Finally. My first marathon. The 40th annual Paris Marathon. Long story short, I finished… Not with the greatest time though, which I will explain in this blog post so read on!
Package Pickup at Le Salon du Running
Before I start with package pickup, I would like to say that signing up for this marathon was pretty easy. They have different waves. I got in on the second wave which involved me signing up via the ASO Challenges website (for free). It’s not a lottery system, you just need a little patience since I think my window was loading for at least 30 minutes before I got to the payment page. They were really good with communication via email and even had an app you can download to train with and earn badges. However, it wasn’t the best app and had a lot of bugs. That’s ok though, it was still fun earning whatever achievements I could. Fast forward to Paris… Package pickup was conveniently located just outside the Metro station, Porte de Versailles. Entrance to the expo is free for everyone and all were subject to a security check. Inside is a MASSIVE running expo.
The first area was for bib pickup and each runner is required to bring the convocation letter, a medical certificate (download it here and get your doctor to sign it for a fee) and proof of ID before you can get everything. What I got was an envelope with my bib and timing chip, safety pins and bag tag. There were also a few things on display including past and current medals and some mannequins wearing the new Finisher shirt (which you only get once you finish). I then got my souvenir free Paris Marathon backpack filled with little snack samples and Haribo gummies. After that is the gigantic Asics area where you can buy anything from shoes to clothes to accessories. I bought a souvenir tech shirt which I will wear proudly in Vancouver. Would’ve loved to try shoes but realistically it’s more expensive to buy it in Europe than in Canada. They also had a wall with all the runners’ names on it. I found my name and that really hit home that it was real lol.
The rest of the show was overwhelming. So many brands like New Balance, Garmin, Suunto, CEP, Altra, Hoka One One, and many other European brands I’ve never heard before were there selling and letting runners try on their stuff. At this point we have been up for over 24 hours so we were basically zombies walking through the expo. A lot of other marathons in Europe also had booths there in case you’re looking for another destination race. Lots to look at and sample, no doubt the best expo I’ve ever been to so far. The only bad thing was the exchange rate so not a lot of shopping on my part, but I did get a buff by a German brand that seemed really good. After that it was time to go back to the hotel and pass out.
Running through Paris is no doubt scenic. Divide the Paris Marathon into 4 sections which includes urban, forest, urban again and another forest.
The starting line is on the Champs-Elysées with the Arc de Triomphe towering behind all the runners. Big signs along the course show you where the landmarks were which included the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, and Place de la Bastille.
The second section was a run through the first park, Bois de Vincennes.
We ran by the Château de Vincennes but I guess they were restoring it and it was covered by a lot of scaffolding. We also ran by the botanical garden. The third section brought us back to Place de la Bastille and led us down to the path along the Seine. We passed by Notre Dame, Invalides, and the iconic Eiffel Tower. Finally it was the last park, the Bois de Bologne. The finish line was upon exiting the park onto Avenue Foch.
The course is not that difficult with only less than 200 meters of elevation gain. Add fatigue to that though and it can become the most daunting things ever. The steepest parts for me were located in the parks and in the tunnels, yes you get to run through at least 2 tunnels! There were ample aid stations which gave out bottles of Vittel water, bananas, oranges, raisins and what looked like sugar cubes. One of the main sponsors was an energy drink and as I recall they only had one station (more than halfway through the race) where they gave out energy drink. Why?? Could’ve used it earlier. A word of caution: the aid stations can be quite slippery with people throwing rinds and banana peels everywhere, not to mention dumping water on themselves. Porta-potties were also a concern, from what I’ve read before the race. There were lots at the start (with long lineups) and then they showed up sporadically throughout the course. As soon as we hit the first park, people were already making a break for the bushes. Little did they know that not too far away was an aid station with some potties. Terrain was mostly asphalt and cobblestones so you had to keep your eyes open so you don’t end up tripping. There were so many bands throughout the course, as well as people cheering. The atmosphere was electric…
Until you hit the parks, not too many people cheering there, especially at the last once. There were race photographers stationed throughout the course so if you managed to get in front of one, chances are you got a great photo. At the 41st km, if you registered for it, there were cameras automatically taking photos of runners which would then automatically post to Facebook on your behalf to update your friends and family. I missed out on that one, oops. But I did tell my family to use the app to track me since there were timing mats at certain sections. Seems to have worked alright! The finish line was on Avenue Foch, lined with so many cheering spectators, photographers and huge mats that led you into the runners area. There was a large runners only zone where you can collect your finisher t-shirt, medal, bag, and take some photos at the isostar station. The exits were labelled with letters so you can just tell your loved one to meet you at __ exit on the left or right side… Or they can meet you at the public area all the way at the end of Avenue Foch. Honestly, I was too tired to walk to the end to see what’s there. There was a Metro station not far from Avenue Foch so I managed to hobble back to the hotel.
