Women’s and men’s running gear: is skimpy simply better?

This didn't catch on: Dieter Baumann's mid-90s midriff (Photo: George Herringshaw / Sporting Heroes)

This didn’t catch on: Dieter Baumann’s mid-90s midriff (Photo: George Herringshaw / Sporting Heroes)

If you were watching the Commonwealth Games marathons this morning – or indeed, any elite athletics event recently – you might have noticed this; women’s running kit seems to be shorter and tighter than men’s running kit.

Even among sprinters, where tight gear is the norm for both sexes, women sprinters wear crop-top vests and expose more skin than men.

Is there a physiological or performance-based reason for this, or is this all down to fashion and our cultural demands on what women wear? And does this have any implications for the objectification of sportswomen and the reinforcement of body image issues?

Or should we turn the question on its head and ask why distance-running men seem reluctant to wear shorter, tighter gear?

For example, if there are performance benefits in running with your midriff exposed, surely male runners would all be doing it. Some men have tried it – German middle-distance runners like Olympic champion Dieter Baumann wore crop-top vests in the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason it didn’t catch on. (Baumann’s career of innovation includes one of the all-time great excuses for a positive drugs test: he blamed his toothpaste.)

What’s more, skimpy kit doesn’t seem to be essential for success in women’s distance running – double European cross country champion Fionnuala Britton usually wears a loose, full-length vest and longer shorts than her competitor, for example.

So, are there any substantive reasons for women runners to wear skimpier running gear than men? I posed this question on Twitter this morning, and got some excellent responses. Here’s an overview:

Comfort was one reason: one woman said that the close-fitting gear was just more comfortable for her to wear while running, which is fair enough. However, the other side of that argument is self-consciousness about body image; is short, tight gear the standard form of women’s running apparel? Women runners get enough leering looks and sexist remarks in public as it is, so how many of them would feel comfortable running in short or figure-hugging gear? (Even as a male runner, on my very first run all those years ago, I felt self-conscious about running in a fairly standard pair of running shorts.)

Coolness in warm weather was another suggestion – in fact, this came up in a conversation I had with a nutritionist recently, who told me that men and women dissipate heat differently due to factors such as body hair, muscle mass and sweat rate. But then surely men would benefit from having less sweat-soaked fabric, no matter how breathable, rubbing and chafing them. Even in the heat and humidity of Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics, Dieter Baumann’s crop-top vest was the exception among male competitors.

Of course, men and women can wear what they like. And perhaps men’s reluctance to wear short, tight running gear – for fear of ridicule, say – might be their loss. But it’d be a shame if body image concerns exacerbated by running fashion deterred women from running, especially at junior level.

Women are better placed than this male runner to discuss these issues, though. Feel free to leave a comment below, or to take me to task if warranted.

Posted in Gear | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Top 5 latest essential running accessories

Two fancy-dress marathon runners with their SPI utility belts (Image: Screenshot / Marvel)

Two fancy-dress marathon runners with their SPI utility belts (Image: Screenshot / DC Comics)

I’ve been running for however many years now, but only today did I learn about something called an ‘SPI belt’.

It’s got nothing to do with spying or communications technology; apparently a small personal item (SPI) belt is what a runner wears to carry his or her gels, music device, shark repellent or what have you. In fact, ‘SPIbelt’ is the trademark of an American company which makes that product.

Its first champion was Batman with his utility belt – you can see Batman running with his SPI belt on in the opening credits of every show.

For not knowing what an SPI belt was, let alone not using one, I am of course now shamed and discredited, a pariah in the running-blogger community.

To try and scrape back some credibility, I’ve resolved to immerse myself in all the latest accessories for runners, no matter how gimmicky or faddish.

So, here are the latest running accessories I’ve been using:

SPI braces
An SPI belt is all well and good for knuckle-dragging newbies and mouth-breathing fun runners, but the dedicated athlete needs something more sophisticated. Who wants to be mistaken for a jogger? Not me!

These exclusive SPI braces offer maximum support with a touch of class. Available with matching running-sock garters.

