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Running in Paris

There are many opportunities to run in Paris, either for fun or because you're the sporty type who can't help it. If you're a complete newbie like I was before running last month's Eco-Trail 18k, you might be wondering where to run, when the next marathon takes place, where to get the right gear, running clubs for people who like beer, and why gummi bears are actually good for you.

After spending the first few weeks of 2012 in bed with the flu (twice), I felt an overwhelming urge to get back into shape. Or more specifically, to get a bit of energy back in my life. But I don't like the gym, even the fancy expensive ones I used to go to, like L'Usine. I needed something that was fun and sociable. It had been almost four years since I'd been a regular runner with the Hash House Harriers (aka: The Drinking Club with a Running Problem), but when I checked their website and saw that the Paris group was having their 800th run on February 18th, I immediately dug out my old running shoes and every piece of athletic wear I owned (I had five layers on top, three on the bottom). As some of you recall, February was rather chilly and wet. Somehow we managed to avoid the rain, although it was plenty cold as we ran through the Bois de Vincennes for two hours, singing songs, making jokes, and looking for the hidden beer.

Lake at Le Bois de Vincennes, still partially covered in ice on that cold February afternoon.

Hashing: It's Not What You're Thinking

If you're not familiar with this international running club, you're missing out on all of the fun. It has nothing to do with marijuana. The original Hash House Harriers in 1938 used to meet up at the officers' canteen in colonial-era Malaysia, which they called the Hash House (hash = food). The Harriers part comes from the old-fashioned Hares & Hounds game, when one runner is the hare who lays the trail that the other runners, the Hounds, try to find. The Hare makes sure the trail, marked with flour, is full of wrong turns, muddy detours, false shortcuts...and beer.

Hashers from around the world come to the special runs, like the Paris 800th Hash.

There are now almost 2000 groups in 185 countries, with two groups in the Ile-de-France: Paris, and Sans Clue (St-Cloud, western suburbs). Anyone, any age, both walkers and tri-athletes, can just show up and join the fun. You get socialization, beer and exercise -- as much or as little as you can handle -- all in one afternoon. I used to go every week, and then life got busy, blah blah blah. As a tour guide used to walking for up to eight hours in a day, running is usually the last thing on my mind. But the Hash doesn't feel like you're really running, perfect for beginners or occasional runners. Unless of course you've just spent three weeks in bed hovering near death. 

Other Running Groups

Of course, if you want to be "serious" and hang out with more serious runners, there are other groups in Paris, such as the Paris Running MeetUp, the Women's Running Group, or the marathon-training group, Paris Fit. In 2013 a new site launched called Jogg.in specifically for organizing runs (in French and in Engish). Sign up for free and meet other runners in PAris and other cities throughout the world. 

Paris Runs & Races

I managed to finish the Hash with a combination of slow running and a lot of walking, but the next day every single muscle in my body hurt. Even my ribs! I needed to get serious and make a commitment to really keep at it. So I did something totally silly (maybe I was still buzzed from the beer): I signed up for the Eco-Trail 18k run on March 24th.

Bryan and Moi, just a few kilometers from the Eiffel Tower finish (the ramp was a switchback, we're going the right way).

Lucky for me, my colleague and fellow tour guide Bryan also signed up, so I had a buddy to train with. As neither one of us had ever run 18k, and only had about three weeks to train (after both of us got sick again the last week of February), it seemed like a totally silly thing to do, especially once I started reading blogs about how to train for half-marathons, or even 5k runs. My plan was to walk half the time (preferably on the uphills) and run the rest (on the flat or downhill parts), and just try not to overtrain and hurt myself.

Races and non-competitive runs take place all of the time in Paris. The big ones are the Paris Marathon (April 15); the Semi-Marathon de Paris (Half Marathon, March 4th); Paris-Versailles (16k; September 30th); and La Parisienne (women's 6k, September 9th). There are many others, such as L'Equipe 10k (June 24), the 20k de Paris (October 14th), and the Versailles Course Royale (15k, plus shorter runs for different age groups and a woman's 8k; July 1st). Top Chrono lists all of the races in France, you'll find a few random "neighborhood" 10k's in Paris throughout the year.

Getting Geared Up

To prepare for my first "serious" running event, I bought some appropriate outdoor running gear (the cotton gym clothes I had been wearing turned into cold, wet weights on my body halfway through a run). Go Sport and Decathlon are the two largest sports chains in Paris. There are also smaller boutiques like Courir that focus on running shoes. But all three of these, while inexpensive, are not really for serious runners (the selection being pretty weak, and the quality okay for occasional runners). If you're looking for serious gear (like compression tops and tights), and experts who watch how you run before they recommend a shoe, try Marathon, Le Pape, Endurance Shop, Au Vieux Campeur, or Planet Jogging. I avoided the fancy heart monitors, stuck to my old sneakers that I'd barely used in years, and in general tried not to go broke buying all of the fancy running accessories. The light polar fleece hat and the rain/wind-proof jacket with sleeves that zip off were by far the best two purchases I made. I hate being cold when I run. I also got a Nathan-brand belt with two small water bottles and a pouch for ID, keys and snacks from the Booge Store. They only have shops in the suburbs, but had a stand in the Eco-Trail tent when we went to pick up our numbers. Compared to the awkward, uncomfortable water bottle belts we saw in all of the other stores, Nathan's are far superior; I hope other shops in Paris start carrying their products. Booge also has Vibram shoes for those of you looking ("barefoot running" hasn't really caught on in France yet).

