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11 May 2021   |   Blog   |   

Paris Marathon Review

When Simon Davies joined the Sports Travel International group in 2015, he was already a keen runner. He had however, been reluctant to step up to running a full marathon. This was before he visited the New York City Marathon in 2016. There he caught the marathon bug, after watching thousands of runners cross the finish line in Central Park. He has since gone on to run a number of marathons both at home and abroad, as well as working as a representative on several marathon tours.

In 2018, taking somewhat of a busman’s holiday, Simon arranged a trip for him and a friend to run the Paris Marathon. He has since returned, looking after a group of runners based at the Ibis Cambronne Tour Eiffel.

Below he shares his thoughts and experiences.

Almost immediately after completing my first marathon, I was telling anyone who would listen, about my marathon journey. 3-hour training runs in the rain, the elation of crossing the finish line, everything. One friend was inspired to run a marathon himself. We soon decided to combine the marathon with a holiday. We were taking the view that we were guaranteed to enjoy a holiday, even if the race itself didn’t go to plan. As luck would have it, my friend would suffer a non-training injury, but would still be able to come on holiday, and I, naturally, would put him to work as my support crew.

When it came to selecting an international marathon, Paris ticked all the boxes. Having spent a year working in Paris, I had a long-held affinity with the City of Lights, and knew that there were still plenty of corners to explore. Travel to central Paris was relatively cheap and quick, alleviating the traditional pre-race nerves. Finally, there was the marathon itself – mostly flat, with crowds and entertainment along most of the route, and, of course, some of the world’s most iconic sights.

Getting to Paris

A weekend in Paris usually starts with a trip from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the city centre. Public transport to either hotel is simple. A direct train into central Paris followed by a single Metro journey. Taxis are also readily available, but won’t necessarily be any quicker, particularly at peak times.

The Mercure Wagram hotel is clean, friendly, and modern. It’s also ideally located, close to the start & finish lines of the race. Its also just a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, at the top the Avenue des Champs Elysées which, when it’s not being taken over by runners on marathon day, or the riders of the Tour de France, is one of the most famous shopping addresses in the world.

The Ibis Cambronne Tour Eiffel, as you can probably guess by the name, is just a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, on the Rue Cambronne. In true Parisian style, it’s a unique looking building, nestled into an uneven plot of land, with convenient transport links. Most important of all, it has a generous breakfast buffet with plenty of options to keep you going.

Pre- Race Routines

Everybody has their own routine the day before a marathon, so we never try to tell people what they should be doing on Saturday, but we always organise a very leisurely 5k run in the morning. More than anything, it’s a chance to shake out any pre-race nerves, and a good opportunity to meet some of your fellow runners. Of course, in Paris, it’s also a chance to do some sightseeing! From the Ibis hotel, I personally like to do a lap of the Champ de Mars, passing under the Eiffel Tower. The weekend can fly by, so it’s nice to tick the must-do photo opportunity off the list!

A gentle Saturday morning 5k

From the Mercure, it’s a good opportunity to run past the Arc de Triomphe and check out the finish area. As well as being practical to give you an idea of where to go after you finish, you also get that irreplicable buzz of anticipation.

The registration and expo is just a short Metro journey from either hotel. The route from the Mercure emerges overground just in time for you to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower across the River Seine. It offers everything you’d expect from a marathon expo. Once you’ve collected your race number, you can find out more about the route, get a sneak peak of the finishers’ medal, and take some photos for social media. There are also plenty of Paris Marathon souvenirs on offer. You can grab yet another running top, or take the chance to check out the latest gear, technology and nutrition from all the various exhibitors.

Once you’ve registered on Saturday, it can be far too tempting to spend the rest of the day idly wandering around the streets of Paris. However, be aware, you can easily rack up the miles without realising, and you’ll regret it on Sunday morning. A better ways to see Paris is to take a leisurely boat cruise along the river Seine. You can either book a full cruise with a meal, or just a tour. Also, if you’re using public transport to get around, it’s worth looking at buses instead of the Metro, as this way you get to see a lot more of the city.

Looking down towards the start line

Race Day 

On marathon morning, we arrange an early breakfast in the hotel.  This leaves plenty of time to fuel up before heading off to the start line. From the Ibis we organise groups to set off together on the Metro. It is, however, a relatively straight-forward journey, if you want to work to your own timetable. From the Mercure, as long as you turn the right way as you come out of the hotel, you’ll find yourself caught up in the crowds making their way towards the start.

The back of the start pens

Start pens are allocated based on your predicted finishing time, so you’ll find yourself surrounded by runners of a similar ability. The pens take up the entire width of the Champs Elysées, so you’ll need to walk down the pavement on either side until you reach the back of your pen. There are of course facilities inside the start pens, but these are limited. It’s best to treat them as emergency facilities. Don’t rely on being able to find one available straight away.

