Waking up at 6am and looking out the window to a flurry of snow falling from the sky you know that running 58 miles is going to be a slightly bigger challenge than you originally anticipated! Without thinking much more about it mainly because I had about 3 minutes to get to the train station, I donned my running shoes chucked on my backpack and headed to Marble Arch where I would start my little journey to run to Paris!
I pitched the idea to all my running buddies and the only one brave enough to accept the challenge was Adam. Meeting him at 8am in the freezing cold I hoped he knew what he had signed up for.
I had spent a couple of weeks planning the route and speaking to people who had taken on this adventure on a bike. I had planned it to go through woods along the winding rivers and passing beautiful houses on the final run into Paris. This plan like all original ones would never survive first contact and it was going to change about 20 times over the course of the trip however the ultimate goal would always remain the same; Get from London to Paris in 4 days.
Day one was the longest of the four days taking us from London to Newhaven covering 58 miles. The only time restraint that we had was to get to Newhaven by 11pm to hop onto the ferry to France. This shouldn't be an issue as we had 15 hours to get there. The snow settled and slowly turned to rain, it was still absolutely freezing and I was keen to get moving as soon as possible. The route out of London was fairly easy and the roads were pretty quite as we were still in the post Christmas lull and no-one had started their new years fitness resolutions yet...I am sure you are all sticking to yours now!
Run well under way I quickly realised that my gloves were rubbish and were soaking wet after only one hour of running. I spotted a Decathlon out of the corner of my eye and quickly made a de-tour to get an upgrade. The shop was filled with roller skates, scooters and bikes and I had a fleeting thought that I could make this trip 100% easier with some wheels. Luckily I don't like easy options.
Whilst on the picturesque A23 a car started beeping like mad at us. I looked over to the other side of the duel carriageway to see it was the support crew, may Dad Alfie! He felt like taking a little holiday so offered to be the support driver for this trip which was a godsend, especially with the weather. After trying to shout over cars speeding along at 70 miles per hour we made a plan to meet in Godstone for a hot chocolate and dry out from the rain.
It was so nice sitting and getting toasty by the fire but we quickly had to drag ourselves back out to the elements before we melted away into the warmth and dryness of the Bell Inn. After 20 miles or so Adam and I started to drift into running at slightly different paces so we each went with the flow and ran out at our own speed each going on our own little adventure to get France.
I had a great day winding through country lanes, fields of sheep, past beautiful steam trains and up and down the rolling hills of the North and South Downs. The miles were quickly getting ticked off and before I knew it I had done 40 miles as the sun started to set, I only had 18 to go! I would normally think that 18 miles was a bloody long way but when you are on a 162 mile journey, 18 doesn't seem so far. I made it to the pub in Chailey where my dad was waiting for me for a final hot chocolate just as the sun was setting. I warmed my kit on the heater and prepared myself for the final half marathon into Newhaven.
I was really surprised how good I felt throughout the whole trip. I think a lot of it had to do with what I was eating. I have done a few ultra runs and normally have gels and coke and crap like that to get me through however I tried a different tactic on this run which appeared to keep my energy levels topped up and let my little legs keep on going all the way to Paris.
This is what I ate on Day One:
- 2 x fried egg sandwich
- 2 x cups of tea
- 2 x bananas
- 2 x oranges
- 1 x oat bar
- couple of handfuls of cashew nuts, dried mango and raisins
- 2 x hot chocolates
- Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini and Bread
- 1 x Avocado, mozzarella and tomato salad
- Fiorentina Pizza
The ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe would take 4 hours and as the weather had been pretty horrid all day I knew it wasn't going to be a pleasant crossing. After getting told that we hadn't booked a cabin (we had) and me kicking off for 10 minutes until the French finally gave in and gave us a room for the night we could finally relax. As we only had 4 hours of potential sleep I showered and jumped into bed as fast as Flash Gordon. Ahhh I was looking forward to getting some shuteye but with two snorers in the room that was not going to happen despite earplugs and trying to shove my head under a pillow!
I always knew that day two was going to be the toughest. I had already run 58 miles, I had no sleep and with no shops open breakfast would consist of a cereal bar, banana, orange and some nuts, let's be honest all I really wanted was a croissant and a cup of tea. It would take 23 miles to find one as funnily enough at 4am normal humans are sleeping!
I had 40 miles to do today to get to the farm that we would be staying and got going by 4:45am. As the morning went on the temperature would drop from 4 degrees to about -2, which turned the roads into ice rinks making it that little bit tougher to run. It would be about 3 hours before I would see a car which meant I could run in the road to my hearts content as I weaved through the ice.
I suddenly ran past a Patisserie that had started their morning baking. The smell of croissants was heavenly and wafted down the street, I took a peek through the shutters and could see two people kneading the bread I was so tempted to knock on the door and ask for a croissant but was slightly scared of getting hit by a baguette and sent on my way empty handed for interrupting their morning routine so I carried on running through the streets empty handed with a slight pang of regret. My dad continued to leap frog ahead of me at 5 to 7 miles at a time. This was the perfect distance for me to catch him up grab some water and a snack and then head on my way again.
