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Running in Paris

Heather Runs

There are many opportunities to run in Paris, either for fun or because you’re the sporty type who can’t help it. If you’re a complete newbie like I was before I started running in 2012, you might be wondering where to run, when the next marathon takes place, where to get the right gear, and how to find a running club. Whether you’re into urban running or looking for forest trails, Paris has both. And don’t let anyone fool you into thinking Parisians don’t run or that you’d get strange looks from the locals. Maybe that was true back in 1990, but Parisians have definitely caught the running bug!

WHERE TO RUN IN PARIS
URBAN PARKS & PAVED RUNNING AREAS IN PARIS
Luxembourg Gardens
Luxembourg Gardens: nice views, but stay off the grass!

If you’re looking to run in relatively flat city parks with historic monument views and chic locals, try Jardin des Tuileries (1st), Jardin du Luxembourg (6th), Champ de Mars (7th), Parc Monceau (8th), or the Jardin des Plantes (5th). For some serious hills try Parc des Buttes Chaumont (19th) or Parc Montsouris (14th). There are many other parks to run in Paris that may be closer to where you’re staying, such as Batignolles (17th), André Citroën (15th), Square René LeGall (13th) and the Parc de Bercy (12th), which I like because it has both “grassy park” and “fancy garden” areas as well as an elevated area along the river that you can run along with your dogs. On the other side of the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir is the vast wooden “boardwalk” surrounding the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (13th). Perfect for running laps, it’s almost exactly one kilometer to go all the way around, and usually there are food trucks parked in front of the MK2 cinema entrance for snack breaks.

Dogs running across Passerelle Simone de Beavoir
Pedro & Lena running across the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir after a visit to the Parc de Bercy.

Keep in mind that these parks and gardens usually have either paved paths or hard-packed crushed limestone paths (or a combination of the two).

If you don’t mind running on pavement, the quays of the Seine can be scenic. To avoid the cobblestones, head to Les Berges, the former express-ways that are now car-free and open to pedestrians and cyclists. Located on the Left Bank between the Musée d’Orsay and the Quai Branly (7th) and on the Right Bank from Tuileries Garden to Pont Sully (1st and 4th). Bonus: they have free public toilets, snack bars, water fountains and — in summer — water misters.

The Promenade Plantée (also called Coulée Verte) in the 12th is a scenic green run opened 1992 along the former elevated train line from Bastille (starting at the Viaduc des Arts) to the Bois de Vincennes (you’ll have to cross a few big streets as you get closer to Vincennes). Some sections are quite narrow, so try to avoid the weekend afternoons when families and their small children are out for a stroll.

On the northeast side of Paris, running has become very popular along the Canal St-Martin (10th) and Bassin de La Villette (19th) and its vast grassy park. You can even follow the paved path along the water all the way up to the Canal de l’Ourcq in the suburbs of Pantin, although I wouldn’t suggest doing this route on your own unless you’re already familiar with Paris, as this can still be quite a rough area despite gentrification.

Hardcore training? The stairs of Montmartre in the 18th, Parc de Belleville in the 20th, or Trocadero in the 16th will give you instant buns of steel; go in the early mornings to avoid tourists.

FOREST TRAIL RUNNING IN AND AROUND PARIS
Lac Daumesnil in Bois de Vincennes
Lac Daumesnil in the Bois de Vincennes.

The two largest parks in Paris are the Bois de Vincennes (12th) on the east side of the city and the Bois de Boulogne (16th) on the west side of city, also called the “green lungs of Paris”. Both have lakes you can run around if you like being next to a lot of people, or find less-crowded trails through the forested areas if you want to feel like you’re more secluded in nature. BE careful to stay off the marked equestrian trails (they have deep sand, hard to miss). Although considered more of a nuisance than a danger, be aware you might come across prostitutes (Boulogne) or homeless tents (Vincennes). There are few facilities or fountains in these parks, so make sure you’re equipped, or at least have some cash or a credit card to pop into a café nearby after your run.

Château de Vincennes
Running past the 12th-century Château de Vincennes in the Bois de VIncennes.

There are more forested parks in the Parisian suburbs such as the Parc de Saint Cloud (M° Pont de Sevres), the Parc de Sceaux (RER B), and the Parc du Château de Versailles (RER C), whose forested area beyond the Grand Canal offers excellent views of the castle without any entrance fees.

RUNNING GROUPS IN PARIS

There are many “casual” running groups in Paris (meaning you can just show up with no long-term commitment), with runners of all different levels and often different nationalities.

