If you were to be in Paris on any given Thursday night, ambling along the Champs-Élysées, odds are you would see and hear us, a stampede of 150 runners storming through the city to the beat of whatever playlist is being blared from within the fast-moving group.
Under the guidance of certified coaches who lead the runs and direct traffic, runners with the Nike Running France crew get a twilight tour of Paris every week, charging past major landmarks like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, thundering through the underground Metro tunnels and gliding past confused outdoor-cafe drinkers.
For locals, the group is a good way to take a traditionally solitary sport and turn it into a social one.
For visitors, the runs serve as a free, guided tour of Paris — and perhaps an excuse to tuck into another éclair.
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After signing up for the event on Facebook (see facebook.com/NikeRunningFrance
and click on “events”), we meet at the flagship Nike store on the Champs-Élysées
The runners make for an impressive and surprising presence on an avenue known more for its luxury brand names and well-heeled tourists.
We set off for a run set to music that spans three to a bit more than four miles, punctuated with intense drills at major landmarks in the area led by the no-nonsense coaches.
Runners may be commanded to drop to the ground in the courtyard of the Louvre for sets of sit-ups, to the amusement of tourists and locals alike. Or runners may find themselves sprinting down the steps of Trocadéro, attention divided between the lights of the Eiffel Tower in the distance and a coach’s command to fly faster, stronger down the stairs.
When I joined the Nike Running France group last September, I was a running dropout.
But running throughout the streets of Paris, where I moved three years ago, has renewed my love for the sport. And I am not alone: My running companions are Parisians, expats, tourists and transients; we are pastry chefs, graphic designers, students, teachers, mothers and journalists.
As unlikely as it may seem, Paris is developing a reputation as a runner’s paradise.
According to Romain Boutevillain, company director of the timekeeping site Top Chrono, which organizes runs throughout the city, registration numbers for a series of races called the Paris Running Tour (parisrunningtour.com) have been climbing steadily by about 10 percent every year since it began in 2007-08.
Throughout the year, arrondissements in Paris map out 10-kilometer races designed to showcase their neighborhoods. This year, about 20,000 runners will compete in 14 runs.
More occasional runners looking to befriend locals and stop for a beer along the way may want to consider a quirky group called Paris Hash House Harriers (parishash.wordpress.com), which meets every other week. Started in the 1930s in Malaysia by a group of British expatriates, Hash House Harriers has since grown into more than 2,000 groups around the world.
Here’s how it works: A “hare” lays down the running course with a trail of flour from start to finish. Runners follow the visible markings on the ground to complete the route. To make things interesting, the hare will also lay down false trails with misleading arrows, forcing the runners to backtrack if they’re led astray.