First things first; I didn’t travel to Paris expecting to set the course on fire. Due to my hamstring tendon injury I hadn’t taken part in a marathon for a year and had done hardly any running at all between June and Christmas, so had taken things really cautiously this time by following a beginner’s training plan. Obviously when I got my PB at Manchester last year I was a lot fitter, having followed a specific Asics sub four hour plan. This time my aim was just to complete 26.2 miles (or 42.1 kilometres!) without my injury flaring up. Steve and I decided to make a long weekend minibreak of it, and I’d booked a studio apartment that was a convenient 5-10 minute walk from the marathon start and finish areas.
I registered at the Salon du Running on the Friday morning – a good time to go as it was fairly quiet. This was all very efficient, and participants were given a very cool souvenir nylon rucksack. I’d also registered for the Saturday breakfast run, which cost €10 but included a really nice Asics technical t-shirt and a tiny flag of your nation to carry, which I thought was a nice touch.
The breakfast run was at 9am on the Saturday morning, starting where the marathon finishes on Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe. The sight of hundreds of runners all in the same t-shirt was certainly quite impressive! The atmosphere was really relaxed and friendly, and the tiny flags made it easy to spot fellow Brits, so I got chatting to a lovely woman called Ruth from Cirencester as we jogged along. The 5K route passed by the Eiffel Tower and finished on the nearby Champ de Mars, where an ample supply of coffee, croissants, bananas and water awaited. Carb loading was obviously no hardship in a country famed for its pastry and I probably consumed my own weight in boulangerie produce over the course of the weekend!
Obviously I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Friday and Saturday were actually pretty cold, and it was hard to believe that Sunday was predicted to be sunny and up to 20 degrees! But sure enough, it dawned bright and clear, and already felt a lot warmer than the previous two days when I set off for the start at 8.30 am. I was in the 3:45 – 4:00 pen, as I’d been on better form when I’d signed up a year ago. Lining up on the Champs Elysées was quite a Thing in itself, with the Arc de Triomphe framed by a bright blue sky behind us and one of the most beautiful streets in the world stretching ahead.
Despite not having any performance expectations before the event I obviously couldn’t resist setting off at around four hour pace, i.e. nine minute miles. The course (which you can see here) curved around the Place de la Concorde and headed down the very long, straight Rue de Rivoli towards the Place de la Bastille. It then made its way out towards the huge Bois de Vincennes on the eastern edge of the city. There were refreshment points every five kilometres with Vittel water, oranges, bananas, raisins and sugar cubes. I always think oranges are a bad idea as most people are seemingly too dumb to throw their rubbish to the side of the road, so the discarded skins just create a lethal slippery carpet, but there we go – they seem very popular in Europe!
Runners got a split time every 5K and could be tracked live via the Paris Marathon app. I’ve participated in other events where this hasn’t worked very well, but I know it did this time as my brother was stalking me from the UK! I set off really well and felt very comfortable, going through halfway in 2:01. I knew I wasn’t going to break four hours this time, but it didn’t bother me. However, in the second half I did begin to slow down. I think this was a combination of the heat, being a bit less fit than usual and needing a loo stop. Full sun had been beating down on us from the start, and as time went on many people seemed to be struggling with the heat. The firemen of Paris did their best to help, pointing their hoses over the road in various places to provide a fine, cooling spray, and there were also some sponge stations along the way but it was still hard work. It was great to see Steve popping up a couple of times en route with words of encouragement to keep me going!
The course went through two tunnels by the river, where my Garmin lost signal both times, but picked it up again a few minutes after coming out the other end. There were obviously some great sights to see as we went back through the city and out towards the Bois de Boulogne. It’s hard to beat running past the Eiffel Tower as a means of distracting your thoughts from tired legs! Crowd support was brilIiant too, with lots of bands along the route. But I found the last 10K very tough and gradually started to fade. In the last mile or so I actually thought my calves were going to cramp up and had to stop for a little stretch. I’m not sure if this was caused by dehydration or lack of fitness – probably a bit of both. Anyway, much as I’d enjoyed the event I was very glad to finish!
We were funnelled through the (extremely long) finishing area and received a t-shirt, rain cape and a huge, heavy medal! As I went to get a banana I got chatting to a chap from Doncaster who said he’d suffered horribly in the heat too – his marathon PB was apparently 3:43, but today he’d come in at around the same time as me at 4:16. My slowest marathon ever! However, it wasn’t all bad news – I came about halfway down the field, both overall and by gender, and 342nd out of 1,563 in my age category – which just goes to show everyone must have been finding it just as hard!
Would I do it again? Probably not, because there are so many other marathons to try, but I am glad I did it. It’s a beautiful event with a great atmosphere, but a northern lass like me obviously performs better in the familiar cold of Manchester!
My top tips if you’re considering Paris.
Bear in mind that you usually have to provide a medical certificate for French sporting events, stating that you are fit to participate; this is essential for the marathon. Some GPs will provide these for free, some make a nominal charge and some make you have a full private medical that costs a fortune; something you may want to check out before you make your decision.
Enter as early as you can, because prices go up as time goes on. Unlike London or Berlin there’s no ballot, but the event does sell out.
It’s not a great course if you’re attempting a PB. There are some undulations, and in some places the route was quite narrow and crowded. If you want to go European, Berlin is much better for this.
Allow plenty of time if you’re dropping a bag, as the baggage area is quite a walk from the start.
There are lots of toilets around the Place Charles de Gaulle (where the Arc de Triomphe is) but not many in the starting pens, so pay that vital last minute visit to the loo at the top of the road!
There were no sports energy products along the course apart from a small cup of Isostar drink at around 30K (I think!), so make sure you bring your own if you want them.
I do think accommodation was much better value than you’d pay in London during the marathon. The apartment we stayed in is here if anyone wants to check it out.
Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any Paris-related questions!