KMV training: Saarschleife Orscholz

With my left foot altogether not happy, I should probably be doing low volume for a while. But after three days of rest, I had the itch to do some meaningful training; especially since I received confirmation on Wednesday that I’m now fully signed up for the Mont-Blanc KM Vertical on June 26 2015. While it’d be easy to say “that’s in the middle of next year, plenty of time”, I’m somewhat intimidated by the event and want to prepare it well.

A vertical KM is best described as a race that has you climb one thousand meters of elevation in as small of a distance as possible. In Chamonix, that will be 3.8km. And therein lies the main challenge for someone who lives in Luxembourg, far away from any meaningful mountains: there’s nothing in close proximity that offers 1000m of climbing. If I restrict my search to about 30 minutes of driving, the closest I’ve found in terms of big elevation change is the slopes of the Saarschleife in neighboring Germany.

I’ve mapped a segment on Strava, and the trail that snakes up from the river to the Cloef viewpoint is climbing about 190m in 1.4km of distance, for an average incline of 13%. This is a far cry from what will await me in half a year, but it’s the best I could find so far.

One good way to prepare for the physical stress of a climbing a vertical KM without having an actual mountain in from of you is to do hill repeats. Which is what I set out to do. After parking the car (and paying 1€ for the privilege), I jogged to the viewing platform that overlooks the bend of the river Saar.



The weather was dreary, but not all that cold (6°C) and fortunately it did not rain. I carefully descended down to the river over the same trail I’d take up again just a little bit later. There’s lots of dead leaves on the ground, and they do a nice job of covering lots of small stones and dead tree branches that you can trip over. I figured that the small jog and slow descent would sufficiently warm me up for the first ascent that would follow. After 2.3km and 18 minutes, I was ready to go back up.


At this point in my athletic life, running up a hill makes me reach a heart rate of 170 pretty fast. That wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for my max heart rate of about 185. Which means that I’m above 90% effort, which puts a considerable strain on not just the heart but the whole system.

I covered the first climb in 13:45 minutes with an average heart rate of 172; about a minute and a half slower than my current personal best on this segment. But unlike that time, I didn’t go at a max effort, but preserved some energy for what was still to come. On the descent, I was still fairly cautious, but stepped off the proverbial brake for a bit – it’s just more fun to barrel down a descent and take one large leap over some obstacle, rather than take three cautious and slow steps over it. But I can only do that for so long before being reasonable again, and I arrived at the bottom ready to go back up again.

The second climb was still OK at first, but I was starting to get tired already. As such, I walked parts of it, clocking 14:33 with an average heart rate of 170.

The third climb, I started walking quite early, and I was starting to be less focused mentally which means I no longer pushed a hundred percent; which translated to a time of 16:01 and an average heart rate of 161.

Altogether (warm-up, ascents and descents, cool-down) I ran (and power hiked) 10.2km in 1:31:30, for an average pace of 8:57. That sounds quite pedestrian until you factor in the total climb of 652m.If I were to string together the time required for the three climbs and ignore the descents, I would clock about 44:15 for 570 vertical meters and 5.2km of distance. Of course that is ignoring the added strain of continued climbing. Certainly, there’s a lot of potential for improvement, and I feel that I should be able to significantly improve this with a few more months of focused training.