Running umbrella
Let’s face it; running in the rain is a drag and ruins your look. What’s more, it’s been scientifically proven to add an extra 1.7 percent to your wind resistance quotient, which we all know is a crucial indicator of running performance.

Golfers and hapless football managers have been harnessing the benefits of sports umbrellas for years, and now runners can also enjoy maximum dryness while still looking good. It’s adaptable too – on holiday or warm-weather training your running umbrella can also be used as a UV filter.

Bowel rate monitor
Wish you could check your lavatorial needs while out running, well before the unpleasant surprise of a sudden rumble followed by a spray-tan job down the backs of your legs? Want to have precise, uploadable data on how quickly you’re converting that pre-run banana into energy? Well, now you can.

The new wave of high-end GPS watches includes a bowel rate monitor along with your traditional heart rate monitor. Simply insert the probe, start your watch, and hey presto – a mild vibration warns you of any imminent explosions or of a variation from your optimum bowel range. Comes in a range of colours.

Minimalist running socks
You want the sanctimonious authenticity of barefoot running, but also the modern comfort of stockinged feet. And you want a close fit for your toes. Is that not too much to ask?

Et voilà! These fast-acting high-performance toe socks give you an extra layer of man-made fibres inside your industrialised-rubber minimalist running shoes. Try them and you’ll see; it’s how running was meant to be.

Running wheelie case
Your working day is enough of a chore as it is without a heavy, sweaty, irritating backpack turning your 10-mile run-commute into a real drag. Now imagine having to take a business trip that same evening. Reschedule your run and plod to work with your good suit in your suitcase like a non-running schmuck? That’s loser talk, pal!

Get the winning advantage with a hard-wearing cabin-sized wheelie case engineered especially for runners. Its velcro pullstrap hooks into your SPI belt for maximum convenience. Tests show that the streamlined hard-shell exterior works with your slipstream to maximise aerodynamic performance, knock out the creases from your suit and help you run faster. Also available in check-in size.

 Ask for these running accessories at your local running store.

Posted in Gear | Tagged | 3 Comments

Recovery runs

That goes for grown-ups too (Photo: brianjmatis via photopin cc)

That goes for grown-ups too (Photo: brianjmatis via photopin cc)

Slow and steady wins the race – except for a real race, where it’s fast and furious, baby!

Okay, so slow and steady isn’t going to win you any race – but it’ll help get you to the start line injury-free and in your best shape.

Recovery runs are an essential part of any credible marathon training plan. As the name suggests, a recovery run is just a light, easy run at the opposite end of the training spectrum to your long run and your threshold session. You can’t keep up week after week of nothing but hard running and long slogs; you’ll either get injured or run down your immune system until you get sick. As well as rest days, you need recovery runs.

It can be tough to switch off your ego and consciously run slowly. But instead just congratulate yourself on your tremendous discipline, restraint and sense – and enjoy the feeling of relaxing on your run.

My training gurus for the upcoming Dublin Marathon, Messrs Pfitzinger and Douglas, have currently prescribed for me two weekly recovery runs, each around 4 or 5 miles. One run is midweek, between a threshold run and a medium-long run. The other is at the weekend, on the day that I’m not doing my long run. (Sometimes Saturday morning is best for my long run, in which case I’ll do the weekend recovery run on Sunday evening.)

I leave the watch at home when I’m on my recovery run. I don’t need to know my pace or my time – those would only have me working hard and defeating the purpose of the run. I’ve already used MapMyRun to measure the distance of my usual recovery run route. (Your recovery run really doesn’t need to be accurate to the centimetre.)

This might be hard for anyone addicted to the data from their GPS watch. I used to find it hard even to run without my retro digital watch, which meant that every run was a race against the clock, against my previous or usual time for that route.

But it’s so relaxing to run without a watch! And relaxing is what your recovery run should be all about – after it you should feel like you’ve been holding yourself back, as if you can hear the engine revving but forgo putting the pedal to the metal.

A recovery run should be on an easy route too. I steer away from the steep hills of my longer routes, and I don’t do my recovery run on my threshold session route. Instead, I have a nice, flat 5-mile loop on tarmac and grass. A slow, relaxed run on grass, on a sunny morning or evening, is pure bliss.

