December 27th – 30th 2017
The week between Christmas and New Year can be a bit unfulfilling after all the eating over the Christmas period. So, when a fellow adventure/running friend, Carla Molinaro mentioned that she was planning to run from London to Paris over the 4 days and asked if I was interested, hell yeh! and I jumped straight in.
With the wealth of ultra running experience between us it was a straightforward job preparing from such a feat. Carla took it on her self to organise all the logistics of this 4 day adventure and to reach out and see if anyone else was interested. She roped in her dad to offer some crew support en route. I did as much research as I could to learn about the route and what it would involve. A big 60M first day from London to Newhaven in time to catch an 23:00 night ferry across to Dieppe in France to continue our journey. There is a lot of information on-line about the cycle route that is popular in the Summer, but funny enough, not so much about running the 168 miles. In France there is the ‘Avenue Verte’, the green route, which is an off-road, tarmaced old railway route used by the cyclists to complete the challenge. We had allowed ourselves 3 days on the continent to cover the remainder of the distance to Paris. I was happy to tick this challenge off as a bit of a jolly before the New Year despite my open focus being on running a fast 2h45m Marathon time in London in April. I knew keeping pacing sensible while getting the miles in, and looking after myself would not harm the progress I had made so far or prevent me continuing where I left off on my return.
Next we had to come up with a Start and Finish point to mark the journey. Something like Tower Bridge to the Eiffel Tower, or Temple to Temple as these are both Underground/Metro station names shared between the cities. In the end we settled with Arch to Arc, which would see myself and Carla start at Marble Arch in London on the 27th Dec and finish at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris 30th Dec. We were all set.
Day 1 – Marble Arch to Newhaven – 60 miles
In December, 8am is dawn, which was the time we had arranged to meet and start our journey. It was a chilly and damp morning. Since I was heading in from Watford on the train, I arrived 30 mins early to allow time to take a couple of photos before we got started. I soon got cold and went underground to warm up as I was waiting for Carla to arrive. We were off at 8am and soon settled into a nice steady pace leaving a very quiet London as many head away over this period. The weather wasn’t going to change and we soon found ourselves in very wet and cold conditions heading into the wind. Carla’s gloves were wet and not keeping her hands warm anymore, so, a quick stop in a passing Decathlon sorted that out. I was carrying a live tracker so our progress could be monitored en route. This proved useful as half way along our route to Newhaven, Carla’s dad arrived in his car to offer his support the rest of the way to Paris. The tracker allowed him to see where we were so he could plan a suitable rest stop accordingly every 7/8 miles or so. We were also spotted from a car on the dual carriageway by an Ultra Running friend of mine, Cat Simpson. She was being dropped off at the station, but her dad then came and caught up with us for a brief chat.
Heading up and over the North downs, we were greeted with snow and sleet, a well deserved hot chocolate break was on the cards in the next town, Godstone. After a brief break by a fire, Carla swapped her heavy pack she had been carrying for a much lighter race vest and from then on there was no stopping her. We both settled into our own pace and I caught up at various stops as we progressed to Newhaven. We still had a long way ahead of us and I was keen to keep the pace steady.
We stopped for an Italian lunch in East Grinstead where I had a lovely Risotto. The route directed us on country roads and as I approached the South Downs, I was greeted with the most beautiful sunset during a break in the clouds before entering the dark stage. Day 1 finished at Newhaven Port at 19:45 with plenty of time to catch the 23:00 ferry from there. I actually finished with a bit of a bad stomach and struggled to eat my carbonara that evening. I had lost my appetite, but I wasn’t too worried. I felt fine and thought the rest/sleep on the ferry would sort me out.
Day 2 – Dieppe to Dampierre – 45 miles
The ferry crossing was a quick 4 hours. Carla had organised a cabin for the 3 of us to maximise the rest we could get before starting on our second leg of the run off of the ferry at 5am. Another long tough day which started at sea level and kept going up all day! The original plan was to stick on the ‘Avenue Vert’ cycleway (disused railway) which I initially did, but the going was tough in the pitch black and I was away from the support. Carla had the better idea to stay on the lit D1 and made faster progress. I soon diverted back on to the road.
