Though I wouldn’t exactly say that our “Free Parisian Exercise Group” has taken off, we have managed to cobble together a pretty cozy little group.
After six workouts we have a few regulars, a few regular drop-ins, a few people who say they’re coming each week and never show, and our routine down pat. Each Wednesday or Thursday R and I send out a group email for our workout list (our specially-created address is firstname.lastname@example.org) detailing the where and when of our next rendezvous.
Our group usually consists of me, Rachael, Taki from Japan, Daniel from Portugal and the occasional addition of Vincent from Sciences Po, Stéphanie from Paris, and Patrick from the U.S. Because we posted fliers all over the city and posted ads on Craig’s List and Expatriates, we’ve formed quite a diverse group – in nationality, age, occupation and fitness level. Rachael and I are students from Seattle, while Taki is a 30-something Japanese non-profit worker and UN volunteer. Daniel is also a 30-something Portuguese in Paris for work, while Vincent is a French student at Sciences Po. Patrick is a dad-aged American ex-pat. The conversation is the typical foreigners-in-Paris meld of French and English and whatever other language is thrown into the mix, depending on who shows up.
We started out holding meetings at 10h Sunday mornings…but when we kept getting apologetic emails from people telling us they just couldn’t get out of bed we pushed them back to 10h30. We also try to mix up the location, partly so we don’t get bored and partly because we have members who live all over the city. After meeting twice at Parc des Buttes Chaumonts, one at the Jardin des Tuileries, once at Parc Monceau and once in the Bois des Vincennes
we chose the Bois de Boulogne as this Sunday’s workout destination.
We always meet at a sortie du métro with the thought that it’s easier to gather our group before entering a large public park, and as I exited the metro this morning Taki was already waiting at the top, bouncing on the balls of his feet and stretching his arms. Since it had been pouring just half an hour earlier, we figured there would probably be a lot of no-shows. We waited for the usual 15 minutes, then headed into the bois (woods) for a two-man jog.
Since we have such a mix of physical abilities in the group – from a 21-year old girl training for a half-marathon to a business man wanting to “get back into shape,” it was at first a little tricky to figure out a workout that would be at the same time demanding enough and forgiving enough for everyone’s fitness level. After a month and a half of this, though, we’re all old pros. We start out with a 20 minute warm-up jog around whichever park we happen to be exercising in – we generally stay in a group for this, since we’re here to get exercise, not necessarily to work on honing our running splits. After jogging for a while we find a field or patch of grass, designate an area – Taki’s backpack to that skinny tree, for example, and take turns choosing exercises.
I usually take charge and jump right in with a set of lunges before Rachael assigns us “high knees” or the “football player jumping through tires exercise.” Daniel might choose grapevine runs before we move on to skipping, squatting, more lunging and kickboxing moves (as the only one who has ever taken a kickboxing class, I’m always in charge of teaching this portion). After maybe 20 minutes of exercises we do another 20-30 minute run. Sometimes we run for shorter intervals and do multiple breaks for exercises, and sometimes we just run. Once in a while we’ll email everyone to bring a few euro to the workout and have a group sandwich picnic after we’re done sweating.
Today Taki and I ran, did our exercises, ran some more, and then went out for lunch. It was just the two of us and I had no money, but as he said “You’re a student, I have a job, I should pay anyway,” so we stopped for some Japanese bento lunches on the way home.
Whether or not we’re actually pushing our bodies to their physical limits with our gratuit group d’exercice, we have a great time doing it. Everyone in the group benefits from meeting a group of people who they have no other connection to – how likely is that I, for example, would meet a 30-something Japanese humanitarian while studying abroad in Paris? There’s also something to be said for having so much fun that you can’t stop laughing – even through your third set of lunges.