Running hill repeats with the Velib bike share


The last few weeks in preparation for the upcoming Paris-Versailles running race I’ve been doing a variety of hill-related workouts on the main hill of the course itself (a nearly 2-mile long and 600ft climb).  However, while that works out quite well, it’s a bit of a haul for me to go to.  I have to take a Metro ride (subway) there about 20 minutes, then run another 15 minutes.  Going is fairly easy, but by time I come home it costs at least 45 minutes because I’m on different train lines.

Instead, a reader a week or two ago mentioned a different hill that’s not as far from me, about 15 minutes by run.  In looking at his Strava route, it looked quite good for our purposes.  A little less overall height, but still had the length we wanted.  Ideally I needed about 10-minutes of straight climbing to best simulate the race course.

So I handed off the route to my coach with a bit of an idea: What if we combined the running of the hill repeats with taking the Velib back down again?  The Velib is the Parisian bike-share system.

The reason we’d want do this is that while running 10-minutes uphill is part of the goal, running 10-minutes back downhill doesn’t really do much except increasing the pounding on the workout.  If we could cut that out, we could spend more quality time going uphill.

So, we poked at some maps for a bit and came up with a game plan.  Here’s the story of my (attempted) execution.

I started off from the house running along the river as I usually do:


From there I crossed over the Seine and up towards Bastille and the canal where numerous folks dock their boats:


After crossing the gigantic intersection with the monument, I continued down the tree-lined center median of the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir.  While I’ve wandered over a couple times walking, I’ve never run this way before.  Turned out quite nice with plenty of room for running and very few stops.


I’d ultimately be looking for the start of water in the medium of the grass, which would be my indicator to turn-off and start my hill repeats.  Making it easier was that the road name would be Rue de Belleville, which is the same name as my commuter bike.

I found the water, but oddly the building/street in front of said water didn’t have any street markings on it (extremely rare).  Figuring this was the one, I finished up my two-minute recovery from the 15-minute build and then started up the hill.


My hill workouts have been split into three chunks.  A 5-minute chunk, a 3-minute chunk, and then a 2-minute chunk.  The general idea being to continue to increase intensity (HR) as I go up the hill – which roughly translates to me keeping the same pace as I climb and get more tired.

This particular street ended up being slightly more crowded than my usual locale on the race course, and thus I did a bit more dodge and weave.  But, it had a hill, so that was fine.


Along the way I started to get a bit concerned though, as the street signs re-appeared and this definitely wasn’t the right street.  But I figured I’d only be a street or two off, and as long as they all went up, I should be good.

Eventually upon reaching the end of my first 10-minute stretch the hill turned a bit and meandered in a non-straight direction.  Further, it started to flatten out (not part of the plan).  Still, I saw a Velib station ahead so I figured I’d call that the end and then reset.

Near the Velib station was a Metro stop, which always have handy maps on the back of them.  It became immediately apparent I was nowhere near where I wanted to be.


And adding injury to insult, the single bike left had a broken docking station, thus not releasing the bike.


Cutting my losses after lengthy study of the map I started running back towards the correct street, ultimately finding a bike along the way.


I shortly thereafter found the correct hill and began my descent of the cobbles via bike.  Oh, and it started pouring out.


On the bright side there was a view of the Eiffel tower off in the distance:


I found the bottom of the hill, but it was quite a long ways from where I was supposed to start each repeat.  At this point it became clear that the map assumed a much steeper climb than it was.  So I found a nearby station and parked my bike, figuring it’d be best to start from here than further ‘down’ the already flattened hill.


With the bike parked, I started my run up the hill:


At this point I was happy with getting back on track.  And, even better was a rainbow up above:


The hill was nice and steep, and even wandered past the below church.  There was a fair bit more dodge and weave though than I would have preferred:



Just about the end of the 8 or so minute marker I found the top of the hill. A bit short of my 10-minute goal, but there quite simply wasn’t anyway to go up any more.


So I went to the three Velib stations nearby, and found this:



Well then.  So much for taking the Velib back down.

As I had been running up I noticed one station that did have two spare bikes, a few hundred meters away.  So I went down to it instead:



Sweet! Bike!

Back down the hill again.



Upon reaching the bottom of the hill I found a little better parking location (different Velib station) off to the side, and parked my bike:


Then, time to go back up again:



I was excited that I was keeping pace with this guy:


I reached the top in again about 7-8 minutes (a bit faster this time):


However, again there lacked any bikes.  Adding injury to insult, on the way up I noticed zero bikes leftover on any of the racks on the hill.  At this point I had run quite a bit extra during the first failed hill-top attempt, and with the rain and wind I was getting colder than I planned.  So while I had one more repeat left, they were ending up shorter than I wanted and the quality simply wasn’t there.

So instead I moved onto doing my short 30” sprints on a road in front of a school at the top of the hill.  One interesting Parisian item of note is that all of the schools have short street fences in front of the main doors.  This prevents kids from running directly out the doors and getting hit by traffic.


As I started making my way down the hill I had a small revelation while looking at the map.  Well, actually, two revelations.  The first being that I should have taken my Metro card (or money), so I could just simply take the Metro home.  The second being that the Metro line actually follows the road exactly up the hill.  I could probably take the Metro back down the hill in less time than running or riding.  Hmm…


The brown line is the exact route of the hill (going down, to the left).  So realistically I could have just got on the train and gone down the hill to Belleville. Trains operate on at most 3-minute headways that time of day, and there’s 40-60-seconds between stops.

