Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Senior Runners

Dipping my Toe into Senior Games Track

I love a beautiful long distance run. But, I’m hedging my bets that my body will one day revolt against the marathon and ultra distances. So, why not learn a little bit about running some shorter distances?

I’ve learned some about track from friends who get together on the occasional evening and do a bit of speed work when a local track is available. Although I knew my skill and my knowledge was thin, I couldn’t resist when I saw the Pennsylvania Senior Games were being held within an hour’s drive from me.

I took a deep breath before taking the plunge to register online, then did a few speed sessions to gauge whether I would manage to qualify for the National Senior Games (NSGA) to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico Summer 2019.

Arriving at the Pennsylvania Senior Games, I saw that a number of track and field events were being held simultaneously. This gave me an opportunity to see a couple of non-running events and meet some other runners waiting for their events to be called.

The shot put clearly required strength, particularly in the upper body. The movement of those competing in the long jump is quite elegant, requiring  changes to gate or steps as they approach the pit.

But, back to the track where I would be lining up. I did a warmup mile while the race walk event was held. I learned from conversation among other competitors that there were some national record holders at the competition. There were also several people more like me, no track experience but interested in giving it a try.

Amongst those new to track, they included distance runners who were looking for a different running experience in the hopes it will improve their half-marathon and marathon times.

To participate in the state senior games and with NSGA, competitors must qualify at state games in the even-numbered year to participate in the national competition in the odd-numbered year. They must also be at least age 50. At the track events in Pennsylvania, runners ranged in age from 51 years to 91 years.

Track Times

Qualification times for NSGA 2019 are by 5-year age groups with specific minimum times. I had registered for three distances which I felt were within my reach.

In high humidity under clouds that threatened rain, we lined up for my first experience with the 1500-meter event. I was successful in finishing about 50 seconds ahead of the minimum performance standard. I could have pushed harder, but with two more events to go I just worked to come in under the standard.

My second event, the 800-meter, was also a success with a finish about 15 seconds ahead of the minimum  performance standard.

Then came the moment of truth at the 400-meter (can you hear the wah-wah-wah music in the background?).  In this shortest distance for me, I finished with a 1:55:78, missing the minimum performance standard for my age group and gender by nearly 20 seconds. I understand I would still be qualified because I finished second in my age group. (We had a light age group field (with me finishing second out of two in my age group. Even so, before I would take the 400-meter distance on at nationals I would need to do considerable training.

So, as Meatloaf tells us in his lyrics, two out of three ain’t bad. I will be preparing to run competitive times in the 800-meter and the 1500-meter distances in Albuquerque.

5 and 10K Rules Changes for NSGA:

I also plan to compete in the 5K and 10K events. And a tip for those of you who, like me, live in a state where the State Games do not currently include the 5K and 10K distances: there is now a process to submit your qualifying time (use their Limited Event Verification Form found with the Rules document on their web page) at a race that you have run at that distance in 2018.

Another rule change with these distances is that a running and qualifying time at either the 5K or the 10K distance allows you to compete in both distances at National Senior Games.

So, I’ll be sending off my application and hope to be in Albuquerque in 2019, expanding my participation from the 5K and 10K to include track competition.

Will I be seeing you in Albuquerque? If not participating in running events, perhaps in one of the 50 or so other sports offered, including three non ambulatory categories this year? A link to every state games site can be found on the NSGA website, so check it out! 

 

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15 Hours of Absurdity at Boston 2018

One of the Canadian runners staying at my inn pretty much summed it up.  “Absurd, just absurd.”

3 A.M.  Hard rain has started in earnest, pounding on the metal roof outside my Back Bay window. I  sleep off and on but finally give up.

6 A.M. I’m ready for coffee and  dress just enough to be presentable in the dining room. The inn has set out a 6 a.m. breakfast for marathoners. The speedy group assembled from Sweden, Canada and several points in the Western U.S. are enjoying bagels and yogurt before making a dash to their buses. I’m left to chat with a few early rising non  runners.

