Running the Paris marathon instead of London means broad boulevards instead of narrow streets – and an inspiring start in the looming shadow of the Arc de Triomphe
NEED TO KNOW
ROUTE Head down the Champs-Elysées, around the Place de la Concorde and east, looping around the Bois de Vincennes. Return to the centrer and finish on Ave Foch, behind the Arc de Triomphe
ENTRY DEADLINE End Jan
RACE DATE First Sun in April
NUMBER OF ENTRANTS 37,000
London may be host to one of the most famous marathons in the world, but Paris can offer runners the same big-city buzz without the uncertainty of getting a place. Unlike London, which sometimes has as many as eight applicants for each place, any potential participant will virtually be guaranteed a place in the Paris marathon. Both races take place in April, with similarly mild weather, so many runners who unsuccessfully tried for London head to Paris instead.
Blessed with a beautiful setting, with its broad avenues ideal for mass runners, Paris is certainly no second-best alternative to London. Unlike London, which starts on the eastern outskirts, the Paris marathon begins and ends in the city center, so you’ll be running along wide boulevards and passing famous Parisian landmarks. What could match the excitement of beginning a marathon at the top of the Champs-Elysées, with the Arc de Triomphe behind you and an endless wave of some 35,000 runners before you as you set off into the rising sun?
As you head east, the surreal sight of an artificial mountain at the Bois de Vincennes zoo looms on the horizon. Twists and turns through leafy parkland here give a welcome break from the long straight avenues. The crowds are thinner too; a few suburban dog-walkers look on bemused as you bound – or by now trudge – through the trees.
This of course, being Paris, refreshments are plentiful; bananas and oranges are the official offering, though look out for the wine and cheese stand at around the 21-mile (35-km) mark.
Supporters en route are numerous, though they are, for the most part, markedly laid-back in typical Parisian style. It’s the entertainers who provide more risqué fun: from a gay mariachi band – men in fake moustaches wearing pink tutus – to cheerleaders in giant squirrel costumes.
Your 26-mile (42-km) tour takes you past some famous Parisian landmarks, including the Place de la Concorde, Rue Rivoli, Place de la Bastille, and Avenue de Versailles, ending up back near the Arc de Triomphe.
Here, at last, you can stop, enjoy the free massage, and wait while your loved ones do their own jostling through the pack to find you.
FORGET THE LONDON MARATHON?
THE BUILD-UP London is undoubtedly one of the world’s top marathons, in terms of its number of competitors, and for the top-ranking runners it attracts. Begun in 1981, it has since built up a huge following, with the streets lined with cheering supporters from start to finish.
THE LETDOWN London has become a victim of its own success. Competition for getting in is high – almost 100,000 applicants for 50,000 accepted places. Moreover, as most of the course is on relatively narrow roads, you become hemmed in, which can be frustrating and energy-sapping when you’re trying to get into a rhythm and keep up your planned pace.
GOING ANYWAY? If you don’t get into London at first, keep trying, as they guarantee a place if you apply five years in a row. To get around the congestion problem, try to worm your way to the front of your section. When the race starts, zig-zag through firmly but sportingly. Or wear a giant hedgehog suit – that’ll soon clear the pack!
Getting There and Around
Paris’ main airport is Roissy Charles de Gaulle, some 17 miles (27 km) north of the city. International train links to Paris are good; Eurostar serves the UK via the EuroTunnel, with a 2 1/2-hour journey from London’s St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord.
On the morning of the marathon, the nearest Métro station is Charles de Gaulle Etoile; if it’s too packed, try Argentine or George V.
Where to Eat
If you are planning on eating out, go for the plat du jour at lunchtime, the main meal of the day in France. It is usually a good-value and tasty option. Try Chez Gladines, which serves excellent meals (tel. +33 1 45 80 70 10).
Where to Stay
Résidence Lord Byron is located two blocks from the Champs- Elysées
Budget per Person per Day
Approximately US$150, including food, transportation, and accommodations
4 MORE MARATHONS TO RIVAL LONDON
EVEREST MARATHON, NEPAL The highest marathon in the world at 17,000 ft (5,180 m). Runners even have to walk up to the start at Gorak Shep, which helps acclimatize to the oxygen- depleted air. Held in November
ATHENS, GREECE The original first run, from Marathon to the Greek capital held in 490 BC. Unlike the heroic Phidippides, today’s runners don’t do this marathon in full military gear. Hot and hilly, every November
ICE MARATHON, ANTARCTICA Try running 26 miles (42 km) in -20°C (-4°F), buffeted by katabatic winds, at a 10,000-ft (3,050-m) altitude and a few hundred miles from the South Pole. Madness, every December
TWO OCEANS, SOUTH AFRICA This 35-mile (56-km) ultra- marathon, the “world’s most beautiful marathon,” links both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Held on the Saturday of Easter weekend