Sports & Outdoors

A Foulées’ paradise: the most unique running race in France

Looking for a weekend away with a running buddy, Rachel Ifans stumbles upon a race where you have to outrun the tide.

It was summer 2018, driving through northern France in our motorhome, when I came across a special corner of the Vendée.

Our van trundled across the ancient Passage Du Gois at low tide as we crossed back to the mainland from Noirmoutier where we’d spent a few idle island days cycling round salt pans and eating galettes. The mix of danger posed by the lightning-quick tides; the excitement of the causeway rescue poles; and the romance of seeing sun-baked trucks packed with precariously balanced shellseekers, eager to spend low tide picking up edibles from the sandy bed, had us all agape.

What is Les Foulées du Gois?

As we sped north, a quick Google of the Gois uncovered something more exciting: an annual running race called Les Foulées du Gois (it gets its name from the French verb 'goiser' - to walk while wetting one's feet) where participants race each other and the tide! Okay, it’s an idea that would bring some people out in hives, but a plan was forming in my mind: a crazy race combined with a weekend away with a running buddy (and the 2019 race date happened to fall on my birthday so it was a win-win!).

So it was that a couple of weekends ago, myself and my friend Sharon found ourselves at the Start line of an 8k there-and-back women’s race, at 4pm in the 31-degree heat.

The start line of the 8km women’s race at Les Foulées du Gois 2019

The Start line is on the continental side of the ancient tidal causeway, the car park an ample field well-marshalled and managed by organisers. Our sat-nav took us to the end of a maze of country roads just short of the sea itself and that’s where we parked up amid family cars, motorbikes and motorhomes. Goodness knows how they swallowed up so many thousands of runners and their picknicking supporters so effortlessly but they did - what could have been a hot-tempered bottleneck was calm and jolly. With the high temperatures, stiff winds and oncoming tide (eeek!), the vibe was, well, vibrant.

Racing against the tide

We had arrived early and trudged out to the causeway to watch the kids’ races, followed by the men’s 8k; we’d scoffed a ripe Camembert sandwich and an Orangina a deux (perfect race prep, non?); and we’d applied approximately two and half bottles of sun cream between us, soaking up the atmosphere as we did.

And then it was our turn to race. We set off, navigating the low cobbled stretch while the pack thinned out, to the cries of “Allez les filles!”. The wind was welcome on the way out but felt a bit like a wall once we’d reached the isle and doubled back for the second half. At the halfway point we were given a saturated sponge to douse ourselves in cold water, and a cheer from islanders gave us the friendly kick we needed to get us back to the continent.

Two competitors celebrate after finishing Les Foulées du Gois running race in the Vendée

What a day! And at 5pm it had only just begun. We toasted our wonderfulness – for coming, for finding it, for running, for loving it – with a demi of 1664 and then ventured out on the now-flooding causeway one more time to watch the elites do their thing. We had expected to be outrunning the tide ourselves but actually that is left – wisely – to the experts. The final, tide-fighting race of the day is a quick 12-minute dash from island to mainland for 30 pro runners, helicopter whirring overhead to check on their safety.

The tides in this part of France are extremely quick and the excitement of spectating was enough for hobbyist runners like us. Besides, we won’t forget the exhilaration of seeing those 30 athletes splash towards us while the tide surrounded us all.

Les Foulées du Gois, an annual running race on the Passage du Gois, a tidal causeway off western France

After the race

From Gois we drove back to our hotel in Nantes city (about 75 minutes drive) and celebrated our triumph (again) with Mojitos in Le Nid (‘the nest’), a cocktail bar perché on the 32nd floor of the Tour de Bretagne, fantastically French in its arty-but-grungy way. We scoffed last-orders pizzas al-fresco in Place Graslin and fell into our hotel beds.

A hut in the Vendée where a local salt producer sells her salt

This race opened my eyes to quirky runs, races abroad and short breaks which combine a passion like running with a break from the old routine. We’ll definitely be booking for next year’s race and I’m currently googling the Marathon du Medoc – yes, it’s the one where you run a marathon and drink wine on the way… What could go wrong?!

From under the sea to racing against it, start planning your journey with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle.

About the Author

I am a journalist and editor, covering a wide range of lifestyle and travel subjects but always returning to my first love, France. Born unfortunately to non-French parents, I have spent my life trying to make up for it by spending as much time as I can in France or writing about it, studying the language, tirelessly dragging my children round all six sides of l'Hexagone, and endlessly chuntering to my husband about moving there.

To read more from Rachel, click here.

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