Five times I have crossed the channel to run the Paris Marathon. It is without doubt one of the best marathons in the world. Ok, I’ve not done that many but, honestly it’s got to be right up there. Many consider the London Marathon to be one of the best and in many ways, Paris beats London hands down. Of course this is all relative. If road marathons aren’t your thing then you’re not going to like the Paris Marathon. If big city marathons are not your thing then you’re not going to like the Paris Marathon. If hills are your bag, then you’re not going to like the Paris Marathon.
Should be a Marathon Major
I’ve argued before that Paris should be one of the marathon majors. There are more runners than London and the runners are faster on average than London. If it was a major it would certainly attract a few more of the world’s finest marathon runners too. As it is, the Paris Marathon is usually won by a kind of B-List Kenyan runner in a decent but not world-beating time. The weather is almost always good. It’s never rained in the 5 years I’ve run it and it’s usually sunny. Last year was very warm indeed and this year promised to be almost as hot.
Crowd support is possibly the only thing where London can claim supremacy. The crowds in Paris are good. In fact, they’re great. Most of the route is crowded. There are sections through the parks where it’s a little sparse but there are also sections which resemble the Tour de France with crowds squeezing the route to a narrow gap for the runners to get through. In London you could argue that the crowds are pretty much over the entire course and are a little louder in their support, but really not much more.
The aid stations are far and away better in Paris with oranges and banana slices, raisins, sugar cubes, sweets, gels and water. I talked about the atmosphere at the start in last years Paris Marathon race report, which you can read here. Suffice to say, Paris wins here too, with everyone gathering and starting in the same place. It looks amazing with the Champs Elysee stretching out with runners as far as you can see. I love it.
Having run a PB last year, this year I thought I would film the race properly for the first time. This would obviously mean I wouldn’t be able to get a PB but rather I would enjoy the run and take it all in. My plan was to use Paris as a training run for the London Marathon, where I would attempt a PB time. Then not long before our trip to France I was contacted by James Bennet. James asked if I would be able to film his 100th marathon on April 9th. I told him I couldn’t as I would be running the South Downs Way 50 on that date. However, during the course of our discussions it turned out he would be running the Paris Marathon on his 25th birthday as his 98th marathon. So that was that. We agreed that I would film his Paris Marathon 2016.
Salon du Running
Every year the expo, or Salon du Running, is held at the exhibition centre at Porte de Versailles. You have to take your stamped, signed medical certificate, your passport and your convocation form in order to get your race bib. There is a medical certificate template on the Schneider Electric Paris Marathon website which you can download and print off, making it a little easier to then take this to your doctor for him to sign and stamp. Some doctor’s surgeries do this for free. Others, like mine, charge an arm and a leg. The convocation form is a like a kind of identification form which is emailed to you a few days before the marathon. You have to print it out and take it with you. I’ve never forgotten any of these forms so I don’t know exactly how strict they are and whether they would refuse to allow someone to run without them.
The expo is not as big as the London Marathon expo but it’s still much bigger than any other running expo I’ve attended. You could spend forever looking round the displays and stalls and you could spend a small fortune on running gear. There was a funny moment when I walked up to a huge screen and my name popped up with my predicted time. When I say a huge screen, I mean like 20ft across huge. Initially, I couldn’t work out how it knew I was there. For a while I thought it was just a fluke, but then later in the visit I walked back up to the screen and my name popped up again. I don’t consider myself to be an idiot, but it took my wife to point out that there was a sensor reading my timing chip, which was on my race number in the bag I was carrying on my back. Doh!
Paris Breakfast Run
It was good to bump into my friend Alex Wearity from Reading RoadRunners and his other half Noush as I was leaving. Apparently they were just discussing that I was running Paris when there I was crossing the road in front of them. There were a number of people running in Paris with whom I have some connection. A couple of other Worthing Harriers were on the list to run but I later found out they didn’t make it over due to one thing or another. Nuala Smyth who I have met at various races and who I interviewed in this video. I guess the more races you run, the more people you meet.
As some readers may know, my wife has started running in the past few months following two successful knee operations, which has resolved some issues she has had since she was a child. It was very unfortunate that she had to miss out on the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff last week due to illness. However, we had both registered to run in this years Paris Breakfast Run. It is a 5k run which takes place on the Saturday before the marathon. It is not a timed event but more of a procession through the streets from the Arc de Triumph to the Eiffel Tower. There is a breakfast provided at the end of the run. In my 5 years of running the Paris Marathon I had never taken part in the Breakfast Run so it was nice to do it with Victoria for the first time.
After the run and a few minutes sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower eating croissants and drinking coffee, we met up with James to do a short interview. I had this idea of setting him up in front of an iconic monument with blue skies and sunshine and chatting to him about his life and his running. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t playing ball. It was cloudy, grey and really very cold. However, we did the interview and I think we got some good stuff. We agreed to meet in the morning at the Arc de Triumph.
