I relive my recent experience running the Semi Marathon de Paris

I was quite excited on the lead up to the race for a number of reasons. Paris was my first international running destination, one of my favourites and I had some unfinished business to take care of. In 2020 I travelled to Paris, checked into my hotel and then found out that the year’s edition of Semi Marathon de Paris was cancelled due to government restrictions on the number of runners at an event. I was disappointed and decided to chill in my hotel and then venture out the following day for a short run around the local area. To my surprise there were lots of runners out some running in groups and I guess some completing a half marathon on their terms. I checked out, headed back to London and patiently awaited the return of the Semi Marathon de Paris so that I could run my favourite half marathon.

I arrived early Saturday afternoon and took the train to the expo at Parc. As soon as I got off the train I could see lots of people heading to the venue. Fortunately I had a really low number. The queues were short and the layout lead us to the first floor where we collected our race number, t shirt and then made our way downstairs to join the expo on the ground floor. The bib collection was as always very organised and run like a military operation by an army of volunteers. As I has uploaded my medical certificate to the portal and it had been accepted I only had to show my identification. In previous years medical certificates had to be presented in person prior to collecting the bib. Medical certificates or French racing licences are required to be provided prior to participation in French races. The great thing about receiving the race t-shirt prior to the race is that there is usually a sea of shirts on course.

In the main area at the expo there was a wall featuring the names of each runner, a presentation, sales area for the title sportswear sponsor and more. I located the Team Orange Running stand, made some enquiries and collected my team t-shirt, a waist belt and a wristband that would provide me with pre and post-race access to hospitality zones. As well as the usual sponsor stands there were some fun activities one of which involved trying to throw empty plastic bottles into a basketball hoop. The winner would be the one who could score the most baskets. The bottles were the same as those which would be on the course which we were encouraged to throw into industrial bins with targets on the side of the course. Near the end of the expo there were the familiar stands with races in France and abroad. I was tempted to sign up to a few on the spot but didn’t as my race schedule wasn’t to hand. I exited the expo with exactly what I went for and a few gifts including a cap from a photobooth and a t-shirt from the 20km de Paris.

On race day morning it I had to be at my start pen for around 7:48 with departure after 8am. It was cold so I wore winter leggings, a base layer, long sleeve top, hat and Magic Speed 2. To find the start I used a blend of navigation and following runners to the start. I avoided the temptation to run or jog to follow them and opted to walk fast. The closer I got to Place Bastille the busier it got and the energy was very cool. Although I was running slightly late I refused to run and made my way to the starting pen. As I walked up I could hear the warm up classic Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore playing. My designated pen had already started by the time I reached the start area on Pont de Sully. I wasn’t bothered and was slightly relieved as the red SAS is usually quite fast and I didn’t feel prepared to go all out. I made my way to as close as to the start line as I could and set my watches, headphones and camera. My first time carrying a camera all way round so I was a little worried about it getting heavy but it was fine. The countdown started, finished and we were off.

After crossing the start line we immediately turned left and ran south along Jardin des Plantes and Quai d’Austerlitz parallel with the River Seine. We did a tight left at Pont de Tolbiac and took the bridge to cross the river. Shortly after the 3rd km we tuned right at Bercy and headed east on Rue de Charenton. Around the 5km mark we joined Avenue de Gravelle and entered Bois de Vincennes. At this point I felt quite fresh but still grabbed a bottle of water at the first aid station. Historically this has been an area where my pace drops off whether I am running the half or marathon. I think that it is due the area switching from residential to park. I think that my trail legs kick in so that I can enjoy the fresher air and soak up the views. Shortly after 9km we turned left and headed north on Route de la Pyramide which required a push and some focus from me due to inclines and terrain. At 12km I got my second bottle of water at the aid station and shortly after we turned left and briefly passed the south of magnificent Château de Vincennes. We then headed west along Avenue Daumesnil up to Boulevard de Bercy passing kms 14 to 17. I stopped briefly to grab and drink some water on Boulevard de Bercy. We turned right at Quai de Bercy once again parallel with River Seine. It was on this stretch that I started to feel tired and I had to dig deep from Sully Morland at 19 km. Just before 20km we turned right and then right again and headed along Rue de Rivoli. With 1 km to go I pushed up the incline and, ran around Place de la Bastille and shortly after crossed the finish line.

After crossing the line we walked a short distance to collect our medals, a banana, bottled water and a bag containing a pouch of apple puree, a chocolate muesli bar and a jelly. I took the obligatory medal photo and proceeded to head off. To my surprise I saw Atahaa and Lamine members of the Paris running community, caught up with them and asked how other members of their team who were running were doing. I then headed off to my hotel and shortly after asking directions I bumped into Cedric a runner from Paris who posts French pastries to his Instagram with his running stats on top. He invited me for a coffee and despite rushing to get to my hotel before check out I was grateful for the opportunity to catch up and escape from the cold. The course has a few turns, lots of straights, the pace is fast and the organisation is top from the registration, through to the bib collection at the expo and race day. I think I first ran this race in 2014 and have enjoyed it every time I have run it. Drawing over 45,000 runners from across France and internationally this is a pretty epic race. Thanks to Jocelin for securing a place for me to run on Team Orange Running. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to run with him but so happy that he was able to achieve his ambition of running the Tokyo Marathon. You can find out more about the event at here.

written by

Rey Smart

Personal Trainer from London

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