The runner’s guide to Paris
Spoiler alert: parks are not your friend.
It’s a gray December evening in the very outer reaches of Paris, with a tenacious drizzle showing no signs of letting up. The sort of evening you’d rather spend at home—or at the very least, with a giant glass of wine and perhaps a coq au vin in front of you.
But instead, a group of seven young Parisians—dressed in head-to-toe black, down to their sleek Nikes—are circling the track at the Alain Mimoun sports center. For Paris Run Club, today’s their speed day and they’re getting in their 400-meter sprints, weather be damned.
The past decade has seen a running boom (a record 19 million people finishing a footrace in 2013), and France is no exception. “Back in 2008, when we started PRC, nobody was running,” says the group’s founder, Jay Smith. “Now, everybody is running. You can see so many people running in the streets, no matter what time of the day.”
From 9-to-5 he oversees the creative marketing agency BlackRainbow, but by night Smith directs the group (often 40-strong when the weather’s cooperating) in their Tuesday distance runs through the central streets of Paris and Thursday track workouts on this floodlight-lit outdoor oval. “When PRC was created, it was just a bunch of friends who would work crazy hours in creative jobs—we’d meet up once a week to sweat it out and also make connections,” says Maxime Papin, a member who by day is the pastry chef at the patisserie Liberte (a worthy destination for a canal-side run, FYI—the palmiers are ridiculous).
Things revved up for the group a few years ago, as international run crews like Bridgerunners and Black Roses emerged as pavement cool kids in cities around the world. “I really felt it two, three years ago when it got crazy here in Paris with run club,” remembers Jeremy Derrien, PRC member, model, and writer for Hypebeast. “Every district in the city had a new run club.”
But PRC broke away from the pack for their look, yes, but also for their ethos. “We’re chill and we love what we do—and welcome our friends around the world to run with us,” insists Smith. (PRC recently began expanding beyond just city jogs, with yoga sessions, trail runs, and even a weekend trip to Italy—where there was quite a bit of partying mixed in with working out—all organized in the past year.)
Now, members of PRC have practically become hometown celebrities, with onlookers recognizing them during club workouts. “It’s kind of funny, sometimes you get people screaming your name and you don’t even know them,” says Papin with a laugh.
So, what’s the key to running Paris like a local? Here, PRC breaks it down—plus shares their two favorite running routes in the city.
Stick to the Seine
“We have the worst drivers in the world and our streets can be tiny, messy, and very slippery when it’s raining,” admits Smith. Which is what makes running along the Seine—in particular, along the Berges, which was recently closed off to traffic and turned into a pedestrian-only stretch along the Left Bank—a stress-free option.
Beyond the Berges, you may be tempted to lace up and head straight to one of the green spaces that dots the city—but don’t! (At least, not while you’re working up a sweat.) “Parisian parks are beautiful, but not for running because there are too many people,” Derrien explains. “Don’t run in them.”
Be a night owl
“A lot of us have been living in Paris for more than five years, but when you run at night it’s completely different scenery—and it makes you want to run even more,” says Papin. He recommends holding out until 8 p.m., when it’s truly dark out, to see another side of the city.
Don’t travel light
Before you head out the door, grab a few key items to take with you. “It’s the same in every big city—our streets are pretty safe but danger can come everywhere, so just carry your mobile phone and a few Euros in case of an emergency and you’ll be fine,” Smith promises.
The best part about running in Paris? You can combine your workout with your sightseeing. The PRC crew recommends two runs that clock in around four miles—one takes you from Bastille to the Eiffel Tower (which means you’ll see everything from Notre Dame to Musee d’Orsay), while the other is a loop up and down the ultra-trendy Canal Saint-Martin. “The street’s lit and it starts to get trendy, so if you get tired,” says Papin, “you can stop in a bar and get a beer.” À votre santé!
Route 1: Bastille-Eiffel Tower Paris Run Route
Route 2: Canal Saint-Martin Paris Run Route