Paris running routes and French running terms

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Bottom-half selfie on the Promenade Plantée. You can tell by my Garmin foot pod that this photo is a few years old.

Bottom-half selfie on the Promenade Plantée. You can tell by my Garmin foot pod that this photo is a few years old.

Happy Bastille Day!

Even I can't believe I've been visiting Paris pretty regularly for 35 years now. Over the years, I've explored some fantastic running routes in the City of Light and wanted to share them with you in this slightly overdue post. You can bookmark it if you are traveling to France for work or vacation and want to plan some runs.

The running craze has officially hit France, and I found this mildly amusing during my last trip. It used to be that no self-respecting Frenchie would be caught dead running. Even just a few years back, I would get quizzical looks as I bounded down the boulevards, dodging cigarette-puffing businessmen on their way to the office and well-coiffed, well-heeled ladies at the corner café, languishing over the same coffee, as I passed them on both on the out and the back. By contrast, during my latest trip, the parks overflowed with French runners -- young people, old people, businessmen and women and stay-at-home moms -- all dutifully doing their laps and mopping their brows.

But the stereotype of the chain-smoking, cheese-inhaling Parisian remains. When some colleagues learned that I was running a 10K in Paris and that the directors required runners to provide a doctor's note, confirming we were fit to run, they were baffled. "Seems like the opposite would be true," one friend said. I joked that maybe they would hand out wine at the water stops. (They didn't, malheureusement.)

My favorite Paris running routes

Running on random streets and boulevards: If you just want to get in some miles while sightseeing and are in no particular hurry, running through the streets can be a great way to see Paris. Best bet is to head out early, before people leave for work. Paris streets are unusually crowded. If you run on the sidewalks, you will need to carefully weave in and out of pedestrians including old folks, moms with baby carriages, and perhaps the most treacherous of all – people of all ages with their heads glued to their cell phones. The maze of angled streets is lovely, but when running you'll continually have to stop at crosswalks and start again – so put your Garmin on auto-pause.

Some of the bigger boulevards have pedestrian-only "island" parks in the center or on the side that you can run down with minimal disruption. There are too many to name, but a few that come to mind include Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, Boulevard Des Batignolles, and Avenue Foch.

The Promenade Plantée

The Promenade Plantée

Promenade Plantée (Métro: Bastille): La Promenade Plantée is a picturesque, elevated running route built atop an old railroad line, similar to the High Line in New York City or the Reading Viaduct Rail Park that is being built in my neighborhood in Philadelphia. This is my favorite Parisian running route, since you don't have to worry about traffic or dodging pedestrians. You enter on a staircase on Rue de Lyon near the Bastille by the Viaduct des Arts, a collection of upscale boutiques. The entire path is well manicured and lined with trees, gardens and flowering trellises. It overlooks the streets of the 12th arrondissement, and if you run far enough, you'll also go through tunnels, a small conglomeration of apartment buildings, a park and will eventually end up Le Périphérique, the highway that circles Paris. The entire route is 2.9 miles one way.

Just a few more blocks, and you will end up at Le Bois de Vincennes, a huge park and home to the famous Château de Vincennes, built in the 14th century, where you can tack on even more mileage to your long run. ( "Bois" means "woods.") The park features plenty of paths, trails and of course, the mandatory lake with swans. There are also nearby shops where you can refuel. If you just want to run in the Bois de Vincennes, simply take the Métro to Chateau de Vincennes or Porte de Vincennes and follow the signs to the park. 

Château de Vincennes, near the Bois de Vincennes – a nice, mid-long-run reward

Château de Vincennes, near the Bois de Vincennes – a nice, mid-long-run reward

Flower boxes, on the way to the Bois de Vincennes

Flower boxes, on the way to the Bois de Vincennes

Les quais: Running along the banks of the Seine is pretty and quintessentially Parisian, so you must do it at least once. You can get to the quais of the Seine from pretty much wherever you are staying in Paris – just head for the river and start running. Some sections have little greenways with pedestrian-only paths where you can run. Other sections require you to run on the sidewalk, which generally is much larger and more spacious right next to the river than on the opposite side. There's a nice pedestrian-only path between the Musée D'Orsay and Pont d'Alma where you can get in about 10km (6.2 miles) of uninterrupted running with superb views. The map below from jogin.fr shows this route. If you want to tack on another mile and take advantage of some photo ops, head west and do a loop around the Champ de Mars, the park that surrounds the Eiffel Tower.

Sights like this are common if you run along the quais in Paris. Incidentally, that building with the grey turrets is La Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before she was executed.

Sights like this are common if you run along the quais in Paris. Incidentally, that building with the grey turrets is La Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before she was executed.

Bois de Boulogne (Métro: Porte Dauphine): This was my go-to running route during my most recent trip to Paris. If you're taking the Métro, check out the gorgeous Art Deco station at Porte Dauphine before you start your run). Or you can run directly to the Bois which is what I did to tack on some extra miles. Running down Avenue Foch, just off the Place de l'Étoile, is ideal because it is a gravel pedestrian path –– easy on the legs with plenty of room for everyone. And it goes right past the Porte Dauphine Métro station, right into the park. Just follow the signs to "Bois de Boulogne." Chances are, you'll see other runners headed that way. You will pass by a school track; bear right and you are headed in the right direction. The Bois de Boulogne is fairly large, so you can explore different paths and routes in the park for days and never do the same run twice. It features a lake (again, with obligatory swans), and even some dirt paths and mildly technical trails. There are also cafes where you can stop and grab a water.

Bridge, Parc Monceau

Bridge, Parc Monceau

Enjoying the spring sunshine at Parc Monceau

Enjoying the spring sunshine at Parc Monceau

Parc Monceau (Métro: Monceau): If you only have a few miles to run and don't mind laps, Parc Monceau is a pleasant, central place to work out. One lap around the park is roughly 1 km or .6 mile. There is an unwritten etiquette here that I have not observed elsewhere in Paris, or anywhere for that matter: Everyone who runs in Parc Monceau runs counter clockwise, just as if you were running on a track. The first day I ran here, I made a newbie faux pas and ran one lap clockwise. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream and ran my other laps with the flow.

Parc Buttes de Chaumont (Métro: Buttes Chaumont). Paris is fairly flat so if you need to do hill work and don't feel like dodging the crowds in Montmartre, this is your place. The path is a little over a mile but has some steep slopes, and it's noticeably less crowded than running in the Tuileries, Champ de Mars (Eiffel Tower garden) or Luxembourg Gardens, none of which I can recommend for running because of the crowds (Those parks are better for strolling).

French running terms

If you're going to go running in Paris, it's helpful to learn a few running words.

  • Runneur/Runneuse: Runner (male/female). Adorable franglais terms that have crept into the vernacular
  • Joggeur/Joggueuse: Jogger. See above.
  • Courir: To run
  • Le jogging: Running/jogging
  • Le départ: the start
  • L'arrivée: the finish
  • Un dossard: a bib
  • Une foulée: a stride
  • Une course: a race
  • S’échauffer: To warm up, je m'échauffe – I'm warming up
  • Une boisson énergétique: Sports drink
  • Un semi marathon: a half marathon

Happy Bastille Day, mes amis.