The facts don’t lie
France is running like never before. The country now boasts nearly 14 million runners, with 5 million getting out there at least once a week. The number of women runners has also risen by 200% in just five years, creating a near-equal gender split. Running is for everyone, and the time to join in is now.
Benefits that change lives
As well as some obvious lockdown-shaped reasons for starting to run (or for stepping up to a more regular schedule) runners consistently say that mental well-being is the number one benefit they enjoy. From clearing the head with a quick pre-work run, to combating stress with a sunset 10 km, nothing beats what a good run through the city can achieve.
Another big reason is the desire to set and achieve goals: smashing personal records and ticking off challenges delivers huge rewards.
Five cities. Five local experts.
With all this new-found and ever-growing love for road running, we realized that France deserved its very own guide to running in cities. We reached out to some of our partner athletes and experts in five cities stretching the length and breadth of the country.
Read on to discover beautiful, challenging and unexpected routes for your home city – or for the next time you want to hit the streets during a city break.
Grenoble: Antoine Charvolin
Winner of the Young Trail Challenge 2017, and 2nd in the Trail Des Aiguilles Rouges 2019, Antoine Charvolin has lived in Grenoble for all of his 23 years on the planet.
“You could say I know every street, every alley and every park like the back of my hand,” he told us. Antoine loves his home city’s proximity to the Alps, its historic right bank and its endless routes for running. Here are two of his favorites, ideal for those new to running, or for those looking to add even more variation to their schedule.
Antoine’s tip for beginner runners:
“Find a few routes that make you happy, that really inspire you. Then you’re more likely to want to head out and run them.”
“The summit of La Bastille hill – named after the 18th-century fortress built into its slopes – is worth every bit of sweat it takes to get up there. It’s a steep, sometimes pretty challenging climb, but it’s on a safe and well-maintained forest road.
“Depending on the time of day, you might see other runners working on their endurance and strength. A big reason they’re all there is the view when you get to the top. There’s nothing else like it. It still makes me smile every time I see it.”
“Bachelard park isn’t really that well known, but I really love it. Firstly, it’s got a professional athletics track that is great for interval and timed sessions, sprints, that kind of thing. Secondly, there’s a great view of the mountains to keep you inspired. And finally, there’s even a nice loop through the woods that’s great for a more leisurely run or to warm up.”
Lyon: Pauline Sanial
Pauline has been converting people into runners for about 20 years, and has been heading up the Lyon Running Crew since 2014. “Running is so much about sharing,” she says. “I love that social element. Everything about the running community in Lyon drives me on, I can’t imagine running without it.
“Lyon is great for running because we have two beautiful hills: the Fourviere and the Croix-rousse. The city center also has some great routes if you want to keep it flat and see some history and culture along the way.”
Follow the Lyon Running Crew on Instagram.
Pauline’s tip for beginner runners:
“Find a local running club. People will be really open, and you can all swap advice and stories and encouragement.”
“This is such an inspiring route, it shows you how impressive Lyon can be. You’ll head past La Sucrière, the cultural center in an old warehouse. And the Musée des Confluences, which is so impressive – to me it looks like a kind of crystal cloud.
“You get to run along the two main rivers of Lyon, the Rhône and the Saône, and for large parts along the refurbished docks built for foot traffic. In fact, almost this whole route avoids crossing road and dealing with traffic. It’s great for interval training too.”
“If you’re new to the city, or just want some incredible history and sights while you’re working on your stamina and strength, this run offers a lot. You’ll pass through the Vieux Lyon district, with its Renaissance mansions and hidden courtyards, plus lots of bars and restaurants (because no matter what anyone else says, Lyon is the capital of French gastronomy).
“Then you’ll climb up to Notre Dame de Fourviere, which is the highest point in the city. I recommend taking a break there, because you get a breathtaking view of Lyon’s skyline and the Alps. When you’ve got your breath back, you’ll then go past the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, which was built over 2,000 years ago.
“Obviously these are some tourist hot spots, but head out early enough in the morning and it’ll feel like you have the city to yourself.”
Bordeaux: Nathan Parjadis
In a past life, Nathan Parjadis almost became a professional sailor, and he only got into running a few years ago. But since then, he’s run several marathons and ultra-marathons on the trails. Now, he thrives on pushing himself to hitting new goals and achievements.
Some great advice from Nathan for anyone new to running: consider finding a running partner… even if that partner isn’t human. “99% of the time I run with my Border Collie, ‘Omega’. It’s way more exciting for both of us than just walking in a park.” You can follow Nathan and Omega’s adventures on Instagram.
