19 March 19 2016. EcoTrail de Paris is my second running race in France, and my first race as a resident of the country. Having very recently moved to France from Hong Kong, I am writing this report from the perspective of runner who is more used to the trails in Hong Kong, and is now dipping her toes in the French running scene.
Almost missed the race
The race day of EcoTrail de Paris did not bode well for us. Silviu and I almost could not get to Château de Versailles, the starting venue (20km southwest of Paris), due to the interruption in regular train schedules and the absence of regular taxis and buses. Just as we were about to abandon the race, the idea of calling Uber popped up. Not having used Uber before in France, we were very pleasantly surprised at its efficiency. A Uber taxi presented itself before us in less than 5min after we called. As such, we managed to get to Versailles in time.
EcoTrail de Paris
EcoTrail is an all-inclusive event. Besides the traditional trail races with distances of 18km, 30km, 50km and 80km, it also includes a vertical race in which participants get to race up the famous Tour Eiffel. For the outdoor enthusiasts who prefer to enjoy the trails at a less intensive pace, EcoTrail also organises hiking events of various distances, taking place at the same time as the races. All activities start at various parts of Île de France, but all finish at Champs the Mars, just in front of Eiffel Tower.
10.45am: close to 1,500 participants gathered at the start line, ready for the 3 starting waves. It was chilly at about 10°C, with an overcast sky, and it stayed like that throughout the whole race. Gusts of winds brought out silent regrets of not wearing a windbreaker. Less than 10 min after the race started, drops of rain pattered on my face. Fortunately, the drizzle fizzled out in less than 5 minutes. The cold weather at the start was mitigated by the surge of heat generated by the loud adrenaline-pumping music, which was interspersed with the words of encouragement from the lively animator.
The first 6km took place on the grounds of Château de Versailles, including circling the Grand Canal ( a canal built between 1667 and 1679m and measuring 1,670m long). Physically fresh at the start, and faced with flat paths, I brushed off my caution, and ran at a pace much faster than my target pacing of finishing within 6.5 hours.
The first ‘climb’ which tempered my initial burst of speed, happened at 7km into the race, a climb lasting 1.6km long to an altitude of 172m over an elevation gain of 55m. Nothing significant, of course, compared to those hills that I was used to in Hong Kong. However, a continuous spread of those spikes (also around 170m) until 35km, did take a toll on my legs which were not used to running continuously (well almost) for such long distance.
After exiting Château de Versailles, the race passed through 3 forests (Forêt Domaniale de Versailles, Foret Domaniale de Meudon, and Forêt Domaniale de Fausses Reposes) and a park (Parc de Saint-Cloud) before running the last 9km, mostly on paved roads, along the Seine, the river crossing Paris. The first 41km was mainly on dirt roads, intermixed with short sections of trails covered with thick layers of fallen leaves.
Bare trees were the dominant scenery greeting the runners, who also had the opportunity to explore some of the surrounding villages. Various sections of the route were joined by roads, where you would always find friendly volunteers weathering the cold weather, always ready to guide the runners safely across the roads.
Road runner race
Having spent 3 years in Hong Kong where I picked up trail running, I was definitely not used to the terrain in Île de France, and thus not properly trained for a race like EcoTrail. EcoTrail is a trail running race that I would call a “road runner” race, as the course is relatively flat and not technical, and the historical fastest finishing times were around 3h.
The infamous trait of the Hong Kong trails, is the abundance of long flights of concrete stairs. Or what I termed as the “stairway to heaven.” For a mid-pack runner like myself in Hong Kong, it would be impossible for me to run the entire ultra race. Instead, I would strategically mix fast hiking and running. As such, my legs are not conditioned to running non-stop for 50km.
You may be asking why I did not stop and fast walk in EcoTrail. With a flattish course like EcoTrail, I could find no valid reason to do that as I would do in a Hong Kong race. I would chide myself, whenever I stopped to a walk, even for a few seconds; self guilt made me pick up the rhythm again, and resume my running (or shuffling, more like).
One of the mandatory items was to start with 1.5 litres of fluid. It was enough to get me through the race without requiring more. Equipped with 4 energy gels, I did not pause at any of the 2 checkpoints (28km) and (39km). It had definitely helped me to gain previous minutes over the other runners.
A pre-trail-running-season race
EcoTrail de Paris serves as a good warmup before the start of the trail running season in France. It is a good starting point for me to integrate into the local running scene. The race gave me an opportunity to test my recently recovered ankle. I was recovering from a bad sprain sustained from Hong Kong which stopped me from running for 3 months. Overall, I was pleased that I completed the race, and beat my target time by 45min, finishing in 5h 43min.