So, just park your ego – go slowly for one or two runs a week, and you’ll go further!

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Dublin Marathon 2014 training – month 1 review

Some bonus prizes from the first 4 weeks of training. (Out of picture: PBs at 5 miles, 10K and half marathon)

Some bonus prizes from the first 4 weeks of training. (Out of picture: PBs at 5 miles, 10K and half marathon)

My 15-mile long run this morning wrapped up week 4 of training for the 2014 Dublin Marathon. A good opportunity, then, to look back and see how my training has been going so far.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my schedule – though if that interests you, turn to page 156 of Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas. I’m following the 18-week, up-to-55-miles-per-week plan; so far I’m up to 42 miles for the week just gone.

The Pf. & D. pfanatics among you will be cribbing that I haven’t yet finished the first 6-week phase of the plan – or as they call it: “Mesocycle 1 – Endurance”. Well, I’d prefer to stick to measuring my progress with a calendar rather than in what sounds like a geological era, unless the geology is intended to measure my current rock-hardness.

I’ve hit all the weekly mileage targets so far, although I’ve had to do some jigging around due to a couple of short races which I used as threshold runs. In week 1 the Irish Runner 5 Mile served as my hard workout instead of the prescribed 8-mile run with 4 miles at short-race pace. And the 13-mile marathon-pace run in week 2 fell exactly on the Clontarf Half Marathon, where I finished a half marathon P.B. and clocked a new 10K best en route.

The mileage isn’t a problem, though. It’s the fast-paced runs that I find the challenge. I used the 5-mile and half-marathon races as training runs because I can run faster and for longer with race-day adrenaline and the reassurance of a closed, marshalled course. Getting up to my 10K race pace is tougher for me in the mundane setting of my local park on a non-race day.

To test my speed at the end of the first month of training, I did my local parkrun yesterday morning. As I should have expected, I felt a little sluggish after a hard four weeks of training and racing – I got around in 21:05, a good bit slower than my parkrun P.B., but that still counts as a good hard threshold run at 6:47 mile pace. Perhaps I’ll throw in a parkrun every few weeks to gauge my progress or even to get a more satisfactory threshold session done.

Parkruns aside, I don’t have any races coming up in the next four weeks – my next race is the Frank Duffy 10 Mile at the end of August in Dublin. But I’ll still have to juggle the Pf. & D. schedule around in the next month, due to two successive weekends away at the start of August.

So, the first month has gone well: injury-free and with a plethora of P.B.s to boot. This time next month I hope to report further progress, and I’ll be four weeks closer to race day. Exciting, isn’t it?

Posted in Dublin, Marathon, Training | Tagged | Leave a comment

Charity running: good for charity, bad for running?

Photo: Mindful One via photopin cc

Essential marathon gear? (Photo: Mindful One via photopin cc)

Running, whether in marathons or shorter races, seems to be becoming inextricably linked with raising money for charity.

Big-city marathons like London and Boston have designated charities and guarantee them a number of entries; Boston has ringfenced 3,000 of its 36,000 much-sought-after entries for designated associations, Runner’s World reports. On top of this, many other runners may be fundraising on their own initiative.

Charities themselves now organise shorter races as fundraising events. For example, last December in Dublin saw the Aware Christmas Run in aid of an Irish organisation providing services for coping with depression. (I ran in the 5K event that day.)

Also, I saw a local race this year where the host athletics club committed the entry profits to a cause – perhaps hoping that the charitable angle would boost participation and bring long-term interest in the club.

But I’m curious – and even a bit concerned – at how running is turning into a charity pursuit.

I run because I enjoy it. I don’t think of a marathon as an ordeal or sufferance, or as the means to an end. But that seems to be the logic behind running a marathon for charity: “I’ll suffer through 26.2 miles and that will inspire my family, friends and colleagues to give me money for the cause of my choice.”

This logic is a first cousin of that recent wrong-headed UK government proposal to make running a disciplinary measure for misbehaving schoolchildren: running as suffering. (As I write this today, the education minister who suggested this measure has been relieved of his post.)

