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The perils and pitfalls of jogging in France

I jog occasionally. Friends call that an overstatement. More slog than jog, they say. Nevertheless, I like to slip on trainers, work up a sweat, then wait for the paramedics. I’ve jogged all over Asia, Europe and North America. But here in France I get incredulous stares. You’d think they’ve never seen fuchsia sweatshirts or day-glo leggings.

Not many people jog where I live in the Dordogne Valley. It’s hilly. In French, Dordogne means land that oxygen forgot. The hills above our valley are high. From the top, you can see all the way to consciousness. Sherpas train there off-season. One doesn’t so much run up these hills as do the walk of the living dead.

The rivers of France are perfect for jogging alongside. Almost. Take the Dordogne River near our house. It has an idyllic dirt path along the bank. Low-hanging trees shade it. One of them garrotted me the other day. Spreadeagled in the sylvan countryside, I could hear the river babbling. Or my throat gurgling – in that condition one can’t distinguish.

Lyon has two rivers. Some people ask why. I think it’s so joggers have options. The only other route goes straight up 10,000 steps to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. The view – and the climb – are breath-taking. Many people stop to pray at the Basilica – for an escalator.

Paris has the ultimate river run – the Seine. From the river’s edge you can jog past the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Surprisingly, not many do it. The reason: cobblestones. Vast stretches of the Seine’s lower bank are paved with cobblestones. Have you tried running on them? Imagine shooting the rapids in a buckboard. It’s the same thing.

There’s a scene in “Charade” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn on a bateau mouche. They train a searchlight on lovers cuddled along the banks of the Seine. Only the clandestine couples aren’t canoodling. They’re rubbing ankles sprained on cobblestones.

But here’s the irony: Not too far from the Seine is jogger’s paradise – the Luxembourg Gardens. This is the exquisite, 56-acre, left-bank oasis beloved by Hemingway, Jean Valjean and Marie de Medici. That last one built a stunning palace in the Jardin that’s today the seat of the French Senate.

Nearly every jogger in France runs around the Luxembourg Gardens. With good reason. It has leafy glades, stunning fountains and patisseries across the street that open early. The path around the Luxembourg Gardens is 1.3-miles long. Police and military recruits circumnavigate the course daily. So do 90-year-old grandmas. They’re all faster than me.

So, I try to trick them. I jog before sunrise when they’re asleep. Sadly, the Jardin doesn’t open till 7:30 a.m. That leaves me running the sidewalks outside the stately wrought-iron fence. Even grand buveurs staggering down Boulevard Saint Michele after a long night zip past at speeds I can’t match. I don’t mind. There’s no better way to see this beautiful city – or country – than on foot.

Mike Zampa is a communications consultant and retired newspaper editor and columnist splitting time, along with his wife, between Southwest France and the San Francisco Bay Area

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