Nathan’s tip for beginner runners:
“Consider signing-up for competitions and events. Have something to aim for, deadlines and targets are a great way to spur you on to hit new heights.”
“You start this run at the iconic Place de la Bourse, an 18th-century square. Then you’ll pass the Place Pey Berland with its huge 11th-century cathedral and City Hall. Just before the Jardin Public, make sure to look our for the Quartier des Grands Hommes which is also known as the Triangle d’or, where you can drool at the most expensive real estate in the city. All the streets here are named after famous french philosophers: Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau...
“This can also be a great choice for the summer time, given how hot it gets in the south-west of France, as you can run for quite a while under the shadows provided by the trees of the Jardin public de Bordeaux."
“This route is a great opportunity to discover four iconic squares in Bordeaux: Place Victoire, Place Pey Berland (Bordeaux’s main square), Place Gambetta and the Place des Quinquonces (the largest city square in Europe).
“You’ll also cross the Garonne River twice, giving you a fantastic view of the Bordeaux skyline. I love to hit this route when the sun is setting and, if you’re lucky, the sky will turn an incredible mixture of orange and yellow and pink – it looks like an oil painting sometimes.”
Annecy: Romain Wyndaele
Romain Wyndaele is a 24 year old who grew up in Auxerre, and started track and field for fun. He then discovered trail running and, as he puts it, “I was immediately hooked – I replaced track and field for the mountains.” After five years of intense trail running, including an injury, he found his way back to the roads.
“It’s now been two years since I got back into track and road running. These days, I specialize in the 1500m, then in winter I do 10 km and cross-country runs. When everything feels good, I can get under 30 minutes for a 10 km, and have clocked 3: 45 for 1500 m. But it’s not all about times. Often I just want to run to feel good, to explore, to get to know Annecy better and better.
Follow Romain on Instagram to check out his latest routes and races.
Romain’s tip for beginner runners:
“Running can feel tough at first, but the rewards will come. It’ll soon be so stimulating for your mind, as well as your body.”
"This loop along the north side of Lake Annecy is perfect for a lunchtime run. If the skies are clear, you can see for miles – across the lake, up to the La Tournette peak. You can cross the Pont des Amours, and see the crazy blue waters of the canal and the tree-filled parks.
“The whole route is flat, which is great if you’re looking for an easier or recovery run. Or if you want to test yourself with some interval training.”
“On this shorter loop you pass through the old town, called the ‘Venise des Alpes’, where you can cross bridges old bridges, go past open-air cafes and see some super-old buildings. You can always extend the route by taking some random lefts and rights – I love to do this if I realize my energy levels are higher than I thought.
“It’s a really inspiring route to discover the old town, but also great for your fitness as there are lots of steps. You’ll also get some great views of the lake along the way.”
Paris: Arthur Daragon from MRC
Arthur Daragon co-founded the Marais Running Club (MRC) back in 2013. “I live in the north of Paris,” he told us, “close to the Pigalle area and Montmarte, but I run anywhere and everywhere. I’m always finding new alleys, new areas, even new bars that I can return to at night.”
MRC is a tight but welcoming group, determined to create an inclusive and energizing environment for its members. If you’re just getting into running, look for running clubs in your area – you might just find all the support and knowledge you need to get out there.
Arthur’s tip for beginner runners:
“A lot of people I speak to don’t realize that running is about exploration as well as exercise. Be open to that, and you’ll find new streets or areas all the time.”
“I love this running this route early in the morning, when the streets leading to the Parc Monceau are empty because the city is only just waking up. Parc Monceau is a beautiful garden, and one lap is about one kilometer so, depending on your energy levels, you can add a few loops if you want. Even early on, you might see other runners like you, but I like feeling that shared energy and commitment.
“When you’re ready to move on, you can head up to the Sacré Coeur. It’s a strong climb, but you finish your session with the most beautiful view of Paris – and before most of the tourists get there. What a way to start the day.”
“I think of this route as kind of like a roller coaster: you go up, down, and up again, along all the small alleys and stairs of Montmartre area. It’s a short but nice and intense route, but also one you can easily adapt. Even while you’re out there, if your legs want more or you want to increase your elevation gain, you can just decide to do another loop, or take some diversions.
"It also kind of reminds me of the mountain tracks of the French Alps, where I grew up. These are the mountains of Paris!”