The Semi Marathon de Paris takes place this Sunday, 4 March. Celebrating its 20th year in 2012, it has become the traditional half-distance warm-up for the Paris Marathon. I’m not running in it, though – but more of that later.
The race starts at the Chateau de Vincennes to the east of Paris, comes into town past Bastille before turning around at the Hotel de Ville and heading back out to Vincennes. The weather is usually sunny but cold for it – in fact, the Semi Marathon de Paris is the only race I’ve ever run while wearing a tracksuit. That was in 2006. I also ran it in 2010, but in shorts. Both times, I got home in around 1 hour 40 minutes.
Another notable former Irish competitor is Catherina McKiernan. My erstwhile Chi Running coach, who apparently also picked up World Cross-Country Championship medals or something, won the race in 1999. As for Irish runners in this year’s race, there’s an influx of my compatriots due in Paris this Sunday – but for the rescheduled France-Ireland rugby match that afternoon.
That unforeseen planning clash would be reason enough for me to skip this year’s Semi Marathon de Paris – but I hadn’t considered entering it anyway. For one thing, I’d have to dash some distance across town to make the 9:00 start. But it’s mostly because of the chaotic scenes after the 2010 race.
Due to nearby roadworks, the finish that year was moved from its usual wide avenue to a narrower road. As the 1:45 finishers were followed in by the 2-hour folk, the finishing area became crowded – the flow of people was not going smoothly. I remember thinking that the timing chip removers had not been well positioned and there was no one directing runners down the line to other chip removers. Such was the overflow of people that some of those completing the race in over two hours could not cross the finish line – there was a runner jam. As you can imagine, runners were not happy; I remember hearing the boos and shouts as I warmed down at the baggage area.
A few days later I got an e-mail from the organisers, apologising for the problems and the inconvenience caused. But the scenes turned me off ever entering that race again – a half-marathon with 30,000 entrants is going to be a crowded affair. (To put that in context, the Dublin Marathon has less than half that number of participants, while the full Paris Marathon has 40,000.) When a race feels like a money-making venture with little consideration for the paying punters, then maybe it’s better to stick to your usual Sunday morning run.