When my little sister lived in Paris in 2010, I remember her telling me running was not a popular pastime. She also told me it was hard to find a good workout class (the best she could find was a step aerobics style class circa the mid-90’s at a local gym). An avid runner, when I moved to Paris in January, I came fully expecting to be given disapproving glances when I ran through the city in my Lululemon running tights and Nikes.
My, how things have changed. When I’m out and about in Paris, I see people running everywhere. Parks like the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a former quarry that has great hills for training, and the Tuileries are absolutely teeming with runners and groups doing circuits and sprint workouts on weekends. Over 33,000 people, a participation record, flooded the streets for the recent Paris Half Marathon.
The cause of this sudden shift? My Parisian friends tell me the running craze really gained in momentum over the last two or three years, thanks in part to companies like Nike and Lolë who are promoting the sport through organized running clubs. Since Fashion always tends to play a part in influencing Parisians, the fact that sportswear is now dominating runways has helped, along with a growing general trend towards healthy living. Along with more frequent exercise, Parisians are embracing healthier diets — and it’s much easier to find gluten free bakeries, juice bars and health food stores than it was just three years ago.
I joined the Paris Running Club recently and now meet up with a group of about 30 Parisians and expats for runs twice a week. I’ve found myself doing sprints along the Canal Saint Denis at 8 pm at night and on my own I’ve embarked on runs to the Eiffel Tower, the Luxembourg Gardens and along the Promenade Plantée. It’s a good thing because I have a real weakness for French pastries. It seems these days in Paris (thanks to the running craze) you really can have your cake and eat it too.
The Paris Running Club, in conjunction with Nike, is only joinable by referral, but there are a variety of ways for Parisians and visitors alike to get running.
Lolë Running Tours
Canadian active wear company Lolë has a running club that meets for “Running Tours” once a month.” Runs are usually scheduled on Sunday and last for an hour. They’re open to all and typically end at the boutique in the Marais for drinks and healthy snacks. For information about upcoming runs and other workout classes like yoga and crossfit go to their facebook page.
Paris Hash House Harriers
Known as “The drinking club with a running problem,” this running group is as much about debauchery as it is exercise. Blobs of white flour placed by a runner known as the “hare” mark the route for runs that can include beer stops and snacks. Runs happen every other Saturday at 2 pm and cost 5 euros a person. For information on upcoming runs go to The Parish Hash House Harriers website.
Paris Running Tours
If you want to learn about the city and get some exercise a guided running tour might be a great option. Paris Running Tours takes runners on 10 km runs that can be focused on a single theme, like retracing the steps of the Da Vinci Code, or customized based on interests like WWII. Standard tours start at 50 euros per person.
The Semi Marathon De Paris, or Paris Half Marathon happens every March. The Paris Marathon is in April, and along with a plethora of less well known races throughout the year.
Great Places to Run
Parc des Buttes Chaumont—This former quarry in the 19th is the perfect place to do some hill climbing, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the city and Sacré-Coeur.
The Promenade Plantée and Bois de Vincennes—The Promenade Plantée, a park on an elevated railway line, starts just east of the Opera Bastille and runs for 2.9 miles before ending near the Blvd. Périphérique beltway. If you continue less than a mile through the Saint-Mandé district you’ll arrive at the city’s largest public park, Bois de Vincennes. You can run for miles in the former royal hunting preserve that is three times the size of Central Park.
Canal Saint Denis and Canal de L’Ourcq—This up-and-coming slightly industrial area just north east of Canal Saint Martin feels a bit like the Williamsburg of Paris. It’s also a dream for runners because you can go for miles along the banks of the canals and through the Parc de la Villette without every being bothered by cars. A variety of pedestrian bridges cross the canals.
The Banks of the Seine—Large sections of the roadways along the Seine have been closed to cars in recent years including a 1.5 km section on the right bank across from the Ile Saint-Louis and the section between the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay making it a fabulous place for running, biking and walking.