The volunteers were plentiful and a welcome sight to see. They stood out there for hours keeping runners hydrated and fed. Unfortunately I saw a group of them being yelled at because the road was closed. Road rage victims 🙁 I hope that ended well.
How did I do?
I went to bed before midnight, hoping to be up early to grab breakfast and get a warmup in. I ended up waking at 3:45 am (4 hours of sleep) and couldn’t for the life of me go back to bed. Thank you jet lag. I decided to give up and finally get dressed at around 6:45 am. I ran 1 km to the bakery for some croissants, then to the corner store for some bananas and I brought them back to the hotel. It was going to be a warm day so I decided to leave my base layer at home. We decided to pack up soon after and head to the start line much earlier than I needed to… Just in case the metro was busy or there were extra security checks.
It was a sunny day and it was going to be a warm one. I could tell. It was a long wait til my start time (10:15), about an hour. I took photos with Cuski at the Arc de Triomphe before heading down to my corral. There were people checking bibs to make sure you were in the right corral. I did see people that were supposed to be in faster corrals in my slow corral so maybe that’s ok… As long as slower folks don’t get into the fast ones. While we were waiting, I decided to sit down and relax for a bit. I was starting to calm down and feel a little sleepy. Great! I thought well, the adrenaline will keep me up. Close to 10 am I decided to turn on roaming on my phone and start live track on my Garmin. For the life of me it wouldn’t connect and I can see my battery draining quite a bit after just two or three refreshes of the app. I decided to give up on it and my family had no choice but to track me via the Paris Marathon app and I told Cuski I’d just text him updates. Before I knew it, we were walking towards the start, it was our turn!!! Or so I thought. Our corral split up into the left side and right side. The left side went first and we had to wait until it was clear. I didn’t get started until about 10:20 or so.
The first 10k
I felt the best here, a nice long downhill and lots of landmarks to see. I love how they had big signs saying what we’re running by. Great cheering from spectators, amazing weather. I felt so good, I was getting a 6:45 min/km average.
The wall is not supposed to hit until the 30th km but clearly my body misheard and hit it at 13. By this time we were already at Bois de Vincennes. An amusing thing about this portion was the large amount of people making a break for the bushes to pee, exactly what the blogs I read said. Lucky for me, not far away there were some portapotties. I had to stop a few times and walk due to fatigue and the heat but I tried to pressure on. I eventually took off my calf sleeves because my legs were too hot.
The invigorated me a bit and took me to the halfway mark, at which I thought, crap I have to do another one of these. Thank goodness for the change of scenery. We ran along the Seine, which was spectacular.
We also ran through some tunnels which gave us a break from the sun and heat. It was a little strange though, one of them had photos of spa related stuff and serene music playing, not exactly an inspiration to amp it up. Needless to say, along this stretch, I took a lot of photo breaks, including a selfie with the Eiffel Tower.
The last stretch
At the 30 km mark, they had a brick wall backdrop split in the middle so it looked like we burst through it. It was fun to see but the pain was really starting to bother me. I had to hang in there for another 12.2 km. The last segment was coming up, Bois de Bologne. Everybody around me was pretty much done. I swear it was like an episode of The Walking Dead, just a horde of slow moving, groaning people making their way into the city. I was getting worried and discouraged when I kept seeing ambulances drive by us. A lot of people seemed to not be able to handle the heat or distance I guess. Hope they’re all ok.
I ran when I could and walked when I got tired. I did push myself in the last km, I just wanted it over with. My second (or third, or even fourth) wind kicked in and I ran well to the finish, smiling for the cameras too! I crossed and it was glorious! I managed to do it under 6 hours (5:55:53) – I ran longer than I slept!!! I got my t-shirt and then my medal. Hearing “félicitations !” just felt so amazing. I found Cuski and I sat down on the grass. My legs couldn’t even bend.
I was so proud to be able to complete my first marathon, so proud to finish it, and so happy Cuski was there to share in my accomplishment. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without his support. We went back to the hotel and ate macarons from Ladurée, a little surprise from Cuski! The Paris Marathon was a humbling experience. While I have learned a lot from this, I have no regrets. Doing my first marathon in one of my favourite cities was unforgettable and a once in a lifetime experience.
Would I do the Paris Marathon again?
If I lived in Paris, yes I would. Do I recommend others to do this? YES! It was a wonderful way to see the city. I saw places that we didn’t even get to while sightseeing. The event was well-organized and for an event this size (57,000 runners) it didn’t feel as busy as the Sun Run while the run was on. As in, people have better running etiquette. The expo was massive and very fun. Transit wasn’t a problem. Security was everywhere, from police officers, dogs to the army. I felt safe but also still wary of my surroundings. With the sudden appearance of heat, organizers seemed to have backup measures and fire trucks were along the course spraying water at us. I don’t know if they were already supposed to be there or not but they were well appreciated. I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about this race. Just be prepared (your bladder) and be careful of cobblestones if you’re not used to running on them. Otherwise, enjoy the sights!