Running Hill Repeats Into The Night

I’ve decided that anytime my coach sends over a map it always ends poorly for my legs.  In kind of a mad scientist sort of way he sent over an e-mail a few days ago proposing a workout based on my upcoming Paris-Versailles 15K race at the end of the month.  He had started to scout out the race route and noted a ginormous speed bump in the middle of it.

Of course, instead of simply sending an e-mail that said “FYI: Big bump in route. Bye!”, he sent one more like: ‘So…I’ve got an idea. How about we run that bump a few times.’

Sure I thought, no problem, it’s just a hill right? How big could this hill be?  Then I fumbled around and pulled up the link he sent over.  Well then, I see.  It is a hill.  In Florida it’d officially be a mountain. Actually, the elevation gain would be just under twice the highest point in all of Florida.

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The stats on the hill put it at just under 2 miles long, with about 577ft of total elevation gain.  For reference, the Space Needle in Seattle is 605’ tall.  Of course, that’s all assuming you run it just once. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

I needed only look at the workout plan to see repeated mentions of the world “hill” and “far” in it:

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Despite all of that, I was actually looking forward to it, for two reasons.

First, I haven’t had hill repeats since I was in DC and would do them almost weekly.  Here however, this is partly because there just aren’t many hills worth running in the center of Paris.  For the workout I was looking for, I was really looking for a long sustained hill.  Not just a few hundred meters worth of length.

And second, it would take me running in a place I hadn’t run before.  Nor even cycled through.  It is pretty much on the complete opposite side of the city in an area that I normally skirt around on my bike heading out of the city.

While I could have run there (about 10K away), it would have taken away from the goal of the workout – which was sustained time on the hill (repeatedly).  So instead we (The Girl and I) took the Metro (subway).  It took about 15 minutes to get near there, but we didn’t have to change trains, so that was simple.

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We popped out at the Javel station, on the water just down the road from the Eiffel Tower.

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This station isn’t actually all that close to the hill, rather, still about 2+ miles away from it along the river.  But that’s perfect for a 10-minute warm-up, and then a 5-minute build to the right intensity.  Along the way we ran through a park, saw faux-hot-air-balloons, and then gigantic river cruise ships that wander around Europe.

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After that, we took a quick breather (per workout) to both prepare for the hill, as well as to get our bearings straight.

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We weren’t quite in the right spot, so we had to run a few hundred extra meters to the start of the hill, but once we got there it was painfully obvious we had arrived:

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The hill wanders through some neighborhoods for the first half – also the steepest half.

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Then it becomes slightly less menacing as it opens up to a reasonably pretty tree and grass lined stretch for another long jaunt:

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I’d see numerous runners out there doing pretty much the same thing.

As I reached toward the top of the tree-lined section my timer had expired on the first 10-minute interval, so I began a jog back down.  I’ve gotta hand it to them, having the grass is way better to run downhill on than the cobbles.

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Towards the bottom of this section my ‘rest’ period ended and it was back up towards the top of the hill, wherever that might be.

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The challenge turned out though that when I got to the top of the tree-lined section, the gate into the park was closed.  I didn’t quite realize there would be a park there, thus didn’t realize a gate would be there.  Most parks in Paris close at dusk to pretty much eliminate vandalism in the park.

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So instead I turned right and found a side road that took me up further.  I clearly wasn’t the only one who found this road, as plenty of others were on it as well.

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Unfortunately due to the diversion in route I didn’t quite get the elevation I wanted on the second interval.  So instead I simply kicked up the pace pretty significantly to keep the heart rates within the zones on the flats.  Next time I’ll solve this by running downhill a touch bit faster to ensure I’m not short 2 minutes.

After the second set it was onto the short 30” sprints.  We did these on the only flat piece of land around:

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After finishing up those and a cool down we checked out the gate situation.

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They didn’t have hours posted, however, they did have Black Sheep posted.  Seriously.  In the moat surrounding it there were black sheep down there.

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As one might expect after gaining nearly 600 ft of elevation in an otherwise relatively flat city, you’d have a pretty spectacular view.  No doubt these homes run well into the millions.  Check out the view this home had on top of the bluff overlooking the city and the Eiffel Tower:

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From there it was back down the hill to a different (closer) Metro station.  It’d end up taking us three different trains to get home, primarily due to lack of thinking that part through.  More ways to optimize for next time!

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Overall we were pretty excited to check out a new area of the city – find a new hill, and get to run up and down it a few times.  Plus, we saw black sheep.

Thanks for reading!

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20 Comments

  1. Martin Anso

    Thanks for sharing this, Ray! I’m interested in how you / your coach find good routes for hill workouts – i.e. searching for and identifying routes of the right length, incline / grade, etc. Any suggestions / tips? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      In this case he was using MapMyRun to scout out the race route, and used the elevation feature within it.

