Paris Marathon 2013: the spectator’s view

Paris Marathon 2013 finisher's medal

No Paris Marathon medals for supporters, though. (Photo via @MarathonParis)

If you ran the marathon in Paris, Milan or Connemara today, well done. For those of you who were running Seine-side, you can see your Paris Marathon results, photos and videos already on the race website.

As you’ll know if you’ve read here earlier, I’ve run the Paris Marathon three times but I decided to sit out this year’s event. I also decided that, after watching the elite competitors on TV at home, I would pop into the city and watch the rest of the race live.

I was surprised to realise that, for all my years of following athletics and running the 26-miler, this was the first time I had gone to watch a city marathon. And I was even more surprised to find that I enjoyed it greatly – a colourful athletic parade starring all sorts of people.

My viewing point was a quiet street along the route, just after the 20-mile sign. Having left my home just after the women’s winner, Boru Feyse Tadese of Ethiopia, ran in for a new course record of 2:21:06, I got to the course just as the 3 hours 30 minute wave of runners was passing. I had a great view of the race, and I got so caught up in the event that I stayed until the 5 hours 30 minute competitors went by.

The 20-mile mark is the part of the marathon most closely associated with ‘The Wall’, that semi-mythical, quasi-mystical moment when the physical and psychological strain begins to hurt all competitors. In Paris today, many runners seemed to have found The Door and were still running strongly and in good spirits. Others were having the dreaded suffer-fest, and we’ve all had one of those – you can see it in their faces blank with bad vibes. Some people stopped briefly to stretch their cramped legs before setting off again, travelling in hope rather than expectation. As the morning turned to afternoon, so more of the competitors were walking instead of running.

I was struck by the amount of Paris Marathon competitors wearing inappropriate clothing. Granted, the weather was particularly cold despite the bright sunshine – but their cotton T-shirts and tracksuit tops were already soaked in sweat long before mile 20, weighing down the runner and promising great affliction by the dreaded chafing. Also, camel-pack water backpacks might be essential kit on an isolated mountain trail, but they are surely unnecessary in a city marathon with water stations every 5 kilometres – I saw a few runners at mile 20 wheezing under the weight of their camel-pack, while others cruised by carrying a small bottle.

And then there was a runner wearing a model of the Eiffel Tower! But that was the familiar sight of Michel Bach, a regular at marathons around the world. I’ve seen him every time I’ve run the Paris Marathon, and I was happy to see him from the sidelines this year.

Perhaps because they weren’t wearing large models of famous landmarks, I didn’t see the two friends of mine who were running in this year’s race. However, I was glad to see plenty of Irish runners, identifiable by the nationality printed on all the race numbers. So, I made sure to give plenty of encouragement in English and let them know that a compatriot was cheering them on. Some were surprised to hear a random Irish accent shouting at them, but most were happy and managed a smile and a word of thanks. One Irish girl was having a bad day – tears bubbled down her face as she walked by, but she was still smiling through it all.

It being Paris, there were some stereotypically Parisian moments of short-tempered unfriendliness. One male French runner seemed to be narked by my cheering and clapping; he turned to me and said “Hey, could you clap any louder?” Another pair of runners behaved like Paris drivers – one cut blithely in front of another, who hollered at him in great indignation.

And some of the Parisians not running were even colder. From the times I ran the race, I can tell you that there isn’t a great atmosphere along most of the Paris Marathon route. Many of the spectators near me didn’t make any sound at all; they just stood and watched in silence. A French lady heard me shouting to an Irish runner and said to her companion: “I should have known that the only person cheering the runners would be an English speaker!”

Parisian tempers became even more frayed when it came to crossing the route. One family, pushing bikes, were led across and through the field by an impatient father who kept declaring angrily “We’re crossing! We’re crossing!” while having his back turned to the oncoming runners as a gesture of non-discussion. An elderly man was particularly angry at the disruption – arriving at the other side after great difficulty, he vented his spleen at me: “If I had a machine-gun they wouldn’t be running any more!”

But none of this narkiness spoiled my day. I enjoyed my first experience of a marathon from the sidelines. That said, I won’t be making a habit of not taking part.

