The Paris Marathon is held annually in early to mid-April, and attracts 50,000 runners from around the world. In 2019, I ran the Paris Marathon and finally broke 4 hours! (See my race review for more about the race experience/my training).
In this post, I want to share some advice for running the Paris Marathon—that way, you can be better prepared and know what to expect. Thanks to my friend Henry for the photos of the start line—we went into this race together, and it was a lot more fun with a friend!
A Quick Overview of the Paris Marathon
- The race starts and finishes at the Arc de Triomphe. For convenience, you might want to get an Airbnb near the start/finish line so you can just warm up to the Arc de Triomphe, rather than taking the metro (this is what I did). Paris is a big city, and there will be a lot of people in town, so transport might not be as efficient. If you don’t have an Airbnb account, you can sign up using my referral code and get $38 off your first stay. If you already have one, feel free to browse the rooms (affiliate link) near the Arc de Triomphe. You can also check out the hotels on Booking.com (affliate link).
- You’ll see several iconic sites, including the Eiffel Tower, Palais Garnier, Notre Dame, and of course the Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysées. You won’t run by the Louvre, however. You do go through two major parks—the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne—all on the paved roads/paths.
- Registration costs 90 euros and goes up to 125 euros. The Paris Marathon does sell out, and it’s sometimes sold out as early as October! I was luckily able to get my spot in December, but don’t wait too long. You can always check the Paris Marathon’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see if they’re close to selling out. If they’re sold out, you can still get a spot by running for charity and raising around $1300.
- The weather can be very unpredictable. We had near-freezing temperatures in 2019, but the race organizers had prepared stations where you could sponge yourself off, obviously expecting warmer temps. In Paris, the weather is usually mild in April, but it’s possible that race day will be cold.
10 Tips for Running the Paris Marathon
Before the race:
1. Remember your medical certificate
All French races require a medical certificate to participate; this is basically just a physical that you can get signed at your annual checkup. The Paris Marathon provides a blank copy of a medical certificate in English, but you can also use this one in multiple languages with French translation (English/French is page 4). This is absolutely essential, as you won’t be able to run the race without this certificate.
All certificates are valid for one year, so make a few copies of yours so you can use them for future races.
2. Consider joining a faster corral (“SAS” in French)
The corrals in French races start very far apart, and those in the Paris Marathon start 2-30 minutes after one another. The race officially begins at 8 am, but you might not actually start until after 10am, based on your corral. The corals are self-seeded, going from 3:00 to 4:30. It’s not uncommon for people to join a slightly faster corral to have an earlier start time. I myself was in the 3:45 corral when I knew I wasn’t going to run a 3:45.
Of course, you do lose access to pacers for the actual time you want to run, if you decide to join an earlier corral. It’s a tradeoff, so decide whether an earlier start time or pace group is more important to you.
If you’ve already signed up and want to change your corral, you can do so at the expo. Just be sure to ask the race volunteer when you pick up your bib. You can also email their support.
3. Arrive to the start at least 45 minutes early (the corrals close!)
On a similar note, don’t be late for your corral. They are fenced in, with entry controlled by race volunteers (you show your bib and the bracelet you get at the expo to get into your corral). The corals close at the times indicated, usually 5-15 minutes before your start time. To be safe, arrive at least 45 minutes early. You can always use the restroom and finish stretching once inside the corral.
4. Bring some toilet paper
The porta-potties at the start line run out of toilet paper really quickly (as I learned on race day LOL). If you want to have a more pleasant pre-race bathroom experience, bring a few squares of your own TP.
5. Tell your friends & family to follow you on the tracking app
There’s a great tracking app that allows you to see each runner’s progress, as long as you know their name. It updates every 5k or so with the runner’s real-time location, and gives you an estimated location in-between, based on their pace. You can download the app by searching “SE Paris Marathon” in the app store.
6. Set up a meeting spot for afterwards
The Paris Marathon is a BIG race, and it can be really difficult to find people afterwards. This is especially true if you’re coming from abroad and don’t have a local SIM card/data. Set up a meeting spot beforehand to more easily find each other. My friends and I picked Le Duplex, an underground night club (lol) on Avenue Victor Hugo near the Arc de Triomphe. It was a great meeting spot since the above-ground part of the club was a very noticeable black shell.
7. Pack snacks in your drop bag for after the race, or bring cash for food
The finish line food is pretty meager for such a large event—I only remember apples and bananas. There are a handful of vendors just outside the finish area though, and they sell more savory fare like fries and burgers for an affordable price. They usually only take cash, so be sure to bring at least 10 euros (I got a large order of fries for 4 euros).
During the race:
8. Line up on the right side of the corral to start earlier
The right side of the corral starts before the left side. If you want an earlier start within your corral, line up on the right.
9. Go to end of the fuel station to avoid traffic jams
This is more of a general bigger-race tip. Since there’s so many runners, the fuel stations can get backed up. To avoid traffic jams, run towards the end of the station, where you’re much less likely to get stuck (everyone tends to go to the beginning).
10. Bring gu/energy drinks
Most European races don’t offer gu or energy drinks at their fuel stations, and this is true of the Paris Marathon as well. If these things are an important part of your fueling, be sure to carry your own. If you want to get electrolytes without carrying a drink, I personally use these salt tablets (Amazon affiliate link). You can also buy them on eBay (affiliate link).
I would also recommend carrying at least a little of your own water, as the fuels stations are 5km apart, with the first one not until 7km (over 4mi in). I like to have access to water at all times, so I carried a CamelBak with a moderate amount of water (but not too heavy as to weigh me down).
I promise the race was more fun than it looks on my face haha
11. Follow the green line for the exact marathon distance
There’s a green line along the course that indicates the path that will give you the exact marathon distance (or as close to it as possible). To avoid running extra, follow that line.
12. Don’t be afraid of the cobblestones
Before running the Paris Marathon, I was apprehensive about the cobblestones along the course, as others had complained about them in online reviews. During the race, I found that the cobblestones were actually pretty tame—they’re not the super uneven medieval village cobblestones, but instead pretty flat, more modern ones.
13. Do some hill work to prep for the tunnels in the last few miles
From about miles 16-20, there are a handful of tunnels and inclines. The Paris Marathon is not a hilly race, but it’s not totally flat either—my Garmin registered 528ft/161m elevation gain. The tunnels can be a sore point for many people, as they come up late in the race.
I didn’t find the tunnels too challenging, but it’s likely because of the trail running I’d done—after a few 6-8mi (9.7-12.9km) runs with 1000-1800ft (305-549m) elevation gain, every road incline just paled in comparison. To feel ready for the inclines, I’d definitely recommend doing at least few runs with some hills.
The shirt and medal weren’t great in 2019, but apparently the shirt was made of recycled water bottles!
I hope this post is helpful, and gives you a better idea of what the Paris Marathon is like. Feel free to send me any questions, whether in a comment, email, or DM!
For more about my Paris Marathon experience, check out my race recap.