The Neckar valley and the Odenwald hills around the Heidelberg area provide, as I’ve mentioned before, some great variety for training, with a plethora of gorgeous hilly or flat routes there for the taking. This week I’ve had a good taste of both relatively level routes and inclines, as my programme incorporated strength training on the hills alongside longer workouts at lower intensity. I do enjoy the longer low-intensity sessions, but somehow it’s always the hills that I remember most.
On Tuesday I headed out to the track for my weekly coached running session with a tri-group in Heidelberg. This workout usually focuses upon technique and targeted training, and is often less intense physically than my other training sessions in the week…… that, at least, is what I had in my head as I cycled out to the track after a busy day in the office/library–I have a number of conferences and trips coming up, and I’ve been working hard to get some projects completed.
Shortly after arriving at the track, I quickly realized that my hopes of a less intense session were misguided. Our training session this week was coached by a run-technique expert who has worked with all levels of runners, from amateurs right up to world champions. Much like my triathlon coach, he is one of those people whose expertise and coaching ability immediately elicit and demand respect – it was a privilege to get his critique of my form, and I feel I learned a lot throughout the session.
And what a session it was! Alongside the evident nature of his expertise in technique, it was immediately clear that this coach was one of those people whose energy is boundless – everyone has had one of those coaches, whether remembered fondly as a favourite coach of a successful athletic experience or in less warm terms as the smiling physical education instructor at school, who somehow convinced you to join the cross-country team that ultimately seemed fated only to run in the mud and rain (when I got home and described our workout, KT told me that it sounded like adult gym class). We started out with a 4km warm-up run through the countryside to the base of a hill, concentrating on technique. Now, hills are excellent for building proper running technique, as we tend to settle into a natural running position when faced with an incline. The first time we went up the steep incline (and it really was steep – Philosophenweg steep), I think that we all had in the back of our minds that once up and down would suffice to demonstrate technique points, which we would then incorporate into some more running on flats…… at least that’s what we thought, until we heard the enthusiastic announcement that there would be ten repeats of the hill….. which left us virtually breathless, but was followed by a bit of speed-work at the base of the hill….. followed by the 4km run back to where we started. As we arrived back in the dark, with one group member jokingly recalling army songs in the final km, it seemed like we’d been running for a lot longer than we had. I am a huge proponent of active transportation, but as I left the other group members to get into their cars and I headed over to my bike, my legs were engaged in a heated argument with my ideological brain, informing it that it would clearly see things differently if it were the one wearing the shoes and had to pedal a hunk of metal another 4kms back home.
All this said, I (sadistically) enjoyed the workout and feel again like I learned a lot on the technique front, particularly with how I use my arms when running (no doubt due to the fact that, each time I came around the bend at the halfway point of the very steep hill, I heard ‘arms, arms, arms….you see, you’re going faster already’ – the only problem being that, at that very moment, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be going faster). The coach said to me at the end that he thinks I can be running a 39-minute 10k in 9 weeks. It’s ambitious, I think, but I’ll aim high and now make a sub-40 10k my goal on the running front for this season.
On Thursday, I tackled an incline on the bike, as I made my way up the back side of the Königstuhl hill. It was a beautiful spring morning, with almost no traffic and a chorus of birds to make the time pass. There’s no doubt that it’s a steep climb up to the Königstuhl (575m) from the river, but it is manageable and the view of Heidelberg and the surrounding area that you get from the top on a sunny day is deeply impressive (pictured above, from a slightly different angle than I saw on the bike: this was taken this summer by KT when we all went up in the funicular). The library, and pretty much any other concern I had in the world, seemed very far away at that point.