What kind of future does running have as a sport if its public image is that of self-flagellation? What about enjoying running as an activity in itself?

If marathons and other races keep being portrayed as a daunting crucible of selfless suffering that a brave soul endures to raise money for a cause, with smiles and fancy dress through the tears, how is that going to encourage people to run for pleasure? Perhaps the next step is that we’ll have people running marathons to raise money to help the plight of those running marathons to raise money.

Also, call me cynical but surely a good number of charity entrants are fundraising simply to secure that elusive Boston or London entry, no matter the cost or even the charity. The dynamics of supply and demand are clear: while the Boston Marathon require a minimum of $4,000 per charity entrant, the Boston Globe reports that some organisations are asking runners to commit to raising sums like $7,500 or even $10,000 – and on the demand side, runners are sending pleading letters to several charities in the hope of getting a Boston place.

Since I started running, I’ve entered races that were fundraising events for charity – in the last year I did the Irish Cancer Society’s Colour Dash as well as the Aware Christmas Run. However, I entered those races simply for the races themselves. Both races were in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, where I love running. Those are two fine organisations that are welcome to my entry fee, but I was running for my own enjoyment and not from any impulse to support these causes.

Fundraising for charity is well and good for some, but when I run I’m looking after number one.

Posted in Marathon | Tagged | 8 Comments

Clontarf Half Marathon 2014

Medal for Clontarf Half Marathon and 5 Mile 2014

We fought them on the beaches… The campaign medal for Clontarf Half Marathon veterans.

I had been rhapsodising about my former Paris running route, along the Seine and past iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower. But just as spectacular is a run along Dublin Bay on a sunny morning, with a view of the sea, the mountains and the equally-iconic two chimneys of Ringsend.

The occasion was the Clontarf Half Marathon, which I finished in a new personal best time of 1:36:16. (You can check the results of Clontarf’s half marathon and 5 mile online.)

What’s more, as well as my overall P.B. I also beat my previous best for 10k and for 10 miles – all on the day marking exactly one year since I moved back home to Ireland after 8 years away. What about that for a race?

As tends to be the way, I hadn’t aimed for a half marathon personal best. I entered this race as a training session – my Pfitzinger and Douglas training plan called for a 13-mile threshold run with 8 miles at race pace. The Clontarf race gave me the chance to do this session in the controlled environment of a closed course – and on a flat seafront route too.

However, even without hills the course has its own twist – a couple of miles on the beach at Dollymount heading out and back. Enquiring beforehand, I was assured that the sand on the strand was compact and good for running… but that getting onto and off the beach required crossing short stretches of soft sand, which would surely sap energy from the legs.

On top of that, there was the likelihood of sea breezes. Would this intended training run, at an event that was part of the millennium celebrations of the Battle of Clontarf, turn out to be A Bridge Too Far?

On the morning of the race, in defiance of forecasts and the previous day’s wet weather, the sky was clear and the sun beat down on Clontarf promenade. Around 2,000 half-marathon and 5-mile competitors sat around on the grass, sunning themselves, chatting, tapping and nodding along to the ’80s hits fizzing over the P.A. system and generally enjoying the bubbly pre-race atmosphere. (The race-day organisation was excellent, from what I saw and heard. A tip of the hat to all involved.)

My plan was to focus on the first 8 miles only, as per my prescribed training session. I would go out at marathon race pace, keep it up to mile 8, and then after that I’d consciously reduce speed for the run-in to the finish. For the few dozen metres of soft sand I would also slow down a little and take short, light steps instead of wearing myself out in a pointless struggle.

The race started. The first mile and a half, and also the last on the way back, were along the concrete footpath of Clontarf promenade. I had run here before and enjoyed the wonderful view of Dublin Bay, so that balanced out my apprehension about running fast on concrete. (Also, I expected to be praying for concrete within a few minutes, when we hit the sand.) Some runners chose to avoid the concrete and run on the grass along the path, but I reckon they soon got tangled up with spectators.