Paris Marathon 2016
So it came to the big day. I often find myself running late the morning of the Paris Marathon. Given that I was running with James, I thought it best to make absolutely sure I wasn’t late. Of course despite my best efforts I was actually slightly late. As any runner knows, the most important task prior to any race is to go to the toilet. I had tried at the flat early in the morning without success. So I had to try again once up at the start area. I queued for the toilet for a while which is what made me late. However, I am pleased to inform you that my mission was successful. I met up with James and went for a coffee at Starbucks on the Champs Elysee before heading to bag drop.
Another first for me at the Paris Marathon, using bag drop. Normally I travel to the start with my wife and brother-in-law. This year we agreed they would leave later and go straight to their viewing place at Bastille. Given recent events in Paris and Belgium, security was tight. It’s tight all over Paris to be honest, but even tighter at a big event like the Paris Marathon. To get in to the start/finish area I had to have my bag searched which meant a bit of a delay, but nothing to worry about as we were in good time. Unfortunately when I did finally drop my bag off, I left my race nutrition in it! Arrgghhh. Mildly annoying but not actually the end of the world. The aid stations are very well stocked with real food so I wasn’t too worried.
James and I made it to our starting pen with ages to spare. Now, the thing about starting pens in Paris is that you do not have to prove any of your previous marathon times. So you can say anything you want when filling in the online registration form. I am as guilty as anyone because for two years I have put that I am predicting myself to finish in 3 hours, when in fact I am not that fast. But I’ve done this primarily because I know that in previous years it’s taken me ages to weave my way past all the slow runners who have simply put 3:15 or 3:30 as their finish time so they can start nearer the front. It’s very frustrating.. James had put down 3:15 when he is actually capable of faster! Anyway, the upshot of this is that we were both in the 3:15 pen, quite a way back.
Sure enough, when the gun went it took us a good few minutes to cross the line and in all honesty we spent most of the race passing slower runners. My wife said that thousands of runners passed the 5k point before we did. I think we could have gained a couple of minutes had we not had to pass so many people. That said, we were certainly never going to beat our PBs. Mine is 3:13 and James has a marathon PB of 3:09. carrying the camera it’s impossible to do that kind of time. Partly because of the weight of the camera and partly because I have to slow down or even stop running to film certain things en route. Still, we made good progress in the early part of the race.
The start of the race takes you down the Champs Elysee and round Place de la Concorde, which this year was sporting a brand new big wheel, perfectly positioned in line with the Champs Elysee. It looks awesome. Running along the Rue de Rivoli you run past the Louvre, Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame before the 5k mark at Bastille. Then it’s on past the zoo to Bois de Vincennes and past Chateau de Vincennes before turning back to Bastille. My wife and brother-in-law have to hang around at Bastille for ages to see me pass just after the half marathon point. James and I were still going well on 3:15 pace when we briefly stopped for me to have a swig of Coca-Cola provided by Victoria. On we went.
Don’t Miss the Sights
It’s very interesting that at this point runners in the Paris Marathon are really starting to feel the pain. They are concentrating so hard on running and getting to the finish that they completely miss the sights. I have run Paris on four previous occasions (You can read my race reports and see the videos from here) and I never realised how close we actually get to the Eiffel Tower. Weird. But it can’t be just me because there are now big signs saying ‘Look LEFT!! It’s the Eiffel Tower!!’ Or words to that effect. I was indeed starting to feel the burn by now. The sun was hot and carrying the camera was taking its toll. I could feel my pace beginning to slow.
By the time we hit Bois de Boulogne I had definitely slowed considerably. James was doing his best to push the pace but I had very little left. The route winds through the park for the final few kilometres before coming out at Avenue Foch and the finish line. The support for those final few hundred metres really spurs you on. James and I tried to sprint but I was finding it difficult to hold the camera steady and sprint for the line at the same time. We crossed the line in 3 hours 20 minutes and 47 seconds, according to the official results. I know James was trying to get in under 3:20 but for me it just a case of making a decent film and whatever time we finished was fine…..as long as it was under 3:30. Any slower and it would have been a bit disappointing.But we can’t argue with 3:20.
I forgot to meet my wife at our prearranged meeting point so we had to phone each other and eventually met after James and I had made our slow way through the finishing area. It’s a long walk up Avenue Foch towards the Arc de Triumph collecting your t-shirt, medal, banana, water and bag on the way. James made his way off back to his hotel and my brother-in-law went home. But after 5 years I finally got my way and my wife took me to Starbucks for coffee after the race. She wasn’t happy about it, but she did it. I think spectating is pretty tiring and she just wanted to go home. But there we are. The Paris Marathon 2016 was a wonderful thing. I will be back again next year and in 2017 I will be going for a decent time.
If you’ve enjoyed reading the Paris Marathon 2016 race report and video, then please give it a ‘like’ and do share it with your friends and those who might want to run it in the future. Thanks for reading.