Just before entering Paris last July, riders in this year’s Tour de France swooped down the Route des Gardes, a dizzyingly steep hill in the satellite town of Meudon. Now, in September, the fashion is to run up it.
The Route des Gardes features on the route of Paris-Versailles, an annual race of 10 miles (16 kilometres) taking place this Sunday morning, 30 September. Just over two kilometres long and with a gradient of 7% in parts, this uphill stretch seems to inspire dread and awe for participants. These last few weekend mornings, runners have been coming out to Meudon to practice scaling this obstacle. Some people take the train and tram; others park their car at the bottom or the top. Last Sunday lunchtime one group of runners had a ‘tailgate’ picnic out of the boot of their car, no doubt swapping tales of the semi-mythical rock wall they had just scaled and descended.
It’s strange for me to see the trepidation with which runners approach the Route des Gardes. I live near the foot of this hill; every morning I walk about a third of the way up it to get the tram to work. And little children run up it going home from school every day.
I’ve never run the Paris-Versailles – not from fear of the hill, but because of the drag of getting back into town afterwards. It’s a point-to-point race like the New York Marathon – it starts at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and finishes at the chateau of Versailles. (Treating you like the royalty you are, the the organisers cart your bag out to the finish for you.) Unsurprisingly, such illustrious sights make Paris-Versailles popular on the athletics tourism scene.
When I first moved to this area and went running, I would dash out the door and straight up the Route des Gardes. However, this wasn’t a sensible way to start my run – without a warm-up for such a demanding effort. These days I run a mile and a half around the hill and go up the other side – the slope is less dramatic but it’s longer and more consistent, so I still get a good work-out.
Then at the end of my run I come down the Route des Gardes. The view is spectacular – the hill overlooks the tree-lined Seine and it’s not far to the Eiffel Tower. On a sunny day you can see right across the rooftops of Paris; at night the Tower is lit up.
Running down a steep hill is probably more troublesome that running up it, especially in wet weather or if you go out of control. My technique for the descent is to take an almost sitting position so that my weight goes back rather than forward.
Going uphill, I keep my fists up and pump my arms, much like how action heros run in movies. The bustling arm action helps ‘pull’ you up the hill and makes you feel figuratively pumped up too – a steep slope is a challenge to be tackled head-on, not head down.
But if you can’t transform yourself into a pump action hero on the hill of Meudon this Sunday, you can try channelling your inner pop genius: