The Steepest Hill in Riga

IMG_1245In my experience, most runners have a love-hate relationship with hill running. A necessary part of any solid training regimen, it is tough and gritty, often leaving us gasping for air. But, as with most things in life, the more we do it, the easier it becomes, building strength, power, and confidence in a way that few other workouts can. Ask any runner and he or she will be sure to regale you with mighty tales of hill conquering following hours of intense training, sweat, and yes, possibly even tears. And probably some vomit, too. 

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There was a time when hill running was part of my daily routine. I logged many miles on these ones just outside Lexington, Virginia, where I went to university and ran on the cross country team. Those were the days…. Photo credit: M.

I am no different in my love-hate relationship with hill running, and though I have searched high and low throughout Riga for a sizable hill on which to train, I have found not a single one. Most cities have some kind of high point – a hilltop or a mountain top overlooking the city, and often, getting to the high point can become a hiking or cycling adventure, but not in Riga. No, in Riga, one can observe the city below more or less exclusively by elevator, either from the 26th floor of the Radisson Hotel Latvija, or from the spire of St. Peter’s Church. Neither option involves climbing a hill, and of course, neither is runnable.

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Beautiful Riga, viewed from the spire of St. Peter’s Church. No hills or stairs will get you here; only the elevator.

I can’t say I’ve ever lived in a city lacking any hills, but I suppose there is a first time for everything. Riga’s network of runnable trails, albeit wonderful, is nothing but flat, flat, and more flat. This is a great feature when it comes time to run the Riga Marathon, but otherwise, it leaves me longing for the days of anaerobic workouts involving burning lungs and legs… those workouts that I love to hate.

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Another hill sure to make anyone fit. This one is in Lugano, Switzerland, which we visited a couple of weekends ago. No shortage of hills there!

Although it’s been a while since I’ve written, and especially since I’ve written about running, mostly due to moving into our permanent housing (finally!) and getting unpacked in the last couple of weeks, I have indeed been running in an attempt to keep up with something that resembles a training plan for the Vilnius Marathon in Lithuania, coming up on September 13. Vilnius. A city full of hills.

Between the trails on either side of the Daugava River and the loop that circles the small river island on which we live, I have plenty of space for long runs, tempo workouts, and interval training… just no hills.

Except for this:

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The steepest hill in Riga.

This little bit of path heading onto the Vanšu Bridge, measuring about 50 meters and rising about 10 meters from start to finish, is the steepest hill in Riga, from what I can tell. Barely noticeable as an incline, it was by far the only hint of rise in elevation on the Riga Marathon course last May. Not that I would ever complain about a fast and flat marathon course… but a little bit of up and down never hurt anyone.

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The steepest hill in Riga, viewed from the side.

Meanwhile, I will continue to log my miles throughout this beautiful city, blissfully ignorant of what may await me in Vilnius in September. Frieda certainly likes exploring the trails, and, in the absence of a track, they do make for convenient and consistent speed workouts.

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One of my favorite stretches of trail in Riga, just across the canal from Kipsala. It is almost always this empty.

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One of my new running options in our new neighborhood.

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This path on the east bank of the Daugava River is a great, wide, stretch of flatness.

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Crossing the Daugava River on one of these strange covered bridges is always a bit surreal. They are usually lonely and the air is cold. Sometimes I lose the satellite signal on my watch running under these.

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This path on the west bank of the Daugava River is not quite as nicely paved as the one on the other side, but it still serves as a good option and offers a beautiful view of the city on the opposite side.

Finally, I suppose that if I am truly in need of a new running challenge, there is always plenty of this in Riga:

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Walking on the cobblestones of  our neighborhood in Kispala is an exercise in trying not to break an ankle.

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Charming though it is, I don’t think I will be attempting to run on this street anytime soon.

Fellow runners, have you been to Riga? Do you know where I might find a good-sized hill in the city on which to run?

Thank you for reading!

8 thoughts on “The Steepest Hill in Riga

  1. A great atmospheric post. Sometimes I think that I’d love to be in a city with no hills…then I always complain when I’m stuck on flat terrain. Would love to visit Riga, thanks for sharing a little bit of it here.

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  2. Hi there – the steepest places in Riga would be bridges, for Example VEF bridge, that’s the best I could think of. I would suggest to go to the city called Sigulda, though, as there are beautiful sceneries and plenty of hills around. 🙂
    – Ruta

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  3. We have tons of hills in Kent, Connecticut by our weekend place – that’s all anyone comments on who goes out running here! Gave me a good laugh.

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