Paris Marathon 2018
Our journey to the Paris Marathon began with the word, "Oops."
We were in the kitchen, both catching up on some emails, and Ruth looked up at me over the top of her computer screen when she said it. I remember the moment because she had a mischievous look in her eye, like she didn't really mean "oops" at all. I responded, "What? What did you do?" I'd seen that look before, and I knew before she answered that we were heading somewhere.
"I accidentally registered for the Paris Marathon."
(We all know there is no such thing as accidentally registering for a marathon)
"When is it?"
"But you're doing Tokyo in February 2018."
And so it began. Like so many of our marathon excursions, we found a way to make room for both trips in our hectic schedules, plan the time off, book the tickets, and even get our two close friends from the UK involved.
Nearly a year later, the four of us were on a EuroStar train fast-tracking our way from London to Paris.
Day 1 - Friday, April 6
We checked into CitizenM Hotel, Gare de Lyon, a favorite hotel brand for its self-service innovations and cool, modern design. The price point doesn't hurt either, and they are typically located very close to large transportation hubs (airports, train stations, etc.). Collectively, the four of us have stayed at multiple CitizenM Hotels around the world, and when not booking an Airbnb, consider it one of our preferred hotels in large cities. We deposited our bags in the cube-like rooms, and headed off for an afternoon of exploring. Typically, the first order of business would be the Marathon Expo, but as the Paris Marathon hosts their expo in the far southwest corner of the city, we decided to hold off until the next day and focus our first night on the truly important things - food and wine.
We spent the evening exploring the Marais, and I even had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend who was also in the city for the weekend. April in Paris comes with the risk of frequent rain showers, but we were lucky and had a beautiful evening to enjoy our dinner outdoors at La Terrasse des Archives. The restaurant has plentiful seating both inside and out, but is quite popular and still requires a wait for most tables on weekend nights. Fortunately, our wait was only about 10 minutes, after which we enjoyed escargots, steak frites, and grilled salmon under the tented patio with my dear friend, Imelda.
Day 2 - Saturday, April 7
The next morning began at Holybelly, a breakfast cafe serving excellent coffee, and a variety of breakfast specialities that will feel familiar to Americans, Australians, and Canadians alike. One lesson Ruth and I have learned while traveling to marathons in foreign countries is that familiar food in the days leading up to the race is key. You may be in the croissant capital of the world, but if scrambled eggs and potatoes are your breakfast go-to, the day before a marathon is not the day to start experimenting with your diet. So, one of my spectator-and-spouse specific roles leading up to a race, regardless of locale, is to find familiar foods and make plans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the two days prior. Holybelly checked all the boxes, and as an added bonus for any non-French speakers, they conduct the restaurant in both French and English, making it easy for foreigners to feel at home.
From Holybelly, we metro-ed to the Paris Marathon Expo, which was hosted at Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles. This spot is located on Metro Line 12 (the dark green line), in the direction of "Mairie d'Issy" if you are traveling from anywhere north or east of Porte de Versailles. The expo was massive. The Paris Marathon has grown to be one of the largest marathons in the world, with participants topping out over 40,000 each year.
Both Ruth and her best friend (and oft-enlisted fellow marathoner), Georgia, were registered for the race, so they headed towards bib collection and to pick up their race day information. We made a brief stop at the Children with Cancer UK table for photos because Ruth and Georgia run to support that charity whenever possible. Getting out of the expo was a challenge as the convention center only had one exit available, creating a bottleneck (and, in our opinion, a bit of a security concern), but once out, we had the rest of the day to explore and enjoy the city.
We visited a museum called Jeu de Paume that always has fascinating photography exhibits going. It is located at Place de Concorde (Metro Line 1, yellow) and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a more off-the-beaten path museum. It is also very small, so if you're saving those legs for race day, this is the place for you!
A walk through the Marais after the museum landed us at the Centre Georges Pompidou, another fantastic museum, but this time we weren't there for the art. From my time as a study abroad student in Paris, I knew there was a restaurant on top of the museum called Georges with fantastic views of Paris, which would give us an ideal spot for a pre-marathon day champagne toast. You can access the rooftop using the outer stairs of the museum. Just head to the very top and you will find sweeping views of Paris and an outdoor patio for dining. Personal opinion is that the food itself is overpriced, but if you want a glass of champagne with a view - this is it.
