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Paris-Versailles 2013 Race Report

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Many of you know I’ve changed up my training routine the past month or two in preparation for one of the huge local races here in Paris – simply named: Paris-Versailles.  This 16km (~10mi) course goes from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to just in front of the Château de Versailles.  The course is probably one of the more difficult 10-milers out there, with a substantial 1.5mi long climb in the middle ascending 600ft+ (200m+) – or slightly higher than the Space Needle in Seattle.  That’s then followed up with further hills for the back-half of the course.

But, before we get into too many details, let’s dive into the day from the morning.

Pre-Race

You know what I love about Parisian races?  They don’t do early morning.

Nope, it’s always a 10AM or so start.  Forget the bat-crap-crazy 7AM starts of many races in the morning.  The Parisians know how to race at a proper time of day.

So, around 8:45AM we headed down to the subway to catch the RER about 4 stops over to the Eiffel Tower.  Quick and easy.

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Upon exiting the station we were a few hundred meters from the start line, but just in front of a local track that was being used as a staging and luggage dropoff area.

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After taking care of business at the porta-potties (lines only took 3-4 minutes), we dropped off our bags.  The bag drop-off process was a wee bit chaotic, but we’ve found that’s been a bit of the trend here.  Everything else about races is highly organized, but somehow the bag-drop seems to be a challenging thing (I forgive them, remember, 10AM start).

In the middle of the field they were doing all sorts of group warm-up exercises:

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Best of all though, was that there was a track right there:

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This made it awesome to get in my warm-up.  Per the schedule my warm-up was closer to 15 minutes, but given race-timing I shortened it to a mile.  The first two laps just nice and easy, and then building up to race-pace (6:20/mile) for the last lap.

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Now, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of running on a track in Paris with others on the track at the same time (usually when I’ve gone, it’s empty).  However, I must hold out hope that the track creatures who were there Sunday morning would not be present in future sessions where I’m in attendance.  For example, I saw (and nearly felt) numerous instances of folks practicing the butterfly stroke while running.  Why?  I don’t know.

Or perhaps what appeared to be a dual-lane dribble practice of sorts.  Sorta appearing like a drunk attempting to walk a police straight line.  Except, jumping…while running.  Not terribly cool. Stay in a lane, maintain your pace, and…again…stay in a lane.  Sorta like they say at amusement park rides “Please keep all parts of your body in the vehicle at all times.”

Ok, with my warm-up feeling good and completed, I headed over to the start line.  Along the way, we noticed that despite being only 7 minutes from the start of the race, there were racers hanging out in nearby café’s – clearly nowhere near ready to depart (see the yellow race shirts inside):

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Nonetheless, into the masses we went.  This took a bit of trickery, but thankfully both The Girl and I are suitably skinny enough to fit through some cracks.  Unfortunately, despite the high level of pace-corral organization seen at both the Paris Marathon and Half-Marathon, here it was a literal free for all.  Anyone went anywhere they liked, without any pace guidance.

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As is usually the case around fall running races, people discard various clothes to the side of the course.  Typically those clothes are then picked up by race organizers/volunteers and then distributed to various charities.  In this case, that middleman was skipped entirely.

Instead, many of the local teenagers who normally wield distraction inducing clipboards before pickpocketing unknowing tourists were out in full force collecting the clothes (though, they still had their clipboards).  It was impressive how much they were able to collect.

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With everyone’s clothes coming off, it was time to get the race started.  Here’s one last photo before the race.  Obviously, that’s The Girl and me.

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Race:

How the race started is a bit complex.  I’d almost say it was highly disorganized yet highly organized at the same time.  Let me try and explain.  As I noted up above, it was literally a free-for-all when it came to placement within the crowd of 25,000 people.

To start, once your chunk of the crowd got within about 100y of the starting line, you went into a series of gates.  Each gate was like being two steps away from the start.  Where I’m standing at present, is waiting to go into the pre-on-deck circle.  Next, you’d advance forward about 25y to the end of these rows of fences (roughly where the fence disappears in the frame).  Someone there held you there.

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Every 45-60 seconds or so, they’d release this group of people from the pre-on-deck holding area into the on-deck holding area.  You can see the starting line is guarded by a string of kids.  Beyond that you can see the wave that just had started, now off and running.