7 A.M. It’s back upstairs to get dressed for the battle with the weather. Assuming we will be running into the wind the better part of 26 miles, I tear a piece of dry cleaner bag into a rectangle, anchor one end in my running bra and the other in the waistband of my tights as an extra layer of protection on the chest. Then, I tear a small square for the crown of my head before adding my beanie and the yellow runner trucker hat that was a giveaway from Trackmaster. It turns out the hat is perfect for the weather with a bill large and wide enough to keep the rain directly off my face.

Finally, I ask myself whether a sane 70-year old woman would wrap herself in plastic to run in pelting rain for 26 miles. No one answers.

8:55 A.M. Left my inn for the short walk to meet my friend, Becky, on the Boston Common where we catch the bus to Hopkinton.

Given that it rained most of the day pre-Boston Marathon, I decided earlier to take one of the last buses out. You can get away with that when you are in the 4th Wave, 2nd Corral. I’ve been to wet Bostons in the past and could envision the condition of the Athlete’s Village.

Everyone in the bus line is ensconced in old marathon heat sheets, plastic bags, throwaway rain jackets with a few in some really solid quality rainwear. Anything that keeps the unrelenting rain off. The temperature is in the upper 30’s but feels colder with the wind and rain in our faces.

10:15 A.M. ish We arrive at the Athlete’s Village or what is left of it. Picture hours of pouring rain, a couple of large tents with shivering runners squeezed in for cover, a knoll at the edge of the field leading to the tent and portapotties that now resembles a mudslide.

Shortly after arriving, the announcer calls for the last of the 3rd Wave folks to find their way to the start, then encourages Wave 4 to begin finding our way as well.

Becky brought a change of shoes and headed down the mudslide to  the tent. I called after her “I’m not following” but I’m sure with the pelting rain she did not hear. It was a good decision to stay where I was and walk through the Village on the paved path. Wave 4 runners making their way up the knoll from the tents were slipping and sliding, some crawling to keep their balance.

I spotted a few porta-potties only steps off the pavement and joined the line. Volunteers  had devised boards and tarps to keep us out of deep mud and to protect what if anything was left of the grass and sod.

11:00:  We’re moving en masse to the start line. A man on my left runs by hurrying to his corral. His feet slip on the slick pavement and he is down. A couple of us around him try to assist, but he pulls himself up, left calf and knee bleeding and he continues on in a run. I’m sure the rain fully washed that blood away in minutes.

Near the start line, I remove my warmups and place them on a pile of clothing that would later be collected by Big Brothers and Big Sisters. My running skirt, compression socks and the thick layers of body lotion on my skin would have to do for lower body warmth.

11:20 A.M.  I’m looking for my corral and expect to be squeezed in like previous years, but no – they were releasing runners on arrival and we simply moved through the start.

Miles 1 – 3: Running more slowly than usual, getting a feel for the slickness underfoot I make my way through castoff clothing and plastic bags and try to get a feel for pace.

Mile 4: I move to the edge of the course when the rain subsides a bit and remove the throwaway warmup jacket under my rain jacket, then rebundle myself with arm hole vents open, every other zipper tightly closed. My fingers are getting cold and my gloves sopped so it is taking more time than I anticipated.

Mile 6: Why, oh way, didn’t I bring waterproof gloves? I find a plastic bag stuffed in my pocket, tear it in half and wrap pieces around each hand. It’s working. Not that my hands are warm, but there are degrees of cold and this was better. I see people wearing latex gloves and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this.

Mile 9: I take a moment to be thankful that I had the foresight to bring my North Face rain jacket. Not necessarily warm, but it was a nice layer against the wind and kept my upper body dry while rain ran down it.

Mile 14: Another thankful moment that my goddaughter Jess is out along the course and if I must drop (yes, it did cross my mind), she will be but a call away.

Mile 17: The strongest gale yet hits us head-on and I am lifted off my feet. I feel a hand on my back and for a moment think I am having a religious experience, but no. The hand belongs to a man running behind me. We continue to run, his hand on my shoulder blades, until the gale passes. Thank you, kind stranger.

Mile 19: Is that hale?  I try to convince myself it’s sleet but it is in fact little hale balls. It must be localized because within five or six minutes, I run out of it and back to plain, simple heavy rain and wind.

