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Probably the world’s best Marathon | Medoc, Bordeaux, France

Castle surrounded by vineyards in Bordeaux with many marathon runners passing by

There comes to every person the realization that they are not as young or athletic as they once were. It came to me in Bordeaux. When I was overtaken by Obi-Wan Kenobi and lapped by Darth Vader. Even a Dalek overtook me.

Going uphill, only Jabba the Hutt was slower.

See the vineyards of Bordeaux on foot

Marathon runners pass by a vineyard full up ripe grapes in Bordeaux

There are several ways to see the famous vineyards of Bordeaux and Medoc. You can go by car, by bicycle or do them on horseback. You can see them by hot air balloon or boat. And even by all-terrain vehicle. Or you can be chased through them by the Incredible Hulk.

Every year, in September, the world’s largest fine wine-growing region which produces more than 800 million bottles of wine every year, stages Le Marathon du Médoc – a 42.195-kilometre “fun run” which takes in 55 vineyards and passes 50 chateaux.

The course runs through famous wine-growing towns such as Saint-Estèphe, Leyssac, Marbuzet, Saint-Julien-Beychevelle and Le Pouyalet, home of Château Mouton Rothschild which, with Lafite and Latour, is one of the region’s three Grand Crus classés appellations.

Each year, this unique race and sporting challenge has a different theme In the past it’s been “Carnivals of the World” or “Funfair”. It’s always fun.

I didn’t run or even amble in the race. I didn’t want to be humiliated by Carmen Miranda. And I’m too old for a monokini. And I have a feather allergy. I ran in the “Science Fiction” theme race.

Le Marathon is a resolutely convivial run. It’s a good-time race.

Hectare after hectare of hospitality

“It sums up l’esprit du Medoc” Jean-Yves Saint-Céran of the PR department said as we stood at the starting line in Pauillac, beside the Gironde estuary.

“On this day we celebrate health, sport and joie de vivre.”

A Wookiee in shorts offered me a wine cork to chew on. “To keep up my energy levels,” he explained. Les Bouchons de Bordeaux are delicious almond sweets made to look like wine bottle corks.

“You should try and eat three corks a day to keep the cramp away,” a passing Romulan smiled. “C’est l’Aquitaine way.”

Serious runners and fun runners

Marathon runners in fancy dress take part in a gourmet run in Medoc, Bordeaux

I limbered up among a sea of Ewoks. You could tell the serious runners from the fun runners. The elite runners weren’t wearing Batman suits or Superman capes. “It’s hectare after hectare of hospitality out there. The friendliness is almost unbearable,” said a gentleman dressed as a Borg.

I was surrounded by tentacles and green faces, Time Lords and Jedi. “This run’s about your tastebuds. Not your lungs and legs,” said a Joker.

“It’s all about taking on liquid and making friends,” winked a RoboCop. He wagged a finger. “But not too much wine!” A health certificate (physical rather than mental) is required to enter the race.

A race where you eat and drink like a gourmand!

Marathon runners enjoying food and wine in a unique marathon in Medoc, Bordeaux, France

From start to finish, degustation stations, or “les postes sauvages,” offer local specialties such as “grenier  medocain” (flattened paunch of pig) and Bayonne ham. People hold out cheese to you as well as ice cream cornets. Whereas most spectators at marathons encourage you with cries of “Keep it going” or “Allez! Allez!” in Médoc they just say, “Paté? Paté?”

At the time of the marathon, a roadside sign of cow does not mean you are approaching a cattle grid or crossing.

It means: “Warning! Complimentary gourmet barbecued entrecôte steak ahead washed down with a rather nice local rosé.”

There are dozens of wine tasting stops en route. Local producers pitch tables by the roadside to tempt you with their wonderful wares. The Cap Ferret oyster stands were my downfall and the sponge stations offering the local “Lillet” fruit liqueur made in Podensac.

Before I got to the “Vers St-Julien” signpost, my face was the colour of Merlot and I felt I had aged 20 years.

I started walking like Frankenstein within a half a mile of the start. Not because of cramp. But because of gout. I began to hallucinate when four Godzillas bounded past me pursued by Bilbo Biggins.

Fortunately, for a while I found myself in the slipstream of R2-D2 and Willy Wonka. I remember being passed by Dumbledore. Or was it Gandalf? And a number of Buffies and Brainiacs.

Training involves going to many cheese and wine parties

Then came real humiliation. When you are overtaken by a Yoda in a pram, you know your athletics career is over. Or never really started. It was a pity. My training had gone well. The roadwork had been put in. For three months, I had gone to as many cheese and wine parties as I could. I had miles of cheese strips under my belt.

After a short nap among the vines, I followed the smell of gastronomy back into Pauillac to see the victor cross the line and win himself roughly 80 bottles of wine – his body weight in wine.

Every competitor gets a T-shirt, a knapsack and, at my race, an optional handshake from and photo opportunity with King Kong. A Klingon appeared beside me and blurted out, “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam!”

He bared his teeth, crinkled the frown lines on his cheese-grater forehead and handed me a post-race digestif.

“Today is a nice day to die!” Obi-Wan Kenobi collapsed nearby. “Un vignoble effort, mon ami,” a voice said.

It came from the direction of Aslan. Although it may have been Conan the Barbarian.

Or Gollum.

Only in France…

For further information: Medoc Marathon takes place each September, you can run or join a walking route. Find more details and register at: www.marathondumedoc.com

By Kevin Pilley, a former professional cricketer, now travel writer. He’s also the former chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine and has written for over 600 titles.

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