THE FEMALE competitor crossed the finishing line before promptly placing her hand over her mouth, blowing out her cheeks and staggering to the nearest shrubbery, where she promptly bent over and… you can imagine the rest.

DSC_5384If this is what running can do to you, count me out. At 95 kilos, the only time I ever bent double in sport was in the front row of the scrum where I invariably clashed heads (sometimes deliberately) with the opposition.

DSC_5447I digress. I am in the Marais Poitevin, the second largest temperate zone in France and the fifth in Europe. Nestled between the Altantic Ocean and the town of Niortes in Deux-Sevres, this spectacular area so popular with nature lovers is known as the ‘Green Venice’. Over 90,000 hectares of marshlands are criss-crossed by small canals; water passageways to a secret, labyrinthine world of enchantment, where birdsong carries through the still ash and poplar trees. If ever there was a place to de-stress, then I have found it in bountiful supply.

DSC_5383This is the location for the Maraisthon, a play on a word for a marathon event unique in Europe, as it is entirely based around sustainable development and ecology. It is also the first sporting event in the world to have a charter of ten ethical points.

DSC_5385The event, now in its sixth year, is centred around Coulon – the unofficial capital of the Green Venice – in the Marais Poitevin.

DSC_5434The Maraisthon was the brainchild of co-president Jean Marc Giraud, who wanted to create an event in which it was possible to discover the stunning scenery of Marais Poitevin, with riverside trails normally only discoverable by water. “I went on a boat ride and found myself in a place of total fulfilment. I had this sudden feeling of well-being, and that started the whole thing,” he told me.

DSC_5405“I thought there might be a way to organise a race with a theme of sustainable development and nature. I then developed an ethical charter based on the Kyoto Protocol to organise the race.” The Charter covers ten key points – la denomination (name), le situationnel (situation), le materiel (hardware), le consommable (consumables), l’assistance (assistance), la logistique (logistics), le partenariat (partnership), le village nature (village nature), la sensibilisation (awareness), l’action (action).

DSC_5392According to M.Giraud, the Maraisthon is not so much focused on raising money for ecological causes, as it is about making people aware of ecology. “This is the first marathon which goes so deeply into this approach, and we are trying our best to promote this fact. The aim is not to moralise, but rather to make people aware and adopt a positive attitude; to encourage rather than anything else.” M. Giraud has a background in sports organisation, including having run the French track and field championships in 2007. He has since allied this experience with his passion for the environment.

DSC_5394The event generates 34 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which equates to €750 in carbon offsetting. The organisers donate this money to the Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES), which supports ecological initiatives around the world. In 2009, the Maraisthon’s inaugural year, the money went towards solar panels in Tibet, while last year it helped combat deforestation in Mali.

DSC_5441The organisers try to be as ecologically sound as possible, down to the smallest detail, such as using natural rope fibres to hang banners, which are all recyclable. All partners and suppliers are chosen for their ecological credentials, as there are numerous events taking place around the Maraisthon weekend, including jogging mornings with a bio-breakfast; guided nature tours; an exhibition which focuses on the relationship between CO2 and water; and a bio market.

DSC_5432Competitors are asked to use recyclable or biodegradable materials. At the culmination of the event, a serious post-race clean-up campaign helps to limit any effects on the fragile environment from waste products. “In the first year of the race, the medals were made out of nougat without preservatives,” said M. Giraud. “They were edible, provided they were consumed within six months of the race!”

  • All images ©Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton
  • Reservations and information – To book or for more information, visit, download the free app, call 0844 848 5848 or call into the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre at 193 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EU. You can also book through hundreds of appointed travel agents throughout the UK.
  • For more information on the Marais Poitevin, Deux -Sevres and Poitou-Charentes visit www.visit– and
  • For the Maraisthon visit
  • Watch out for more stories on this region of France in my blogs and in the forthcoming second issue of the e-magazine