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15 Responses to Paris Marathon 2013: the spectator’s view

  1. Red Hen says:

    A silent crowd at the marathon? You won`t know yourself if you get to do Dublin. The crowd support is just fabulous. I don`t think I`d have run it without it.

    • Run and Jump says:

      Fortunately I’ve run Dublin three times so far, and I agree that the crowd support is fantastic. Most runners I know from English-speaking countries always remark on the poor atmosphere at the Paris Marathon compared to Dublin, London or New York.

  2. nead21 says:

    I think I was one of those grimacing Irish runners you cheered on! Just wanted to say thanks, hearing “Come on Ireland” was just the boost I needed as I hit the wall.

  3. So the reputation is well deserved then.
    I see people do stupid things at races often. There’s nothing like having people cross in front of you when the only reason you are still upright is momentum. Or a car making a three point turn to get out of their driveway as they look at you getting closer and closer.

    • Run and Jump says:

      My own favourite is the person who, without bothering to look, pushed a pram out onto the route in front of us. Only later did I think about the poor child!

      I think race organisers have to take some of the responsibility in communicating clearly to all residents (by a flyer in each letterbox, for instance) about the times and disruptions, explaining the benefits to the community and apologising for the inconvenience. I can understand how someone rushing to the shops can get annoyed by the surprise of a moving wall of marathon runners blocking their path.

  4. ASizzle says:

    Two questions: Could someone have finished the marathon despite the official site stating they haven’t and still receive a medal?

    Also under what circumstances can part of a runner’s time I.e. 5km be recorded without the other intervals?

    • Run and Jump says:

      For most marathons the medals are distributed in the finishing area, which means you get one because you’ve finished the race. However, I know of occasions where, because of either technical problems or a runner not going over the timing mat, a finisher’s split or final times weren’t recorded. So the answer to your first question is ‘yes, it’s possible’.

      A friend of mine who ran in the Paris Marathon on Sunday saw at least one runner who inadvertently ran around a timing mat, so I presume that person’s split for that point wasn’t recorded. But that runner could still be recorded for the other intervals and at the finish.

      Of course, there is always the risk of someone cheating by cutting part of the route, but this isn’t always the case if someone’s time is not fully recorded – as I said, it can be an unfortunate technical or human error. I don’t want to suggest that you have in mind someone who cheated.

      The marathon organisers are best placed to answer any specific queries about times and results.

      • ASizzle says:

        Cheers for clarifying. I know someone who ran the marathon but after 10k the results weren’t recorded despite him claiming he completed it in the six hour limit. There were people who recorded times slower than that and are on the site. Do you have to finish in a specific time to get a medal?

      • Run and Jump says:

        The official rules of the Paris Marathon don’t mention medals: – your friend should contact the organisers directly about this.

        The discrepancy in time can be explained by the wave in which runners start. A runner who starts in a wave behind me, five or ten minutes after me, can cross the line after I do but their electronic timing can show that they covered the course in less time than I did.

  5. Dan says:

    I guess I just assumed all spectators for marathons were indiscriminately friendly people. Oh well. I know what it’s like to sit out for a big marathon that you’d normally run. I ran Chicago 2009-2011 and sat out last year to run other races. I thought I would hate standing still while everyone else does something I love, but I ended up loving every minute of it. I went for a run later that day and went a little too fast thanks to that pent-up energy and exuberance.

    • Run and Jump says:

      I think my experiences with the other spectators were very specific to Paris – I’ve no doubt that the good people of Chicago are much warmer and more enthusiastic!

  6. I realise I’m two years late reading this post, but I would’ve also been one of the Irish runners you saw struggling past the 20 mile mark in 2013! I can’t remember now, but I’m sure any words of encouragement that got through to me would’ve been greatly appreciated!

    And speaking of rudeness, we had several negative experiences throughout that weekend that we spent in Paris. I usually scoff at the idea of blanket stereotypes, but Paris really was a cultural eye-opener…

  7. Anna says:

    Hi! Great post 🙂 I watched the Paris marathon for the first time this year, and what struck me was how hard it was to follow the race (I wanted to see a couple of points). I wrote a little guide about it on my blog to help out others, especially those coming in from out of town: I’d be keen to know what you think of the proposed route! Anna

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