Running Group
Mikkeller Running Club Post-Run Beers

Hash House Harriers? It’s Not What You’re Thinking

If you’re not familiar with this international running club, you’re missing out on all of the fun. It has nothing to do with marijuana. The original Hash House Harriers in 1938 used to meet up at the officers’ canteen in colonial-era Malaysia, which they called the Hash House (hash = food). The Harriers part comes from the old-fashioned Hares & Hounds game, when one runner is the hare who lays the trail that the other runners, the Hounds, try to find. The Hare makes sure the trail, marked with flour, is full of wrong turns, muddy detours, false shortcuts…and beer. There are now almost 2000 groups in 185 countries, with two groups in the Ile-de-France: Paris and Sans Clue (St-Cloud, western suburbs). Anyone, any age, both walkers and tri-athletes, can just show up and join the fun. You get socialization, beer and exercise — as much or as little as you can handle — all in one afternoon. The Hash doesn’t feel like you’re really running, perfect for beginners or occasional runners.

Heather and Bryan Running in Paris
Running the Eco Trail de Paris with (the much faster) Bryan
FRENCH MARATHONS & RUNNING EVENTS
PARIS RUNS & RACES

Races and non-competitive runs take place all of the time in Paris. The big ones are the Paris Marathon (April); the Semi-Marathon de Paris (Half Marathon, March); Paris-Versailles (16k uphill; September); and La Parisienne (women’s 6k, September). There are many others that attract huge crowds, such as L’Equipe 10k (June), the 20k de Paris (October), and the Versailles Course Royale (15k, plus shorter runs for different age groups and a woman’s 8k; July). The very first race I ever did was actually the Eco-Trail de Paris, a trail run in St-Cloud, a western suburban forest of Paris. Top Chrono lists all of the races in France, you’ll find a few random “neighborhood” 10k’s in Paris throughout the year.

Paris Marathon
The Paris Marathon
POPULAR RUNNING EVENTS OUTSIDE PARIS

For an original way to experience France’s charming villages, historic monuments, legendary vineyards and breathtaking scenery, sign up for one of the country’s many annual running events.  

D-Day Landings Marathon The Marathon de la Liberté follows a route along Normandy’s famous D-Day beaches, including Juno and Sword, ending at the Caen Memorial. Alternative routes include the Pegasus Half-Marathon, a 10k and a 5k. Open to 3,000 runners. 

Mont Blanc Marathon For the ultimate challenge combining high elevation and a positive vertical gain of 2,511 meters, the Marathon de Mont Blanc isn’t for the faint of heart. The weekend also includes 23k and 10k races, and a vertiginous 2k “Vertical” run from Chamonix village to the mountaintop, with an average grade of 50 percent. Open to 2,000 runners.

Médoc Marathon With 8,000 runners dressed in humorous costumes and “wine stops” at vineyards along the route, this convivial race through the Bordeaux countryside has become known as the “Longest Marathon in the World.” The 9k Sunday Walk, open to runners and fans alike, takes place the following day with a leisurely hike punctuated by Haut-Médoc wine tastings and a festive lunch in the village of Macau. Registration opens in March.

Medoc Marathon
Running the Medoc Marathon in Bordeaux

French Riviera Marathon Officially known as the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes, this relatively new race welcomes 11,000 international runners. The seaside route starts on Nice’s legendary Promenade des Anglais, passes through Cap d’Antibes and finishes on the palm-tree-lined avenue of La Croisette in Cannes. Register early for lower fees.

Beaujolais Nouveau Marathon Celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in style with a costumed run through the villages and castles of this storied wine region. Choose from one of three routes: the marathon, the half-marathon or the 12k. Registration is available for up to 8,000 runners, with a post-run wine tour of the vineyards on Sunday.

Heather 10k
Heather running the Paris 10k (yes, my mouth is always open, just trying to catch my breath!)
WHERE TO BUY RUNNING GEAR IN PARIS

Go Sport and Decathlon are the two largest sports chains in Paris. There are also smaller boutiques like Courir that focus on running shoes. But all three of these, while inexpensive, are not really for serious runners (the selection being pretty weak, and the quality okay for occasional runners). If you’re looking for serious gear like compression tights, heart monitors, protein bars, and quality shoes and clothing, try Marathon (their experts watch how you run before they recommend a shoe), Le Pape, Endurance Shop, Au Vieux Campeur, or Team Outdoor.

Although you may be tempted to buy expensive items online to save some euros, don’t forget that if you purchase anything outside the EU there will be customs fees before it’s delivered.

I recommend checking out the stands at the running expos (often called “Villages”) that take place before all of the major running events like the Paris Marathon (it’s also a great way to learn about races and running events all over France and Europe), but keep in mind you usually can’t return items purchased there.

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