The Genteel
August 12, 2020

Best Kept Secrets

Medoc Marathon 2010 (Source: Flickr user lglb535).

There's a time for high fashion, and then there's a time for silly costumes - preferably alongside Bordeaux sunshine, grand cru wines and mountains of oysters, cheeses and foie gras ... while marathon running, strutting or walking. This is not a feverish fantasy, but a fun reality that takes place every September in Pauillac, in the Bordeaux region of France. This is the Marathon du Médoc.

The Médoc marathon logo depicts a runner zigzagging through vines and châteaux with a bottle of wine in hand. The caption, "world's longest marathon", sounds accurate. 8,500 participants from around the world run the 42.2 km course that takes them through more than 50 stunningly beautiful, highly celebrated châteaux. Created in 1984 by a small group of zealous marathon fans, today the event is organized by l'Association pour le Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc (AMCM), which is comprised of 90 volunteer marathon runners. AMCM's main goal is "to attract runners of all types and have them discover the benefits and pleasures of long distance running." Is wearing a sexy cat costume with fishnet stockings meant to increase the pleasure of running, to give the attire application other than an occasional adult costume party, or to induce extra suffering for the sake of the discovery of said pleasure of long distance running?

Dressing up in a tutu, fishnets, full makeup and adorning oneself with ladybug wings, and running a full marathon while snacking on bread with pâté is not for the faint of heart.

Whatever the case, the Médoc marathon's foundation - of sport, conviviality and fun, combined with elaborate costumes and wines - is certainly doing the trick of attracting an ever-increasing number of spectators and participants. Moreover, the event comprises more than just the race. There are parties the night before the run and recovery events the day after (a 4,000-person walk and a mountain bike ride through the Moulis wine region, anyone?). But the marathon day itself is also a full day for runners and spectators alike. There are 52 events, including live bands and tours of the barrels, lining the race. Not to mention the 21 special gourmet food stands, and the big ball and fireworks on the evening after the marathon.

What helps to make this a truly remarkable experience, besides the volunteers and participating local businesses, is no doubt the costume element. 90% of attendants wear a costume. What a pleasant surprise in comparison to the usual and, in my opinion, boring marathon "uniform". Looking through the 2,500 Flickr photos of the Médoc marathon, I couldn't help but admire each runner for expressing himself or herself and being comfortable at having a laugh about the silliness of it all. Not to mention, dreaming up my own Médoc marathon costume.

Photo by Flickr user Nbabaian.

And to the foodies among us, the list of treats such as steak, pâté, cheese, fruit, ice cream, baked goods and French wine, will sound like a pleasant melody to your ears. Despite the gastronomic distractions, 7,350 runners (out of 8,500) finish the race. For those costumed souls who get distracted by foie gras or a little too much wine, there are sweeper cars that take them to the finish line. And once over the finish line, everyone gets a medal and a swag bag with a t-shirt, a bottle of Médoc wine, art print, and other surprise gifts.

My friend Nicole Campbell, who attended the marathon last year, comments: "Standing there, letting it all sink in, gave me shivers." She describes the crowd as a procession of smurfs, spidermen, wonderladies, prisoners, men dressed as damsels (apparently, a popular choice) a hilarious and fun sight. Before takeoff, there was laughing, singing, and chanting everywhere. Who wouldn't run in convivial spirits along the impossibly picturesque French wine country?

Similarly to Nicole, Kathy Buckworth of Huffington Post Canada, says: "I've never witnessed such joy and fun in the marathon spirit." She also mentions that the 2011 Médoc marathon (costume theme: animals) produced everything from cats to German beer hall frauleins, construction workers, insects and even hunters (smart!). Which brings me to the question, are the French more fashionably daring than the rest of the world? Dressing up in a tutu, fishnets, full makeup and adorning oneself with ladybug wings, and running a full marathon while snacking on bread with pâté is not for the faint of heart. Or is this about the camaraderie, light-hearted sportsmanship and an excuse to sample some of the world's best wines?

If you, like me, are up for the challenge and are feeling the burning desire to revisit your old Halloween costumes, or if your taste buds start tingling, you can try your luck at the next Marathon du Médoc on September 8, 2012. Registrations for the 28th annual run will begin in February of 2013, which should give you just enough time to orchestrate a stunning costume. Who will you run as?



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