Hills, hills, hills

I’m still thinking about the hills in Little Rock.  I’ve been reading race report after race report for the Little Rock marathon.  Some people say the hills aren’t too bad.  Some describe them as mountains.  I suppose it’s all relative to what you’ve been training on and what you are used to.

I’ve done the training for a hilly marathon.  I’ve done at least one “hill” workout most weeks on the treadmill since mid-December.  Initially I could only do 2 miles of hills on TM and the pace was 10:13.  Eventually I was at 6 miles of hills (up and down) on TM with 8:52 pace.  Plus, most weeks I’ve done my medium and/or long runs (including some tempos and marathon pace runs) on hilly courses around home.  I have no clue whether the hills around here even compare to the Little Rock course, but they are definitely rolling hills and definitely more hillwork than I’ve ever done in training.  So I feel like my body is physically ready to tackle the hills.  I just need to work a bit on the mental aspect (thus this post, to remind myself that I am trained and prepared, so I should be mentally ready too!)

Now all I need is a strategy to execute on the hills.  I found something on the internet from a woman named “Coach Jenny” on Runners World regarding pacing on hills (she is addressing a question about Baltimore, which is apparently hilly in the 2nd 1/2).  Link here. The highlight of her article makes alot of sense and seems like a great strategy, one that I will try to adopt on the hills.  It is:

A sure way to earn a personal record on a course like Baltimore’s is to run the hills “mindfully.”  Meaning, make the most of every hill, or as I like to say, make friends with the hills.  Go into the race with a hill strategy — one that will keep your mind actively engaged on running every hill efficiently.  Most runners burn themselves out on the hills trying to maintain their race pace as they run up.  Doing so expends a lot of energy and leaves you fatigued and mindless at the top of the hill.  Rather than hammering up the hills, let your effort level (heart rate or breathing) be your guide.  Maintain close to the same “effort level” you’re running at before the hill (versus pace) to run up the hill.  In other words, if your heart rate is at 80% before the hill, maintain close to that effort going up the hill (which means slowing down going up).

Focus on your form, keeping your strides shorter and your spine tall up the hill.  Stay relaxed and focus as you climb.  Runners will most likely pass you on the way up.  Let them go.  As you reach the top of the hill, you’ll be raring to take advantage of gravity and its downward pull.  This is where you make up the difference in time, passing runners; this is when hills become fun.  Let the hill pull you down.  Open your stride, lean slightly into the hill and think “let go.”  The more relaxed you are, the less impact you’ll create on your muscles and joints.  Like all things, running downhill takes practice but once you perfect your hill strategy, you’ll never want to run a flat course again.
Honestly what worries me more than the uphills is the downhill at mile 17.  It sounds like it is so steep that you literally have to walk down the thing so you don’t fall on your face.  I don’t do well on downhills in the first place (though I’ve trained for them this time and feel like I am a lot better at them now, so we’ll see), let alone STEEP downhills.  The elevation profile from the Little Rock marathon website is a bit hard to read, but it does look like the downhill at mile 17 goes from 519 feet to about 250 feet very quickly.  I’m not going to let it freak me out.  When I’m thinking about pacing, I’m just going to plan on needing to go slow down that hill and plan the rest of my miles/pace accordingly.  That’s the plan anyway.  I’m also planning on more than one F-bomb during that stretch of the course!

One thought on “Hills, hills, hills

  1. My 2 marathons last year were both hilly. In the 1st one, I didn’t heed “Coach Jenny’s” advice and hit the wall hard at mile 18. It wasn’t pretty. Determined to never have that happen again, I did exactly what you did for Little Rock — included lots of hill work in my training – for the 2nd race. It worked (I PR’d)! Every time I approached a hill I remained calm and reminded myself that I trained for this. You will do GREAT! You did the work; you are prepared.
    The F-bomb also helps. I may or may not say it during every marathon 😉

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