DO IT! It’s a bucket list marathon. Although there are definitely areas for improvement, it’s a special way to experience one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
It’s Paris. I repeat – it’s PARIS. Beautiful course, roughly shaped like a bone—starting and finishing at the Arc de Triomphe—taking you past many of the major tourist sites and buffered between two parks on opposite ends of the city. The first part of the race is a sightseeing tour through the center of the city. If you’re paying attention, you will see the Place de la Concorde, Place Vendome, Opera Garnier, Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre, and Place de la Bastille in the first 5 miles. After mile 7, at the eastern end, you run about 10K around Bois de Vincennes, which is like Paris’ version of Central Park, where you will see the Chateau de Vincennes. During the third part of the race, you get sent back west along the Seine River, where you will be able to see the top of Notre Dame Cathedral and later the Eiffel Tower. At the western end, before the finish, you run around the Bois de Boulogne before exiting onto Avenue Foch and the marathon finish before the Arc de Triomphe.
In terms of difficulty, the terrain is more challenging than it looks. None of the uphills are particularly steep, but they are long and the elevation changes are constant, so it really wears out the legs. Along the Seine River, the course goes through 4 tunnels, and the ramps feel particularly bad at that point in the race. There were also a lot of false flats generally along the course. My Garmin recorded 1,020 feet of climbing. None of that should deter you from running the marathon, however, because the course is breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring.
The fueling stations provide bottled water, bananas, oranges, raisins, ginger bread, and sugar cubes. No gels and no sports drinks/electrolyte beverages, so you should bring your own. The stations are far apart. Official pre-race communication was not great and sometimes WRONG. I regularly checked the event website and followed the Paris Marathon’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, yet I got the most timely and accurate information from local runners in Paris in a private FB group. The organizers repeatedly said (including ON THE MAP) that the stations would be 5km apart, but when I went to the website a week before and looked up the feeding zone locations, they were actually at 6.4km, 12.9km, 17.5km, 22km, 27km, 29.8km, 34.5km, and 38.4km. That’s definitely not 5km apart and they are not evenly spaced. So look that up before you go or you will be in for a rude awakening. Worse yet, on the actual race day, they moved the first station to 7km because of road work and didn’t send out any announcement. The areas around the fueling stations get very slick so you need to be careful - lots of water on the ground and fruit peels.
The porto-potty situation could use a lot of improvement. There weren’t enough at the start. There were some in the start corrals but the lines were very long and moved very slowly, so plan ahead. Crowd control was poor. With the exception of the start, there were no barriers to keep spectators off the road. There weren’t enough course marshals to prevent spectators from crowding the runners or crossing the race path whenever they felt like. At one point, someone rode a motorcycle across my path.
Volunteers were plentiful before, during, and after the race. They do try to help you, but you should not expect them all to be able to speak English. This could be an issue if you don’t have a lot of race experience or haven’t kept yourself informed. For instance, after I picked up my bib at the Expo, no one told me that I needed to get a participant bracelet from a different table before I left (more about the bracelet below). I only knew because I’d read about it beforehand.
The crowds were good in the city center and along the Seine, but very sparse in the parks and for much of the race course. Around the 18-mile mark, there were cheer sections set up for the British, Chinese, and American fans.
Registration was a breeze. No lottery. Just first come, first served. You register through the marathon website, which prompts you to create an account on Timeto. I think it was easy to get into because Paris is not one of the World Marathon Majors. Registration opens up the day after the marathon finishes in April and closes in January, but if you miss the deadline, you can also get in by booking through Marathon Tours. It was very affordable. 109 Euros this year, which is a real bargain by US standards.
Medical Certificate, Expo, and Bib Pick Up:
A big difference between this race and US marathons is you need to provide a medical certificate. A template is provided on the website. Your doctor must certify that your examination reveals no contraindication for participation in running competitions, and they require that your doctor stamp it with his or her office stamp. You cannot pick up your bib without a medical certificate. You can upload it to the Timeto app and get it approved in advance.
The expo is located at the Salon du Running, at the Port de Versailles. It is far from the center of the city. Do NOT leave the Expo without picking up the participant bracelet, which you need to wear during the race in order to get your medal after crossing the finish line. Do not put the bracelet on too tightly because you can only get it off by cutting it, which you don’t want to do if you want your medal.
Not good, unfortunately. The medal was really underwhelming and the finisher shirt was just plain ugly. I was surprised given Paris’ reputation as the fashion capital. They also gave out small sacks, which were decent looking bags but cannot fit too much stuff.
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"Marathoning is just another form of insanity." John J. Kelly, winner of the 1952 Boston Marathon