Back in October 2021, nine intrepid Zwift runners took part in the very first official Zwift IRL Meet Up, to run the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland. Then in January 2022, the Film My Run (FMR) Club began a series of in-game training sessions to train for the Paris Marathon in April.
The sessions were well attended, really successful, and led to a fantastic weekend in Paris with 11 Zwift runners finishing the marathon and personal best performances for five of the group!
Everyone enjoyed the meet up so much that we decided to run the training series again for 2023. We started in January with a series of 4 in-game workouts which we repeated over a 12-week training block. The sessions ran on Wednesdays in the Paris world and included the Jo Pavey 90 seconds on, 90 seconds off session, one of the tough Michigan sessions, and Up the Ladder. (You can find each of these in your Workouts folder in Zwift.)
In addition to the workout sessions, there was a Paris Marathon Long Run every Saturday. We began by running for 60 minutes in week one and increased the time by 5 minutes each week so we were running for 2 hours in the final session.
There was always lots of encouragement and friendly banter in game and on the live stream. Numerous runners joined the sessions even though they would not be able to make the IRL meet up. It was a hugely positive series of runs. We even had a couple of USA takeover live streams when Zwift legend Marcus Holmes from Virginia and Sara Jacobson from Chicago joined forces to present shows on the Zwift Run Channel.
By April, the team was ready. We had Marcus, Sara, and Jeremy from the USA, Heather from Scotland and her husband Sebastien, who was our French-speaking representative, Ian and his daughter Emily from the UK, Olaf from Ireland, plus Jason, Stephen, and Victoria from the UK.
Going to Expo on Friday in Paris is always preferable as it gets very busy on Saturday. Some of us met up with Sara and Olaf there, but others weren’t arriving until Saturday. Number collection always relieves one or two nerves, so it was good to get that job out of the way and we could look forward to eating copious amounts of carbs the night before the race.
We booked the same restaurant as last year for our pre-race meal and ate our fair share of pizza and pasta while discussing our race plans, Zwift running, and how cool it was to meet each other after running together virtually for so long.
Much as it would have been idyllic to run the entire marathon course together, that’s not how running a marathon works. Each of us had trained at our own specific paces on Zwift, and we had trained to achieve our own goals. This meant we would inevitably all run at different speeds for the marathon.
Marcus and Stephen were gunning for under 3 hours and had to set off quite a bit earlier than everyone else, so they couldn’t attend the pre-race group photo at the Arc de Triumph. But everyone else made it in time for a full-on photo session at the top of the Champs Elysees!
It had threatened to rain, so everyone was wrapped up at the start. There can also be quite a wait between the elite runners starting at 8am and the mass starts which happen in waves up until around 10:30am. So it’s best to keep warm and having an old sweater you can throw away at the start line is a good idea.
Paris is not one of the official Abbott Marathon Majors, but it’s the closest thing to one without actually being one. There are more runners in Paris than almost any other marathon in the world – about 50,000! (New York Marathon sometimes has more runners, and Mumbai Marathon usually gets around the same number.)
The route starts on the iconic Champs Elysee with the backdrop of the Arc de Triumph and heads down to Place de la Concord to round the Luxor Obelisk.
Along the Rue de Rivoli and past the Paris Opera House, the landmarks just keep on coming. At 4km we reach the famous pyramid entrance to the Louvre and on to Hotel de Ville. At 8km we run past the July Column at Bastille and on to the beautiful Bois de Vincennes park and chateau. Heading back in to the center of Paris the route drops down onto the banks of the River Seine with Notre Dame Cathedral and Musee D’Orsay on the opposite bank.
At 30km the Eiffel Tower comes into view and we pass Place de la Concord again before heading into the Bois de Boulogne park briefly and on to the final mile through the crowded city streets and the finish in the shadow of the Arc de Triumph.
It’s an amazing course, and both Jason and Olaf immediately said they wanted to come back and do it again next year! Sara and Victoria ran the whole race together with Sara’s husband Ari and son Cooper cheering everyone on from the middle of the road!
Marcus and Stephen started together and finished just minutes apart. Ian ran most of the race with his daughter Emily. But she was determined not to let her dad beat her, and she sprinted away in the final mile! It was Emily’s second marathon, and she bagged a PB in 3 hours 51 minutes.
Jason, Olaf, Sebastien, Heather, and Jeremy ran really well and Olaf managed to bag his first sub-4-hour marathon. There was a slight problem with Heather’s timing chip which led to some confusion about when she had finished. The tracking app said she had crossed the finish line about 30 minutes before she actually did. Husband Sebastien was amazed at how quickly his wife had run!!
We celebrated an amazing day in the evening at another pizza restaurant and were joined by Zwift friends Salim and Halima who live in Paris but were not able to run this time due to injury.
Marathon running is tough. It takes a lot out of you and demands commitment and desire. Once finished, your body can be left weak and vulnerable, and a few of the team succumbed to illness in the week following the marathon. A good recovery regime can help, but sometimes you have to accept you’ve worked really hard and your body is tired.
We are all immensely proud of each other for coming together as a team with Zwift as our common interest. For working together virtually in training and then meeting IRL to run a real life marathon in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! It was truly amazing.
We will be back next year with a new marathon training program on Zwift. There are already plans for some to go back to Paris, but we are also considering other IRL options for those who might want to join us to run a 5k, 10k, or half marathon rather than the full 26.2 miles.