By Allan Lynch
The Marathon du Medoc is not simply a sporting event, it’s the ultimate in harvest festivals.
In France, grapes are the great harvest, so this country that has given us the concept of "joie de vie" takes its celebratory season to a serious new level of fun with the Marathon du Medoc. While most marathons are a tad dull to watch as one lean, spandex-clad competitor after the other jogs by, the Marathon du Medoc offers a great spectacle, because the 8,500 runners are in costume. It’s like Halloween meets Mardi Gras. These marathoners really pull out all their creativity when it comes to designing something to run in. On my way to the start line for 2011’s marathon, I saw participants from across Europe, Africa, Asia and North America, some painting black and yellow strips on each other’s torsos to finish their bee costumes, others preening friends’ tails and adjusted wings, udders or ears. There were flamingos, swarms of ladybugs, herds of cattle, and almost 101 runners dressed as Dalmatians escaping several Cruella Devilles. There were suggestive Asian kittens, gorillas, swans, penguins, sheep, Ninja turtles and lots of pigs. There’s a French expression to sum up a close friendship, "on a pas élevé les cochons ensemble," meaning the only thing we haven’t done is raise pigs together. So, while many people obviously haven’t raised pigs together, they metaphorically crossed that bridge by running together as pigs. Those who broke the dress code stuck to a domestic theme, like bakers with baguettes or bloody-apron-clad butchers waiving cleavers at those dressed as farmyard animals.
There were Musketeers, a Napoleon in a cutaway green velvet jacket and silk knickers running with one hand either in his jacket or behind his back, and a surprising number of men dressed as French maids in various stages of dishabille. Julia Child’s observation that "In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport" applies to this marathon. In typically French fashion, they elevate running to a culinary event. Since marathoners run past 50 chateaux and vineyards (including Chateau Lafitte Rothschild), on a route that has 21 gourmet food stations, runners are offered more that the typical water and fresh fruit. Here they are offered red or white wine–literally whatever the house specialty–as well as snacks of local cheese, oysters and fresh foie gras served on warm-from-the-oven baguettes. It’s the Aquitaine’s version of fast food. The marathon starts and finishes on the quayside of Pauillac, a small town on the Gironde River midway between the city of Bordeaux and the Atlantic Ocean. At the finish line at Pauillac’s quayside, runners cartwheel, skip and dance to waiting showers, massages and bottle of marathoner wine. The runner with the best time receives his or her weight in wine. The joy of this marathon for non-runners is that we can spend the day in Pauillac, giggling at the costumes, snacking and sipping great Bordeaux while others work up a sweat.
HOW TO JOIN IN
The marathon receives 15,000 applications a year and can only accredit 8,500 runners. This year’s marathon is September 7.
For information about the marathon, go to marathondumedoc.com.
For information about the Aquitaine, click on tourisme-aquitaine.fr.