The Paris Marathon as a Spectator


On Sunday April 9th…I did not run my third marathon in Paris. But I still had a great time.

I had signed up a year ago with my friend Maria Laura, who lives in Paris and had decided to run her first marathon. We registered together and planned to run it together. It was a long road to get there, and we both dealt with injuries over the past fall and winter. Her injury fortunately allowed her to still train for the race, but mine sadly did not.

It was a long process to get to a place of fully accepting that I couldn’t run (I even texted a bunch of friends in NYC the day before, asking them to tell me there was no way I could run the marathon with no training…which they emphatically did) but I ended up having an amazing time spectating! 


In addition to being disappointed that I couldn’t run the race, I was worried that I would be very sad to be in Paris and watch thousands of people run the marathon that I was supposed to run. I did feel sad at the expo, but by the time race day rolled around, I didn’t really feel that way anymore. I had a great time cheering and supporting my friends, and running a few miles with them in the sunshine! (Keyword: few.) It was a nice way to still feel like I was participating without putting undue stress on my injured leg.

I was also selfishly glad I didn’t have to run a marathon in the unseasonably warm 78-degree weather, which would have been a repeat of last year’s ridiculously hot Ottawa Marathon…been there, done that. It was so hot and sunny for the Paris Marathon, and I really felt for the runners. I made sure Maria Laura hydrated very well in the days leading up to the race!


I picked up my bib at the expo so that I could enter the start corral area with Maria Laura and her friends from her Paris running group. The starting area was very well-organized, and the start times were staggered in waves which helped a lot. Maria Laura dropped off her bag and we used the porta-potties near bag check. Once we got into the corral there was only one porta-potty per corral!


Somehow we ended up very close to the front of our corral, and we crossed the start line at 9:40am, our wave’s start time. I planned to run the first 2 kilometers of the race with Maria Laura, because it goes down the iconic Champs-Elysées and around the big ferris wheel, before going alongside the Tuileries Gardens.

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The photographer got a great shot of us running together!


After we hit 2 kilometers, I hopped off the course and took the metro to another spot on the course near Notre Dame, which is near both the 4km and the 25km marks (since the course goes east to the Bois des Vincennes and then turns around and goes west along the river).

When I wasn’t running, I covered up my bib number with the jacket I had tied around my waist. I didn’t really want any weird looks from people wondering why I wasn’t running anymore and what had happened. I still got some of that just from being in running clothes. I was carrying a lot with me, as you can see in the photo above: a water bottle, a Clif bar and a smaller cereal bar (since we had eaten breakfast so early and I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat a full meal before meeting Maria Laura in the second half of the race to run several miles, or be able to eat for a while after), an external battery pack for my phone (since I had to use my phone to track the runners and meet up with Maria Laura’s friends who were cheering), as well as my phone and headphones and metro pass.


Alongside the Tuileries Gardens, near Kilometer 2.

When I got out of the metro station at Chatelet, I saw runners and started walking along the course to find the 25km mark. Eventually I saw the 4km mark…oops! I was between both pathways and had walked the wrong way. Finally I realized that 25km was on the path along the Seine, below street level. I planned to meet my friend Stu from my London running group to run a few miles with him. He had started an hour before Maria Laura, and the tracking app showed that he wouldn’t be arriving at 25km for about 40 minutes, so I had time to grab a quick coffee. Then I headed back to the river to cheer on the runners at a very scenic spot.


Between kilometers 24 and 25, along the Seine.

By this time, it was really really hot, and I made sure to sit in the shade so I wouldn’t get too hot before I started running. It was during this time that the tracking app stopped working, and it didn’t work for the rest of the day. I was glad I had estimated what time Stu would be passing by based on his 15km split, but I hadn’t downloaded any data for Maria Laura yet, so I just had to go based on her predictions she had sent out in a group chat the day before. It was very frustrating!

Finally I spotted Stu and hopped in with him for 2 kilometers. He was having a rough time and told me I was lucky I didn’t have to run the whole thing, and swore off future marathons. He even asked me if we could just walk the rest of the race. I told him we could take walk breaks but that he wouldn’t be happy walking the whole time. He didn’t believe me.


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Later he apologized for all the whining and told me that he had hit his low point shortly before seeing me, and so that was “peak b*tching.” He ended up getting into a good rhythm later on in the race and although he didn’t hit his original goal time, he ran a 3:58 which was a 20-minute PR!

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I left Stu just after the 27km marker to wait for Maria Laura to come by. Since she had started over an hour later than Stu, I had a while to wait. I cheered on a runner from Prospect Park Track Club, my Brooklyn running group, and then wandered around the neighborhood to look for a cafe. I found a Prêt and got a yogurt and granola parfait. I was starving by then but didn’t want to eat too much before running 4 miles with Maria Laura.