      If you don’t have a route defined you can use the Google Maps terrain (default map) view to find the routes in nearby areas based on shading. Also, another good option is actually just using the Garmin Connect activity search view and setting the location close to you and putting in “hill repeats” as the title of the workout. Many people title it that way. ;)

      Reply
  2. LIVING HERE IN cAPE tOWN EVEN MY FLAT RUNS ARE HILLY. Oh dear I’ve been writing in caps!!! Keep knocking off the hills!!!

    Reply
    • Ganabu replied

      I hear you. In New Zealand that would get down-graded from ‘hill’ to ‘bump’ or maybe ‘lump’ due being ‘feet’ not ‘meters’.

      Reply
    • EPAC replied

      Same here in Zürich (CH), at least where I live. Only if you run along the Limmat river or directly at the lake shore it will be flat. Go anywhere else and you quickly end up doing >100 height meters – but I like that, also because of the great views that typically await you at the top :-) Ray, nice pics of Paris there!

      Reply
    • Tyler Haas replied

      Living in South Florida, even my hilly runs are flatter than this — the only “hills” in my area are bridges and highway overpasses with sidewalks :(

      Reply
  3. Hubert

    Hello Ray

    I just spent a week in Paris and was astonished by … the pollution.
    I hardly see me running in the streets of the town, barely in the forest around (Bois de Boulogne, de Vincenne).
    What is your point of view on this subject?

    Thanks
    Hubert

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Obviously it’s not as clean as the Alps, but overall it doesn’t bother me. The AQI is on par with other major cities (i.e. NYC), and, while normally about the same as London – it’s about half that right this moment.

      As for not seeing many runners in Paris, it’s likely two reasons. If you were here in the last 4-5 weeks, it’s simply because Parisians aren’t here. The Parisians all leave the city for August, so it’s pretty much empty. The other is that even in the other times of years you just don’t see the level of runners that you would in other major cities, simply because the French as a whole don’t typically exercise (in particular run) that much compared to say the US or Canada.

      Reply
  4. Mr Magoo

    The hill you climbed “la cote des gardes” is very famous for french runners.
    It is on the way of the “Paris – Versaille” 16k run at the end of the month (25.000 people expect).
    Good training Mr Ray :-)

    Reply
  5. Olivier

    HI Ray

    First time I post here even though I have been following your blog for one year

    Indeed, the hill u talked about is the famous “cotes des gardes” and one of the most “fun” around (you have others in “Parc de Saint Cloud” but shorter
    FYI, if you saw numerous runners out there doing pretty much the same thing is beacause on Sunday 29th, will take place the famous and classical “Paris Versailles” race (16km) including this hill as the main difficulty. If you back here in 1.5 month, this will be less crowdy ;-)

    Take care

    Olivier

    Reply
  6. marco

    for quick and hard hill-repeats I can recommend
    Parc des Buttes Chaumont

    Reply
  7. Laurent

    Welcome to my world, I live just down that “bump”. It’s true there’s been lots of people training on it for the past couple of weeks.
    for training, you may try Parc de St Cloud (location for Cross du Figaro), which has no car, unlike the lower portion of Route des Gardes

    Reply
  8. Duncan Lally

    Great run!

    Reply
  9. Claudio

    By taking a right before the end of the cobblestone avenue, you were actually following the Paris-Versailles course. After another 300m there’s a sharp right, another 50m or so of climbing, and then, at last, it flattens out.
    (But there are some other hilly bits before reaching the finish line!)

    Reply
  10. Matthieu in Taipei

    Agree with Marco, Parc de St Cloud as i suggested to you start of the summer provides great workouts with hills and very nice vistas of Paris. No cars, trees, paved roads, grass alleys, and even some backsides trails connecting these nice Alleys !
    easy access by Line 9 (pont de Sevres) or by the Tram !
    Enjoy the Race !

    Reply
  11. Wendy

    When we need hills (Houston, TX) we run parking garages.

    Reply
  12. David George

    > Obviously it’s not as clean as the Alps

    or it is? Places like Passy (in the Arve valley) and Chamonix have worse air pollution than Paris. Passy is supposed to be the most polluted air in France.

    Reply
  13. ptibonom

    Regarding the ‘not seeing many runners in Paris’, there are 2 points to consider : roads have been there for quite a while and there’s generally no room for running/cycling alleys; therefore many runners won’t live in Paris but in the ‘far’ suburb like the Yvelines or the Essone (if you don’t already know abou it you have to go ride in the Vallée de Chevreuse forests).

    Reply

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