I’m just back from two months in Paris. Running in Paris is a challenge. The Bois de Boulogne has lots of dirt trails and is decently big, but to stay close enough to run there regularly too far from everything else I want to do. There are many other parks, but they are all small or smaller and involve a lot of loops to build a run of anything longer than 3k. We rode the Velibs (social bike system) up to the Buttes Chaumont (a fave park) one Sunday and ran 4 loops; along with a big crowd of runners and other weekenders. The Buttes is the only good place to find hills. Sure, you could run around the streets of Montmartre, but the traffic (foot, bicycle, scooter, car etc…) is not my cup of tea.
By process of elimination then, when in Paris I stay near-as-possible to the Seine and run along the banks. This is lovely, of course. Running past Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower, even the mini Statue of Liberty (one of our weekend destinations for a longer run)—what’s not to like?
Well, not to be a sourpuss, but there are no hills at all, it’s concrete or, worse, cobblestone. Running on cobblestone is charming for a week and then it gets less so. I give thanks for the grace of every run without a trip-and-fall.
Still, I love running in Paris, because I have a set of fun and challenging routines, unique to that city.
First, there’s one-legged stair hopping to start and finish each run. Shortly before going to Paris a few years ago, I was at a cat circus with an eight-year-old. As we cooled our heels out front of the theatre, waiting for the house to open, she was hopping up and down the stairs. I tried to join her and discovered that hopping up a set of stairs is no joke. This was a provocation. I decided I should work on my stair-hopping, on the theory it might give me some extra spring for running. The next week, I was running in Paris, with its endless stairs up and down from the banks of the Seine. On a whim, I hopped up one of the staircases on one leg. To be clear, the first time was more of an attempted hopping. Since then, I’ve incorporated stair hops into my regular routine in Paris (though not in NYC, where I’ve never found the right staircase). It’s a mini HIIT (high intensity interval training) moment before I get into to the rhythm of the run.
The second unique-to-Paris addition is the monkey bars. On most runs, I pass a set of monkey bars, where there are usually some groups doing various strength workouts. I do a one-way pass at a hand-to-hand hanging traverse. It’s only 8 rungs. Exhausting. This year on my last run I managed, first time ever, to traverse there and back. Thrilling.
But my favourite Paris routine is the little exercise yard by the Seine, in the sculpture garden near the Jardin des Plantes. My partner and I call it our “health club.” We spend about fifteen minutes doing a circuit. The “machines” operate using body weight and the ground is covered with a slightly springy substance, making it a nice surface for pushups and such like. Then I do one more set of stair hops (topping the workout with a cherry) and run the less-than-a-kilometer home.
The health club is what I miss most when I get back to NYC. I’m not a member of a gym, so I don’t have much chance to do formal strength training. Instead, I rely on aerial yoga, the little bit of weights in spin class, and a few lunges and pushups at the end of most runs. I long for such an exercise yard somewhere in Central Park or Riverside Park. An adult playground! If anyone reading this has clout with the New York City Parks Department …
It’s such a treat to have the special extras of my Paris running routine. I look forward to the different pace. The change recharges my energy.
I’m back on my home turf in Central Park now. Relishing how the familiar routes feel fresh and exhilarating.
This piece appeared in Fit Is A Feminist Issue