Competition is all well and good but the real meat and potatoes of any half-serious runner’s schedule are the training runs. The runs in-between races. Over my years running I’ve have had the pleasure of training in some really nice locations. I can probably single out seven or eight training runs that have been particularly memorable for one reason or another. One of these is Heidelberg, in the south of Germany.
Training runs are essential to keep us in shape and help us prepare for longer distances or build up speed. They can also be a pleasure in themselves. For some people it’s a social thing but while a lot of people train with a club or group of friends, I tend to go out more on my own. I mean, I’m not antisocial or anything and it’s nice to run with other people, but I tend to run early in the morning or late in the evening and it’s not always possible to find someone who runs at the same time or at the same pace. But it isn’t all that bad either. Running alone can provide solitude and peace. For me, the solo runs are ‘me’ time, a time for reflection and contemplation. It can also be a good way to gain a different perspective on your environment. When you run you experience the weather differently and can start to see aspects of the natural environment that are normally hidden. I normally prefer to run in the countryside but when this isn’t possible I find training in an urban environment can help you to appreciate the human geography of an area as you start to notice the architecture and can find new places.
Heidelberg – 4/3/2010
Heidelberg is a picturesque town on the edge of the Black Forest in southern Germany with a baroque old-town overlooked by a Medieval castle. I was visiting the town for a conference in March of 2010 but as I hadn’t ran for more than a week I was keen get out on my last day. This needed to be quite late as the conference finished at 7 and I wanted to eat something before having to leave early the next morning. I ended up starting around 10pm. The temperature was just above zero but clear without ice or too much wind.
When I run in a new place my first concern is to plan my route to avoid crossing traffic. This normally means looking for countryside, a park or a river. In Heidelberg, since I couldn’t see a park or any sort of path into the thick wooded countryside, this meant going by the river. And so, wearing long sleeves and gloves to protect me from the German winter, I set off from my hotel on the edge of the town heading downhill toward the river Neckar. After about a kilometre I arrived in the centre of the old-town with a fantastic view of the castle. At this time of night the streets were pretty much empty, without much traffic or many pedestrians to slow me down, so I was keeping a good pace. After another few minutes I arrived at the bank of the river. From here I could follow the tow-path and stay on the flat.
At this point I started thinking that this could be a good route to try and knock down my 10k training time. At this point I was really focused on my 10k time. I’d just broken 40 minutes at the East Kilbride 1ok four months prior to this and had visions of pushing the time down further. I’d even started to push under 40 for some of my training runs. However, running on the flat can have its own particular problems for runners like me who are used to hills. Running in the hills we tend to rest our legs on the downhill and our lungs on the uphill. Running on the flat requires putting an even stress on both lungs and legs without time to relax either. Running on the flat can also sometimes feel monotonous and its difficult to vary your pace as you might be able to do naturally on the inclines of a hilly course. If you start out to slow it can be hard to pick up pace and if you go too fast you can tire yourself out and find it hard to start up again. So, I set my pace to 3:50 minutes per k and held on till the 5k mark before turning back.
The run back along the river was into a slight breeze. Sometimes the wind can be a problem running along the shore, especially with an course that comes back on itself. If you run into the wind it slows you down while the wind at your back can speed you up. The effects don’t, however, cancel each other out and with an out-and-back course you never quite get back the time you lose with the wind in your face. Coastal areas are also less protected from the wind so on courses like, for example, the Edinburgh park-run at Cramond, which is an out-and-back along the Firth of Forth, it can be difficult to pace yourself when setting off. Here, a fast start with the wind at your back often means a worse overall time after you lose more time running back into the wind. As I was running into the the wind on the way back along the river in Heidelberg I slowed down a touch but the overall effect wasn’t too bad since the river is mostly shielded from the wind by a steep valley.
By the time I left the river and drew breath crossing the busy road going back toward the old-town I had less that two kilometres to go before arriving back at the hotel. For this distance, where the gradient isn’t too bad, I was able to more or less maintain the pace I kept over the flat. And so, I arrived back at the hotel having covered 10.32k in 39 minutes 23 seconds with a pace of 3:49 minutes per kilometre. It was my first time under 3:50 for a training run, great. I slept well and left Heidelberg early the next morning. By this time it was snowing heavily making the road to the railway flanked by old German tenements look even more picturesque than when I arrived. It was a long journey home but I was happy to have experienced a new place and get a good run in on the way.