Comparing Two Large European Marathons: Rome vs. Paris

I've posted my individual race reports from the Rome and Paris marathons, which I ran in early April. Here is a direct comparison of some of the aspects of each race. It was easy to do a direct comparison since I ran the marathons only one week apart. They were both good, but I preferred Rome. Part of this is because I feel more of an affinity for Rome and for Italy in general, so maybe I'm a little biased. However, I would recommend either of these marathons without hesitation. Just be sure you're up for a big city marathon. Rome had about 20,000 participants, and Paris had over 40,000!

Rome medal on the left, Paris medal on the right

Maratona di Roma
April 2, 2017
Marathon de Paris
April 9, 2017
My Grade
I love Italy and I love Rome, so I was in a positive state of mind going into this. There were thunderstorms on race day and I was soaking wet before mile 2, but I still had a fun race. Not everything was perfect, but I think the race organization and logistics were well done, and I had a great experience.
This was my first time in Paris and I was excited to see the city. I liked the fact that there was a Breakfast Run 5K the morning before the race. The race logistics were very well done, and I was impressed for a race of this size. I wish I had liked the course a little better, and I wish it hadn't been so hot, but that couldn't be helped. I had a good race.
Registration Process and Pre-race Communications
Open registration for anyone without needing a time qualification or a lottery. It did not seem to sell out very quickly, if at all. You need to create a registration account. You also need to have a doctor sign a medical certificate stating that you are fit to participate. This can be uploaded to your account ahead of time. Communication was by email and seemed appropriate. There is also a Facebook page.
Open registration for anyone without needing a time qualification of a lottery. There are different pricing tiers based on when you register, and the race did sell out at least a month ahead, maybe more. Like Rome, you need to set up a registration account and a medical certificate is required, which you provide at the expo. Pre-race emails seemed appropriate, and there was a Facebook page.
Expo/Packet Pick-Up
Expo was a long subway ride from the city center but in a nice facility. There were some gear vendors, but even more booths representing other European races. I never saw any Maratona di Roma branded merchandise, which was disappointing because I wanted to buy a jacket.
Expo was an average distance metro ride from the city center in a very large facility. There were numerous vendor booths. Asics, the gear sponsor, had a lot of Marathon de Paris branded items for sale, but only one very boring jacket with a very small logo. So, I went home without a jacket again.
Technical participant t-shirt with a great design on the back and a smaller logo on the front. We also received a very nice backpack with a bottom zipper compartment for shoes. It served as our gear-check bag. The medal was smaller than many US marathon medals, but beautiful, classy, and representative of Rome. 
Technical finisher t-shirt printed with an average sized design on the front and nothing on the back. Medal was nice, but not extremely representative of Paris. We also got a nylon backpack which was less substantial than and with a smaller logo than the Rome backpack.

Rome (best) and Paris backpacks
Front of Rome and Paris shirts 
Back of Rome shirt (back of Paris shirt was blank)

Maratona di Roma
April 2, 2017
Marathon de Paris
April 9, 2017
A single loop course which started and ended near the Colosseum. It ran past many famous landmarks such as Piazza San Pietro and St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, and through some less-touristy areas, including a few boring stretches. A fair amount of the course was on cobblestones, which caused me to slow down, especially because they were wet. There were some hills, but what went up always came back down. Much of the course didn't have many spectators, but the thunderstorms probably were a factor. There were more spectators in the city center and near the popular attractions. There were a number of bands for entertainment along the course.
A single loop course which started and ended near the Arc de Triomphe. The corrals were on the Champs-Élysées and we ran down that large boulevard to start the race. We ran past some landmarks, but not nearly as many as I would have liked. There were long stretches in neighborhoods or in parks. The parks were beautiful, but didn't give me the "Paris" landscape that I wanted. A short stretch was along the Seine river, and we ran in and out of several tunnels. The longer tunnels had lights and music and were themed to keep things interesting. There was a sighting of the Eiffel Tower at one point on the course. There were some cobblestones, but they were smoother and less numerous than in Rome. There were also some long hills. Spectator support was greater than in Rome, but perhaps the nicer weather was responsible. There were so many bands on the course that you were never out of earshot of some kind of music. Many of the acts were drum troupes or brass bands; I loved them.
Course Amenities
Aid stations were about 5K apart, which is common in Europe. They had bottles of water as well as water in cups, and Powerade to drink. For food there was fruit and I think there were some salty things to eat as well. To be honest, I didn't pay attention because I had brought all my own nutrition. The volunteers were friendly. I noticed medical tents, but I didn't have a need to visit them, thank goodness.. My friend Diane said that the medical staff were not very forthcoming with pain meds. This race also had several sponge stations, which would have been helpful on a dry day, but I never needed a sponge since it rained all day when I ran this race.
Aid stations were also about 5K apart. They had bottled water, but no sports drink except for at one aid station toward the end of the race. Every aid station had oranges, bananas and dried fruit. There was always fresh fruit as I noticed the friendly volunteers constantly slicing oranges and refilling the fruit trays. One or two aid stations had energy bars. The aid stations got very slippery with discarded fruit peels. There was a good medical support system, but again, I didn't need it. There were multiple cooling stations with firehoses and sprinklers spraying the runners with cold water, and buckets of water for runners to rewet their towels or dump water on their bodies.
This wasn't a huge costume race, although I did see some costumes. There were gladiators and people dressed in the flag of their country. Most people wore a shirt representing their local running club, their country, or their charity. Aid stations were not themed that I noticed. Each runner's race bib was printed with their name and their country flag, so you could tell where they were from.
Like Rome, there were some costumes but not many. Groups of runners sometimes wore matching shirts. The race bibs were printed with the runner's name and three character abbreviation for their country. Aid stations were not themed, but there were some fun cheering stations; in particular, the Paris Front Runners were fun and festive.

