For those of us who want to stick to a jogging routine, it can be difficult to plan a route in an unfamiliar city. Luckily for anyone visiting Paris, Andréa Sousa Dantas has come up with perfect solution: RunRun Tours.
Andréa Dantas, originally from Natal, Brazil, founded RunRun Tours in Paris as a way to combine her passions for running, tourism, and history. Read on for our interview with Andréa, and a look into how RunRun Tours was born.
Nokia: The idea of hosting running tours in a city is really innovative and fun. What inspired you to create RunRun Tours, and how did you make your idea a reality?
Andréa: When I first had the idea of taking people on tours of Paris while running, it was during a training session in a Paris running group around 2013 or 2014. I used to admire all of the beautiful monuments we passed by—all of them very sought after by tourists. I also noticed that very few of my running mates—most of whom were Parisians—knew very much about them, while I had already visited them several times before moving to Paris and knew their history reasonably well. (Well, better than my running mates, at least.)
Considering my academic background in tourism and my passion for running, I said to myself: “How lovely it would be to give guided tours of Paris while running!” I thought I’d had a really original and innovative idea, so I was very surprised when I later found out that other people have already been doing that since the mid-2000s! The first running tour companies were founded in Germany and Italy around 2004, and it was also a very popular way of sightseeing in the United States. Despite that, the concept is still quite recent and remains relatively unknown to the broad public; however, it has been growing quickly in the last few years thanks to the increase of people who practice jogging as well as the participation in international marathons. There is even a worldwide running tour association, RunningTours.Net, that assembles more than 200 running tour guides and companies around the world.
What led you to pursue a career in tourism, and what’s your favorite thing about being a guide?
I think my favorite things about being a guide are being outside and in movement, and also having the chance to rediscover the city every day through the eyes of a visitor. There’s no routine in this kind of job! Even if you visit the same places over and over again, every time there is something different, either because you meet different people or because cities—especially Paris—change constantly according to the weather conditions, the season, and the cultural or political events happening in town. Every day there is something new to admire and discuss with the interesting people you meet, and every day you have new learning experiences.
Given that I came to Paris to pursue a Ph.D., which involves a lot of time seated facing books and a computer, and that I’ve been teaching tourism for almost thirteen years at the University (and continue to teach and do research), it’s a huge relief to go out for a while and be active for a change.
I consider myself a curious person with a wide variety of interests, willing to learn new things, from languages to psychology to history. Tourism is an ideal field for those who enjoy many things and are uncertain of what exactly they want to pursue as a career. That’s what happened to me. I only chose to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in tourism after completing a Bachelor’s in advertisement, another in philosophy, and a PhD in political science and internal relations. In the core of all that, however, lies the curiosity for history, cultures, languages, and human contact.
If you hate routine and don’t want to be compartmentalized, but instead like to transit among different fields of knowledge and explore a little bit of everything, you have a big chance of being attracted to this multifaceted phenomenon we call tourism, as well as the multiple professional opportunities it has to offer—among them, the possibility of being a running guide!
Between dodging other pedestrians and keeping a large group of joggers together, it must be difficult to guide the RunRun tours. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced on the tours, and how do you manage to juggle both running and providing information about landmarks at the same time?
I set the departing time for my running tours early in the morning; usually between 7:00 and 8:30 a.m. on Sundays. I do this for two reasons: First, it is absolutely stunning to run in Paris while watching the sunrise. You get so much energy for the rest of the day! Secondly, but not less importantly, you have no crowds of tourists and much less traffic. That is crucial for the quality of a running tour in a big city. Some of our guests, after complaining a little about how early they have to get up, end the tour agreeing with us.
Also, I like to say that a running tour is a run for discovery, not a race or competition. Although we do receive guests ready to run at a steady pace because they are training for a race, we always run at a pace that allows conversation. We also make stops for pictures and refreshments, allowing for longer explanations when necessary. This means that a running tour is both an active and integral experience of a place: working out both body and mind. So in terms of running and providing information, there’s really no struggle at all—not even with pedestrians or traffic.
