When the city sleeps
The city of Paris is usually fast asleep on a Sunday morning at 5 a.m. Despite it being one of the densest cities in Europe, Parisians know how to enjoy themselves – savoir vivre. However, this morning is different. This morning there is a strange meeting of worlds - runners who are stretching with the help of the bars of the subway trains meet reeling revelers who’ve come from a bar of another kind. It’s Sunday March 14th April, it’s marathon day.
All Parisians know the marathon course, and although some will moan because the event interrupts their daily routine, for the 49,155 runners and their loved ones it is the event of early spring, although this year it isn’t feeling very spring like! It’s unseasonably cold and the runners appreciate a text from the race organisers encouraging them to bring extra layers and to avoid having to wrap themselves in plastic bags.
Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) the organizers behind the marathon are no strangers to big events. They’re the same group who put on Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France, so they’re accustomed to massive crowds around the Champs-Elysées. The queues to get into the starting corrals move smoother than the lines at a Carrefour on a Sunday night.
The sun starts to rise over the Arc de Triomphe, warming the runners and lighting up the city in glorious fashion.The Paris marathon may not be one of the five world marathon majors, but it is majestic nonetheless. The route crosses the city from east to west connecting it’s two largest parks, Vincennes and Boulogne, and offering runners an exhaustive tour of the French capital’s prolific points of interest. It turns like a dancer around the Opera Garnier, skirting the Louvre and the Place de la Bastille. Finally, it follows the Seine, offering a last glance at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which caught fire the day after the race, and continuing past the iconic Eiffel Tower before disappearing into the leafy quiet of Boulogne Forest.
For those who come from abroad (almost a third of finishers) the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris is an opportunity to enjoy a great visit to a city revered the world over and for locals it is a unique way to celebrate their city unencumbered by cars. For all the runners, it’s a unique opportunity to see Paris when the only distraction is the thousands of cheering fans - although they must maintain a pace quite brisker than most tourists.
The first kilometers the crowd, although large, feel far away as the runners parade down the widest avenue in the world. There’s a stately magnificence to the occasion as the city sees the runners off on their marathon journey. Into Vincennes the crowds thin as the runners settle into a companionable pace with those alongside them, seeking solace from the presence of their fellow athletes as the enormity of the task at hand sinks it. At halfway, the course turns back towards Paris and the crowds return in force. They do not spare any encouragement, tightening into a tunnel like the cheering mobs on the Alpe d’Huez during le Tour. The fervor settles on the entire city like no other day in the calendar.