Iconic Roman landmark on the course: St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

Iconic Parisian landmark on the course: the Eiffel Tower

Maratona di Roma
April 2, 2017
Marathon de Paris
April 9, 2017
There were official photographers at a few points on the course, but they missed the opportunity to get some great shots of the runners in front of Vatican City. I did buy my package of photos, which is not something I normally do. I liked my photo in Piazza Navona and the one as I approached the finish.
There were very few official photo spots on the course, and none of them were in front of famous Paris landmarks. Although one or two of my photos turned out nice, I didn't buy any; they were not representative of the city. Very disappointing. Why wouldn't they take photos with the Eiffel Tower in the background?
Post-Race Experience
As I ran up to the finish, I noticed men dressed as Roman soldiers in the chute, so i knew I was in Rome. Immediately upon crossing the line there was a view of the Colosseum in the background, which made for some great post-race photos. The post race food was given to each runner in a reusable bag and contained two bottles of water, a bottle of Powerade, a carton of chocolate milk, cookies and some sort of fruit gel, which i didn't eat. We got a mylar blanket too. There was a tent for changing clothes. If there was massage, I didn't notice it, but I wasn't really looking because it was rainy. There was no post-race celebration area or party, so all the runners just went back to their homes or hotels after exiting the finish chute.
The finish has the Arc de Triomphe in the background, so that was nice, and you had to walk through the finish chute toward it. The post-race food was disappointing. It was the same as the on-course aid stations with the addition of pretzels. Nothing was individually packaged so it was impossible to take it to go. You had to reach your hand into communal bins of each item, unwrapped. We were given a plastic poncho, which would have been helpful on a cold or rainy day. I'll save mine for another time. There were massage tents, but I didn't use them. There was even a small brass band in the finish chute. Outside the runners-only area there were tents with food and drink for sale, including beer.
I'm biased, but I love Rome and all of Italy that I've visited. This marathon gives you the opportunity for tremendous sight-seeing. If you stay in the city center, it's easy to get around on foot, or via subway and bus. I stayed on the Via Nazionale, about a 10 minute walk from the Roma Termini train station. I got an express train ticket from the airport directly to Roma Termini. There is also a subway station at Roma Termini. I only used the subway to go to the expo. Everything else I saw I visited on foot. The city is a little gritty and there are a lot of homeless people and beggars. This is unfortunate. I was also constantly reminded by signs or tourism workers to watch out for pickpockets, but I protected myself from that by the way I carried myself and my possessions. You cannot beat the food in Rome. Excellent pasta and pizza for carbo-loading! Fabulous gelato on every street corner. And if you want espresso, you just order caffe. Spend a lazy afternoon among the famous piazzas sitting outside and enjoying a gelato or eating at an outdoor restaurant.
I liked Paris, but it was second to Rome for me. It was easy to get around on the metro; really easy. We stayed at an apartment that was not in a touristy area, so we had to take the metro everywhere we wanted to go. The attractions in Paris seem to be spread out more, whereas in Rome they are more concentrated. I definitely recommend a long walk on either bank of the Seine river in the city center. Paris was cleaner than Rome, and with fewer beggars, but there still were some. As for food, it's harder for a vegetarian in Paris, but I didn't go hungry. I had more than my fair share of fresh baguettes and cheese. Always buy a fresh baguette each day; do not eat yesterday's baguette. We had fresh croissants each day from a bakery around the corner from our apartment. The wine was plenty as well. I wish I had made a point to see the Paris lights at night, but I didn't; I hear that they are pretty.
I love to drink the local beer and wine wherever I travel. In Rome it was easy to find Italian beer but it was limited to lager or pilsner style. I had some beer, but had more wine. Wine can be ordered by the glass, by the bottle, or by a carafe which is good for 2-3 glasses. Even the house wine is good. I mostly drank red wine.
It was hard to find French beer. The local bars mostly served Dutch or Belgian beer. It made much more sense to drink the wine, which was available in a variety of sizes from the glass to the full bottle. Normally I don't like rosé wines because the American ones are too sweet, but there are some really good French rosés. Still, red of any variety was my preference.


  1. I'm surprised you didn't like the Paris course more. It's my favorite. I'm a long-time follower of Le Tour de France, so lining up on Champs-Élysées was magical for me.

    1. I agree that the start is pretty cool. I didn't hate the course. I just expected more city and landmarks and less of the parks. Still, I gave the race a good score.

  2. Hi there Sandy I like the way you have comprehensively reviewed the races
    I did Paris 2017 and Rome 2018 I love both cities and both races, both hot days so relatively slow pace towards the end. The start of both races is magical hard to beat them, much better locations than Greenwich park for London. I see you have your Paris finisher shirt there, I love that shirt and unfortunately both my Paris shirts have been wrecked in washing machine, I am on the look out for a replacement if you know of anywhere or see one give me a shout please. Madrid & hopefully Berlin this year


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