This weekend the Parc de la Tete D’Or became a giant stage for the entire cast of Lyon to act on. Never seen it so busy. Every corner and cranny. Every patch of grass and verge. Every bench, seat and log. Every café, restaurant and bar. Crammed solid. From the wealthy holding up their cold champagne flutes, to the beggars holding up their trousers with cable ties discarded from building sites. Waiters boiling over with rage as finger-wagging fathers ordered crepes twenty times over for their hot-headed children and foie gras bloated grandparents. The toilet queues snaking out of the park and through the city and then back again to allow more people to join. Civilised behaviour breaks down when great numbers of people are squeezed into inordinately small spaces. The sudden disruption to our strict regulated cycles of eating and pissing result in fights for the simple pleasure of wiggling our sacred asses over holes in the ground.
I don’t know why there were so many people. I was there to stretch my hip before I ran. Age is catching up with me faster than I can chop it back. I now require a flat soft surface to extend my limbs. Grass is good. Unfortunately, every blade had been flattened by a thousand French bums sitting on multicoloured picnic rugs stuffing plate after plate of rich sumptuous food into their hungry mouths. Happy and wholesome scenes, I admit. But how about me? Where the hell was I meant to sit? In the trees? Alongside the monkeys that had escaped from the zoo five years ago, and which nobody had been able to catch since. Meet my ancestors?
I eventually found a spot in the far corner of the park under some cedar trees and after forty-five minutes of doing my own brand of mangled yoga, covered in soil and dried needles, I hit the track that runs around the edge of the park. It was two o’clock on a baking hot day. The park was heaving: the track deserted. Except for the emaciated stork-thin marathon runners barely casting shadows over the sandy gravel. Weightless souls silently pacing the well-trodden route, hardly breathing or leaving any visible trace underfoot.
After a couple of laps I could hardly walk. My hip bone punching through my side like I had been skewered from the groin up. I found a spot under a bush and stretched some more, gradually relaxing as the pain subsided with each extension. I stood up and breathed in heavily wondering what I was going to do for the rest of the day. I couldn’t possibly stay here. And the banks of the Rhone would be equally crowded. More so. Plus the hot sun was making me feel nauseous. I was thirsty. Incredibly thirsty. But the water fountains had all been commandeered by boys filling up balloons to explode over their terrified sisters and mothers. Fun in the sun.
I picked up an iced cold bottle of Evian from a nearby stall and downed it in one and immediately bought another. Five Euros on water. But worth every cent because the enjoyment was total. For those five minutes or so everything I’d ever done made sense. It’d all been leading up to that moment. And it always does. It’s the reason I do it. My journey has led to many places. Some good, some bad. But they never lead to a better one than during those fleeting moments after the run.