Mile 25: Turning right onto Hereford, the pavement is swathed in raincoats, plastics, everything the 22,000 runners ahead of me had used in attempts to keep warm and dry. I pick my way through the few spots of still bare street, understanding runners ridding those layers for that last drive down Boylston where they know finish line photos and dry clothing are waiting.

I ridded myself of nothing. Any sense of reasonable appearance was left behind many miles ago, and in fact was left behind as I left my room. I would not have identified myself in the finish line photo save for the yellow bill of that trucker hat.

Finish Line: My watch says 4:53:40. The shivering begins as soon as I stop running. A short and fast walk to my inn. water continues to stream off me as I enter. I reach for a hot cup of cocoa, hand still shaking.

After a long, warm shower, I cuddle into a blanket and pull out the various snacks (yeah, salty potato chips) from the finish bag, replenishing with additional snacks from home.

OK, I am done and not coming out from under this blanket.

Dinner invites declined.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATHLETIC COMPETITION THROUGH LIFE

Do you yearn for more physical activity in your life – perhaps a sport from your youth? You may have a secret passion for something you have not yet tried.  Opportunities abound at any age, so why not explore them?

There is a world of friendly competitive sports out there for the senior athlete, be you a novice or from the world of the elite. From alpine skiing to weightlifting, there is a sport (or two) for each of us.

Many organizations open opportunities to train and compete with those in our own age group. To offer you a smattering of those, let’s start with the Senior Games.

National Senior Games Association

The National Senior Games Association(NSGA) offers competition at the state and national level in 20 different sports categories for athletes age 50 or over.

Athletes compete in games at the state level in even numbered years, i.e., this year and meet the minimum performance standards shown on the website in order to qualify to go to the national games in the odd numbered years.

Contact information for each state is listed on the NSGA website. The 2019 national games will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June 2019. You will have plenty of company as the national games usually draw 10,000 – 12,000 participants.

Sound interesting? Take a look at the state game schedule. Not every state offers every sport and most states will allow qualifying for out-of-state athletes. For example, my state doesn’t offer road racing, so in past years I have participated and qualified at the Delaware State Games.

Huntsman World Senior Games

The Huntsman World Senior Games have been around for more than 30 years and hold competition in 20 different sports. Where NSGA changes the locations of the biennial games, the Huntsman Games are held annually and always in Utah. Again, they are open to athletes age 50 and over, through 100+ years.

The Huntsman Games use the NSGA minimum participation standards. Contact, registration and information on each of the sports offered is available on the Huntsman website.

USA Track & Field (USATF)

Where other organizations catering to senior athletes offer a variety of sports, USATF is specifically track and field events, which still provides a wide variety of venues.

The Masters category starts at age 30 with USATF. Keep in mind though that competition is held within 5-year age groups. Currently, I’m in the group Female AG 70-74.

USATF Masters events are held regionally and nationally. Information on international venues for Masters is also available on their website.

Beyond Athletic Competition

Travel Opportunity

Many organizations have events locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. If travel is one of your joys, sports make a wonderful excuse to take a second vacation.

After your competition or training, spend a bit more time in tourist mode, kick back and enjoy. And while you are busy preparing for your event, the rest of the family can take in some local color.

By example, several of my siblings accompanied me to Senior Games in Minneapolis one year where they happened across hundreds of bicyclists coming down the street in the ‘Freedom from Pants’ Bike Ride, which was pretty much like it sounds. We followed that up with a much more sedate evening with the Minneapolis Orchestra accompanied by a choir from Cuba.

Family & Friends Support

Get your family and friends into the spirit. I’ve seen two and three generations of families supporting their senior family members in competition.

After many seasons of freezing on the sidelines or sitting on hard grandstand seats in support of your children or grandchildren, give them the opportunity to be there to cheer you on. What an example you will set.

Senior Athlete Websites

Websites that cater to senior athletes offer inspirational articles about people like ourselves who have been late starters or recently renewed their interest in sports. Others offer information on training specific to the older athlete, in addition to health-related issues.