The only difficulty is when we have a larger group and people are at different fitness levels. On the one hand, we don’t want to frustrate those who are in better shape and willing to work out or burn calories. On the other hand, we do our best to make sure that everyone finishes the whole route, and we don’t want to exhaust—and consequently force to quit—those who run slower or those who are not used to running on a regular basis. In order to solve that, whenever we have a large group, we have two guides leading the group.
What’s your best piece of advice for people who are interested in going on a running tour, but are afraid they might not be able to keep up?
People approach me all the time with this exact question. They are afraid that they will not be able to run the whole route, or that they will slow down the group. Interestingly, those same people are often in better shape after running the running tour than some marathoners we have had boasting their personal records! I love when I surprise my guests by telling them that they just ran 10 or 13 kilometers if it’s a distance they’ve never run before.
We running guides try our very best to entertain our guests along the route, so they aren’t as conscious of the fact that they are actually running, just having fun and discovering new places. When we do our job well, people may be able to run miles and miles without even noticing it. Whenever that happens, it makes our day! I also tell my guests that we take some pauses for pictures and refreshments, and that it’s important to catch their breath, especially if they’re not a regular jogger. People are usually much more relaxed when they hear that.
Obviously, sometimes weather conditions do not cooperate, or our guests have not slept well the night before, or they walked too much the previous day. These circumstances sometimes force people to quit the running tour in the middle of the route. I always come prepared for this kind of situation with a metro ticket and instructions so that they can get back home safely. I also use the strategy of taking a longer pause, roughly in the middle of the route where the important landmarks have already been seen. This is so that those feeling too tired can go home with the feeling that they have accomplished the essentials, even in a shorter distance.
Paris is known for sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre, but it has plenty of gems that most tourists don’t know about. Of all of the landmarks and attractions you include in your tours, which are your favorite spots to share with each new group of runners?
It is difficult to say, because I am a big fan of all of the classic Parisian monuments. Given that most of our guests are looking for chances to visit and take pictures in front of the most well-known spots, our signature tour, “Paris, je t’aime,” comprises the traditional landmarks that everyone immediately associates with Paris, like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. In this tour, I think the unexpected factor comes from the way in which we approach the landmarks: using rather unknown passageways that take our visitors without notice to the interior of the Louvre Palace, or allowing a stunning view to the Eiffel Tower, for instance. I used to say that the biggest success with our guests (and this is a secret for most people, whether they are visitors or residents of Paris) is a sparkling water fountain on the docks on the left bank of the Seine. Our guests love it, and we do too!
As a runner in Paris, I really appreciate the eclectic and unusual architecture along the Coulée Verte—like the Police Commissariat in the 12th district—and the North of Paris, especially near Canal Saint-Martin. I love running in the Buttes-Chaumont park, and running Montmartre is a “must do.” I’m also very fond of the Latin Quarter, where we have the only two remaining monuments dating back to the Roman era: the Lutèce Arena and the Cluny Museum, built over an ancient Roman bath. These are the “real deals” in terms of hidden gems, in my opinion! Unfortunately, we don’t get to include these monuments in our routes very often—unless guests ask for a longer circuit.
Do you envision RunRun Tours taking place in other cities, or do you plan to stick with Paris for now?
I do, for sure! When I founded RunRun Tours, I had a circuit going from Paris to the Palace of Versailles through the woods. It was a 12-kilometer running tour, but the logistics were a little complicated, so I decided to abandon that idea for a while and focus on Paris. Mostly, I envision getting people to know other regions in France, and I am very fond of trail running as well as the rich historical and cultural heritage that France has to offer. I’m still working on this project.
Given than I am Brazilian, and the idea of a running tour is still a really new concept there, I’m also considering opening a branch of RunRun Tours in my home town, Natal, located on the Northeastern coast. Aside from that, RunRun Tours has fellow partners all over the world—such as Love London Running Tours, Run the Sights in Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow, Sightrunning Cologne, and Running Tours Melbourne—and we are happy to share their information with our customers traveling to other cities.
Thanks to Andréa for taking the time to answer our burning questions. If you’re looking for an energizing and educational way to experience a new city, consider her advice and give a running tour a try!