Hints and Tips for Running and Biking in Paris (and an impassioned plea at the end)
It’s no coincidence that “endorphin,” the chemical produced by the brain during intensive, repetitive exercise like running, biking, rowing and swimming, seems to rhyme with “morphine” (an opiate pain reliever). It is morphine, its name being a contraction of “endogenous” (i.e., manufactured “within,” or by, the body [en = “in” in French, for example]) and “morphine”–or other “-ine” drugs, such as codeine, etc. Endorphins are natural pain relivers, which is why we get a “runner’s or biker’s high.” This would be the case even if we were pounding the pavement or pushing the pedals in Lost Springs, Wyoming (as of the 2010 census, population: 4). Or Charleroi, Belgium (according to the BBC, the ugliest city in the world).
BUT WE ARE RUNNING AND BIKING IN PARIS! Need we say more?
Yes, we need. In order to keep safe and happy while all that home-grown dope is flowing through your fit body and satisfied soul, here are a few (among many possible) pointers for running and/or biking (you’ll realize which words of wisdom are for whom) in Paris and/or in general*:
WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOU
ID (including whom to contact in case of emergency, and if you often run or bike with this person, list an additional contact, in case something happens to both of you at the same time) I once went running with a Belgium (not Charleroi!)-based pal who’d come to Paris expressly to do a long pavement-pounder with me. In addition to being an extremely experienced runner, he was a high-ranking military officer–you know, the kind of person on whose common sense we depend when us-good-guys are up against them-bad-guys. When we met at the designated spot before heading out, I asked if he’d brought his ID with him. He said he had. I meant on his body right there and then. He meant in his luggage, back at his hotel. Which in turn meant that if something happened to him while I was not with him–or to both of us simultaneously when I was–he would have unceremoniously joined the ranks of the unidentified dead, at worst, or the difficult-to-identify-unconscious living, at best.
All due respect to the predictive prowess praised in Minority Report and despite our conviction that we’re going to live forever, to do this at all, let alone hundreds of miles from home is…well…really, really dumb.
While we’re at it, and at the risk of casting a pall: If you’re running or biking (or walking, breathing, existing) in Paris–or anywhere–as an expat, register with your embassy. This will allow your designated contacts to be alerted appropriately in an emergency.
Money — Yes, some go running and biking in Paris at pre-dawn, when nothing’s open. Yes, even if you went running or biking at high noon, you’d never stop to buy anything. But if you live at La Motte-Picquet Grenelle and you’re headed 7.5 miles away to the Bois de Vincennes and get very sick or injured at about the three-quarter point on the Pont d’Austerlitz, it’s reassuring to be able to grab a taxi home without worrying that the driver will not look kindly at your making him wait outside your building while you hobble in to find him some cash. To say nothing of the menacing drunk on his way home from a late-night party who might lug his huge, harassing frame out of your path if you throw some bills his way.
Water (the great hydrator)–and drink it! — Per this excellent site, when you don’t drink during exercise, your performance suffers, to say nothing of your overall physical and mental health. While most runners and bikers take water with them, and many proudly do so in nifty bottles and flasks bearing logos from marathons run, sports shops frequented, trendy brands purchased, charities supported, they frequently wind up pulling off the ultimate bit of athletic sorcery: When they get home they find the same amount of H20 in their containers as was in there when they left. In other words, actually stopping to actually drink was out of the question. But the precious seconds you lose by taking drink-breaks will be more than made up for by the precious seconds you won’t be losing by attempting to work out with a drained, dehydrated body and mind!
If what’s holding you back is the thought of breezing through all those otherwise carefree miles with a clunky container in your fist or rattling around in your fanny pack, you can combine the useful with the fun and play the “Where did I bury my bottle?” game: Once you’ve set out, hide your water where you can loop back and retrieve (read: drink) it a bit later–in a sidewalk flower-bin; at the base of a tree in the woods, park, public garden; behind the sack of potatoes the farmer leaves at the café’s front door way before opening hours. Chances are it’ll always be there when you’re ready for it, and you’ll feel a little tingle of victory (and a big boost of hydration) when it is.