I eventually headed back to the course and waited for Maria Laura’s friends to join. They had a little trouble finding the meeting spot and they ended up finding me just about 30 seconds before Maria Laura came by. Remember, we had no idea where she was because of the broken tracking app! It was equal parts nerve-wracking and exciting…


I handed off my jacket and running belt with my headphones and external battery (which I had needed already!) to the girls, then hopped in the race with Maria Laura and her friend Audrey, who she had stayed with up until this point. I kept my water bottle since I knew I would be needing it!


Maria Laura and Audrey

I had decided to run Km 27-34 of the race with Maria Laura because based on the course map that seemed like one of the most scenic parts of the race. We ran by the Eiffel Tower, which was exciting as always.


Maria Laura was still feeling great at Km 27! She said she was having so much fun, and her injured hip wasn’t hurting too much. It was nearing the high temperature of the day by then and she and Audrey were pouring water over their heads as often as possible. The sponge stations had run out of sponges but still had big buckets of water that everyone was taking and splashing over themselves. There were also a few spray stations with big hoses.

At the water stops, they were offering bananas, orange slices, and pretzels. I grabbed a few pretzels and orange slices, and the oranges tasted like heaven, even though I hadn’t run that far. It was just that hot!

Although the water stops were only every 5km, they handed out actually water bottles rather than cups of water, so many runners took a one or two bottles that they carried in their hands until the next water stop.


I ran with Maria Laura for just about 4 miles, along the Seine and then up to the entrance of the Bois de Boulogne, which is the final leg of the marathon course. We passed her running group’s cheer squad, and Audrey’s friend joined to run the last bit with her, so we left them and ran up ahead since Maria Laura was still feeling strong.


Maria Laura’s three friends were supposed to meet up with us at the Km 34 marker but they weren’t there. I checked my phone and saw that they had had trouble with the metro and weren’t going to make it in time. I had told Maria Laura the night before that if she was struggling at this point in the race I would stay with her, but she was still feeling strong (and I was feeling tired and hot, and my IT-band was starting to hurt!) so I gave her some final words of encouragement and left her by the entrance to the park.

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I met up with Maria Laura’s friends, who had missed us by just a few minutes. They wanted to see her one last time since they felt really bad that they hadn’t caught her at our designated spot. We decided to walk to the end of the race, just after the Km 41 marker, in the Bois de Boulogne.


We waited for about a half hour before Maria Laura came by, and it was a really fun spot to cheer. Finally we could shout to the runners “You’re almost done!” They were in the final kilometer and you could really see how tired everyone was. Some people were focused, some people were barely dragging themselves along, but most seemed to appreciate the cheers.

Finally we spotted Maria Laura, who was really surprised to see us. I ran a few paces with her to take her running belt, water bottle and headphones from her. She said she was really hurting and had stopped to walk a bit, but I just told her she was almost done and that she had to put her hands up as she crossed the finish line. She did – and even managed to smile!


Later she said that it had made such a big difference to see us in that final stretch, and that it really gave her the push she needed to make it to the finish line.


The Finish Line!

We sat in a park by the finish line while we waited for Maria Laura, and then walked to meet her by the Arc de Triomphe. She finished in 4:48, and was smiling for almost the whole race! She said it was really hard in the heat and the sun, and her hip did start hurting, but that otherwise she had fun the whole time. Which is always the most important part!

We joked that who would have known when we met in Italy ten years ago on a college summer program – during which we ate gelato every single day and did absolutely no physical activity – that one day we would both be marathoners!


After we went home and showered, we re-congregated for a picnic in the park to celebrate Maria Laura’s becoming a marathoner. It was still 78 and sunny into the early evening (since sunset was at 8:30pm) so in hindsight, that might have been a little too much time in the sun for our pale winter skin, and we both felt dehydrated afterwards. But it was worth it to soak up the summer weather!

We weren't the only ones who decided to have a picnic...

We weren’t the only ones who decided to have a picnic…


And so the question remains…is this a comeback? Finally?

Maybe, maybe not. I did manage to run 7 miles on Sunday, and 15 miles total for the week which is the most I’ve run since I injured my IT-band last August. (Plus I walked a lot in Paris – including 15 miles on my first day when I visited the Palace of Versailles.) My leg held up fine during the Paris Breakfast Run on Saturday and during the marathon on Sunday, but it did start to ache during the final mile or so that I ran with Maria Laura, and I was a bit sore the next day. I also wore KT tape and compression socks as you can see in the photos!

My new PT told me that I wouldn’t make it worse by running, and in fact should be running a bit, but I’m still scared and don’t want to push it that much. I would love to do a 10K or two before I leave London, so hopefully I can make that happen, even if I don’t do them at a race pace.


Mostly I was glad that my leg allowed me to still run a few miles of the marathon. It was a great way to enjoy the race and the beautiful day in Paris, without pushing too hard!


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