By the time of my second Paris Marathon, in 2010, I had left behind the suburbs and found a new home in the city centre. Now I lived in a quaint neighbourhood in the 7th arrondissement, just behind the Musée d’Orsay and on the same street as Serge Gainsbourg’s home.
But I was still close to the river and so my training was as Seine-centred as before – I’d often run along the bank from the Tuileries as far as another island, the Île des Cygnes where there’s the smaller sister of the Statue of Liberty at the downstream end. (That makes three Seine islands where I’ve trained for three different Paris Marathons.) On Sundays some stretches of road along the river are closed to cars and open to foot and cycle traffic – those days I would go from the Musée d’Orsay to the Parc André Citroen and back.
Other times I’d give the Seine a miss. Perhaps my favourite route was to cut across the Boulevard Saint-Germain, go round the back of the Invalides and arrive at the Champ de Mars, the large park at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Despite being beside the busiest tourist attraction in Paris (apart from the Louis Vuitton store), the Champ de Mars is a good place to go running. It’s large enough to get in a substantive run – around a mile to the lap – and its paths are wider than some Paris streets. Most tourists go down the centre, so around the edges it’s quite uncrowded. Unlike the Jardins de Luxembourg and the Tuileries, it’s not fenced in and therefore not locked up at nightfall, so you can run there in the evenings. (One side is quite poorly lit, but there are generally plenty of police around.)
Right beside the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower is a sports facility, the Centre Emile Anthoine. Like many such sports centres in the Paris area, it has a running track that’s open free to the public (see picture above). Here is where I did my speed training for the 2010 Paris Marathon, and it’s also the pre- and post-race area for the 20 Kilomètres de Paris race every autumn. The occasional couple of tourists come in to sit on the trackside steps and have a quiet lunch, but otherwise it’s a hidden spring of calm beside the torrent of visitors coming and going to the Tower.
And just to complete the Eiffel Tower’s running cred, you can actually race up the steps to the first floor. Just one catch – it comes at the end of the annual 80-kilometre Ecotrail race. (This is the race I inadvertantly joined for a couple of miles last Saturday morning; had I known about its exclusive finishing stretch I may well have chanced my arm and tried to slip in with a group of runners.) There doesn’t seem to be a race to the top like at the Empire State Building, though back in 1906 a race to the second floor was won by a monsieur Neveu in three minutes and four seconds.
So, those of us who make it to the second half of the Paris Marathon should look left across the river at the Eiffel Tower, a real landmark of Seine-side running. Unfortunately, we may not have the spare energy to lift our heads as we pass by.