I love to run races. Notice that I didn’t say I love to run. I like running well enough, but I love the energy and excitement of race day. Lining up with your fellow runners. Listening to the cheers of the spectators. The endorphin high I get every time I cross a finish line. I’ve been running races for over seven years now, and that feeling never gets old. Thankfully, France has a thriving running scene, with hundreds of races to choose from every year. I’ve now participated in a fair few of them, and along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about running in Paris. If you’re thinking about joining a race while you’re in town, here’s what you need to know.
The Inevitableness of French Bureaucracy
You would think that signing up for a running race would be simple. But this is France. Nothing is ever simple and bureaucracy is ever present. Case in point: the medical form you need to participate in any timed race. That’s right. Even if it’s just a fun 5K neighbourhood race, if it’s timed, you need a signed form from a doctor saying that you are healthy enough to participate. This is a legal requirement in France, and if you don’t have this form, you don’t get to race.
Thankfully, the doctor doesn’t have to be French. It’s perfectly okay to use an international doctor, so long as the form is written in French, is signed and stamped less than a year from the date of the race, and includes the phrase “ne révèle pas de contre-indication à la pratique de la course à pied en compétition.” French Bureaucracy. It gets you every time.
Feel the Competition
I first started running races in North America, and while I certainly wasn’t the fastest runner, I also wasn’t the slowest. I was decidedly average, and would often finish right in the middle of the pack. Not so in France. From my very first race, I noticed that there was a distinct feeling of competition in the air. To be clear, this isn’t a bad thing. It just means that like their wine and food, the French take running seriously, and I suddenly found myself at the back of the pack every time. During one particularly memorable race, they were quite literally dismantling the course as I came down the final stretch.
But please don’t let this discourage you from running in Paris. As a reminder, the finisher’s medal is the same for both the first and last place finisher. It’s the finishing that counts. So if you’re slow like me, don’t stress about it and just enjoy the course. And be sure to look out for me. I’ll be in the back right alongside you.
Variety is the Spice of Life
French runners may be intense, but the races are wonderfully varied in length and theme. My most recent race was the annual Run My City event in Paris. It’s a 9K course that takes you through the centre of Paris, and includes breaks every kilometre or so where you can stop and walk through beautiful public buildings, historical sites, and art galleries. In other words, a running race that was tailor made for me.
But there’s also Princess runs through the gardens of Versailles, Disney runs at Disneyland Paris, and a whole variety of distances that are a welcome change from the standard 5K or 10K. There’s even a marathon in the south of France where you run from vineyard to vineyard, tasting wine along the way. Now that’s my kind of marathon!
Just Have Fun
At the end of the day, running in Paris should be fun. So whether you’re here to run the Paris Marathon or you just want to go for a run along the Seine, just enjoy it. The scenery is always spectacular and there are always other runners around to keep you company. And if you’re running a race in Paris, be sure to wave at those in the back. One of them is probably me.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.