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Here’s us, up against the kids, holding a fence across the line.

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Then, they gave a 10 seconds count-down, and at about the 3 second mark the kids scurried away with moderately impressive speed.  At which point, it was game on!

Now, this system worked somewhat well, in that you had clear space ahead of you for a short bit.  Here I am off the front of this pack, but already settled into a nice pace of about 6:00-6:20/mile (3:43-3:56/km).  Those looking carefully enough will notice The Girl in the frame behind my head.  Pretty much complete luck there.

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Now, when I say you had clear space ahead of you – it’s much like a triathlon wave swim start (non-Ironman).  That only lasts a short time before you swim over the top of the previous waves.  Here, about half a mile into the race, you can see what it looked like up ahead.  Literally runners as far as you could see.

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And because the runners weren’t grouped by expected finish times, you got a wide variety of people running at the same time.  A simple look at this frame shows that – and that’s before even Mr. Sticky Note man.

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Now, despite this – it actually sorta worked out.  Just barely.  I was generally able to run on the edges and keep a pretty clear and clean line.  If you look at the below, you can see there’s room to run on both sides of the road.  In fact, for me, the tunnel was the only place I ran into some congestion.  Even though the road got skinnier later – by that point I had worked my way through the field ahead of many more runners.

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Also, a reader today asked about the tunnel and my GPS watch.  In my case I was wearing a footpod, so when I lost signal, the GPS watch automatically switched over to the footpod, and then resumed GPS at the other side of the tunnel.

Looking briefly at entertainment, there was plenty out on the course – mostly in the form of bands.  Not rock-bands like you’d find in the US, but more along the lines of traditional brass and woodwind band music.

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And in those cases where bands were lacking coverage – fear not, runners made up for it:

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The above is the first waterstop, roughly after/around the 3-mile marker.  When folks ask what I’ve seen as the biggest differences between US races and French races – thus far it’s the difference in water/food stops.  In all the running races I’ve done here (including a marathon), it’s never been any more frequent than every 3 miles.  Whereas in the US, it’s usually closer to every 1-2 miles depending on the course.

Switching gears to race strategy – the plan my coach put together was reasonably simple: Over the first mile settle into a 175bpm HR (+/- 2bpm), and then just hold.  The hope was this would put me at about 6:20/mile on the flats, and indeed, it was virtually spot on.

Of course, 4 miles of flats were really the easy part.  It was the well-known hill that was the tricky part.  This climb lasted a touch under 2-miles long (3KM) and ascended a crapton of height given the short distance.

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The race-plan for this was to simply hold the 175bpm and focus on my turnover a bit.  Because this came at the middle portion of the race, I couldn’t blow-out effort here, as the second half of the race still had some tough rollers and climbs in it.  Plus running 4-5 more miles.

Below, the start of the hill.  Right at the stoplight it turns to the left under the train tracks and begins heading up.

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The hill can be divided into three main chunks, each with a turn off of it.  Below is the first chunk on the wider streets.  It’s the first and last thirds that are the steepest.

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Despite my HR limiter on this section (which I stayed pretty close to), I was still making good ground.  I had run this hill a ton over the past 6 weeks, and knew it really well.  I knew where the incline got steeper and shallower, and could adjust effort accordingly.

In fact, about the only thing that was making better time up this hill than me was the motorcycle camera crew:

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I was further grateful I wasn’t one of these firefighters dragging their hose reel up the hill:

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The second chunk of the hill hits the cobbles.  Normally you notice these things, but by this point in the hill it’s all sucky.  So adding cobbles doesn’t increase the level of suck much more.

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Then you get the last chunk of the hill.  This is probably the steepest section, quickly climbing up to what is on a sunny day a great view of Paris.

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While no view today, I did find a bunch of noise makers at the top:

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As expected, the hill put a dent in my average pace.  You can see this in my splits (on Strava), showing Miles 4/5 being the slowest as I climbed.  While this directly cost me about 3 minutes of time, in reality it puts a solid dent in you,  slowing me about 15-20/secs/mile for the remainder, especially when you add in the further rollers.

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Once up top the road is down to a simple two-lane affair.  It’s also where I found my second water stop.

