This weekend my boyfriend ran the Paris Marathon (his first!) and as a local, I figured it would be easy to dart between various scenic spots and cheer him on without a worry in the world.
I was totally wrong.
It turns out those runners move pretty quick, and using the métro system to get to the key points wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be.
I saw Charles at Pont Neuf (after the 25km point) and again at Pont Mirabeau (30km point) but had to take a cab in between to get there in time. I then took a slow bus and walked to the finish line. I was planning on following his progress via a running app we both use, but it was bugging out on the day so I had to guesstimate his position.
As a result, I was rushed and more than a little stressed out by the end of the day.
If I, as a local, couldn’t figure this out, what hope would the thousands of people who come from out of town have? Luckily, the marathon route stays the same practically every single year, so being the huge nerd that I am, I have created...
The Ultimate Paris Marathon Spectator Route.
It's awesome because:
- It includes 5 spectator stops, including the start and finish lines, the 12km mark, 23km mark and the critical 30km point (The Wall)
- It uses cheap and fast public transport, all of which is accessible with Zone 1 tickets.
- It only involves about 3kms/1.6 miles of walking.
If you have ever watched or run the Paris marathon, I’d love your input and feedback: check in with me in the comments!
Getting prepared to watch the Paris Marathon
- Buy ample Zone 1 transport tickets in advance. The lines can be long on the day at certain stations. A ‘carnet’ of 10 or 20 is good value, and convenient. A Paris Visite travel card ( 1,3 or 5 day) may also be handy.
- Have a street map, GPS enabled smartphone or a good navigator with you. Getting on and off the metro can mess up your phone’s GPS and compass, so I prefer the old fashioned street map. I used a real compass for the first year I lived here to help me get around, and it was amazingly useful.
- Pack plenty of what you’ll need for the day (water, food, snacks, sunscreen, raincoats) as you may have less time to pop into stores than you think. The marathon is always held on a Sunday, so a lot of stores and cafes will be closed.
- Have a few 50c and 1€ coins handy. Public restrooms are few and far between, but cafés are generally happy to let you use their facilities, especially if you offer to pay.
- Talk to your runner: can they estimate their speed? The more information you have about when and where they expect to be, the better.
Paris Marathon: Race Day!
POINT 1: Starting Line (0km)
When your runners are off and racing, get on the Line 1 (which is a friendly yellow colour) of the métro at either Franklin Roosevelt or Georges V, which is slightly uphill, and take it to the station Château de Vincennes. The ride is about 25 minutes long.
POINT 2: Château de Vincennes (12km)
Walk approximately 500m south through or around the Château (gorgeous isn’t it?) to the marathon route. This is the 12km point of the run.
When the runners have gone by again, return to the metro, and take it back to station Bastille. The ride is about 15 mins long.
POINT 3: Bastille (23km)
Exit the station and walk approximately 600m south-west along the canal to the marathon route. This is the 23km point of the run.
Bastille is a big station, with a number of exits, but it is difficult to know which will be open or shut on the day. Just pop out where you can, and make your way to the canal. This is where a compass will help a lot.
When your (ever so slightly tired) runners are gone, walk approximately 800m over the Pont d’Austerlitz bridge to the Gare d’Austerlitz.
The RER (Réseau Express Régional) system is a little different from the metro: the trains are bigger, and go well beyond the city limits. The stations are usually larger, and a little more confusing, so take your time and follow the signs. The RER line C branches into different terminii, so when you get to the correct platform, take care to get only on a train that will take you to Avenue du President Kennedy. These trains will be marked either NORA or GOTA. You also need your ticket to get out, so keep track of it.
Take the RER C train to station Avenue du President Kennedy. This will take about 30 minutes.
POINT 4: Maison de la Radio (31km) “The Wall”
Exit the station, and walk approximately 90m east to the marathon route, just in front of the Maison de la Radio. This is about the 31km point, aka the dreaded “Wall”. Your runners will love seeing you here, so shout and encourage them like crazy!!
When they are gone, return to Avenue du President Kennedy, and take the train (again, NORA or GOTA) 3 stops to station Avenue Foch. This will take about 10 minutes.
POINT 5: Finish line! (42km)
Exit the station, and walk between 60m - 400m north to the marathon route and finish line. There are loads of people here, so it will probably be harder to get right next to the track. Cheer your triumphant runners for the final leg (har har).
It is advisable to set a specific meeting point to rejoin your warriors, as spectators are not allowed into the Finisher’s area. Use the huge Arc de Triomphe as your reference point (aka, “If you are facing the Arch, we will be to the right at the….”)
The closest Metro and RER stations to get back to your hotel or apartment are Porte de Dauphine (Line 2), and Charles de Gaulle- Etoile (Lines 1,2 and 6, and RER A).
Notes and Variations
- Obligatory disclaimer: Although I've done a lot of research on this, and combined it with my 5ish years experience of the city and input from people who have actually run the marathon, I have not personally attempted this route. But I'm confident it will work!
- This is not a particularly leisurely route: you'll want to be moving briskly between stops to make sure you get in position in time.
- If you are pressed for time, you could easily skip Point 2 (Château de Vincennes), or Point 3 (Bastille).
- If you skip Point 3, take the metro Line 1 from Point 2 directly to the station Gare de Lyon, and walk to Gare d'Austerlitz from there.
What do you guys think? Share your your feedback, advice and experiences about the Paris Marathon in the comments :)