At the first mile marker I got a bit of a shock – I had got there one minute earlier than I expected. Had the sea air oxygenated my blood to high-altitude levels? Were those bloody organisers skiving off? In fact, those mile markers were for the 5-mile race, due to start 20 minutes after us and with the start lined pushed back a few hundred metres. Fortunately, I had made a late decision to wear my Garmin watch, and so I could easily see my real progress. (Normally I wear my basic digital watch on race day, to keep things simple and avoid the last-minute panic of trying to attract a satellite.)

We turned onto the wooden bridge at Dollymount and headed out to sea. Here the breeze picked up – not strong enough to impede running, but just light enough to cool us. As if in partnership with the breeze, a cloud covered the sun; I was glad of the cooler conditions.

Then we hit the sand. In those first footsteps on the softer stuff I felt my rhythm teeter and wobble like a drummer losing the beat. A small group of other runners seemed to appear from nowhere at my shoulder; had I stopped? I did my best to keep my steps short and light, but a bit of mental damage had been done – I felt I had dropped some of the coins of my energy down the gutter and into the drain. Now I just concentrated on getting the few metres to the firmer sand.

The beach itself, Dollymount Strand, was surprisingly firm and enjoyable to run on. The impact was soft but solid, like the first time ever you run on an athletics track after years of street running. There was no sea wind – just a light offshore breeze. The few early-morning swimmers and walkers watched us; only now do I realise that they probably instinctively thought of Chariots of Fire.

The blazing sun and sapping sand were wreaking their damage on some more than others. Along the beach a runner in a heat-soaking combination of black vest and black shorts pulled up beside me and asked where the next water station was. Another mile yet, I told him, at which news he swore to himself – and then accelerated, perhaps fearful the runners ahead would drink up all the coveted water, or that it would have evaporated in the heat.

After almost two miles along Dollymount Strand we faced another stretch of soft sand. These trips to the sand-pit weren’t good for my threshold pace but, checking my watch, I saw that I had kept a virtually even pace for the first four miles. The hard work, perhaps mental more than physical, of the sand would take its toll on me later, though.

Off the beach now, we followed the road off the sandbar of Dollymount and back onto the Clontarf seafront. At the 10k timing mat I saw that I had gone through in just over 42 minutes, later confirmed at 42:09 – around half a minute faster than my P.B. from the Great Ireland Run in April. This gave me a great boost, because by now I was starting to flag.

At halfway in the race we turned to come back the way we came. My aim now was to keep a good pace as far as 8 miles. I knew I was slowing down a little – I could see one of the pacer balloons float up the road and out of sight. Thankfully, I’ve run enough races to know that a pacer out of sight up the road might only be 30 seconds ahead of you, so this doesn’t demoralise me in the way it did in my first races.

After 8 miles I had a look at the watch – 55:20, which a quick bit of sums told me was an average of 6:55 per mile. I was happy with that: another boost for my spirits.

In principle I could now let myself cruise in for the last 5 miles and collect my finisher’s medal and banana – I had nothing to gain from exceeding my scheduled session and pushing myself too hard on a hot day, and I hadn’t been too concerned about my half-marathon finishing time. In practice, though, it was hard to park the ego – I had to keep telling myself to relax, enjoy the run and then see how I felt in the last mile.

Back onto the sand again for the trip home, and once through the soft parts and onto the firm strand, I was able to relax and roll home. Other runners had saved something for the second half of the race and were now streaming past me – I just had to block them out. This was near impossible in the case of one runner, whose every breath was a loud grunt like that of a tennis player launching a serve.

While on Dollymount Strand my watch beeped as I passed the virtual 10-mile point, and I saw with glee that my time was 1:11:10 – around a minute and a half inside my P.B. set at the Frank Duffy 10 Mile last year. I didn’t even mind that I hadn’t clocked a perfectly-symmetrical 1:11:11. My training target reached, two personal best times beaten, and I hadn’t even finished the race yet.

With two miles left, the sand was behind me and I was rolling on tarmac towards the finish. Just as I turned off the bridge and onto Clontarf promenade again, the sky darkened suddenly and a heavy shower of rain poured down on us – a stunning change from the blue skies and warm sunshine just an hour earlier. However, I don’t mind running in the rain – and as the race route on the promenade wasn’t a closed course, the sudden downpour cleared the way of walkers and their dogs who might otherwise have slowed us down.

