Running on the Cobbles

Last night while on my long run, I had a fair bit of time to think about cobblestones.  Mostly because I was trying to avoid slipping, tripping or otherwise falling on them.  The snow in my eyes didn’t help.  Where I’m located in central Paris, the best places to execute a long run tends to be along the river (the Seine), as it provides the least amount of stop and go lights/signs/traffic.

Within the context of ‘running along the river’, you’ve got a few choices.  Either side of the river (left or right bank) is perfectly suitable for running.  Different sections offer more seamless running than other sections depending on the side, but on the whole, it’s a bit of a wash as to which side is better if you’re running a long distance.  They both have their pros and cons.

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So then the choice becomes whether or not you run up at street level alongside the cars and pedestrians, or if you run down alongside the river at ‘boat level’.  Running up at street means that you hit all of the traffic lights, and depending on the weather, have to play chicken with pedestrians.  Pedestrians that on the whole won’t even give you an inch of movement along their path.  Down at boat level means that you’re usually running on one of the access roads that allows cars/trucks/busses access to the various boat tie-ups.  That means it tends to be quieter.

There are however some stretches of pseudo-highway down there which can cause some crossing issues, but in some of those stretches they actually have walking/running paths.   But if you’re going for a long run, those sidewalk stretches are short lived (though on weekends the highways themselves are actually closed to traffic).

Which, brings me to the cobbles.  Down along the river is where you’ll find the majority of big cobbles that a runner will have to bound over in the city.

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These cobbles tend to have larger gaps between them than the main street cobbles, and tend to be less uniform in size – oftentimes with broken or missing stones.  Thus running at night tends to get a little dicey.  But for the most part, the sections that are the roughest are usually avoidable.  Ironically, one of the worst sections I’ve come across thus far is only a few hundred yards from our place.  Since there are bunch of steps in that area (and low-overhangs that’ll have you knocked out on your butt in an instant…trust me), we rarely run down along the river there.

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For me, it’s the compromise I make in order to be able to maintain continuity on my run.  I’ve found that on the cobbles I normally lose 5 to 10 seconds per mile.  Which isn’t too bad.  But I’d easily lose that much dodging people and the like up above at street level.  Further, I’m far less likely to get hit by a bus in the ‘bus lanes of death’ that are scattered about the city.  These are the bus/taxi lanes that run counter the the rest of the traffic on a one-way street, and have separate light signals that are often hard to visually separate.  So you think you’re in the clear and start to cross – but then realize that you’ve just stepped into a bus lane with a non-stop bus hurdling toward you.  Not so good on a long run when you’re tired.

The second reason I’ve been mixing in the cobbles is actually because both the Paris Half-Marathon and Paris Marathon courses have them.  With those races coming up in early March and early April – I’ve gotta be prepared to deal with the cobles.  Now, in most cases the cobles on these courses are smaller and of the filled in variety.  For runners, these aren’t as bad (they still sorta suck for cyclists).  Here’s a look at these:

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There’s just enough variance that you notice the cobles, but it doesn’t quite slow down your pace.  Your legs will be more tired after them, due to the tiny little shifts your muscles will have to make to constantly counter the non-flat surfaces.  Sorta like trail running…except, with the pounding.

I think I’m going to start running parts of the course to figure out exactly how many miles of cobblestones there are.  I pulled up on the course online.  I know that the first mile is all cobbles for example, and then on Rivoli (miles 1-2) it’s a bit of a mix depending on where you are.  Once you hit the park (miles 6-12) it’s fairly clean, based on my cycling on those streets.  As you start coming back into the center of town – especially miles 17-18, those are cobbles.  I’m rather familiar with that section, as I often have to cycle it when going out to Longchamps (where many people cycle, roughly mile 24ish on the chart below).

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Of course, at present most of my long runs are on weeknights, so with some of the areas being a bit further out and in not-so-well-lit spots (namely 6-12 and 21-26), I’ll have to fit those in on other runs.  Everything in the center of town I run near-constantly.  For example, the map from last nights run:

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If I ran in daylight, I figure I could probably get the whole course easily in two long runs.  One run hitting up the left side, and one run hitting up the right side.  Plus much of the Paris Half-Marathon (here, called the Paris Semi-Marathon) mirrors the Paris Marathon course, so it’s like a twofer.

As for cycling on cobbles?  Well, I have nothing good to say about that.  I’ll save that post for the day I crash on the cobbles.  Well, probably the day after I crash on the cobbles.  So far, so good.

Until then…

…thanks for reading!