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While hard to see in my fuzzy photo (look, running with water at 6:20/mile and taking a photo in the rain in the woods is occasionally challenging), they had put out giant tarps along the side, to make it easier to collect garbage from the water-stop.

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At this point in the race we were up in a park area.  It’s here that the road went from paved to unpaved and back to barely paved.  Luckily the rains weren’t horrendous yet, and further lucky that I was towards the start of the field by then.  I’d hate to see what the mud looked like 25,000 runners later.

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The exit from the trees a mile and a half later included a nice quick downhill section.  I was screaming through here – moving along at about 5:35-5:45/mile.  About as fast as I could controllably run on the wet leaf-filled surface dodging other runners.

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After leaving the woods there were a couple of rollers – a few of which were brutally short.

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Soon I found myself on the long and wide avenue leading up to the Château de Versailles.  It’s here that I carefully plotted my route across the multitude of lanes to minimize running distances.

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I’d find the most direct point between any two corners – just like how they measure courses – and run that line.  I’ve talked about this in the past with CSI-style diagrams and photos, but it’s really critical in longer distance racing – otherwise you’re just giving away time and energy.

Oh, and in case it’s not obvious – it was pouring out.

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Finally – the finish line in sight!  Now, despite how this whole street looks, the last mile is actually all uphill.  It’s also the same point (the last mile) that my race plan has me increase intensity to pretty darn hard.  So while my pace here was about the same at the start, I was making up for it by running uphill.

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Here’s me, seconds before crossing the finish line:

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And seconds afterwards – my HR still cooking along at  183bpm.  It was a few BPM higher before I got around to taking the photo.

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Total time was 1:07:12 for an official distance of 16km puts me at 6:45/mile (4:12/km).  Not too shabby given the hills.  Overall I had no specific time goal (much easier that way), and simply went out to run it according to plan.  And within that goal – things went very well.  I nailed the plan, and my paces were good (especially considering all the travel I’ve been doing).

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Looking at the overall run, I stayed about 6:20-6:30/mile on the flats – and I felt pretty good at those paces.  Had there not been a small mountain in the way, I feel like I could have sustained those paces for some time at a reasonable HR level.

I’m looking at doing a marathon in another 45-60 days – though still picking that out.  There’s some in Spain that are appealing.  With The Girl already picking up a Boston slot for next year (from her race last spring that I ran with her), I’m tempted to secure a charity slot for Boston – but only if I have a valid time on the books again with a BQ time. Of course, you don’t need a BQ time for a Boston charity slot, but it’s just a little mental thing of mine.

Post-Race:

After finishing up at the finish line I made my way through the finish line pickup areas.  There were excited kids handing out water bottles:

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As well as the pickup of the finishers medals:

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These ones had some weight to them!

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They were just starting the awards ceremony as well.  Unfortunately, I finished just off the podium. ;)

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I decided to go back and catch The Girl finishing.  She figured she’d be about 10-15 minutes behind me.

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And yes, again, it was still pouring out:

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Sure enough, just a minute or so after I got to the fence, she went flying on by:

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Somewhere in the below photo she’s there as well:

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We then braved the rest of the rain, picked up our bags (astoundingly quick this time), and walked the 3/4ths of a mile over to the Versailles train station and grabbed a ride home.  It’d take about 35-40 minutes on the train back to the city.

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With that – race day complete!  We spent the remainder of the day catching up on NCIS episodes from last year, and eating noddle soup.  It seemed appropriate for a rainy day.

Thanks for reading!  And thanks to all those DCR readers who said hello before/during/after the race!  Great to see you!

53 Comments

  1. Well run and good luck in finding a marathon, there is one in cape Town on the 23rd of November... OK that would be a bit out of your way!!!

    Yes it's alway nice when a run goes to plan, I'm just sorry the weather wasn't better! It's alway nicer to watch the rest of the field come in while sitting in the sun!

