Here's why 25 Irish prison officers 'ran away' to France

NewsBy Sunday World
The Breakaway Running Club before the big race
The Breakaway Running Club before the big race

Did you hear the one about the 25 prison officers from Cloverhill who 'ran away' to France?

But this prison break was very different to the one they normally work to prevent.

In 2013 Cloverhill prison officers formed the Breakaway Running Club and last month 25 members took part in the club's first foreign adventure.

And what a race they chose, the incredible La Champenoise, thought by many to be the craziest race in the world.

Why? Well, it's an 18km fancy dress fun run through French vineyards which hands out champagne instead of water every 4km!

We'll let prison offficer Keith Tracy take up the story from here...

We stayed in the small town of Epernay, which is known as the capital of Champagne and it is home to many of the biggest champagne companies in the world including Moët & Chandon and Mercier. 

The beautiful Avenue de Champagne in the heart of the town is where you can go to visit the champagne houses and take a tour to see how the bubbly stuff is made, with a sample at the end to wet your appetite for the big race the following day.  

Local residents say that this avenue is the most expensive in the world, more so even than the Champs-Élysées in Paris, thanks to the 200 million bottles of champagne stored in the 110 kilometres of chalk cellars beneath it. The tours of the champagne houses are well worth taking in while over there, if for no other reason than to be in complete awe of kilometre after kilometre of fully stocked champagne cellars. 

We found a lovely little Irish bar which was aptly named "Le Pub" that is run by Colm from County Clare and his wife Gaelle. A very welcoming spot, we were well looked after by Colm and even though they didn't do food, we were allowed to bring our food in with us from the restaurant next door. A must stop for anyone considering heading over for the race. 

Saturday was race day. The race starts at 3pm but you need to be in the small town of Reuil for 1pm (about 12km from Epernay). That gives you time to pick up your race number and watch, or take part, in the parade. The parade goes on for two hours and consists of all of the different lunatics from all over the world who came here dancing around in their fancy dress outfits.

Champagne is on sale here before the race at €18 a bottle and with the amount of bottles flowing, everyone was in party mode before the race even began. The costumes came in all shapes and sizes with some people putting some real effort into them. We went with an Irish theme all dressing up in green, white and orange with plenty of leprechauns, an Irish Elvis Presley and even a Saint Patrick. Our fellow runners from abroad went as a group of Mario's and Luigi's, bumper cars, a shoal of fish complete with fisher men chasing them, Smurfs, Jesus (he even carried a cross the whole way with him) and there was even a Borat in his mankini.

At 3pm the competitive race starts for those who don't want to stop for the champagne tastings. Although if you come first in this you do win your own weight in champagne! 

Five minutes later the rest of us take off and head up the hill towards the town of Venteuil. It's 3.5km to our first pit stop running by the vineyards with a few cheeky runners taking a short cut through one of the vineyards. As we approach Venteuil we can already hear the band playing and as we turn the corner we can see everyone dancing away and enjoying some free champagne. 

After a little breather we carry on towards Fleury-la-Rivíere. It's just over 4km away and we are welcomed into the town by a group of drummers who are pounding away to help cheer us on. At the top of the town we enter a wine cellar where again the free champagne is flowing and the band are playing. The group of large fish in the middle of the dance floor are quite the sight to see jumping around to the music. 

It's then back down to Venteuil and although the legs are getting a little tired now, the scenery is breathtaking and makes the run so much easier. With more champagne on offer, everyone really is in party mood now and a conga line has formed and is dancing around the square. As well as the obligatory champagne, there is also cake, oranges and dates on offer to help us along. 

Another 4km to the town of Villers-sous-Chátillon and our final champagne stop before the finish line. The distance combined with the heat and the champagne is slowing down the pace but not the fun. Another band there to entertain us but we didn't stay here too long as we knew we only had 2km left to go. 

The finish line was back where we started in the town of Reuil. There were crowds of locals and finishers all cheering us on as we crossed the finish line with one or two crossing over on their hands being carried like a wheel-barrow. The celebrations didn't finish there though. There was one last band playing away and 120 bottles of champagne being raffled out with your race number and more bottles being awarded to the best dressed. A souvenir champagne flute and t-shirt were also given out to all participants. 

There is a festive meal on offer in Reuil that night but we chose to head back to Colm and Gaelle in Le Pub and partied the night away with them.

An incredible run which has to be seen to be believed.