It was all uphill and to add there was snow in some pretty cold conditions. Had to keep moving to keep warm. After the early start, we pushed on through for the 45 miles to reach the Gite in the early afternoon to get our first proper well earned rest before dinner was served at 7pm.
Day 3 – Clergy to Boismont – 50 miles
The forecast for us today was not looking good. Strong headwinds, rain and freezing temperatures was going to make the planned 50 miles we had ahead of us tough. On top of that we had the pressure to get to the next Gite in time for evening meal at 7pm, pretty much before it gets dark. After a good nights sleep and some time to recover, we were out of that door back on it after breakfast at 07:30, It was going to be running in the dark for the first hour. To cover 50 miles in 11:30 hours was no holiday!
Breakfast was bread and coffee at the family kitchen table.
The forecast was correct and it was a very wet day and the decision was made to use google and take a more direct route towards Paris than to follow the Avenue Verte, which saw us on busy trick roads in wet and windy conditions but allowed us to make good progress towards our next Gite.
Google maps threw up some surprises, it took me off the roads and through muddy fields and tracks. Luckly these trails were not busy as I managed to drop my iphone out of my pocket (my only form of navigating and communication) and noticed 5 minutes later when I needed to check my direction. Luckly upon retracing my steps, I found it face down in a big muddy puddle and can confirm that the 7+ is waterproof. The trails actually came as a welcome break from all the road pounding we had done and I only discovered afterwards that Google had taken me and Carla on different routes, but we still managed to arrive within 5 minutes of each other after many slippery miles in the mud.
Day 4 – to Arc de Triomphe – 18 miles
After another 7am alarm call for breakfast, it chose another early start to capitalise on the nice weather forecast the morning had to offer. Only 18 miles to do on this last day and we were keen to get them done. The goal was in sight as the initial muddy trails developed in to sub-urban towns and highways. It was interesting to see that the route would see us cross the Seine 4 times before hitting the Arc de Triomphe. We set off together at quite a pace, neither showing the effects of the miles we ad done. Once the route took us out of the farmers fields we bumped into Carla’s Dad again. Carla made the wise decision to change into some dry socks and trainers for the remaining road section and waved me on to continue. I entered the maze of roads that made up Paris with Google as my guide, keep me going in the rough direction.
I was counting down the Ks as physically I couldn’t see the end goal. It wasn’t until the last 2 mins I saw the big Arc de Triomphe at the top of the road as it bent round. It was such a relief to see and I noticed on my watch that today’s run time was on 2h54m! my brain took over as it shouted out to me to finish under 3 hours for the 18 mile run in. Having not been to the Arc de Triomphe before, I was unaware of the tunnel under the 25 lane roundabout that circles it. Instead I ran straight across this busy roundabout dodging cars from the left and jumped over some crown barriers to the safety inside the middle. I continued to run and touch the Arc as a symbol of completing the challenge fully expecting Carla to have already been there having taken a different route in. My actions had raised alarm to the local armed police who came over to see what was going on. Fortunately by now I was having a photo taken by a tourist with my light box message and I think the police chose to not get involved and left me alone even though I had ended up jumping in a paid for area. I learnt this as Carla’s Dad was in there having bought a ticket and believe Carla was queing up for a ticket below.
Carla is a phenomenally strong athlete setting such a pressing pace day after day. Amazing to see and a big thank you to her for suggesting and organising this challenge to make it possible. Also, a thanks to the super support on the ground by Carla’s Dad, Alfie. Alphie also drove us back home to the UK afterwards. Thanks so much! Also, thanks for all the comments coming through on Social media while we were en route. They made a great read and motivator in the evenings while we were drying out. Looking back, this was a tough challenge, a real adventure in the winter conditions we experienced. It was extremely fun (type 2 fun), and a great sense of achievement experiencing the ultra buzz again.
I would also like to thank Alton Sports, for their continues support for my running adventures by having me as one of their ambassadors and partnering with Tri-Adventure. Alton Sports have 4 shops in and around Surrey. Check them out as they have a fab range of gear which is all available on-line. The comfortable gear I ran in to Paris was all from them, bar my Tri-Adventure Top of course.
Link to fly-by routes on Strava.
Original blog post here.