text and photos by Brett Larner
supplementary photos c/o race organizers
click any photo to enlarge
Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes Nice-Cannes invited JRN to this year's race to run it and write about the experience. In just eight years Nice-Cannes has quickly risen to become the most popular autumn marathon in France and an international destination event, its spectacular mountain and ocean views along the Côte d'Azur between the cities of Nice and Cannes, nearly constantly ideal weather, major airport access and a weekend with little competition on the calendar attracting over 10,000 runners every year since its first running in 2008.
Since its sixth year Nice-Cannes has been an IAAF bronze label race, its men's course record of 2:08:40 and women's record of 2:30:37 an indication of its quality not just as a destination marathon but as a world-class race. Event director Pascal Thiriot told JRN, "We feel that the IAAF label in an indication that we are a quality international event, something essential to attracting runners from around the world. As such we hope for winning times under 2:10 for men and 2:30 for women so that we can honestly tell amateur runners around the world that this is a fast course. In that regard we view the elite runners as an important part of our marathon, something that helps raise the overall level of our event."
Its growing international and domestic appeal was clear as at this year's eighth edition a total of 8067 runners from 61 different countries completed the trip from Nice to Cannes, including the mayors of both cities and seven runners from Japan, with thousands more running in the two relays held alongside the main race. After a rare rainy day last year, blue skies and slightly warmer than usual weather greeted the 2015 field. The temperatures and sunshine may have been a factor in winners Kiptum Barnabas and Rose Chepchumba of Kenya coming up short of Thiriot's hopes, Barnabas clocking 2:10:43 and Chepchumba 2:36:02, but for most of the field the day's bright clarity made it a run to remember.
Running along with the marathoners were participants in Nice-Cannes' two relays, one made up of teams of six and the other of just two. Thiriot told JRN, "The marathon distance is very important to us, the full distance between the cities of Nice and Cannes. Both of our relays make up the complete distance, and we will never have a 10 km or other shorter race." Exchange zones in the relays were clearly marked, with volunteers directing relay runners to the left and marathoners to the right well in advance to prevent any confusion. Like in Japan the relay proved popular, with some of the thickest crowds on the course gathered around each handoff area.
Along with Nice and Cannes the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes is held in partnership with five other cities along the coast, offering different character and architectural styles from traditional stonework to the modern.
The Marina Baie des Anges in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet is another of the course's major landmarks. Just past 15 km a 180-degree turn took runners into the midst of the complex, the return onto the main road creating the unusual sight of runners going in parallel in three different directions.
After leaving the Marina the course ran straight along the beach toward the first two of its three hills going up onto the Cap d'Antibes. Boats filled with spectators tailed the runners making noise in support as they hit halfway.
The section from 25 km to 30 km around Cap d'Antibes is the toughest section of the course with the main hill peaking out at 34 m above sea level, but the transition onto the narrow streets of the old town of Antibes, the nearly 360-degree ocean views and the run past the Musée Picasso Antibes where Picasso lived for a part of his career balanced it out as the most beautiful part of the course.
Descending into the town of Juan-Les-Pins after 30 km, runners were greeted by the best views of the French Alps to be found on the course.
Aid stations along the course were frequent, most featuring a three-section layout with drinks followed by food followed by more drinks. The drink tables could at times be chaotic, but the food tables featured an incredible selection of local baked goods along with the standard bananas and orange slices.
Crowd support throughout the race was good with thick crowds in the town centers, marching bands, African percussion ensembles, rock bands, costumed DJs and other cosplay fans.
After the last long climb on the course, near 39 km runners made a sharp left onto Pointe Croisette to find a short downhill and a very welcome sign waiting.
From there it was a short push through the town of Cannes to the beachfront finish on the famed Promenade de la Croisette just down from the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, home of the Cannes Film Festival. An MC in the finish chute energetically greeted each runner coming to the line, where runners received a stylish finisher's medal and t-shirt and could eat their fill of local grapes and other fruit before exiting.
Just past the exit from the finish area was one of the event's best features, massage and meeting areas right on the beach. With ocean water warm enough to go in but cold enough to help with recovery many runners took advantage of the chance to soak their legs and get a quick start on their recovery, a perfect end to a nearly perfect day.
Well-organized and well-funded, friendly and fast, as it moves toward its tenth year the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes Nice-Cannes looks set to grow into one of Europe's most popular events. What could make it better? Only alternating the direction each year to fully showcase both of its famed title cities.
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