Only a mile from home, I dared to look at my watch. A 9-minute last mile would see me beat my half-marathon personal best! What a great feeling to know you can cruise in for a P.B. without any frenzy or frantic calculating. Trying not to lose my rhythm or my footing, I closed out the race at around 8-minute mile pace.

Yes, sure, I could have run in harder and bagged a faster time by a few seconds – but I wanted to enjoy a finishing straight for once. As if that shower had never happened, the sky was bright blue again and the sun beat down. Seeing the clock turn to 1:36, well inside my P.B., I think I even made a celebratory clenched fist as I passed a photographer and sailed over the line.

A new half-marathon personal best time, later confirmed as 1:36:16, was an unexpected reward for this run. I normally roll my eyes when I hear people talking of ‘banking’ time by running faster in the first few miles of a marathon, but in the Clontarf Half Marathon this is what I inadvertently did. I won’t be adopting this tactic for future races, though.

Past the finishing area, a brand of German beer was giving out free samples of its non-alcoholic variety. Before the horde of later finishers arrived, I got myself a nice wheaty beer and reflected on my run – a hard session successfully completed; three P.B.s in one race; a year back home in Ireland. Plenty for me to celebrate on that sunny morning by the sea in Clontarf.

Posted in Dublin, Half marathon | Tagged | 4 Comments

Running in Paris – bordering on in-Seine

Under the bridge, my former Paris running route (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Dimitri Destugues)

Under the bridge, along my former Paris running route (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Dimitri Destugues)

In the National Gallery in Dublin there used to be a painting by Jean-François Raffaelli, a lesser-known French Impressionist. The painting was of the Pont Alexandre III, the ornate and spectacular bridge, topped with gold-leaf-covered statues, across the Seine in Paris that connects the glass-roofed Grand Palais exhibition hall to the gold-domed Hôtel des Invalides where Napoléon’s remains are housed.

Around ten years ago, while thinking of a possible move to Paris, I would go to the National Gallery and sit in front of Raffaelli’s painting of the Pont Alexandre III. There, I would think about my plans for The Great Leap Forward and wonder if I would ever get to Paris. (As if it were the far side of the Moon or something. In the end it was quite easy.)

And so I ended up living in Paris and running regularly under the Pont Alexandre III.

For most of my 8 years in Paris I lived in the western suburbs along the Seine. During the spring of 2007 my running route on the Île de la Jatte took me past the heavily-guarded apartment building of a fellow runner and aspiring presidential candidate called Nicolas Sarkozy. Running being such a rare sight in the suburbs, the locals assumed I was American.

However, between 2009 and 2011 I lived in the city centre – right behind the Musée d’Orsay on the Left Bank of the Seine. Without question, during this time I had one of the most scenic running routes in the world.

On Sunday mornings the riverside road on the Left Bank was closed to traffic – and open to runners and cyclists – between the Musée d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower. On weekday evenings, though, I would cross the wooden pedestrian bridge from the trendy rive gauche over to the historic rive droite, towards the Tuileries and the Louvreand then turn left for a 7-mile run downriver and back.

Unseen to tourists and traffic above in the Place de la Concorde, that part of the Seine had grimy-looking houseboats moored along the bank – some always occupied, others looking like weekend retreats for some harried Parisian taxi driver or brasserie owner.

After the Place de la Concorde, the bank then brought me to the aforementioned Pont Alexander III.  The dry arch under the Grand Palais side of the bridge is home to Showcase, one of the hippest music clubs in Paris.

Now, you might know a brilliant single by Friendly Fires called Paris, in which singer Ed McFarlane dreams of moving to the French capital. (I know the feeling.) And where does he find the glamour and excitement of Parisian nightlife? Why, under the Pont Alexandre III: “I’m gonna take you out to Club Showcase / We’re gonna live it up / I promise.” The lyrics name no other landmark of Paris: just this nightclub. And the song is exactly the sort of dreamy, adrenaline-rushing track to get the Showcase buzzing on a Saturday night.

