Not many runners know the secret to calming pre-race jitters: a quiet walk on the beach. Participants in the Mont Saint-Michel Marathon, then, are lucky. Before settling into bed, they step foot on the cool sand of the Saint-Malo shore. The silence on the coast, broken only by the sea breeze, ensures the night before the big day is a calm one.
From walking the beach before the race to arriving at the floating fortress at kilometer 42, the Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel is the ideal French destination marathon for runners who prefer green fields and seaside villages to crowded city boulevards. But before registering for next year’s event, runners should consider a number of factors, including transportation, language barriers, and shorter races in the area. Here are the event’s biggest benefits and drawbacks.
As with any race, the starting line of the Mont Michel-Marathon is usually packed. But since this marathon is small, it quickly thins out and allows plenty of room to run. Photo Credit: ASO/Y.Mainguy
After a few minutes of bagpipe music, the course gets off to a hilly start. Happily, the race smooths out to pancake-flat terrain for the rest of the 42.2 kilometers. Along the way, runners enjoy well-stocked feeding and water stations.
Another unique aspect of this race is the chance to wind through the many villages between Cancale and the finish line. Locals relax on the side of the road, yelling “allez!” and taking a sip of wine.
With the Paris and London Marathons accommodating more than 40,000 participants each, the Mont Saint-Michel Marathon offers a lot more breathing room. Only 4,000 runners started the race this year, and though the starting line is crowded, it thins out quickly. The modest size is a huge plus for runners who appreciate their space.
The “Malouine” is another race just for women that usually takes place the day before the marathon. Photo Credit: ASO/Y.Mainguy
Friends and couples who like the idea of running near Mont Saint-Michel but aren’t ready for a full marathon will be glad to see the other options available. Aside from the marathon, runners can choose to participate in the duo marathon — two half-marathons performed tag-team.
Other alternatives to the full marathon include a 10 km event and a 6 km race for women in Saint-Malo, both of which take place over the same weekend.
Undoubtedly the biggest perk of them all, sighting the island of Mont Saint-Michel is a remarkable moment for beginner marathoners and veterans alike. The peak of the abbey steeple isn’t visible until the final fourth of the race, which means that spotting it is a moment runners will never forget.
Nearby, the towns of Saint-Malo and Cancale are the perfect locations to try out oysters or the region’s famous crêpes. Runners should just make sure they don’t spend too much time on their feet before the event.
The view of the Mont is what everyone is waiting for. Fortunately for the runners’ stamina, it doesn’t come until the end of the race. Photo Credit: ASO/Y.Mainguy
With a starting point in Cancale, a finish in Mont Saint-Michel, and an expo in Saint-Malo the previous day, the race is tricky to navigate without a car. This is especially true for friends and family who want to watch. Shuttle buses (“navettes”) are available to race participants for 12 euros, but reserve them early — the day of bib pick-up is usually too late. Taxis and public transportation are also available, but renting a car may be the most convenient option for spectators.
For everyone going to the event, it’s smart to organize transportation well ahead of race day to avoid unnecessary stress over race weekend.
The French aren’t known for their English skills, and the organizers of this race are no exception. While crucial race information is available in English on the race website, not all race organizers and volunteers speak it. Runners should therefore practice a little extra patience when navigating logistics.
Important note: For any runner planning to complete a race in France, a medical certificate, photo I.D., and invitation letter are necessary to pick up the race bib. Click here for more information.
Runners can pick up their bib number on the days leading up to the race. Anglophones may find logistics difficult to navigate, but a few English-speaking staff should be on hand to help. Photo Credit: ASO/G.Demouveaux
Overall, the coastal air, small-village feel, and monumental finish make the Mont Saint-Michel Marathon the perfect destination race for runners seeking a new challenge. To enjoy this experience fully, it would be wise to spend a little extra time preparing transportation and other logistics, especially given the fact that the race is not in a big city.
But runners who organize their trip well won’t be disappointed and can enjoy all that this race has to offer — including the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity at the end.
Although runners will be exhausted after the big race, they really should take advantage of the locale and explore the Mont before they go home. Photo Credit: Saint-Malo Tourisme
Intrigued? Here’s how you register.
Cost: Registration for the 2017 Marathon is 55 euros.
Date: The 20th edition of the Mont Saint-Michel Marathon will be held the weekend of May 27 and 28, 2017. Register for it here.
Rebekah Lee Mays is a writer from Austin, Texas and studies literature a few blocks from the Luxembourg Garden in Paris. Her travel writing has been featured in France Today, and Hobart and the Forge Literary Magazine have published her short fiction. She also runs the literary travel website litlag.com. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @smallbeks.