How the Paris Marathon Works

By: Emilie Sennebogen
Competitors take part in the 34th Paris marathon as they run down the Champs Elysees, Sunday, April 11, 2010. Ethiopian Tadesse Tola won the race.
AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

If you're a marathon runner and you have an appreciation for stunning locales, then the Marathon de Paris may be for you. Known to English speakers as the Paris International Marathon, it's been run annually since 1977, although the original race dates back to 1896. Back then, fewer than 200 runners participated, and in the spirit of an elementary school field day, each person who finished the race in less than four hours received a medal. These days, the Paris Marathon is generally viewed as one of the top 10 marathons in the world, perhaps because of the cool spring temperatures in France and flat route that leads to opportunities for personal best run times.

In years past, the race had a reputation for a lack of public support, something marathoners count on to get them through the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) course. But support has grown since 1977, and now the event is a genuine citywide party that brings out as many as 250,000 revelers to cheer on the field. During the race, more than 75 live music acts spread throughout the city and along the route to give race fans and runners something to enjoy besides the gorgeous scenery and plentiful red wine. You also can take advantage of the annual Breakfast Run, a 5K race held the morning of the marathon that takes runners past the famed Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.


The Paris International Marathon also boasts the annual Marathon Expo, a three-day convention to promote the race and running in general. Racers pick up their bib numbers here, and the expo is open to the public. With more than 60,000 visitors per year, the Paris Marathon has something for both runners and race fans.

Check out the next page to learn how to enter the Paris Marathon.


Paris Marathon Entry

If you want to run the Paris Marathon, you'll need to register early. Despite having 40,000 available spots, the race reaches capacity well before the registration deadline approaches. Early registration allows runners to save a few euros: The process begins in mid-September, and registration costs 55 euros (about $70) until October 20, after which the entry fee jumps to 70 euros ($89). After the end of November, you'll need 85 euros ($108). Registration closes in mid-January. Don't count on paying the maximum amount, though, as the race generally fills up before the November price hike.

When you register, your proficiency as a runner determines your bib color, which represents your placement at the starting line. As with all races, priority is given to the fastest runners, so Paris applicants choose among six colors, or start zones. The first two zones, red and yellow, require proof of a qualifying run time from a race held in the previous two years. In order to qualify for a red or yellow bib, your finish times must be between 3:00 hours and 3:15, respectively. From there, runners can vouch for themselves -- without proof -- to start in the blue, purple, green and pink zones, which run from 3:15 to 4:30 and over.


One other aspect of registration that makes Paris unique among its international marathon counterparts is the requirement of medical clearance from a doctor. The form certifies that you're fit to run the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) course without being a medical liability. The clearance form is available on the official Paris Marathon Web site, and when you complete registration, it's matched to your bib number.

Everyone knows that Paris is a beautiful city, so keep reading to find out what you'll see on the Paris Marathon route.


Paris Marathon Route

Want a chance for a springtime run in one of the most beautiful cities in the world? The Paris Marathon gives you the opportunity to see the sights: The loop race starts and finishes at the Arc de Triomphe and winds its way through the City of Lights, along the famous Champs Elysées. You'll pass by historic sites like the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame, the Place de la Bastille and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. These famous landmarks help make the Paris Marathon one of the most scenic races in the world, which is one reason why the race fills up six months in advance.

Aside from famous landmarks, the cobblestoned route also passes countless cafes, gardens and shady city parks. Every 5 kilometers (or 3.1 miles) along the wide, flat streets near the scenic Seine River are refueling stations that offer water, fresh fruit and sugar to help runners maintain their energy levels. If you don't want to wear a watch to keep time, you can check your pace at the 1- and 21-kilometer (0.6- and 13-mile) marks, and every 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in between.


The start of any race that has 40,000 runners can be a little hazardous, and it's especially tricky on the cobblestone streets at the starting line of the Paris Marathon. Once the field spreads out, the footing becomes more stable, and each starting zone has a pacemaker who can help you keep track of your running time. If you have a goal in mind, you can simply follow these experienced runners who have colored balloons tied to their wrists. So if you want to run the race in 3:30, just look for the blue balloons and keep pace. To qualify as a pacemaker, you must have run the previous five Paris Marathons at the target time for which you're applying.

Paris Marathon Results

Vincent Kipruto of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the Paris marathon, Sunday, April 5, 2009 in Paris. Kipruto of Kenya beat the race record of 2:06.33 with a time of 2 hours, 5 minutes and 47 seconds.
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

The Paris Marathon course is mostly flat and is known for medium to fast finish times. Near the beginning of April each year, runners line up for an 8:45 a.m. start time. The handisports marathon begins with wheelchair participants hitting the road 10 minutes before the regular race starts. While the 2010 race had a 40,000-runner limit, previous years topped out at 37,000, with 28,883 finishing the race in 2008. This makes Paris the fifth largest marathon in the world in terms of finishers. That same year, 16.5 percent of the field was female and 29.2 percent were from countries other than France, with more than 90 countries represented.

As with all world-class marathons, the Paris event draws a field of elite runners to compete for the robust purse -- both the male and female champion receive a 50,000 euro ($63,000) prize. There's a catch to the winning the money, though, that differentiates the Paris race from other marathons. In order to claim your prize, you not only have to finish first, but also must meet a time requirement. The champion male runner must complete the race in under 2:11:45, and the top female needs a time under 2:23:15. A second place finish nets 30,000 euros ($38,000), third gets 20,000 ($25,000), and all of the top 10 finishers get a share, as long as they meet the time requirement.


The course records for the Paris Marathon were set in 2010 by the women, and 2009 for the men. An Ethiopian female named Atsede Baysa set the mark with a time of 2:24:42. A male runner from Kenya named Vincent Kipruto finished with an all-time best of 2:05:47.

If you want to try for a course record, or if you just want to run, check out the next page for lots more information about the Paris Marathon.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Adventure Marathon. "Marathon de Paris, Paris Marathon 2010/2011." 2010. (Sept. 1, 2010)
  • Amaury Sport Organisation. "Marathon de Paris." 2010. (Sept. 1, 2010)
  • Amaury Sport Organisation. "Marathon de Paris Registration: How to Do It." 2010. (Sept. 1, 2010)
  • Monti, David. "Big Money, Fast Athletes on the Line for Paris Marathon." Elite, Ltd. April 1, 2009. (Sept. 1, 2010)
  • Smythe, Steve and Steven Seaton. "Paris Marathon." Runner's World. July 8, 2000. (Sept. 1, 2010)