It’s no secret that Londoners are a dichotomy, especially when it comes to our health. We love to drink to excess but we also long to be fit and fabulous. Our parks are as filled as our pubs and none of us want to choose between the two. Thankfully the French are here to make sure we don’t have to.
Welcome to the Marathon du Medoc, France’s first and foremost drinking run. If you like to combine your marathon running with a fine Merlot, or want a fitness challenge with a side of Fitou then you’re in for a treat, as this 26-mile course winds in and around some of Bordeaux’s finest vineyards.
The Marathon du Medoc isn’t the kind of run where you’re racing to beat your record. Frankly unless you train with regular alcohol stops, you’ll never manage it. In any case, after the first 10 glasses your path and purpose tend to meander.
The marathon takes place in a village called Pauillac, a little-known name that is a base for some seriously big ones. It’s home to Chateaux Lafite, Rothschild and Latour: a few of the world’s most famous and expensive winemakers. Pauillac sits on the Gironde estuary, just north of Bordeaux in the centre of France’s west coast. Bordeaux is of course famed for its wine but the city itself is beautiful and well worth setting aside time for during a Medoc trip.
The marathon route snakes through Pauillac’s elite vineyards with a stop every mile or so to refuel at a chateau. The chateaux don’t just provide refreshments but unbelievable backdrops – it’s hard to tell whether you’re gasping from exhaustion or wonder as you rehydrate with a cheeky red. The rolling vineyards and incredible architecture make this one of the most beautiful marathons on Earth.
Each stop comes with food too, from energy-filled bites of cake, cheese and fruit at the beginning to tender beef strips and ice lollies near the blissful end. Naturally these are grabbed with all the delicacy and restraint of rush-hour commuters finding free samples at a station. To top off the festivities there’s music, dancing and acrobatics along the way.
Apart from comfortable running gear, there are two important things to remember. One is that the Medoc is fancy dress – it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a new theme each year and people go all out. You’ll find teams of runners carrying entire bars, cheese boards and speaker systems between them. These party outfit pros will make your own attempt feel mightily inadequate but if you’re not a seasoned marathon runner, dress as light and cool as possible.
The other thing to note is that this area is surprisingly hot. In fact it’s one of the hottest places in France, despite not being a southerly Mediterranean beach. Vineyards are not famed for their shade as the low vines do nothing to protect you from the midday heat. Bring copious amounts of suncream – it’s tough enough without worrying what 32 degrees of blinding sun is doing to your skin.
If you’re not sure you can handle the whole thing there’s a halfway point where you can bow out with grace and take a short route back to the beginning to await the rest of your party – preferably with a glass in hand.
The Before and After
There are dinners and dances in the days before and after the run that can only be described as extraordinarily French. Your banquet table buffet will be accompanied by the best pop and dance music that 90’s Europe has to offer and joining in with the Sardine song – France’s answer to the hokey-cokey – is mandatory. Just imagine a school disco where you know none of the words and you’re not far wrong. If that doesn’t tempt you, you can buy your race place with or without these unique events included.
There are plenty of options around if you do decide that’s not your cup of Pinot. You can celebrate in style at award-winning and Michelin-starred restaurants in Bordeaux and beyond, where you might enjoy another glass or two because after 26 miles, you’ve earned every drop.
The Marathon Du Medoc takes place every year in the first weeks of September and places do sell out. Registration opens in March, so book immediately. Return flights from London to Bordeaux can cost as little as £20.
by Jo Davey