    Reply
    • 6co replied

      Hello Coach Dion
      I gladly hear there is a marathon on the 23rd of November in Cape Town. I will be there the week of the 25th and would change my plane tickets to run that one! I could not find a web site or anything related to this marathon. All the links point towards the Two Oceans, but nothing in November...
      can you give me a hint? thanks!
      6co

      Reply
  2. Donostia

    San Sebastian marathon is your best bet for the fall: 5.5 hours by TGV from Montparnasse (cheap and convenient) and it has the biggest percentage of sub 3h finishers in Europe (flat and usually right temperature w/o wind) Ideal for a long weekend vacation too.

    Reply
    • taniwha replied

      But it's always rainy in Donostia. And isn't it fully book like ages ago?

      There is La Rochelle, even closer to Paris.

      Reply
    • Donostia replied

      No problem finding a place to stay nowadays. As for the rain, much better than LR final miles cobbles for a PB and a Boston qualifier. Plus not so crowded. Last year 385 runners, 14,68% of the total finishers (2.622) made it to the sub 3h cream.

      If you want fun and oysters, go for LR, if you want to go for the record, continue down to the Basque Country. Although stopping at LR on your way down is not a bad idea.

      Reply
  3. Daniele Iozzino

    If you need a Marathon in 60 days, here in Italy you have the Marathon of Florence the 24th of November. I ran it last year and will run it again this year, it's well organized, fast and in you'll get to see Florence.

    Reply
  4. Hensley

    Clearly they didn't impose a Hong Kong style "selfie" ban!

    Reply
  5. Jan

    Nice run & report! Amsterdam marathon (20 Oct.) would have been nice, but registration closed Sunday night...

    Reply
  6. Nice race and report.
    (we had a short chat at the arrival zone, before the rain and we start freezing ;)

    Reply
  7. Matt

    Good job to the both of you. I always enjoy reading your race reports.

    Reply
  8. Great report mate

    +1 on the San Sebastian race - flat as a pancake, Basque crowd is amazing and it actually passes through some very beautiful places. I think something like 30% goes sub3 in that race. Then SS and basque country is fantastic, food is the best in Europe and the little villages (Mundaka, Zarautz) are so cosy for post-race chill.

    We are like 5-6 Danish guys racing again this year - feel very free to join us! Thomas

    Reply
  9. Dennis

    Hi there,

    Great post and congratulations and thanks for sharing. One question, what kind of camera do you run with?

    thanks
    Den

    Reply
  10. Ian

    Great job out there!
    You need to let us know, in general, why you choose to run with the Garmin FR210 vs. any other watch you have in your stable.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Typically I run with the FR610, but it's getting swapped out currently, so the FR210 is most near it from a usability standpoint. It's simple, clean, and easy to use. And - most importantly - it uploads to all the platforms I have data in (Training Peaks, Garmin Connect, etc..).

      Reply
  11. Ted Fitch

    Nice race report! Looks like a normal Seattle fall/winter day weather wise. Nice time too!

    Reply
  12. Luís Sousa

    Nice report,

    Just dropping by to throw another marathon recommendation:
    Porto Marathon (Portugal) - 3rd November

    link to maratonadoporto.com

    Reply
  13. Stephen Rahaim

    HI Ray:

    What's your hypothesis for the distances between water stops.
    In the US (east of the Mississippi at least) it's a lot hotter than in northern EU, maybe that's why.
    (Or maybe we're fatter and fat people heat up faster?)

    Just wondering....

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Hmm, I'm not sure actually. It does tend to be a bit cooler, but even in winter races in the states water is still more frequent.

      I suspect perhaps costs enter into it too. The prices for races are far cheaper here. So every little bit adds up.

      Reply
  14. James White

    Come to Wales and do the Snowdonia marathon end of October, would make the Paris to Versailles feel relatively flat

    Reply
  15. Anonymouse

    Is The Girl going to do her own race report? They're always great fun to read.

    Reply
    • The Girl replied

      I didn't think to write one because I figure everyone likes Ray's so much! There isn't much for me to say other than it was a tough day! Had to be one of the most challenging RR course that I've tackled, and since I haven't really trained since the marathon I kind of got what I deserved! haha All sights are set on the Boston marathon now!
      Thanks for checking in on "the Girl"!

      Reply
  16. ken

    Just curious ... What zones are your 175 and 183 HRs? My max is 183, so I'd be dead if I ran at that HR.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      My 175 is a Z4B, and 183 is Z5B, or about the very top of my scale. I don't really have any zones beyond that. The HR zone there was supposed to be 179 +/- 2bpm. So I was a touch bit high, but that was the very last few seconds.