The next bridge down, the Pont des Invalides, is a bit less glamorous. I used to see a man living in a tent under the arch – he would be sitting outside by his little camp fire and watching a small TV that was perched on a kitchen chair. Some evenings he would have a friend over, and the two would sit out, smoke and drink beer.

Heading downriver, the houseboats gave way to bateaux mouches, the large tourist boats. My running route now passed through the parking area where coaches would drop off tourists for their cruises and pick them up afterwards. Mice – or maybe rats – squealed in the skips nearby, rustling through rubbish sacks.

The bank ended here – to continue downriver I had to go up to street level. This meant coming up at the Pont de l’Alma, now notorious for the tunnel underneath in which Princess Diana and others were killed in a car crash in 1997. (The Paris Marathon passes through this tunnel every year; you see long black streaks on the pillars and walls and wonder if they are left from the accident.)

Up at ground level on the Pont de l’Alma, tourists gather and leave mementos at a gold-leaf-covered statue of a flame. (Paris loves gold leaf.) Now, many people think it’s a memorial to Diana – and one night I heard a cycle-tour guide tell his flock exactly that. Perhaps he just wanted not to disappoint them – in fact, this flame predates Diana’s death, and is actually a replica of the flame on Paris’ quarter-size scale replica of the Statue of Liberty further down the Seine – the furthest point on my run.

To get to the Statue of Liberty I must pass the Eiffel Tower. Outside of the spring and summer, the footpath on the opposite bank to the tower isn’t so busy, so I could always keep up a good rhythm. The Paris Marathon also follows this route along the rive droite, with a great view of the tower over to one’s left. But on my evening runs I would have to stop briefly at the junction of the Pont d’Iena, where sightseers cross from the Trocadero over to the tower.

I always ran this route in the evenings when it was dark, and so I had a great view of the lights of Paris – in particular, the Eiffel Tower sparkling for a few minutes on the hour. One night, when crossing at the Pont d’Iena, I passed a group of young Japanese tourists waiting for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle – and when it did, one of the group squealed and shook so much that I was certain he was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. Perhaps living in the midst of such spectacular splendour left me jaded to it all – although during all my 8 years in Paris I always craned my neck to glimpse the Eiffel Tower from the train while crossing on the nearby bridges.

With the Eiffel Tower behind me, tourists disappeared too. From here on the streets are residential – old-money apartment blocks of the 16th arrondissement. Well-dressed office workers strolled home or to someone else’s home for a dinner party, bottle of wine or champagne in one hand. Elderly ladies walked their lapdogs, or even just carried the poor little things.

I ran as far as the Radio France building on my right, and then turned left – I crossed the river on the Pont de Grenelle, turned left again to run back up the river along a deserted quay, then left onto another bridge, the impressive wrought-iron Pont de Bir-Hakeim. But in all my time running on that bridge I never made it to the other side.

Halfway across the Pont de Bir-Hakeim are steps down to a long, narrow man-made island in the middle of the Seine – the Île aux Cygnes. A tarmac path runs right up the middle of this island, and as it’s not well-lit there aren’t many other people here after nightfall. Passing bateaux mouches flood it with light from time to time, though.

I would run all the way along the island toward the far end, where stands the Paris replica of the Statue of Liberty. It’s quite surreal at first to have the Eiffel Tower behind you and the Statue of Liberty looming ahead – did I run all the way from Paris to New York?

Once at Liberty and the far end of the island, steps brought me back onto the Pont de Grenelle. From here I ran back the way I came.

Of course, now I was running towards the centre of Paris – past the Eiffel Tower again, but also towards other famous sights. Up ahead of me I would see the Louvre and the two towers of Notre Dame. But even the less-celebrated buildings looked impressive, spotlit and standing proudly along the Seine.

By the time I moved back to Ireland I’d had my fill of Paris. But it’s nice to remember my old Seine-side stomping grounds and running routes from time to time. Maybe I’ll even visit the National Gallery in Dublin again, have a look at a certain painting and say to myself: I was there; I lived and ran there.

Posted in Paris, Training | Tagged | 7 Comments