I am not a runner. The thought of exerting that much energy to go not very far seems pointless to me. That’s not to say I am adverse to exercise. I love taking my bike around the lakes in Minneapolis. However, there is a difference between flying down a trail on two wheels and having your feet rhythmically pound across the pavement. With this in mind, I was surprised to find myself one day contemplating what it would take to train for a marathon. The marathon in question was no ordinary marathon; it was the Marathon du Medoc.
Set in the heart of France’s wine country near Bordeaux, the marathon is so much more than just a running event; it is a celebration of food, fun, and fitness. The food begins before the first runner even crosses the starting line. The night before the race, the organization hosts “la soirée Mille-Pâtes” (A play on words with “1000 pastas” and “Centipede” Soirée) in one of the region’s chateaux. Here, 1,450 partygoers can carbo-load on some of the region’s best food and wine. It’s a minor miracle that some of the participants aren’t too hung over to race.
As people line up to start, the first thing that may tip you off to the unorthodox nature of the event is the attire of its racers. Every year there is a theme. Last year’s was Animals. The year before was Comic Books. This year is “l’Histoire et les Civilisations — C’est l’Histoire avec un grand H” (History and Civilizations, that’s History with a capital H). About 90% are decked out head to toe in the wildest costumes imaginable. Some take the theme very seriously, however, every year seems to host an abundance of men in skirts. After a few miles of running, it’s easy to see why. A skirt allows you to blend in while leaving your legs relatively unencumbered. This is perhaps the only sporting event in which a man wearing a skirt is less conspicuous than one in compression shorts.
After the race begins, there is something else that distinguishes this race from any other. Where most marathons would provide fueling stations packed with water or some electrolyte-filled beverage, the Marathon du Medoc features 22 refreshment stands with the region’s finest wine, 21 food stands showing off the glory of French food, and a select number of gourmet stands that offer delicacies from oysters to steak, cheese, and ice cream. The way it turns out, there’s something about every half mile (or every kilometer). A number of runners wiz past the first refreshments stand either because 10am and one kilometer in is too early to drink, or because they’re actually trying to run the marathon. However, for many, a little bit of booze is just what they need to remedy their hangover from the previous night’s Soiree Mille-Pâtes. Some places will hand you a plastic cup like a conventional marathon as you run past and stick out your hand. However, instead of water, it’s wine. Others actually require you to stop as you slowly sip the wine out of a glass. If you stop at every station, it would be a wonder if you cross the finish line, and nothing short of amazing if you do it upright.
Despite the costumes and booze-laden fuel stations, let’s not forget, this is still a marathon which means it encompasses a 26 mile (42.193 Kilometer) circuit around fifty or so châteaux in the region, and there is a winner. The prize? The winner’s weight in Medoc wine. Make no mistake, the cash value of this prize can be impressive.
At the end of the day, after the last runner crosses the line, the merriment continues with more food, and fireworks cap off the evening. The next morning, participants can choose to take part in a recovery walk through the Moulis wine region; however I suspect many are too tired or too hung over to consider this.
If reading this makes you consider lacing up your running shoes, the 2012 event is Saturday, September 8. The rest of us can merely enjoy it as a spectator and culinary sport. I will leave you with the words of the race’s organizers:
Ceux pour qui le sport est synonyme de santé, de fête et de convivialité sont les bienvenus. Si tristes, agressifs ou à la recherche d’un “chrono”: s’abstenir!!
Those who believe sports are synonymous with health, fun and conviviality are welcome. Spoilsports, antagonists and record seekers: stay away!
Michelle Hum is a self-proclaimed Francophile and foodie. Michelle has been fortunate enough to visit countries on three continents and live in France during a semester abroad. In order to stay connected with many of the cultures she experienced, food has become very important to Michelle.
A student at the University of Minnesota pursuing double majors in Psychology and Advertising and a minor in French, Michelle advises the digital aspects for A Woman’s Paris. Outside of school, you can find her perfecting her signature white chocolate fruit tarts and other treats.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® blog, Paris Marathon: Third time is the charm, by Susan Gebelein writing about the thrill of running the Paris Marathon. The crowd of more then 35,000 and the runners she met, several having run hundreds of marathons and half marathons all over the world.
French Impressions: Dewey Markham Jr., from French cuisine to Bordeaux wine, by Dewey Markham Jr., wine scholar and author living in Mérignac, France, writing about his career path from the world of gastronomy to wine. Living in Paris, from 1986-1989, he was the director of the French cooking school L’École de Cuisine La Varenne, where he introduced a wine studies program to the curriculum. Markham Jr., is author of the book: 1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification, published in 1997 and winner of the James Beard award for wine book of the year.
For the love of yaourt (yogurt), by Michelle Hum who writes about her love of French yaourt; this tangy, creamy, dairy product that can stand by itself — although a dab of honey or handful of fresh fruit never hurts. Recipe included for Gateau au Yaourt au et au Citron (Lemon Yogurt Cake) by Ina Garten.
Smell and Taste, Sensation and Pleasure, by Laurence Haxaire who explains the “smart” education of the French child who is taught to recognize and describe the flavors, the feeling of taste, and most importantly, why they liked it or disliked it. Her introduction to the world of flavor is all about sensations and pleasure. She urges to “tell what you feel.”
Text copyright ©2012 A Woman’s Paris. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.