I ended up running all the way down the hill until I found a station with a bike (stations are every few hundred meters).P1130644

And guess what? The only functional bike left was the very same bike I dropped off 15 minutes prior.  Go figure.


With that, I wrapped up almost 12 miles of mostly running.


13,000+ wet steps according to the Polar Loop:


From there I’d ride my way back home:




Turns out, it was over a 3-mile ride home, more than I would have expected actually.  Upon walking the final few hundred meters to the house I saw one of the various daily/nightly bike tours out on the lock-bridge.  I almost felt bad for them…then I remembered I just spent the previous two hours running and riding in the cold rain as well.  They meanwhile, were about to go get ice cream.


With that, back home and back to warmth.  Next time, it’ll be back to my usual place for hills.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. I love that story and I hope your hills pay off and you have a great race.

  2. Lin

    Here in Taipei, our EasyCard works for both the MRT (your Metro) and the UBike (your Velib). Even mo better… the same card can be used in any convenience store such as 7-11. Super convenient!

    Enjoy your posts. Keep them coming.Thanks!

    • Sébastien

      Same in Paris, “Navigo” card works for Metro, Bus & Velib.

    • Lin

      I was under the impression that the bikes and metro were on different systems since he said, “…that I should have taken my Metro card (or money), so I could just simply take the Metro home.” I was assuming he had to use a card to get a bike??

      Anyway, good to here the Navigo card works across all systems. I totally forgot our EasyCard works on the bus system as well.

    • Correct, I have a Navigo card, but I also have a traditional Velib card (got it previous to Navigo).

  3. Hello Ray,

    As a Parisian myself, you need to know something about Velib: stations on top of hills are ALWAYS empty, while the ones before hills are full. You’re idea was good but not possible in real life ;)

    You should also download an iPhone app to live check the availibility of bikes. Many of them exist, I can advise the simplest one: Openbike now => link to

    And about running hills: you could try the Buttes chaumont. It will be shorter (aroud 500m length for 1 hill) but it’s a nice parc, it’s free of cars but full of trees… Tell me how you find it :)


    • Sébastien

      This is why you can get 15 free minutes credit on your card if you drop a bike in a station on top of a hill. Theses stations have the “Bonus V+” pictogram.

    • Eli

      Bike share in DC tends to run out of bikes at the tops of hills too. Most people just want to go down the hills

    • Ahh, but Roman – as a Parisian you’d know that the iPhone app is NEVER accurate. :)

      I’ve got that app (and a few others), and they always show incorrect bike numbers. I’ve kinda gotten to the point that they’re useless. :(

    • That’s strange, I usually have no issue from those apps as long as I refresh them often enough (like juste before living my place or while looking on the run for a bike). It says “2min ago” for instance and I have no good/bad surprise.
      And btw you could merge Navigo with Velib so that you only have to carry one pass ;)

    • Weird. For me, I can be standing in front of a rack and it tell me there’s 28 bikes available, yet nothing. :(

      Yeah, I could merge the two passes, but for now I just keep them separate since it means I can also let friends/family in town borrow my Velib pass.

  4. Chris

    The Forerunner 210 makes another appearance!
    It’s probably not healthy that one of my first questions for training-related posts such as this is usually, “I wonder which unreleased/skunkworks devices Ray is using today?” And I must admit, the appearance of a 210 in any post reinforces this suspicion.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Yeah, I usually my original launch-week FR610, and then 10 or so days ago The Girl started using it and that caused the discoloration issues that are well known for certain people (fine for me, not for her). So I ran up support and am in the process of having it swapped out. Thus, I’d use the FR210 instead.

  5. Alice

    Hi Ray,
    I do sooo enjoy your Paris adventures with all the pics, thanks for the sweet post and have a great race,

  6. just thinking… maybe you should have done your training the right way… like cycle up, run down, and after like 5 bike rides, you would be able to do some uphill run repeats… though somebody could take your bikes you previously drove up… hmm… but just imagine how much time credit on your velib card you would get!

    regarding hill repeats… i do quite often “hill repeats” on the trocadero steps… like series of 15-20… short and sweet, but to be attempted only early in the morning or in the evening (due to crowds)

  7. Shelley

    The Girl stole your 610XT in revolt of you not finding/sending off her 310 that she so dearly loves. Maybe she decided stealing your 610 would force you into action to getting her “orange” back. ;)

  8. As I was a Parisian, I’ve done many repeats training with a velib in the “cote des gardes” by night, not too much cars in the slope and the elevation is long enough to try different kind of repetition (to 1′ to 5′ before going back to start).
    Nevertheless, the closest velib station is a little far so you have to get bonus in your account to finish a training without paying.

    Bonus fact : if you do this, you will know exactly the sloping rate of the “cote des gardes” for the yearly “paris-versailles” race.

  9. Camille

    Yes Belleville can get crowded, it’s usually better late/early. Another way to tackle the same hill is to start a bit further along the canal by Jaures metro station and take Avenue Secretan up and finish by telegraph as well. It’s a bit longer and the sidewalks are much wider. Les Buttes de Chaumont is also a very nice park.
    link to
    Hope you have better luck next time!