you’re faced with the left overs so a couple of cups of soup, cheese and a banana. The photo of the mud (not mine but one from Instagram) shows just how bad it had become by now.
Reaching around 40 miles my watch began to indicate it was close to running out of juice so keen to make sure I recorded the entire run I picked up the pace (that’s one way of getting you running again!) and ran along any section that I could (easier said than done in the slippery mud!). I still had a couple of hours to go so wasn’t sure if it would make it the entire way. At times there were some runnable tarmac sections but then you were hit with mud-bath after mud-bath. With more hills thrown in for good measure.
Saint Cloud – 43 Miles
The last aid station on the route and all down hill from here. Saint Cloud was looking rather empty and volunteers were encouraging runners to not to stick around due to the time. I needed something hot inside me so grabbed a soup before leaving and descending down to the bank of the River Seine.
After a bit of mud on the descent it was then back onto tarmac so I picked up the pace a bit and continued to run as best I could. I had 7 miles to cover in around an hour which wasn’t going to be easy at the pace I was capable of at that point. I bumped into the American guy that I had run alongside after Meudon and we jogged together for a mile or so but I needed to press on so continued to run when he started to walk.
Following the River Seine into Paris the Eiffel Tower was nowhere to be seen despite me hoping to see it on the horizon. With 5 or 6 miles to go it was far too soon to see it but I was looking for something to latch on to. I’d occasionally run past finishers who would offer words of encouragement whilst reminding me of the dwindling time.
From researching the route prior to running I knew we had to run along an island in the Seine so when we crossed a bridge to gain access to it I thought we had reached that island. It transpired that the island I was thinking of was actually closer to the Eiffel Tower so I still had another 4 miles to go.
By this point the Eiffel Tower was in sight although it was cruelly out of reach. With a few miles to go, unless I ran at 5K pace there was no chance I’d make it in time. As I reached the second island in the Seine and with members of the public shouting Allez, Allez the Eiffel Tower started to twinkle. It was game over. The twinkling meant it was 1am and the Eiffel Tower was now shut.
Eiffel Tower – 50 Miles
The ‘finish line’ had now become a makeshift point outside the entrance to the Eiffel Tower in a dark corner with a group of organisers handing out medals and race t-shirts. After 13 hours and 50 miles this was a huge anti-climax and after collecting a medal and t-shirt that was it!
Reports from the race organisers and other runners appear to indicate that conditions on this year’s race were the worst in the eleven years it has been running. If the trails were dry it would be a cracking race but with all that mud it’s hard to build up any enthusiasm to do it again.