Paris au printemps

When you think of Paris, in springtime, what comes to mind? Is there accordion music accompanying your reverie? IMG_3525 or IMG_3557or

IMG_3487  ?

Maybe it’s more like this?

IMG_3573                 IMG_3592                    IMG_3593
For me it was like this:IMG_3564

I signed up for the Paris Marathon back in September. It was partially a pipe dream: my husband’s employer was the corporate sponsor and there was a slim chance I could get a paid entry to race as a “family member.” An indirect perk of the job. My husband sent in the request and I was confirmed to run the Paris Marathon. I was going to see the Eiffel Tower! I was going to run 42.2 km! I was going to Paris! I was going to have to do some heavy training in the next few months.

This was the first race I had entered that I was actually excited about doing. Anticipating the race provided great motivation to push on in my training when I didn’t want to go for one more run, when my legs ached, when the weather was crap, when my mind wasn’t sure if I could run faster. I liked the training; the reward was coming. I was ready to run the streets of Paris.

Then it was April and my husband and I were on our way to Paris. With a few hicccups along the way — our trans-Atlantic flight being cancelled after the plane was hit by lighting; getting into Paris a day later and having less time to deal with 9 hours of  jet lag; being separated on the metro on the way to the race when I got out of the doors and my husband didn’t, and then watching a woman get subtly crushed by the closing metro doors — we were on our way! With 50,000 other runners and probably an extra 50,000 spectators I marched down the Champs-Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe and began the process.


Here is why you should run the race:

1. It’s the PARIS Marathon!!  There is no better way to see a city so beautiful and historical than this. You get to RUN through the streets; it’s like being in the Tour de France on your feet. The crowds are passionate, the music and entertainment is plentiful, and it’s so authentic you get to run through clouds from spectators smoking.

2. It’s a fairly flat course. If you are looking for something that is easier on the legs (overall) there are no big hills on this course. There are a few inclines in the last 1/3 of the race. I saw many people walking and I’m sure eventually they all finished as well.

This is the 10km mark. See how the road is now only about 4-5 people in width? Imagine 50 000 squeezing through that. Almost as much fun as putting toothpaste back in the tube.

This is the 10km mark. See how the road is now only about 4-5 people in width? Imagine 50 000 squeezing through that space. Almost as much fun as putting toothpaste back in the tube.

3. This is not your backyard race. It is big, it is international, and it is unique. Did I say it is in Paris??!!

4. The entertainment is worth the distance. We ran past the notable Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower but these sights were upstaged by the laser light show and techno music in the tunnel at mile 17.  I especially liked the few seconds of complete darkness when the lasers turned off and someone in the crowd started whooping in excitement. This was followed by a sea of runners cheering back in response. At that point it certainly didn’t feel like I had another 10+ miles to go.


Here are some things to keep in mind as a first or repeat marathoner: This is France. Different rules apply.

1. This is a paid entry race for the general masses. You don’t have to prove that you can run a certain pace or distance unless you are in the elite group. That means that if you run slower than 3 hours, you can enter and seed yourself in whatever wave (entry based on projected finishing time) you’d like. The waves were in 15 min increments; nothing is stopping you from thinking you could run the race in 4 hours but seeding yourself with the 3:15 hour finishers in the hopes that they will “pull you along” to a faster time.


It was a bit squishy, through all 26.2 miles.

2. This is not a PB/PR (personal best/personal record) course. True, it is “globally flat,” but it’s super crowded! Imagine salmon swimming upstream and try a personal record on that course. Unless you are an elite runner, you will not have the space to run as fast as you’d like. I seeded myself to have an optimal race in the 3:15 – 3:30 hour wave. Given that you can only run as fast as the people around you (and I added an extra 1 km to my race trying to weave around people) you hope that these people are going the pace. This was completely not the case. Most of the race felt like I was running with a herd of goats — runners all over the place, different paces, and running in all directions.

A different herd of goats. These ones were English.

A different herd of goats. These ones were English.

3. There are a lot of people at this race which means a lot of people need somewhere to pee! The race had 50,000 entries and just over 39,000 finished. Although there were less people in each corral the port-o-potties were wholly inadequate: there were only a few potties total in each corral. I stood in the shortest line and estimated that there were over 200 people lined up for one unit. You could also not gain entry into any other corral. I waited 40 min before my start time and never made it to the front of the line.