Join as a Spectator

If you are not yet ready to jump in as a participating athlete, attend and enjoy any of the above as a spectator. USATF has the most accessible regional competitions with many indoors where there is the opportunity to witness our counterparts sharing competition and camaraderie.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Have a chat with your health care professional and get the green light. If you have recently embarked on a new activity or participated in a senior competition, what was your experience? Please share it with us in the comments below.

This is an adapted version of my article previously published on http://sixtyandme.com.

 

Qualifying for Boston through the Ages and through Age Groups

As a young pipsqueak, age 58, and latecomer to marathons, I ran my first Boston Marathon in the W55-59 AG. At that time, Boston’s qualifying time for me was 4:15. I’m still making that trek to Boston every few years. While I’ve increased in age by 12 years, my qualifying time (70-74 AG) has increased to 4:55. Sound like an easy qualifying time? Think again.

I’ve begun following a new (at least new to me) blog, Mathematical runner.com. In a recent post, titled ‘Which Age Group has the Easiest Boston Marathon Qualifying Time?’ I learned that the easiest qualifying time does not belong to the group of persistent (mostly) white-haired ladies (mostly) lining up in the fourth wave.

In reviewing the data, Ray Charbonneau says that older women runners have the toughest qualifying times. Having debated this very point over a number of post-training run refreshments, I’ve found there are strong feelings about Boston qualifying times and their perceived equity. So, although they lost me in the finer points of the math, Mathematical Runners supported my view that qualifying times are a bit tough(er) for older women.

 

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Harrisburg Marathon, my first marathon, 2003, a decent finish but not a BQ. In fact, I was such a novice, I didn’t know anything about BQing.

 

Another point made in that blog is the scant number of women in the senior age groups. I have noticed the number of participants in my age group dwindles every few years, and seems to dwindle more rapidly than the number of men in the same age group. Still, no matter how few women are competing, there are some incredibly talented women in their sixties, seventies and beyond. If I can finish mid-pack in my Boston age group, I call it a victory.

A few years later I learned how difficult it was to BQ and that getting older didn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Those of you who enjoy exploring the math of all this will certainly enjoy other posts in Mathematical Runner as well, particularly those who are following all things Boston in the countdown to 2018 Patriot’s Day April 16.

Read on and run on.

 

Accessorizing for Safety

 

Being prepared for our own safety is important for everyone. For those of us over 60 years of age, it’s imperative we stay active to maintain as much strength as possible.  We can also supplement our strength with accessories, which may or may not have a bit of flash and sash to them.

From high tech to low tech, we all have our favorite safety accessories. We may not think of them as such and while they are not appropriate or helpful for every situation, accessories they are.

For my lifestyle, safety when running the roads and the trails is where I most frequently rely on low tech devices. Whatever your lifestyle, for the majority of outings safety accessories are not needed. However, if we have one or more of them handy, it is one less thing for you or me to be concerned about. Then, we can concentrate on the beauty of the day on the trail or enjoying the sights in the city.

So, let’s look at a few low tech devices I have in mind to accessorize your look and your well being while out and about.

The Other People (OP) Strategy

Seriously, surrounding yourself in a group can be a safety accessory. Think penguins.  When penguins take that leap into the water, they do so as a pack. When penguins take that dive with the pack, they are less likely to be gobbled up by a seal. Take that swim alone and it’s nearly a sure thing the penguin won’t be returning to the safety of shore. It’s similar for humans. If we’re with a group, the OP strategy generally works. We are less likely to be hassled, intimidated or something worse.

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OP are an excellent safety device when hiking the Appalachian Trail. They’re also fun company.

Alas, we are not penguins. Many of us enjoy a  run or a stroll without OP. Are there times you want to take a solo run or see a movie or show that doesn’t appeal to friends and family? Here, the OP strategy doesn’t work unless you forego your own interests. Are you in this category? Well then, we’ll move to the next option.

“You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?”