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Ray,

    Where did you find the Garmin map of the 2013 marathon? Does the semi marathon map exist too?

    PS : I never realized how dangerous bus lines are, as it seems normal to me. I’ll be more careful now!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I found them both on Garmin Connect (Explore > Courses).

      Here’s the full marathon: link to connect.garmin.com
      Here’s the semi-marathon: link to connect.garmin.com

      You could then download these to most Garmin devices (or, just browse them).

      Enjoy!

      Reply
    • Chmouel replied

      when a did the Paris marathon the real kicker for me at least was being in the tunnel (alma the one where lady di had her accident) with 1000 other runner and you have hardly any air to breathe, just FYI so you get ready for it.

      Reply
  2. Ion Dan Marius

    Great post! And let us know how the marathon course is, I’m also registered for April ;) Can’t wait!
    Dan

    Reply
  3. Yeah, the cobbles can be a B!tch in Paris. One nice route is out the Canal St. Martin from Arsenal (~8M out and back, so maybe closer to 9 for you?) plus you can extend farther at the end or loop up with another course. Pretty uninterrupted compared to other routes in area and good running surface. You can always do the old Hemingway route and just do loops in Jardin Luxembourg, but that gets old. Bois du B is where it’s at mostly!

    Here’s someone else’s map of St. Martin route: link to mapmyrun.com

    Cheers!

    Matt

    Reply
  4. Tim K

    Any pictures of where Duncan MacLeod kept his barge tied up? (In the end, there can be only one.)

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Funny, looking at the specified location, it’s right next to the floating pool. link to maps.google.com

      I run there a fair bit, mostly though during the day, since you go through a bit of an industrial work area on both side of the nice stretch where the pool is at.

      Reply
  5. Dan

    Hey Ray! Disappointed to hear you’ll be doing the marathon – that’s one more I’ll finish behind! Will have to make sure we pop into Bobby’s on our stay – but do you have any good recommendations for places to eat?! :)

    Reply
  6. Nice post and set my mood for Marathon de Paris right away — I am running it on April 7th :-)
    I used to follow your product reviews, and this time a French friend sent me this link and believed I would like it which he is totally right :-)

    Reply
  7. Ray, i don’t think cobbles are problem on this marathon. Its path doesn’t go near cobbles beside the Seine river :-) bigger problems are small uphill sections from km 24-25 on, when you pass under a section of the road. And a tunnel at around km 25, which is at least 700-800m long. And eventhough outside is cold, inside will be very warm.

    Final hill is at around km30 ;-)

    By the way, when running on the banks of Seine river (not the marathon), the biggest problem for me are not cobbles, but the fragrance in the air when you go into small tunnels…. Yep, the smell of Paris

    Reply
  8. Well Ray, if you want to have the real cobblestone experience for bikes, you might think of doing Paris Roubaix?

    Reply
  9. driedees

    @ Tristan: the Paris – Roubaix race was also the first thing I thought about when Ray mentioned the cobbles and cyclists. The Dutch tv network VPRO made a nice segment on Paris Roubaix: link to youtu.be. There’s also a longer special, which isn’t availble online anymore. A small section of that special shows how volunteers restore the cobblestones in traditional manner link to youtu.be (all in Dutch/French/Flemish).

    Reply
  10. I ran on some cobblestone for the Mt.Vernon trail in Alexandria over the weekend and noticed the same thing! What is the absolute worst and something you will never have to deal with is cobble stone / stone with any sort of gap when you wear heels. It EATS heels. Nice run!

    Reply
  11. Caferey

    I ran the marathon last year and didn´t have any problems with the cobbles, and I was running at just under 5min/km and I know you´ll be going sub 4min/km. Looking at the finishing times, the Elites don´t have any problems either.

    The biggest problem with the Paris marathon is there is no energy drinks or gels handed out on the course (apart from a stand alone Powerade stall aroung the 33km mark) this means carrying all your fuel.

    Also you´ve probably realized now that spectators in France are much less vocal compared to N. America. The loudest thing I heard in the first km of the marathon was the beep of fellow runners watches at the 1km mark. FYI crowd support in the two large parks in the marathon is virtually non existent and the bands are few and far between there too.

    It´s still a great marathon and you´ll enjoy it for sure. BTW what time are you shooting for? Sub 3.00? Sub 2.50?

    One final thing, if you can go to the Expo during working hours and avoid Sat at all costs. I went on the Friday about 3.00pm and there were no queues at all. Heard Sat is a nightmare.

    Reply

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