4. Common advice is that the way you train for a race is the way you should run a race. This means what you are eating, when you are eating/drinking, and being consistent.  But you are no longer in Kansas! I stayed away from the aid stations as bananas, oranges, raisins, and sugar cubes (yes, literally the white cubes) are not what I’m used to ingesting while running. This spread also provides additional hazards: think of running along wet cobblestones littered with banana peels. I saw a few people wipe out.

Approaching 30 km. Some boats on the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.

Approaching 30 km. Some boats on the Seine and one Eiffel Tower.

Although the purpose of our trip was this race, it was also a vacation. We rented a tiny bachelor flat about 10 min away from the Louvre which reminded me of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom. If we opened our suitcases on the floor, there was no floor space to walk on. We lived like the French — eating out, walking all day, always wearing a scarf, and remembering to say Bonjour wherever we went.

Le fin.

Le fin.


11 thoughts on “Paris au printemps

  1. Sounds like a great trip. Combining a race and vacation or a few days stay in a great city like Paris must be awesome.
    My hydration rule is this – drink all I want up untill an hour before the race and then stop completely. I take a bottle with me and take a few sips before the gun goes off and then drink from the bottle to avoid the first few water stops which are always crowded.
    The second part of my rule for big races is – stay in the porta-potty line. They take for ever and you will probably need to go again.

    • I hate the feeling of being thirsty and needing to pee!
      The water stops in this race were only every 5km and although plentiful it was congested. I generally ran to the end of the tables to get my bottle and still sometimes had to stand in line!
      Generally I also stay in the porta-potty line no matter what. But given my race had started, I needed to start running. Luckily it was somehow “reabsorbed” and after 15km I stopped thinking about it.
      Thanks for reading imarunner!

  2. Magnifique! Sounds amazing. I’ve never run an international marathon, but I have been to Paris. You actually make running a marathon sound like FUN (especially the tunnel with the laser light show and techno music)!

    • It WAS fun. And having a fun (and strong mental) race in my repertoire right now is better than a PR.
      It was over before I knew it and that showed me how solid my training was.

  3. I was so looking forward to this post, Tania! As you know, I am not a runner, but I was very psyched for you. I think it’s so cool that you ran the Paris marathon and you did sight seeing. I love the analogy that you felt like you were running with a herd of goats. The pictures are great. Maybe one day you’ll run the New York City Marathon. That would be a unique way to see all five boroughs.

    • Thanks for reading V! It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, because even if I went back and ran it again there would never be another first time. Everything was so unusual and exciting.
      New York is on my list… eventually. I’ve had friends run it and say it was amazing — especially all the feet on the bridge at the same time.

      • That must be quite a sound effect! When 9/11 happened, I worked in broadcast news. I had the day off. But with the country under attack, we entered 24/7 news mode meaning it was an all hands on deck type situation so I had to report to work. I lived walking distance from the network, ABC News (Peter Jennings, a great guy and a Canadian, was the anchorman then). There were no cars on Broadway on the Upper West Side. The subway wasn’t running, either. Thousands of dazed people were flooding the street. Some witnesses were covered in building dust. I knew they had walked miles uptown from Ground Zero downtown. I also knew that most did not know what I already knew. The silence in the street was eerie, aside from the sound of footfalls. At least the marathon is a joyous event. Back to you running the marathon in Paris, that sounded like a joyous event, too. I’m so glad you did it and shared the experience here.

      • What a fantastic experience! Okay, being in the midst of 9/11 may not have been fantastic, but in retrospect there must have been poignant and memorable moments in the midst of it. (Sure I “know” Peter Jennings…. that transplant Canadian). And the sounds of the day — and the magnitude of so many people doing the same things — must have been moving. The sound effects really add to the feeling of an event.

      • It was eerie, Tania. An end of the world-type feeling I hope to never experience again. I had to focus on my job and I did, but my ex worked in one of the towers on a high floor and almost exactly one year earlier on another spectacular late summer’s day I was standing on the observation deck with friends visiting from Florida. My ex and I got back together for a while after it. She suffered something similar to survivor’s guilt. She had quit that job a few years earlier. My former colleague’s husband died in one of the towers leaving her a widow with a baby and toddler. Whenever I think of that day I just remember the tragedy, but I’m also grateful that NYC is such a fiercely resilient place. It further enhanced how much I love my city. Back on topic I think running a marathon through the streets of Paris is something super cool to have in your personal history. It’s now part of the Tania legend!

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