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Paris Marathon Report: The Ups + Downs of International Races

“Why the Paris Marathon?” several people asked before we left, which surprised me.


Several years ago, my daughter, Nina, now 14, put Paris on her Destination Wish List. Then last year, I noted that the 2019 Paris Marathon would fall conveniently during her spring break. “Do you want to go to Paris, and I’ll run the marathon?” I asked. YES!

Pourquois pas?

But I’m going to be honest here (if not here, where?): Marathons are hard (oh, right). International travel is hard. Combining the two doesn’t make either any easier.

Now a certain kind of person might say, Well, that’s what makes it even more “fun”! It ups the challenge! If challenging yourself by making things as hard as possible is a certain kind of person’s idea of “fun.” Not that you know anyone like that.


Bon jour! Metro to the start of the Paris Marathon


For starters, you have to get there. We had bargain-basement tickets on a never-heard-of-it subsidiary of a marginal airline, our flight left after midnight, and marginal airlines don’t distribute free water. Long story short: I woke up 5 hours into the flight in a cold sweat, nearly fainted, and had to lie down … in the aisle …

Which annoyed the flight attendants. Ma’am? Are you okay? You can’t lie in the aisle.

And scared Nina, who’d spend the rest of the week saying, “Mom, did you drink any water? Mom, drink some water.”

And frankly scared me too. I’m pretty sure fainting from dehydration is on no one’s list of good things to do two days before your marathon.

Hydration pack given BEFORE the race; Finisher T shirt given at the finish line.



This is why we travel, right? To take ourselves out of our comfort zones. For a runner, all the micro-differences get more and more macro with each passing year (sorry, folks).

EVERYTHING is different: the food, the water (or lack thereof), the air, the bed, the pillow, the coffee, the food, the wine (that goes in the “positive” column), the language, THE TIME ZONE.

Not bad, just different. Which is … something to navigate if you are at all fussy about things being just-so before your big event/goal race. And if you like to sleep.

The Paris Marathon starts at the Arc de Triomphe, which Rick and I returned to days later for the photo opp.


For starters, European marathons are in kilometers, n'est-ce pas?, and the thing about 42 kilometers is there sure are a lot of them, but happily they click by more quickly than miles.

At the Expo, we received a light-weight hydration backpack instead of a race T and instructions on fact that since the race aims to be an eco-friendly, carbon-neutral event, they were not handing out cups of water or sports drink but rather bottles of water—with recycling bins at the end of aid stations—and apple slices, cut oranges, bananas, pretzels, raisins and ginger bread.

The Paris Marathon course is beautiful—it starts at the Arc de Triomphe, and runs along grand avenues like the Champs Elysees and grand plazas, like the Place de la Concorde and the Place de la Bastille. It goes by landmarks, the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine and through two parks, the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulonge. Look around, I told myself: You’re running in PARIS!

Seeing your people during a race is always a thrill but especially delightful when you're in a huge race (50,000 runners!) far away from home. Hello, my angel!

I had planned to carry a small water bottle with my own sports drink and also wanted to take a micro windbreaker for before and after the race. But how was I going to carry all that stuff?

“Why don’t you take the hydration pack?” asked BF Rick on race morning.

I CAN’T DO ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY, I said in what I am sure was a completely calm and reasonable tone of voice.

“But it’s so light,” said Rick. “You can throw it away if it bugs you.”

Reader, I did something new on race day.

Rick and Nina went to three spots on the course—thanks to the Metro, it’s spectator navigable—and I can’t tell you how surprising and uplifting it was to spot Nina on an incredibly crowded corner on a tight turn near mile 22. Hello, hello, hooray!

When traveling with a 14-year-old: Obligatory Versailles selfie.


Because the race fell at the beginning of Nina’s spring break, we spent the rest of the week climbing the Eiffel Tower on post-marathon legs (that was fun!), food-touring Montmartre (macarons, truffle-infused camembert, baguette, salami, crepes, wine—now THAT was fun!) and day-tripping to Normandy to the D-Day beaches and to Versailles for Instagram selfies.

It is possible that during our Paris week I said something like, “I’m not doing another international marathon.” Well. Then we got to talking about where Nina wants to go on next: Venice. Luckily, the Venice marathon is in October, at a safe remove from any school breaks.

But further research revealed that during her likely spring break 2021 (which is the soonest we might be able to afford another big trip), there are not one but TWO marathons in Italy. O mio Dio!

Have you traveled internationally for a race?
What helped you make things easier?

6 responses to “Paris Marathon Report: The Ups + Downs of International Races

  1. Hi Tish – Can you tell me what you did about obtaining a stamped medical certificate for a French race? Every doctor I’ve talked to says US doctors don’t have stamps. Thanks –

  2. I’ve been wanting to travel to amazing “seen only on TV or AMR blog” type places for awhile. Now I think I’ll plan a trip around a race. What a brilliant way to see the countryside of where you are! Thanks for lighting a racing traveling fire under this mother runner and for sharing your adventures!

  3. Ive run 2 of my 3 marathons in Europe and it definitely is different but what a great way to see a city! And experience all the sites. Tokyo is on my list next! Talk about jet lag! Paris looks amazing, may have to think about that one now!

  4. Having been to Venice, if the course goes anywhere near/around/through the city proper, there will be sooooo many bridges and tight spaces. Having said that, I’m totally on board should you decide to do this.

  5. I’ve been excitedly awaiting your race report, Tish! Félicitations on running Paris! I ran it in 2007, but I lived in France at the time, so that made it much easier. I also took advantage of the fact that I lived there to also run Berlin, Barcelona and Amsterdam … without having to travel too far or change time zones! I was also much younger at the time. 😉 It’s true that things get tougher as we get older. I’m currently looking for an international marathon for 2020, but I think that for me, the best will be to put aside my competitiveness and quest for a PR, and just try to enjoy the experience. I find that arriving a couple days early helps, but it’s nice to have time after the race to do your sightseeing, as I’m sure you found to be true. As long as you don’t mind hobbling around on sore legs!

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