Sunday, June 1, 2008

A French re-connection weekend

A weekend in Paris and several opportunities to reconnect with my French connections. Hey, I didn't say The French Connection, just my running connections over here!

A marathon in 3:14 on La Coulée Verte on Saturday morning, the 40 years of my club in Paris, the ASVP (Association Sportive des Vétérans de Paris) and a off with a few ultrafondus between Versailles and Dampierre (Yvelines county).

La coulée verte

Literally, something like the green gully or the green valley. It is a nice trail and bike path going for about ten miles along the TGV (our bullet train) line to the South of Paris. For more information, see my detailed description of the course. This post is actually one of the most visited on my blog, with people looking for a run in or from Paris. I even have a colleague from one of our European offices who heard about this trail from my blog, cool.

This Saturday, I had to cut my run short because of the ASVP lunch so I just ran a marathon. I was thinking that, before moving to California in 1998, I was really glad to have long runs of 13 miles on this course. Now, getting to Massy (the end of the trail) from my parents' in Paris' 14th district is about 10 miles and is too short for me especially as I am tuning up my training for Western States. To make the run longer I went around and through Verrières-le-Buisson, turning around at the half-marathon mark (on my Garmin 205, which I believe is very accurate on this flat and open trail).

The temperature was perfect, few people and bikes on the trail, great conditions for a good run. 1:36 at the half and 3:14 for the marathon, good for a Boston qualifier.

40 candles for the ASVP!

When I turned 40 I wanted to run in the French Nationals and other competitions in France. For that, I had to join the FFA (Fédération Française d'Athléthisme), the equivalent of our USA Track & Field Asscociation. And, like for USA T&F, I needed to join a club. There are hundreds of them in France, including more that one hundred in and around Paris, so many to chose from. I initially thought of the PUC (Paris Université Club) for the reputation and convenience (meetings in Charléty Stadium, close to the ILOG office) but the conditions and welcome ended up not so great. Since I had just turned Masters then, which translates into Vétérans in French, I contacted the club which seemed specialized in this age group, the ASVP (the V stands for Vétérans which means Masters in French)!

In May 1968, when many others were engaged in social and political arguments and battles in France, a group of athletes in their early 40s came with their own revendication. At the time, in France, there was no other category in races and championships than the open category. As a result, clubs were losing interest in their "aging" members. As a positive way to express their disagreement, this group created a club to gather Masters and, as a first action, they wrote a letter to the FFA to make the case of an age group for 40 years and above, which was already the case in Germany and some Scandinavian countries for instance. The Masters category was created a year letter and we were gathering this weekend to commemorate the creation of the club, 40 years ago.

Gathering for a marathon... lunch! A 5-course lunch and seated for 5 hours around the table, it has been a long time since I've done that, I'm really lacking training in this area. Oh well, I should be running more than 60km tomorrow...

With more than 50 people all with a passion for running and more than 40 years worth of running souvenirs and memories, there were lively discussions. And it was an opportunity for me to learn more about the history of the club. The most notable performance of the club, beyond this influence on the recognition of the Masters category, was a 3rd place at the French Nationals of cross-country in Fontainebleau. The team was composed of Blanchard, Colliot, Vinet, Duault and Goiset (in the order they finished that year), with Vinet and Goiset still being with us. That year, the ASVP lost to the AS Police (1st) and the Army Squadron of Rennes (2nd).

Vinet has been on the National Track & Field team for several international selections on 5,000 and 10,000 meters (his PRs are 2:31 on the 1,000, 8:29 on the 3.000, 14:36 on the 5,000 and 30:44 on 10,000). He was still running the 10K in 33 minutes at 41. Before joining the ASVP, Vinet was with Colombes Sport between 1952 and 1062 then the ACP (Athlétique Club de Paris).

Another illustrious club member was Roger Petitjean who has been the captain of the French team of cross-country for several years. Unfortunately, Roger frequently lost to French legends such as Jason then Mimoun, like Raymond Poulidor with Anquetil and Merckx on the Tour de France... (below, a picture of Roger, from, copyright Roger-Viollet) Of course the ASVP is not the older club in France. There are actually several clubs which already celebrated their 100 th anniversary like the famous Racing, Stade Français or the ASVP friend club, SAM (Société Athlétique de Montrouge).