For those with the opposite attitude, the super-self-hydrators constantly looking for a refill along their route, this amusing, informative, delightfully interactive site from our “Paris/France and the Classical Elements” entry posted here this past December will provide enough possibilities to keep you going up to, through and even beyond your performance target of the day.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR when running and biking in Paris
Vehicles — As we say in 90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French, rouge may mean “red” but in the minds of Parisian drivers, it doesn’t necessarily mean “stop.” For bikers pedaling in the streets and runners crossing them, never–that’s: never–as in: never–read: never–translate: never ever assume that a vehicle [or a bike — Ed.] will stop just because the traffic light it is approaching is red. Never–that’s: never–as in: never–read: never–translate: never ever assume that a vehicle will not start moving forward (i.e., toward your vulnerable body) just because the traffic light at which it has miraculously stopped is red. In some cases, especially very early in the morning when those above-mentioned menacing drunks are driving home from the party they feel ended way too soon, they will prolong the festivities via the sport of seeing how close their car’s bumper can come to your leg without making actual contact (or drawing blood). The precious seconds you lose by quadruple-checking that you have the right of way will be more than made up for by the precious seconds you won’t be losing by being dead!
As for the crosswalks designated by painted-on white stripes (called zébrés, from the French word for “zebra,” and often unaccompanied by traffic lights), this is one for the sociology majors: In many locations outside of Paris, drivers make it a point of honor to stop and give you ample time to pass–to the point where if you wave or nod to them in thanks, they have no idea why that would be necessary: C’est normal! Within the capital, drivers not only do not stop at these, they seem not even to see them, all of which becomes dangerous on your first Parisian run after a month of vacation in that quaint Norman village overflowing with accommodating motorists to whose near-obsequious politesse you have become accustomed.
Dogs — Paris is a love-me,-love-my-dog kinda place. The dog is always right. The dog owner is always right. The runner and biker are always wrong. If it’s between you and the dog, you will never win. You will always lose: physically, psychologically, rhetorically. The best thing is just to steer clear. I have seen grown, burly men–entire police and fire brigades out for their morning training-runs, looking like each could eat a dog for breakfast in one gulp–leave the park or public garden altogether in favor of laps around its periphery rather than battle it out for a piece of pathway with visibly grumpy dogs, their owners and their owners’ grumpy-dog-owning friends in the little clique that has agglomerated thanks to their shared passion. [And dogs, along with children, invariably swerve right into your path and under your bike tires. – Ed.]
Dog droppings — No, it is not a myth. It’s a reality. Or rather, it’s a reality of mythic proportions: Despite massive scare-campaigns with posters depicting all sorts of negative encounters therewith (children picking them up and playing with them, the disabled scooping them up in hands that guide their wheelchairs), and a fine for owners who don’t follow closely with plastic bags (Paris has discussed raising it to 200 euros), dog droppings on sidewalks are as Parisian as the Eiffel Tower. See that guy on crutches over there? He probably slipped on a piece of canine excrement (and dislocated his hip). That lady with her arm in a sling? Ditto (and broke the arm with which she broke her fall). If you start your run expecting that you will encounter these, knowing that you have to be ultra-vigilant and pledging never to let your guard down, you may possibly be able to complete it with all your bones (and the soles of your shoes) in the same state as when you set out running in Paris.
WHAT TO BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
If you go out very early, before the sun is up, especially on a Sunday morning when inferior drunken idiots from the night before are prowling around looking to prove their self-proclaimed superiority by finding someone to torment–a runner or biker, for instance–you might want to have a mental map of places you can go for help, shelter, comfort if it becomes obvious that you are the designated tormentee. In order to have a mental map, you first have to follow a physical map–along your usual run- or bike-route, where you will locate those establishments with operating hours that would suit your needs: police and fire stations, of course, but also hotels (in principle, open all the time), some cafés (those serving transport hubs or outdoor-market installations, for instance, where early-morning activity is heavy), bakeries (if the cashiers aren’t there yet, the bakers are almost sure to be), even certain butcher shops (for some reason, butchers often seem to keep bakers’ hours). Hopefully, you will never need to pay these fine folks a visit under other than conventional circumstances, but it will be comforting to know they are there if you do.
