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  Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 22:42 GMT 23:42 UK
A Partridge in Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is near the marathon start
London Marathon regular Steve Partridge crosses La Manche to run the Paris equivalent.

The French have a phrase laissez-faire, which loosely means 'don't interfere'. 

It is one I have often heard but until I ran the Paris Marathon, I do not think I ever truly realised what it meant in practice.

In terms of numbers, Paris has only 3,000 fewer people than London's 30,000.

But the event's laid-back atmosphere makes it possible to enter the day before the race.

The organisers cover themselves against poorly prepared runners by insisting on a medical certificate but as this can be a year old, it still leaves room for doubt.

Anyone who has run London knows of the legendary crush on the trains getting to the start in Greenwich Park, but once you get there the flawless organisation kicks in.

  Paris Marathon facts
When: 8 April
Runners: 27,000
Start: Arc de Triomphe
Refreshments: Water, fruit, even sugarcubes every three miles
Toilets: Not many
There are loads of portable toilets, marked-off starting areas, drinks, ointments and stewards a plenty.

In contrast, I found Paris much more accessible, but this was because hardly any roads were closed.

The imposing start near the Arc de Triomphe was somewhat spoiled because I had to keep dodging cars to look at it, all of which seem to be intent on clipping arms and legs.

But the biggest difference was the lack of toilets. Pre-race nerves have the same effect on my bowels as the sight of a charging rhino.

But after a 15-minute search I gave up and had to content myself with bladder-only relief behind a tree.

I then noticed a number of men and women pulling trousers and pants down with equally gay abandon on grass verges alongside the road.

What an Eiffel: Paris runners pass the tower
What an Eiffel: Paris runners pass the tower
I've seen similar sights at London, but everyone hides in the bushes. In Paris, there were no such luxuries.

The actual start was the familiar marathon scene of chaos with thousands of people trying to squeeze onto the road.

The lack of stewards meant everyone, spectators included, got crammed in and I had to join the race from the pavement.

As I began running I was forced to shuffle through hundreds of discarded bags and bottles, many of them doubling as impromptu toilets, but once past the start it soon improved.

The marathon's course takes you out east from the Arc de Triomphe to the Bois De Vincennes park.

It then loops back along the River Seine past Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower before entering the Bois de Boulogne park on the west of the city.

Finally, it noses back into the Avenue Foch by the Champs Elysees.

I found the sights and sounds of Paris did much to keep me interested but there were noticeably less spectators lining the course than in London and far fewer runners in fancy dress.

  London Marathon facts
When: 22 April
Runners: 30,000 plus
Start: Greenwich Park
Refreshments: Water every mile, energy drinks every five
Toilets: Plenty
This lack of fun runners and spectators meant there was a less ebullient atmosphere, despite a number of bands playing. The lack of support really hit home in the latter stages of the race.

There were, however, culinary advantages to the Parisian experience.

In London, water is supplied every mile and energy drinks every five but in Paris I found far more on offer - water, oranges, bananas, raisins and sugar cubes supplied every three miles.

But I did see two runners slipping on banana skins as they left the refuelling stations.

Paris' more relaxed attitude could be seen in the number of disabled people in wheelchairs being towed around by runners and even people pushing children in baby joggers.

It also had the added bonus of giving you a time from when you crossed the starting line to the finish, something London does not offer.

But all of the differences made running Paris a rewarding experience.

I ran it precisely because it was not London and loved every minute of it for that. Vive le difference as they say over here.


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