The Munchies

As I felt like I was always starving as soon as I started running (no matter how much I ate), I also got some chocolate vegan protein powder to help me get enough calories so I wouldn't pass out. Like health food in general, the French are a bit behind the United States in any type of protein powders. I didn't want something that tasted like chalk and was full of dubious ingredients, so I found a distributor out of the French Riviera, Force Ultra Nature, to send me products from Sun Warrior and Vega (organic, gluten-free, vegan, etc.).

And instead of a bunch of gel packs (I'm afraid to even try them) and special PowerBar snacks, I took the wise advice from one runner's forum to just fill my pockets with gummi bears to give me a shot of sugary juice during the run. As an aside, the French Haribo gummi bears are made with fructose syrup, gelatin, and fruit juice concentrate....as well as spinach, nettle and elderberry concentrate! I don't think they've changed the recipe since they started making them. So we felt pretty healthy. We also took along some (less-healthy) peanut M&Ms, not because anyone recommended them, but because we love them, and it's good to have something you love to keep you going those last few kilometers!

Where to Run in Paris

There are plenty of parks of every size and style in Paris, perfect for running. And don't let anyone fool you into thinking Parisians don't run and that you'd get strange looks from the locals. That's like saying Parisians don't wear jeans and sneakers. Maybe these beliefs were true back in 1990, but we've come a long way. Just try finding a nice quiet park *without* runners in them these days!

Luxembourg Gardens -- Great for running, but stay off the grass!

If you're looking to run in relatively flat parks with historic monuments and chic locals try Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Champ de Mars, Parc Monceau, or the Jardin des Plantes. For some serious hills try Parc des Buttes Chaumont or Parc Montsouris. If you don't mind running on pavement, the quais of the Seine are closed to traffic on Sunday mornings, the stairs of Montmartre will give you instant buns of steel, and the Promenade Plantée is a scenic green run along the former elevated train line from Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes.

Pedro & Lena running across the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir after a visit to the Parc de Bercy.

One of my favorite places to run in my neck of the woods in the Art-Deco-style Square René LeGall, behind the Gobelins Tapestry Manufacture. It's quiet, sunket down from the main street so it feels secluded (and isn't so windy), and I like how one complete circle is exacty 1km, making it easy to figure out how far I've run. I also like Parc de Bercy because there's an elevated area along the river where I can run with my dogs.

Running past the Château de Vincennes in the Bois de Vincennes.

The two largest parks are the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne. You can run around the lakes if you like being next to a lot of people, or find less-crowded trails through the forested areas if you want to feel like you're more secluded in nature (not recommended in the dark, ahem). If you aren't afraid to go out to the 'burbs, the Parc de Saint Cloud is a wonderful place to run (M° Pont de Sevres), and the Parc du Château de Versailles (the forested area beyond the Grand Canal) offers excellent views of the castle without any entrance fees.


So the results from the 18k Eco-Trail? We ended up running slowly the whole way, and finished in a respectable 2 hours, 25 minutes. Then Bryan went home to change for his afternoon guided tour gig (25-year-olds heal fast). I went home and curled up in bed with ice packs on my knees, popping Advil every four hours. The next morning I felt much better, so when Bryan forwarded me his confirmed registration for the Top Chrono Bois de Boulogne 10k on April 29th...I signed up, too. ;-)

And next year Disney World?

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Reader Comments (11)

Great shot of Pedro and Lena doing what comes naturally. The rest of you I'm not so sure about. lol!
April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
Thanks for sharing. I laughed out loud when I read about your stiletto-induced foot injuries! That is serious high-heel love. BTW - you look great in your running gear.
April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
Paris has so many green places that are ideal for running! Paris is per total a great city.
April 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFifa
I love running! I had to stop though. Your post makes me want to jump back right into running. Ahhh! I should do something about that.
October 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurenne
When you go running in other parts of Paris (I live down in the very south of Paris), such as Parc Monceau or Buttes-Chaumont, how do you get there? I feel as if taking the metro for 35 minutes in my running gear before, and then taking it home all sweaty after would not be an acceptable thing to do. What do you recommend?
October 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill
Hi Jill, I usually run to where I'm running unless I'm meeting someone and running late (no pun intended). I've taken the metro home sweaty a few times, but never when it's crowded. I've long ago stopped caring about "acceptable" when I noticed people doing some truly disgusting things (like clipping nails) in the metro, so I don't think a slightly breathless and sweating girl is going to turn any heads (unless you're a stinky person...but who breathes through their nose in the metro?)

Paris starts feeling quite small once training for longer runs. It's only 7 kilometers from my place in the 13th to Passy in the 16th. If I'm doing 10 or 20k, running across town in no problem...otherwise I just stay close to home. :-)

There's also Velib'!
October 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
Great article. Thanks for sharing!
February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJean Messier
I've been here for two weeks and was desperately looking for places to run since the gym is very expensive. Your website came up after a simple Google search and to my surprise, you're a fellow Hariette! I plan to hash at with Sans Clue this week and hopefully with Paris HHH the next. Thanks for the advice!
September 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGig'Em
Gig'Em: that's excellent! Tell them Animal Lover sent you. :-)
September 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
I'm always at the buttes chaumont. Love the hills/stairs and the lake :)
Thanks for the tips, I was looking for shoe stores in paris
Maybe we'll meet at some race :)
January 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFábio

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