Unfortunately, nobody had a digital camera so, no picture, sorry...

Actually, later the following week, Jean Duponq sent me a couple of scans from the old good times.

A group picture of the club members, presumably in Vincennes, and sometimes in the early 90s (already some grey and white hair, but a great mood and spirit...):
Unexpectedly Jean met the elite runner Arturo Barrios of Mexico, at his hotel while visiting Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Arturo was famous for setting the world record of 10,000 meters in 1989 (see The New York Times article). Yet, Jean told me that Arturo was very nice and approachable, and kind to discuss their shared passion and even sign an autograph.
Jean continued his journey through South America to run the Corrida of Sao Paulo (Brazil):
"Off des Yvelines" with 3 other ultrafondus

Meeting place: Sunday morning at the entrance of the Château de Versailles. Code name: Off des Yvelines. Direction: South West.

But, first what is an off anyway? I told Phil that I of course new the word, but had never heard it used in this context in the US.

Off is used here like it is used in art festivals to describes events which are on the side of the main track, off the program, unofficial. It can also be off pressure. For us this Sunday, it was really off-road and sometimes off-the-trail actually. And off pace for me compare to my run yesterday. With even off-the-records jokes, stories and gossips. Really casual and cool anyway.

Phil had even another rationale: for the French purists who would not want to acknowledge the English origin and meaning, off could be the off in the French officieux (unofficial, casual). It surely makes sense and convey the adequate meaning, but that really seems like an after-thought justification, not much of an etymological one.

As for ultrafondus, the regular readers of my blog will remember my post of last March in which I introduced the concept, the magazine and my 5-page interview in this ultra running magazine. For the others you have to click on the above link to understand this French neologism and wordplay.

I now have a few connections with the ultrafondus community and one email announcing my visit to France is enough for a mobilization of the network to get a run organized for me, Ze Californian! Like the great Fat Ass we ran around Rouen in Normandy last January.

We met for a start at the Château de Versailles (Place d'Armes) at 9am. The hordes of tourists were on their way for the visit of the castle. At the train station, we saw many Japanese and still a few Chinese (they just got banned from their government from visiting France because of the protests against the Olympic torch in Paris last month...). We left this busy part of town for a much quieter one, going South and quickly getting in the forest. Phil was our guide for the day, first using his memories from the many years he had trained in the area before his parents moved 40 miles further South, 11 years ago. Phil was also using a (car) GPS to get overall directions toward his parents' house, 32 miles away from the start by the road. Needless to say, such a GPS is of some help but does not show trails, only roads and highways, so the navigation gets really approximate sometimes...
Here is a satellite view from our start, picturing the amazing layout of the park of the castle as viewed from the sky (click on the picture to enlarge and see our route):
The complete route is posted on Google Earth and Google Maps. In Versailles we entered the forest (Forêt Domaniale de Versailles). Our first stop was at the bottom of the so-called "Oak of Louis XIV" for a group picture (from right to left: Stéphane, Thierry, Phil and I):
Phil told us it was the oldest tree around but we learned from his mother at the end of the day that the real oak which had seen Louis XIV had died since and has been cut. Don't tell Phil, he will be so disappointed and may actually get traumatized by the news and the end of this legend from his childhood... ;-)

By the way, all the pictures from this run are from Stéphane, aka runstephane on the ultrafondus forum. You can see more pictures in his Picasa album.

Leaving Versailles' forest, we crossed a quite modern (~30 years old) urban area (Guyancourt, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, Voisins-le-Bretonneux). We erred at the entrance of the Forêt de Port Royal and ended up in a large farm of the Agronomic Research National Institute after crossing a stream and high grass fields (with ticks...). This is really getting off...control and reason, when we got caught inside the INRA farm...
Pommiers? Not completely lost yet...
With our feet wet and checking several options to get back on the original planned route, we were definitely not going the shortest path and Thierry started feeling the heat and wanted to return to Versailles on his own after these first 13 miles. Phil discouraged him, arguing rightly that we were half way between the start and Dampierre where Stéphane had parked his car with some food.

