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Paris Marathon organiser banks on international runners

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Runners on the Champs Élysées at the start of the 2014 Paris Marathon. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

About 54,000 people have signed up to run the 2015 edition of the Paris Marathon on Sunday. The number of participants has been increasing steadily in recent years, with the organiser, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) encouraging more international runners to sign up for the 42.2-kilometre race through the French capital. This year, 30 per cent of runners are not French, and many have made a vacation out of the race.


Chung, from Shanghai, China, ran seven marathons last year. He and his wife, Yang, arrived in Paris Saturday morning and went straight to the Salon du Running, a trade expo where runners have to go to pick up their race bibs.

“Paris is beautiful,” Chung gave as an explanation for why he travelled so far for the race. Shanghai has a marathon, in November; but he knows that city already.

He and Yang are making a vacation out of the Paris race.

When ASO, which owns the Tour de France, took over the organisation of the Paris Marathon in 1998, there were 15,000 runners.

The number has increased nearly fourfold since then, partly due to a rise in interest in running in France. But the company has also made a concerted effort to attract foreign runners like Chung.

It is expected to bring in 6.5 million euros in revenue this year, the bulk of which come from entry fees. To register, participants paid between 75 and 109 euros, which is relatively low compared to other marathons. New York, for example, costs 347 dollars (nearly 330 euros) to enter as a non-US resident.

Besides the fees, ASO brings in revenue from sponsorships and commissions from sales at the running expo, which is a frenzy of activity, with 200 stands selling energy drinks, running clothing and promoting other races around the world.

Of course, most of the money goes into putting on the race. The city of Paris gets 500,000 euros for the use of its brand, Marathon de Paris. There are also about a thousand security personnel on duty, along with ASO’s salaried workers.

That leaves about 1.8 million euros in profit, which is not bad for a day of running.

Marathon tourism

The entry fee, plus the cost of travel and hotels for those coming from out of town adds up.

“It’s not cheap,” says Sam, who is one of 12 people from his running club in Bristol, UK, to come to Paris specifically for the marathon. He has run three others, but this is his first time in Paris – as a runner and as a visitor.

“I’ve spent a lot of time doing local races,” he said at the expo. Those races are not expensive, and he can walk or cycle to the start line. He justifies the cost of the Paris marathon as a holiday.

“It’s an opportunity to come somewhere you haven’t been before like Paris and see the sights," he said.

Noe, who is running with five others from Barcelona, described the marathon as “an excuse to visit the city and to run.” He and his friends hope the Paris Marathon will be the first in a string of European races they will run in the coming years.

They are looking forward to seeing Paris, but they are focused on the race.

“Our wives and friends who are not running are more focused on the city,” he said. “But we are focused on the marathon.”

Sam intends to do both.

“The marathon takes a long time,” he said. “You need something to take your mind off it, and being able to see the Eiffel tower or the Place de la Bastille helps to break up the monotony of running 26 miles.”