Running In France

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You can take a walking tour, river cruise, bike tour, or bus tour to see France, but how about an unusual and unique way to see the sites….by running in France!  You could run for fun around part of the city you are visiting one morning, or add in a running race….5 km, 10km, half-marathon or even a marathon. Before you say, “I can’t even run 1 mile/kilometer”, I should point out that many races have entries for walkers, so it’s not out of the question.

Run In France For Fun/Exercise

If you are travelling to Paris and want to run, I highly suggest either running before 8:30 am or running in a park. The reason is that the traffic starts to get heavy and unfortunately you will inevitably have to cross some streets that have lights. So, you will be stopping and starting constantly. You can run along the banks of the Seine as there are footpaths; however, once again you will hit a street and have to cross.

An alternative is to run in Luxembourg gardens. You’ll find lots of joggers and it has a path around the perimeter; however its only about 2 kilometers (1.3 miles). Parc des Buttes Chaumont is lovely but a bit out of the way. I have run up and down the Champs Elysee as well. Just do it before the crowds come out!

Running Races

When I travel to France I like to add in a running race if I can. Of the 24 trips I have taken to France, I have done 6 races in France:

Running Race Finisher Medals France
Running Race Finisher Medals

Here’s how you can do a race and enjoy your trip.

Paris Marathon start on the Champs Elysee Running in France
Paris Marathon start on the Champs Elysee

Signing Up

Many French race websites have English sites where you can sign up online. You will be required to submit  a doctor’s certificate before the race verifying that you are in good enough health to do the race. The certificate is usually in French; however, it’s fairly easy to translate.

Jet Lag

I have done many of these races soon after arriving in France from North America. Yes, I had jet lag…there’s a 6 hour time difference so a 9:00 am race is actually 3:00 am EST for me. Don’t let that dissuade you. You’ll be so excited that getting up early (6:30 am—-so 12:30 am) isn’t that bad. Really! I usually take a gravol the night before to make sure I sleep.

The Sites

The Paris Marathon

Map of the Paris Marathon route

Running in France MUST include doing The Paris Marathon. It has approximately 40,000 runners and it is an unbelievable way to see Paris. You start at the Arc de Triomphe, run down the Champs Elysee, along Rue de Rivoli, and then through many Paris neighbourhoods where the aroma of roasted chicken certainly drove me crazy. My other races in Paris started and finished at the Eiffel Tower and we ran along the Seine for a lot of the race.

The Marathon du Medoc

Marathon du Medoc Chateau Another way to see France
Marathon du Medoc Chateau

The Marathon du Medoc has you passing through some of the most scenic vineyards in France such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Lynche-Bages. I stayed in Bordeaux and spent a few days touring around there before doing the race in Pauillac. This is the best part about doing a race; you tie in some site-seeing before and after the race. A marathon only takes a few (OK, 3-6) hours so it’s not too much time out of your itinerary.

The Food

French races are a bit different from North American races where water stations have cups of water and maybe a sports drink like Gatorade. In France, water is provided along with sugar cubes, raisins, and orange segments. I found it odd (and not environmentally friendly) and rather dangerous that water was not served in cups, but rather bottles. Imagine running over and around hundreds of bottles and hoping you don’t slip on one!

Marathon du MedocThe BEST water stations were during the Marathon du Medoc in Bordeaux wine country where each water station had wine and foods such as chips, granola bars, beef, paté, oysters, and ice cream. I did not get drunk as my strategy was to sip a little wine, sip a little water and eat. I crossed the finish line without collapsing.

Marathon du Medoc
Marathon du Medoc

The Marathon du Medoc is not a race where participants hope to get their best time. It’s a party and many are dressed in costumes and the year I ran it, the theme was science fiction. My favourite picture shows a team of Flash Gordon racers holding me up…this was at the oyster water station. It’s a very supportive race where a number of times runners would not only say, “Allez! Allez!” (“Go! Go!) but would also gently guide my elbow along. Hmmm, did I look that tired?

The Finish

Marathon du Medoc
Marathon du Medoc

Crossing the finish line and getting a finisher’s medal is one of the best parts of running a race. In North America there’s usually sports drinks, bananas, and bagels to eat. In France, I’ve been given: pound cake, prunes, granola bars, cookies, and muffins, but the BEST swag was at the Marathon du Medoc. Each finisher received a knapsac containing a box with a bottle of Bordeaux wine, a tasting cup to drink more wine (or beer) at the finisher’s beer tent. Told you it was a party! [For a full account of the race, read my article in the Running Room Magazine].

Wine from the Marathon du Medoc (J. Chung)
Wine from the Marathon du Medoc (J. Chung)

If you want to have a memorable experience travelling, seriously consider running in France and doing a race. You’ll have not only have a great achievement but you will also have seen France in a slightly different way.

So where have you run during your travels? What races have you done in France?

If you’d like to have an active vacation in France be sure to check out these other posts:

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  1. Not seen Paris in a long time but I know I will see this amazing city in the not too distant future. I really admire all the runners. Great post!

  2. Love the idea of running as a tourist. I did this in San Fran last year running up and down the rolling hills on the way to the waterfront from downtown hotel. I did it when I landed so I’d be tired at bedtime west coast time. I got to the pier faster than by public transportation and running towards the bay provided me with a gorgeous view I had not enjoyed in the 15 years I have been traveling to the area. I also hate walking, you get more ground covered when running. Thanx for the article Jan!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. So true about beating public transportation. And good for you for doing those hills. I hear the San Francisco marathon is a killer!

  3. I’m not a runner myself, but travelled with a friend who ran everywhere when we visited Italy, including Venice where she almost ran into a canal – literally! It’s certainly a unique way to see a place and would give you an entirely different way to evaluate destinations! Kudos to you, and keep on running!

  4. Wow! That is a LOT of people lining up to start the run/walk the race. I’m not a runner but I’d walk, but I think I’d walk the route on another day to escape the crowds. 😉 We love France. We spent 3 weeks in Paris and this past May we spent 10 days in Aix en Provence and I fell in love with the region. Would love to return for an extended stay.

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