Running becomes trendy in sports-shy France

Running becomes trendy in sports-shy France
A picture taken on April 12, 2015 shows competitors running during Paris' marathon.

PARIS - The epitome of Gallic beauty, French film star Catherine Deneuve -- probably clouded in a haze of cigarette smoke -- once scoffed at the idea of working out, saying: "I am not American."

But in recent years the country which produced reams of analysis over former President Nicolas Sarkozy's love of jogging has rapidly caught onto the idea of what is known in French as "le running".

Nowhere is this more evident than in Paris where, as the spring sun emerges, so have hordes of runners thundering through leafy parks and even the streets -- where anyone trying to jog would once have been immediately identified as an American tourist.

"It's true that the French are slightly behind Anglo-Saxon countries on the need to get themselves in shape," said Thomas Godard, business unit manager for sports brand Adidas in the country.

But the company has noted "a genuine explosion of running in France," where it is the fastest-growing segment of the sports market with double-digit growth.

A recent study ordered by the French Athletics Federation (FFA) showed 9.5 million citizens -- roughly one in five adults -- run "more or less regularly," the body's president Bernard Amsalem told AFP.

All over the world running has undergone somewhat of a revolution in recent years.

No longer the sport of an individual male loping along in a faded tracksuit perhaps aiming for a marathon, it is increasingly a group activity accompanied by fashionable, brightly coloured clothes and high-tech smartphone accessories and applications to track your progress.

"Today running has become what we call a 'hit' sport, it is trendy," says Godard.

Fun runs

Fresh from a run in the Bois de Vincennes -- a massive park in eastern Paris where joggers sometimes appear to outnumber picnickers -- Nicolas Rolin, 34, says he has noticed the sudden leap in people taking up the sport, even in his own group of friends.

He only began running last September, and told AFP he feels the surge in less daunting races of 5km or 10km (six miles) and fun runs has made the sport "more accessible".

From the Colour Run -- where runners are doused in coloured powder -- to a race around the Versailles castle with participants dressed as princesses and knights, the fun run craze shows the sport's evolution into a pleasure-seeking social activity that is not just about competition.

"It's also free!" said Rolin's fiancee Clio Comparelli who took up the sport a month ago to get in shape for their wedding.

Cost is an important point explaining the running surge, experts say, with gyms in Paris often charging exorbitant prices.

In a nod to Paris's status as a running hub, Adidas chose the French capital to launch a novel social-media driven concept known as the Boost Battle Run.

Eleven different neighbourhoods of the capital have organised into teams with their own emblems, and compete not only in races, but online, with judges counting the most hashtags and social media activity.

In one year, 13,000 people have signed up.

"Running is a viral sport, we start running because our friends run, running is increasingly becoming a team sport," said Godard.

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