After banking about three-quarters of my intended weekly mileage in about 40 hours or so, I took today as a rest day and visited the doctor for the all important medical certificate.

Here in France it is nigh on impossible to enter a competitive race without a medical certificate affirming that you can, indeed, be trusted to compete in a race against others. Yes, despite having to run hundreds or thousands of kilometers in training and pushed yourself to the limit many times, a visit to the doctor and a quick blood pressure test is required so as to prove that, yes, you can manage to run a race without dying.

There is no difference in the examination given to someone who is set for their first attempt at a 10K or a person who is lining up for their tenth marathon. Frankly it seems to me to be a way of wasting an inordinate amount of people’s time and money in order to get a piece of paper that won’t cover anyone – the runner, the race organizers, or the doctor – in case of an injury or death during a race. It is, therefore, so incredibly and fundamentally French.

Consider the stats for a race like the Saintelyon for which I made my visit to the doctor today. There are some 14,000 people who will run this event either as individuals or as part of a team. All 14,000 of them will have to provide a medical certificate and so, at one point or another during the run up to the race, will have to visit a doctor.

Let’s assume that an appointment at the doctor takes about 15 minutes, with about another 15 minutes of waiting or traveling to and from the appointment (and that is low-balling it, IMHO). That’s a half hour per person or the equivalent of 7,000 hours of doctor facetime. Put another way, it is enough to employ full-time four doctors for an entire year – and of course, this being France, your medical certificate is only good for a year so you’ll be back the year after again.

Then there’s the cost. At €23 per visit and 14,000 visits this amounts to €322,000 spent just getting the paperwork for the race done. That’s an incredible amount of money to drop on getting a form signed, especially when there is little real connection between the examination performed and the actual effort of a race.

Now, sure, there’s some caveats that should be noted. For one thing, if you are a licensed member of a running or athletics club you don’t need to spring for the doctor ahead of the race – you have, however, had the same sort of visit in order to get your club license so the money and time is still spent somewhere during the year. And, yes, the medical certificate that covers you in January still covers you in December so there will be a lot of people running at the Saintelyon in December who haven’t seen their doctor in months and spent nothing on a certificate specifically for that race.

But then that is also part of the problem, isn’t it? If a person is fit to compete in a 10K in January and is cleared by a doctor to do so, should they also be cleared to run a 75km trail ultramarathon in December with that same certificate? Remember, the doctor doesn’t know anything about their training before the 10K or in the 10 months between that race and the December ultra – isn’t the OK that was given to race for 45 minutes in January kind of useless when it comes to an eight hour race at the end of the year?

Anyway, this being France, there is no real reason to expect that the rules make sense or that the paperwork is truly necessary or based in reality. The only thing that really matters is that you have the necessary paperwork when the relevant bureaucrat asks for it and, after my visit to the doctor today, I have what I need.

Vive la France, right?

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