Your name is likely not Steve, but that was the advice from Lauren Bacal’s character to Humphrey Bogart’s character in “To Have and Have Not.” It’s a question for you if you want to stay safe. Can you whistle when your safety is in question? You can if you have a basic trail whistle. I have several models for the trail and usually wear one on a chain around my neck tucking the whistle into my running bra. Some people attach a whistle to their auto or home key chains.

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A whistle is also great for getting the attention of a crowd

Whistles can be less than a quarter inch in diameter and no more than a inch or so long, and yet make a loud, shrill sound. This is a wonderful passive device that can quickly be used if you become lost on the trail, are hurt and immobile and need help, or if you are in a dicy situation anywhere.

I’ve looked around and found that whistles now come in some elegant styles. You can find a variety on many websites, such as Etsy.

Carry a Big Stick

So said Teddy Roosevelt and so can we. There are variations of the stick that will work for your particular lifestyle. If it’s a run, hike or walk in the woods, a hiking pole will suit.

The citified version of this would be a cane or a walking stick. Whether or not you need it for strength or balance, it can be handy in self-defense and also  quite stylish.

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My friend Carol with her hiking stick maneuvers around a rough course and any unsavory humans or animals that come her way. 

The street and travel version can be the very elegant and decorative canes I have seen used among friends. They vary from rhinestones and animal prints, to classic wood business styles. You can find canes specifically for women at many retail stores or on lines at numerous websites such as this oneI haven’t taken this up as a safety accessory myself but if it is something you use as a safety ruse, please comment on how it has worked for you.

Who Are You?

If you are hurt and can’t speak for yourself, let your identification bracelet or necklace speak for you. It won’t keep bad things from happening, but it can quickly provide necessary information to medical or other professionals. Most outdoorsy folks will wear some form of identification that gives their name, at least one contact person and any other pertinent information.

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ROAD ID bracelet just happens to match running gear for the Harrisburg Mile.

Road I.D.is one of many companies where you can find them. Mine is on a wrist stretch band so small I sometimes forget I’m wearing it.

What’s That Odor and Why Are My Eyes Burning?

Pepper spray or mace can be a safety accessory. You can find these in most sporting goods stores. Models vary from handheld to clips.

Some sprays can be considered a weapon and are not welcome everywhere, so think twice before throwing one in your handbag or pocket when you visit certain office or government buildings, arrive for a flight or travel by any means to foreign countries.

That’s my list. Now it’s your turn. What do you recommend adding as a low-tech safety accessory?

(A version of this post was previously published on sixtyandme.com.)

 

 

A 5-Mile Fresh Burst

With so few five mile races available, I took a drive to Lititz, Pennsylvania to check out this local race. The Freshburst 5 Mile Run/5K Walk has been around for 20+ years but just came to my attention recently.

Arriving near the race venue I saw runners moving to the start line. I quickly ran to the late registration table, then returned to my truck to drop off the registration bag. I sprinted to the start and joined the back of the pack as the race director was giving instructions.

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I am ready to vote this the most generous race registration bag of 2017

I had not run a short distance race for many months, so my goal for the race was to just pick it up a bit without concern for a specific finish time. In the first mile, portions of the road were adjacent to a pasture. As we runners came down the road in a line, the cows in the pasture formed a line of their own, pacing to the opposite side of their pastureland. Clearly they wanted no part of us.

Another pasture area brought some black-faced sheep into view. Beautiful, but I didn’t take the time to stop for a photo opportunity. You can guess from the pastureland description that the course was mostly flat, just a bit of rolling up and down and a few turns to take us back to the start.

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The race finish was old school with tear-off tags. With a finish time of 46:05, along with about 200 other runners, and 50 or so walkers, I sauntered back to the race venue where cool drinks, fresh fruit and ice cream awaited us.

The experience of the race staff and volunteers was apparent. Everything seemed to flow well. This fun, friendly and fresh 5-miler was worth the drive and one I hope to run another year. Proceeds of the race benefit the Harmony Playground, designed for accessibility for children of  all abilities.

Check out the Freshburst next July if you’re looking for a well-run small town 5-miler, or a 5K walk. Besides, I ask you, how many races have ice cream at the finish line?

