So I was once upon a time I was told hills were my weakness… I remember being really shocked and gutted – i’d always thought I was good at running uphill! But when someone picks on your weakness what do you do? You become STRONGER and better until it’s not your weakness! That’s why I decided to go for a week of hill training in the French Alps and this week – Wednesday the 14th of June, myself and a group of other crazy runners ran the 12km route that is Alpe d’Huez.
For those of you who don’t know about Alpe d’Huez – it’s a mountain in the French alps witha big 12km (7.5miles) 1860m hill climb with an average 8% gradient – one BIG hill!
So we stayed in a challet at the top of the mountain the night before and at 7:15am (Optimistically trying to beat the 33 degree daily heat) we made our way down to the bottom (driving) leaving water bags at 4, 6, 8 and 10k. Once at the bottom we had a quick warm up and off we went!
The first 2km of the climb were the toughest with my first progressive mile being around 12 minutes and to get me through the first couple of miles I had Eminem – Till I Collapse on repeat! The road route to the top is characterised by 21 bends/hairpins which are labelled clearly and countdown from 21 – 1. This gives you a focus point and counting factor during the run – and once you pass that 10th bend psychologically you know you’ll make it to the top.
Times got tough during the climb where the altitude meant you often felt breathless like you were racing and at race pace – but your legs were unable to go any faster. Not only that, but after 2 of our bags of water bottles got stolen at 8 and 10K I only managed a mouthful of Redbull at 6K so myself and the rest of the team had to complete the last half of the climb without any hydration. However we weren’t the only ones struggling – there were tons of cyclists trying to complete the climb and most of them we overtook. But i can honestly say all you have to do is look to the right at the amazing mountain view. I kept telling myself how truly lucky i was to be able to run up such a beautiful mountain and experience the sights and the views.
At the top of Alpe d’Huez there is a big orange finish line – so its pretty hard to miss! I managed to run the 21 bends that is Alp d’Huez in 1:18:21 – with pacing averaging out at around 10:15 to 10:30 minute miles. This may sound like a long time to complete 7.5miles but at 8% gradient this was a never ending hill climb. To put it in perspective of women who have run up Alpe d’Huez and recorded it on Strava I rank 5th of all time and 1st for women this year.
Climbing Alpe d’Huez was an amazing experience and one I won’t be forgetting in a hurry – I made sure i ran with good hill form and remained very much comfortable during the climb with regards to breathing and effort to ensure i had a realistic energy maintenance to get to the top. If you are looking for a challenge and something to push you and happen to be in the French Alpes – d’Huez is a must whether you’re biking or running!