Update on Vertical Training

I was going to call this “update on KMV training”, but in my scheduled and tentative races for this year only one out of a potential four events is a true “KMV”, meaning a climb of 1km vertical distance over as short of a distance as possible. But no matter the exact specifics, all my race plans for 2015 so far revolve around covering significant amounts of elevation in comparatively short distances. And finding good training opportunities for that in Luxembourg is challenging.

Around home or work, the biggest climbs I can find still only cover less than 100m of vertical, and none of that is steep or long enough to be really useful. No sense being able to power up a staircase in under a minute and then falling apart a few minutes into a one hour race. So late last year I went nuts on topographic maps and Strava “Segment Explore” and tried to find steeper terrain that was still within an hour’s drive.

There weren’t that many options to start with, but I settled on two different areas as my training grounds: the trails around the “Saarschleife” in neighboring Germany, and a steep single-trail that goes up to “Gringlee” in Northern Luxembourg. The latter is also used as a starting platform for paragliding.

With an average grade of 30%, the Gringlee single trail climbs around 225m of elevation in less than 800m of distance. This is as steep, or maybe even steeper, than what I will encounter at the Chamonix KMV in late June. So far, I have made five visits and “ran” up a total of 17 times. I started in March with an ascent time of 11:51, and as of yesterday have managed to shave off a little over a minute, for the current best of 10:42. According to Strava, this translates to a pace of 13:57 minutes per kilometer; which to any outsider will seem horribly slow. And it gets worse: on subsequent repeats the same day I often drop down to an even slower pace. Part of that is explained by the extreme steepness and the accumulation of effort; but mostly my heart rate quickly goes up and stays way up, so I’m not actually running most of the climb but rather just hiking as fast as the body allows.

Of course the thing with running vs. walking a steep hill is that it’s actually faster to power hike than to run at a slow, sustainable speed. And in the end, there’s no style police and there’s no points being awarded for who walked the least on a climb; what counts is who gets to the top first. But I still wish I could run more, and not just at a leisurely pace. Thankfully, this is something that in theory at least I can train for; and it should get easier the more I do it. Unfortunately, pushing yourself that much is hard work both physically and mentally, and that can be even more challenging after a full day of real work (sitting in an office for 8 hours).

And then there’s the Saarschleife and the trail that leads from the river to the Cloef viewpoint. Its average grade of 13% makes it inherently more runnable, but at 1.4km distance it’s also longer and there’s still around 190m of elevation to cover. When I first ran this in late November, it took me 13 minutes and 20 seconds, at an average pace of 9:26/km. By April, I’ve managed to lower that time to 11:39 (for a 8:14/km pace); and I was feeling quite happy with that effort until someone else on Strava quite effortlessly beat my time by one minute. So once more, lots of potential to run this faster still, but I need to put in the hours.

So far this year, in less than four months I’ve covered almost 23km of vertical, both hiking (9k) and running (14k). Last year the total for twelve months was around 31km (14k hiking, 17k running). Clearly, I’ve done some work already; but there’s more to be done. I need to make sure that I get solid hill efforts in every week, ideally two or three times per week. At the same time, there’s still lots of potential for optimal recovery – while I need to be well-rested, there’s quite a bit of cross-training I could be doing to ensure I’m able to run with better form and to withstand the beating of both the climb up and run down.

One thing I can only influence a little is body weight. While I’ve managed to finally make a small impact in April, I’ll never be as light as Kilian Jornet. At his reported 1.71m and 58 kg, it means that with every step I need to lift an extra 23kg (which still doesn’t make me overly heavy at 1.89m). I’ve been trying to watch my calorie intake in April (and not always succeeding), but so far my monthly average is 1.5kg lighter than that of the preceding months. And even though people I mention this to are always quick to dismiss me, I’m sure my body holds at least a couple more kilos of mostly useless fat that I could lose (14% body fat versus 8% body fat).

My first race will be in a week and a half. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

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