Destination Race Report: Schneider Paris Marathon

In this City of Love, even the Paris Marathon gets a love story. This year, a young married couple would win the overall award and first place female award. Paul Lonyangata, with a time of 2:06:10 and Purity Rionoripo at 2:20:55 shared a blissful win.

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In the start corral on the Champs Élysées

Now, from a voice far back in the pack, what was I doing here? In a spur of the moment decision, I signed up for Paris shortly after 2017 registration opened. I may be getting soft, but I also bought a premium package which included a pre-race and post-race changing area, a bag drop and refreshments in the tent. And with a warm morning, 60 degrees F at the start, I removed my warmups and used the bag drop long before my corral was scheduled.

With close to 44,000 runners starting, groups were moved from Avenue Foch, around the Arc de Triomphe and into corrals on the Avenue des Champs Élysées. This cobblestoned boulevard is beautiful and wide, allowing runners space to spread out. We ran past the Place de Concord and the Bastille before heading into the Bois de Vincennes past the beautiful Château de Vincennes. The woods offered some welcoming dappled shade. We moved on to a long tunnel where the air felt thick, but out we came to the bright sunshine on the opposite side.

On the course, water is offered in small plastic bottles every 5K. Beware if you run this, stations are only located on one side of the street, and until you get there you don’t know which side. Midway through the race, stations included oranges and bananas, sugar cubes, and toward the end, some sort of nut mixture. Around mile 17, there was a station serving an energy drink I wasn’t familiar with. I knew better than to try it.

Limiting my intake to water and some quickly grabbed orange slices now and then, I depended on the endurolite capsules and honey stinger energy chews I brought with me. Gatorade is not easily found in Paris. I was pleased to see their booth at the Expo and picked up 3 bottles of the cool blue, one of which made the 26-mile trek with me.

Somewhere around Mile 14, I took my first fall in a road race. A woman a couple of feet ahead of me fell directly in my path. I tried to maneuver around her, but it was too late. We were packed in tight enough that there was nowhere for me to escape. Going down, I was sure the marathon was over for me, but managed to break my fall with my hands. We were both able to continue running. Other than a palm a bit swollen with road rash, all is well these days later.

Running along the Seine, the cafés were full of fashionably dressed Parisians cheering us on as they sipped their cappuccino and wine. We passed the Eiffel Tower, following  the Seine west through the strong crowds that were crouching in close on both sides of the course. There were sections where only two to three runners could pass through at a time. If that sounds odd, picture scenes from the Tour de France where spectators are pressing out in the road, only in this case it isn’t fast-moving bicycles but back-of-the-pack runners struggling to maintain pace through the spectator gauntlet.

Finally, we are  headed north toward Bois de Bologne. It is a beautiful wood but not many spectators, making it difficult for some runners to stay motivated.

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No doubt some exhausted runners thought they were hallucinating when up out of the woods pops Frank Gehry’s architectural creation for the Louis Vuitton foundation

Many were trudging along in a slow walk. Though my pace had slowed, my legs still felt good and I had to zig and zag through walkers to maintain any kind of a running pace.

Performers along the course were wonderful, but my favorite was the drag queen troupe at Mile 25. After passing them, we were soon moving around Port Dauphine to the cobblestones of Avenue Foch.

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The finish line was efficient and I moved quickly through: water, finisher medal, shirt and food. I found my way back to the premium tent where a wonderful array of hot and cold foods and some sweets were available. I nibbled on a few things and chatted with other finishers.

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My bounty: marathon shirt, finisher shirt, hooded poncho, shoe bag, energy belt and a finisher medal designed by Pierre Charpin, artist and scenographer

And my time? 4:46:59, the slowest in about 10 years. I could attribute that to the heat (79 degrees F as I finished), to lack of speed work or interval training while an injury healed, but age is probably the biggest factor.

I was surprised at the low number of women running this marathon, less than 25% of the total runners. Most marathons I run have been around the 50% range for men and women.

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The Paris Marathon get high grades for an interesting and scenic course, quality premiums, reasonable entry price and is well managed. There are metro stops near the start/finish making transportation convenient. If you’re looking for an international marathon, give it a try. Why not?