On the docket for dinner was Ruth's pre-marathon preference - pizza. Interestingly, pizza is not her preference at any other time, but the night before a marathon, this is her fuel food. Imelda had recommended Louie Louie to us, an upscale, gourmet pizzeria, in her old neighborhood, and what a recommendation it was. Three pizzas was the perfect amount for our table of four, and each pie was more delicious than the next. You will need a reservation if coming on a weekend.
That night, the real work of the spectators (myself and Georgia's better half, Jen), began. We spread out a course map on a table in the CitizenM Canteen and worked out what time we anticipated Ruth and Georgia would be at different points along the course. Once we knew their approximate arrival times at the 5k, 10k, 20k marks (and so on), we located metro stops that would be accessible to the course and wouldn't require too many train changes. We expected that within a few miles of the start, Ruth and Georgia would split from each other, meaning that we too might split from each other at some point to catch our respective runners.
If you are planning to spectate at a marathon and want to give yourself the best chance of seeing your runner two, three, or even four times, there are a few critical things to agree upon:
- The side of the road your runner will run on. This is more critical than most people realize, but Ruth's preference to always run on the left has served us well at many a marathon. I know that if runners are passing me from my right to my left, I will find her along that side.
- The mile and/or kilometer marks you will attempt to cheer from. Your runner cannot spend the whole race scanning the crowd, so it is best to decide in advance when he or she should be on the lookout for you. In Europe, the course may be marked with kilometers rather than miles, so be sure you indicate both (for example, "I will be at the 5km, which is also just after the 3mi mark").
- What you will be wearing. You know what your runner has on, but it will help your runner to know what color t-shirt or hat you are planning to wear along the course. A Spectator Sports shirt of course stands out quite nicely ;)
- Whether your runner will need anything while on the course. Runners tend to run light during a marathon as it is much too long a race to carry extra water and food. As a spectator, consider bringing extra water and your runner's preferred fuel in case you see them at a time when they need it.
Day 3 - Sunday, April 8 (Marathon Day)
Marathon day began with a light, continental breakfast in the CitizenM Canteen. We have to credit CitizenM with being super marathon-centric during the race weekend, and even hanging up cute signs in recognition that marathoners were staying there. It made for a great environment.
Jen escorted Ruth and Georgia to the start, and I stayed back in the hotel, planning to meet up when they reached Hotel de Ville area. Our first spotting together went off perfectly. We located ourselves along the Seine and found Ruth easily, catching her for a quick high five and a moment of encouragement. Georgia was further behind, so I rushed off to the metro in an attempt to beat Ruth to the next location, metro stop Passy, near the Eiffel Tower. The metro was absolutely packed on race day, and really challenging to navigate. Passy turned out to be a less than ideal spot, so while I arrived in time to see Ruth (according to the mile times we had worked out), I missed her in the rush of the crowds.
One helpful tip to help you track your runner in a foreign city (when you can't use the tracking apps many marathons provide) is to find someone along the course in a distinguishable outfit or costume who arrives just a few minutes ahead of your runner. Assuming runners keep their pace, that person will always be just a few minutes ahead of yours, helping you narrow down when you can expect to spot them. In Tokyo, for example (a topic for a different blog), there was a man running in a blue samurai costume, and spotting him three times helped me find Ruth three times as well.
Jen managed to see Georgia one additional time before she and I agreed to head to the finish where we would wait for them to exit. Marathon finishes can be massive, and can include long chutes, so even after your runner crosses the finish line, they may be out of reach for another 10 or 15 minutes. It is important to agree upon a post-finish meeting spot as well as a worst-case-scenario plan. Your runner will likely be without a phone, meaning you have to meet up the old fashioned way: at an agreed-upon location, with no room to change your mind. Our post-finish meeting spot in Paris was Exit B outside the finishing chute. If you check the marathon info, you can often find designated family meeting areas as well, the challenge is that even these can be huge. So, you may need a spot within a spot. Our worst-case-scenario plan is for two situations: a) in the event of an emergency and b) in the event we absolutely cannot find each other post-run. Our worst-case-scenario spot is back at CitizenM. For scenario (b), we select a drop-dead time that we will give up on finding each other and meet back at the hotel. We usually make this time around one full hour post-anticipated finish. If we haven't found each other by then, we meet back at the hotel rather than continue to search. Fortunately, we have never had to use our worst-case-scenario plan, but it's still good to have one.
We found Ruth and Georgia without any trouble after the finish and spent the post-marathon afternoon at a small, local cafe where we could enjoy steak and burgers, a perfect race & spectating recovery meal.
If you're interested in the 2019 Paris Marathon, registration opened in April 2018 and can be found here while bibs last. The 2019 race will be held on April 14th.