WHAT TO WEAR when running and biking in Paris
A helmet — Wear a helmet. Don’t not wear a helmet. Wear a helmet. In case this has not been clear: Wear a helmet. If you ride with a kid behind you, wear a helmet and put one on the kid. [By law, kids under 12 must wear helmets and those accompanying them will be fined if they do not. – Ed.]. If you ride not with a kid behind you but have one at home who needs the love and care given by a parent with an intact brain, wear a helmet. You will likely never be able to undo the damage if you (and/or your kid) crash or fall without a helmet on. Wear a helmet.
This is crucial everywhere, but especially in millennia-old cities like Paris where wheels can get caught between two (often rain-slicked) cobblestones, destabilizing the bike and sending it and its rider(s) hurtling to the ground–with (often rush-hour) oncoming traffic. Get the picture?
Reflective gear — Not only is there no excuse not to wear reflective gear if you are running and biking in Paris in the dark, but given the currently available variety of such accessories, it’d be a shame to miss out on the fun. Amazon is a great source, and Google will provide addresses for physical stores in Paris/elsewhere in France if you search for matériel réfléchissant, dispositifs réfléchissants, accessoires réfléchissants, équipments réfléchissants. [For other ideas see the FUSAC article called Bicycle visibility. –Ed. ]
WHAT TO KNOW IF NATURE CALLS
The differences between running into a café and screaming, “CAN I USE YOUR BATHROOM?!” (EST-CE QUE JE PEUX UTILISER VOS TOILETTES?!)…and…running into a café and screaming, “HELLO, SIR (or MADAM). EXCUSE ME FOR BOTHERING YOU! CAN I USE YOUR BATHROOM?! (BONJOUR, MONSIEUR [ou MADAME]. EXCUSEZ-MOI DE VOUS DERANGER! EST-CE QUE JE PEUX UTILISER VOS TOILETTES?) are:
1/The second way takes longer and is thus more dangerous in terms of the urgency of your request.
2/The second way will (possibly) get you into the bathroom while the first will make you appear like an invasive brute and probably get you turned away.
So you choose.
As much as finding a nice secluded nook in the darkness-kissed local park or public garden, or between two cars, or down a narrow side-street seems like a great quick-fix strategy, relieving oneself in public has been punishable by a 68€ fine that may go up.
NOW HERE’S THAT IMPASSIONED PLEA PROMISED IN THE TITLE
Electric-scooter riders, please do not leave your means of transport in the middle of the sidewalk. We runners are asking this calmly, softly, respectfully, in colossal contrast to the rage welling inside us. Please do not leave your means of transport in the middle of the sidewalk. It is now illegal to ride them there (punishable by a 135€ fine, as is bike riding on the sidewalk). But as it is not illegal to leave them there, it seems as if some secret contest has been organized wherein trottinette users try to outdo each other in creative ways to petrify nearsighted, fleet-footed runners who will come upon the devices in the black-dark, in the smack-dab, geometric, computer-generated center of their path, with mere nano-seconds to avoid crashing into, tripping over and plunging onto the unforgiving concrete because of them. OK. Ha-ha. You won the contest. NOW PLS GET YOUR SCOOTERS OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF OUR ROAD!
(“Scooter” in French is trottinette, which comes from trottiner, which means to scamper, skitter, trot around; un scooter is a light motorcycle–kind of like a moped–although more and more, the electric scooters are being called scooters by the French; un moto–from motocyclette–is a “motorcycle.”)
Enjoy your endorphins!
* While some of this advice seems breathtakingly obvious, it is breathtakingly disturbing how many supposedly seasoned athletes do not follow it!
Shari Leslie Segall is a writer who lives (and, obviously, runs) in Paris.
Here’s a couple other articles about biking in Paris.