      Reply
  17. Dinos Chryssochoou

    Ray, you could try the Athens Classic Marathon on Nov 10. The flight from Paris takes about 3,5 hours, so it's not right next to you, but hey it's the real thing. There are still entries available.

    Reply
  18. Wawan Setiawan

    Run marathon with me in Singapore's Standard Chartered Marathon on Dec 1st.

    Reply
  19. RobM

    Great race report as always! I started running one year ago while in Paris on holiday for 2 weeks. We stayed in an apartment right near the Notre Dame (Rue des Trois Portes) which I guess must be right near your place.
    Living in Singapore now, so +1 for the Singapore Marathon in December, which will be my second after Sydney in Sep.

    Reply
  20. noel

    what program did you use to analyze your data? I love that graph. Thanks

    Reply
  21. noel

    Strava. got my answer...

    Reply
  22. Javai

    Hi
    When I was in Paris last year I used the track you used to drop of for my trainings.
    It is free open for everyone. Nice place

    Reply
  23. Chad

    Have you ever signed their petitions?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      No, that's a bad move. I sit and watch from my window each day as they trick tourists into signing the petitions while tag-teaming a theft. Really astounding.

      Reply
  24. Les

    You pick up the charity spot for Boston + your own qualifying time and sure there are plenty of readers willing to help you reach the fundraising goals, great race report

    Reply
  25. Hi! Congrats on your race! Seems like a less than ideal way to start (no corrals) but you seem to have made it work for you. And good luck in your NEXT race! So cool you can jump into a race in Spain!!

    Reply
  26. Frank

    hi,

    ''.... marathon in another 45-60 days – though still picking that out. There’s some in Spain that are appealing ...''

    are you planning on running in 17th november Valencia's marathon?, it's promising and I hope it will be my first one

    Congratulations, your web is great

    Reply
  27. Jackson

    report with better link

    Possible Week in Review Material……

    link to gizmodo.com

    Although Apple went to great lengths to promote the M7 motion coprocessor in the new iPhone 5s, it appears the phone’s motion sensors are seriously off…..

    Reply
  28. Nice race report! Glad you included your pace in min/km! I had no idea before how fast you were! Congrats!

    Reply
  29. Maxbre

    Hi Ray,
    compliments for the run...
    Take a look at this, i think it could be interesting: link to wearit.net

    Reply
  30. nice report ! as one of the Paris-Versailles organizer it's really interesting for us to get an (quite) objective point of view from abroad

    Reply
  31. johan

    Thanks for the nice report.

    FYI: the 10th ed. of the Kasterlee marathon (and half marathon) is on 17 Nov 2013.
    link to marathonkasterlee.be
    it's 95% off-road, through nature and woods.
    Small event (only 400 finishers on the marathon in 2012), yet decently organized

    Reply
  32. tribzh

    Hi Ray,

    The local girls you mention at the beginning of your race report or not the most "local" Parisians girls you can imagine. If you open any newspapers nowadays in France you will read piece of news that they are "roms " from Romania an Bulgaria. A very tricky subject for the local politicians who don't know what to do wiht that community !

    Nice race by the way,

    Cheers,

    Yann

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Indeed. I decided to keep it simple for purposes here. ;) As you noted, it's a bit of a messy subject in a lot of ways - far more deep that just simple petty theft.

      Reply
  33. you sir, are an animal. Congrats on a great 10 miler. And congrats to "The Girl" as well. You are keeping me focused during my down time with injury.

    Reply
  34. Fiona

    Great race report. Glad you got a pic of flipper man, I passed him on the route des Gardes, I wonder if he is still out there!

    Reply
  35. Jeremy

    Hey DC,

    I did the race in 2010. Loved it. After reading your report, I'd like to do it again. Looks like you beat my time by around 2 mins - nice work. I lost my GPS in the tunnels too, but no foot pod. That hill was a killer and the down hill portion was kinda crazy too.

    Reply
  36. Had no idea Versailles had a race!

    I love all the art exhibitions that have been displayed here, too, link to frenchseams.com

    Reply

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