Top tip: the pens move towards the start line en masse as each pen is released. It’s therefore worth waiting until your pen moves forwards. There won’t be a queue for the toilets in the empty pen in front.

There’s a great nervous atmosphere as your start pen inches down the avenue. This really ramps up as you get to the start, with a DJ & announcer getting everybody hyped up. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to hold back when the gun goes. The front of the pen can be pretty crowded, and it can take you a while to get into your rhythm. Your official time only starts once you cross the start, so there’s no harm in hanging towards the back of the group, crossing the line in your own time,  and giving yourself enough space to dictate your own pace.

Setting off down the Champs Elysées

The Marathon 

The first few hundred metres ease you in with a nice gentle downhill on the wide avenue. This gives you the chance to appreciate the Axe Historique. The straight line that runs through the centre of Paris, linking the Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde & Obelisque, Jardin des Tuilleries and the Louvre. Although you’re on wide roads, take care to check the road surface, as it change quickly between tarmac and cobblestones. Once you reach the bottom of the Champs Elysées, you go round the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde, and continue along the side of the Jardin des Tuileries.

The next part of the route has changed in recent years. Now, it takes you across Place Vendome, home to luxury fashion brands and the Ritz Hotel, and then north, towards Palais Garnier, more commonly referred to as the Paris Opera. The route then drops back towards the Jardin des Tuileries. As the route passes the Louvre, you can catch a glimpse to your right of the glass pyramid. As with most things in Paris, it was controversial when it was first constructed, but has now become synonymous with the city.

Paris Marathon
On the banks of the Seine – Paris Marathon

The route then continues east. You will pass the City Hall & the Place de la Bastille, before crossing over the peripherique motorway and into the Bois de Vincennes, the first of two woods on the route. Once you pass by the Chateau and into the woods, the crowds briefly disappear. This is a good time, if you haven’t already, to start chatting to your fellow runners. Even if you can’t spot anyone in a running club vest you recognise, you’ll soon find a French runner with impeccable English!

After the Bois de Vincennes, the route takes you back into central Paris. After a couple of miles the road drops down and you find yourself running along the bank of the River Seine. You then pass by the Ile de la Cité, an island in the middle of the river. The island is best known for the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is partially visible, on your left, as you run past. As you continue along the Seine, the route moves between river level and the raised street level, so there are a few short ramps along this section. You will also run through a few short tunnels, and one longer tunnel, which sometimes hosts a themed light show, in a futile attempt to distract you from the lingering city centre odours!

As you follow the river round to the left, there it is. The one sight that everyone has come to see, the Eiffel Tower. At this stage, it can feel like it’s not getting any closer, but you eventually pass within a couple of hundred metres of it. You will be met by a  spectacular view, as you look left across the Iéna bridge. The route follows the river for a couple more kilometres, and as you pass the three-quarter mark, you’ll catch sight of the Statue of Liberty, to your left, in the middle of the river. Don’t worry, you’re not halucinating. It’s actually a quarter sized replica, that was gifted to the city, after the original had been designed and created in Paris, before being shipped to New York.

The route turns away from the river and soon enters the Bois de Boulgone, the second wooded area on the route. The crowds can be sparce here, but if you’re struggling, it’s a good excuse to ease off before the big finish! You’ll know you’re nearing the finish once the crowds start to grow again. As you exit the woods, you’re just one roundabout away from the foot of Avenue Foch. It’s time to build for the sprint finish!

The End of the Race

Once you’ve collected your medal & picked up your bag, you might want to soak up the post marathon atmosphere. If you’re not quite ready to head back to your hotel, there are plenty of cafes & bars in the area, for a celebratory beer and burger, or even just coffe & croissant to keep you awake for the tram ride back to the hotel!

Depending on how long you’re staying in Paris, and how your legs feel, you’ll hopefully still want to do some sightseeing. There are hundreds of guides to Paris available online, so I’ll just give you an overview of a few of my favourite areas.

Montmartre is the only major tourist area that you won’t have seen on the marathon route. Get a photo in front of the Moulin Rouge, take the funicular up past Sacré Coeur church (or brave the steps) and watch the local artists while you eat in the Place du Tertre.

St Michel on the south bank of the river is a bit of a tourist trap, but it does have a wide choice of restaurants and bars. It’s also a stone’s throw from Notre Dame cathedral.

Oberkampf and the area around the Canal St Martin are ideal if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, but still looking to experience traditional Parisian pavement cafes and bars.

Even if you don’t want to stray too far from your hotel, Paris is known for having a bakery & a bistro on pretty much every street corner. This is a city full of world famous landmarks and iconic sites, so you’re sure to find somewhere to celebrate your achievement!

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