A policeman ensuring the security for a local bike race (we saw a young gal with the French tri-color jersey) told us the way to Milon-la-Chapelle.
We left Milon running/hiking up the famous hill of la Madeleine (Côte de la Madeleine), the steepest and longest hill around for local bikers (a bit of hill training for Phil and Stéphane for their return to UTMB in August, although it is not that long actually!).

A bit of heat training for me for Western States... ;-)

We asked our way to several hikers, got conflicting directions until one shown us a detailed map with the GR11 leading to Chevreuse and Dampierre. It was 1:15 pm and we were 20 miles in our run when we got to Stéphane's car in Dampierre. Stéphane had brought the perfect ingredients for a great aid station: coke, mineral waters, quinoa/tomato/mozzarella salad, potato chips, sausage, bread, dry fruits.
Dampierre has a large castle too and is therefore pretty busy with tourists. But this Sunday was also special with an Art Festival and many artists displaying across the town. There are also many special events throughout this year to celebrate the creation of all the counties (départements in French) around Paris. It was used to be only two huge ones 40 years ago called Seine and Seine-et-Oise. In 1968 (yes the same year the ASVP was born!), 5 new counties were created out of the split: Yvelines (78), Essonne (91), Hauts-de-Seine (92), Seine-Saint-Denis (93), Val-de-Marne (94) and Val-d'Oise (95). Our "off des Yvelines" was another way to celebrate this anniversary.
After 30 minutes of re planning and wondering about the timing for the rest of the day (I had to be back to Versailles by 5:30), we left Thierry at the car. He was going to drive to a place with several lakes/ponds and will wait for us about 6 miles from Dampierre. After our break, Phil started showing some signs of fatigue and we alternated walking, jogging and...sprinting (go figure, it became a game, really an indication that we are...ultrafondus!).
Anyway, after 27 miles and 6 hours we reached the pond of Saint Hubert where Thierry was waiting for us and decided to end our run here, then drive to Phil's parents who were waiting for us. Their hospitality was particularly warmhearted and re comforting, with drinks (beer, orange juice, water, coke, hot chocolate, coffee), food, laughs and more ultra stories. We really felt the ultrafondus family spirit and it was hard to leave in a rush because of my time constraints. We were even given a copy of the latest issue of the ultrafondus magazine, just off the press, which includes my 6-page article on the Coastal Challenge, with a great picture selection and lay out made by the magazine designers. Kudos again to the ultrafondus team!

Was another busy and very enjoyable running weekend, on the other side of the Ocean. Ultra running, the international and universal way...

PS: scoop! Phil is going to the 6 days of Antibes next weekend, and here is a sneak preview of his new technique to save time, sleeping right off the side of the road (yes, yet another off...). Beware, competitors, this seems to be an even better technique than Dean Karnazes', who claims in his best-seller book that he sleeps while running!!
And another secret: Phil even smiles while sleeping. This definitely shows great optimism and mental, less than one week from the event. Good luck for next week, Phil!


Unknown said...

Thanks Jean for this another great story. I didn't really have a strategy for Antibes but now I'm ready... to sleep !

Don't forget to mail me each time you come in France.



runstephane said...

Hey hey Jean,

It was very cool; great pace with great runners. Some extras videos...

See you,

Anonymous said...

Sauciflard, chips, coca... J'critique pas le coté "farce" mais question diététique, y'aurait quant même à redire (j'ai les preuves en photos ici même).
Prochaine fois tu DOIS posser jusqu'à Toulouse et je me chargerai de la partie mangeaille avec du local.

Dès que je parle anglais, j'fais l'effort d'écrire en "estrangers".



Andy B. said...

Great write up, Jean. When do you start your "run around the world"? ;-) You can already tick off a few countries.

By the way, I tagged you. Check out my blog for details (

Victoria said...

Que c'est trop français-- ça m'a fait rire, the picture when you all are climbing over the fence. Many years ago, one time I was at Versailles (crazily enough), the petit français I was hanging out with told me that all French people needed was to see a sign that said "pélouse interdite" to walk on the pélouse. Seeing a bunch of people climbing over fences brought back some memories...