Finally dawn arrived and the villagers of a sleepy French town woke up and my dad found an open bakery. In his usual style of getting enough supplies to survive an apocalypse he brought about 10 croissants, legend...I wasn't going to go hungry! The next 10-mile strip would be interesting as we would get snow, hail, rain and gale force winds. After 30 miles I was also starting to feel the tolls of no sleep and having done 88 miles in 2 days. With only 10 miles to go was sure I could battle through. I stopped in a little village for a spot of lunch and here I would see the first signs to Paris. The food and the signs gave me a much needed boost to tackle the final 10 miles of the day!
I run along on some lovely undulating hills and once at the top of the final hill I could see the farm we were going to be staying at in the distance. I arrived at 2:30pm and considered ticking off another 10 miles but the thought of a shower and an afternoon nap lured my up the driveway.
At 7pm we were summoned to dinner by our hosts Gerard and Grace. It was an interesting evening that started with the strongest aperitif I had ever had. I was pretty sure I was drunk after one sip! The food was great we had Boudin Blanc with apples slow cooked in butter to start followed by guineafowl (freshly caught on the farm that morning) with green beans and then apple tart all served with some wine from Bordeaux that Gerard buys in by the barrel and keeps in his shed. With us not speaking French and Gerard and Grace not speaking English we had a wonderful nights of charades trying to understand each other. Gerard was especially proud of his marble fireplace that lit up and looked "like the sea" well at least that is what I think he said. It would be rude not to show you a picture, as he was so keen for me to take one.
After a great nights sleep where I managed to form some sort of fortress around my head to block out the snoring I was ready to go on day three. After yesterdays debacle of not being able to find a patisserie that was open I passed about 10 within the first 5 miles all showing of their sweet treats, I would wait until we were 20 miles in for a little stop to have a Nutella éclair and a hot chocolate, both were delicious!
Once again fuelled on hot chocolate I hopped on the road and started to chip off the miles. The wind would start to pick up until it got so strong that I was getting blown off the road. It was quite a battle trying to get through and it felt what I can only assume drudging through quick sand must feel like. I started to get really hungry but I was on a long straight road that had no shelter from the crazy wind. I could see some trees in the distance so decided to head for those and take shelter there. As I got closer I found a farm barn that I jumped in to snack on my orange out of the wind. After a quick stop I was back on the road heading towards the next town where I would hopefully be stopping for lunch. The heavens started to open and I could see my dads car parked across the road, talk about good timing. I quickly hopped in avoiding getting soaking wet and he then told me that there was a cafe behind us, get in! We went inside where I had a cup of tea and a croque monsieur which was delicious. The rain continued to pour down and I was glad that I had sought refuge just in time. After I finished eating the rain cleared so I took the opportunity to head back on the road and battle the winds. The road wound it's way through fields of sugar beet and cute little towns when all of a sudden the sun decided to come out for all of about 3 seconds and I was greeted with this stunning view of the files surrounding me.
The rain continued to drizzle and I kept wondering past the mistletoe trees which I thought were pretty but would later find out are like weeds and kill lots of the other plants despite being a great way to trick someone into kissing you. After 45 miles of fighting through the wind I arrived at Le Ferme Rose, It was a beautiful farm that had an array of animals and was surrounded by beautiful brick buildings. Claire the host for the evening was busy chopping wood in the courtyard as we arrived. She was a pretty hardy lady and it was clear that she took no shit and ran the joint. We were strictly informed to only use our room and the communal areas and at 7pm when the bell rung we could go downstairs for dinner. At 7pm on the dot the bell dinged and we went downstairs to eat with Claire and her husband Frank.
We started dinner with a walnut aperitif, which was delightful and then moved on to courgette and carrot soup, chicken a la king and the most delicious cheese called Mont d’Or, which had been baked for an hour, and we dipped our freshly baked bread into. The meal was finished off with an apple crumble and brandy butter, I am pretty sure Claire used a whole bottle of brandy in her recipe, who knew you could drunk on butter? The food and conversation was great and we had a lovely night chatting about France and the final 20 miles, which lay ahead.
The final day started with a run through ridiculous muddy fields that would make you slip with every step and huge puddles of water that you couldn't avoid, I found it quite fun as it made a change to pounding the pavements. I was getting nearer and nearer to Paris with each step and it was rather exciting. After 10 miles my dad was one the side of the road waiting one final time before he would go all the way to Paris and meet us at the Arc De Triomphe. I took this opportunity to quickly change my soaking wet socks, as hopefully I would have no more farmer’s fields or puddles to go through.
All of a sudden I spotted the Eiffel Tower glistening in the distance, whoop, I had pretty much made it. A final right turn into Avenue Carnot and there it was the Arc De Triomphe waiting at the top of the hill!
After 4 days, 25 hours and 23 minutes of running and 162 miles I had arrived in Paris! I loved every step of the way even getting pelted in the eye by hail, getting blown off the roads by lorries going at 100 mph and of course the delicious Éclairs!