This well-known event has been the pinnacle of what many ultra distance walkers have aspired to for over 80 years.
In 1926, Emile Anthoine, President of le Cercle des Sports de France, launched a 504 km event and some 50 walkers took up the challenge. Starting in Paris and at first finishing in Strasbourg, but soon after the Second World War, the event swapped direction to become the STRASBOURG - PARIS. In 1981, on the initiative of Francis Jenevein, the finish was changed to COLMAR and the event became known as the PARIS - COLMAR.
The distance has varied from year to year as has the route as it passes through different towns and villages, much like the Tour de France. The distance, from 440+ km to 552 km is walked almost continuously, with only a small number of compulsory stops for rest and a medical check. The womens' race began in 1989 - a shorter race (about 300km) which started from Chalons en Champagne as the leading man came through the town. The last few years has seen more changes as it went from the continuous race to more of a stage race. Recent years has also seen the race cancelled through lack of sponsorship.
In the early days, there was no time limit and the last finisher might be some 4-5 days behind the winner. Eventually, time limits were brought in and nowadays strict time limits apply - competitors not able to reach intermediate timing points within the time limit are retired from the race.
Qualifying events are held starting in August in the preceding year - and these too have changed over the years. Classics like Rouen, still a 24 hour race, but now it hardly features in the ultra calendar and certainly does not attract the top ultra walkers as it once did. New venues are added as are "one-offs". The RWA Championship held in Battersea Park, London, in 1991was a qualifier for the 1992 Paris-Colmar. Now there are others in Belgium - Graid, Wadelincourt, as well as the now established race in Vallorbe, Switzerland.
Qualifying races all come with a qualifying criteria attached: both male and female walkers must complete a certain distrance within 24 hours to be selected to take part in the big event itself. Up to a few years ago the distance of all the qualifying races was 200km (within 24 hours) but as fewer walkers were achieving this distance, the races were changed to 24 hours ensuring that any Paris- Colmar entrant had the experience of being on their feet for at least 24 hours. Of course, the exception to this was the 28 hour Roubaix classic; 28 hours was deemed to be the "half way" point in the P-C race itself.
In recent years, this classic has undergone quite a change and is no longer the race it was: a "main" race plus a very shortened stage race "1st Premier" which replaced the "ladies" race.
However, since 2015 it became the Paris - Alsace - Ribeauville with a slightly different format. Read more...
See the Paris Alsace page and details of the 2015 qualifying races
Goodbye to Paris Colmar and Hello to Paris - Alsace! (or Paris - Ribeauville)
The 2014 winners of the Paris Colmar - Dimitri Osipov and Olga Borisova will go down in the history of race walking as the very last winners of the Paris Colmar.
For many years the town of Colmar welcomed this classic race on its final stage. But no more.
From the ashes, a new organsition has been born - the MMO - Marche Mythique Organisation which has sought to replicate the magic of the Paris Colmar of old.
So, instead of finishing in Colmar, the race does a bit of detour and heads towards the pleasant town of Ribeauville instead. Colmar's loss - Ribeauville's gain.
The new course will be very similar to the Paris-Colmar of several years ago: around 430km for men and 320km for women. As ever, athletes will be invited to participate dependent on their performances over the qualifying races during the racing season (starting with Wadelincourt, August 2014 for the 2015 P-A)
See the new Paris Alsace page and details of the qualifying races