It’s no secret that training on hills provides lots of great benefits for runners. (Here’s an article that tells us why, and shares some hill-running tips.) In short, it makes us stronger, makes our muscles more elastic, and makes us feel like we’re flying when we finally reach level ground.
But what happens when we’re training for a distance race that takes place on a pancake-flat course? Logic might lead us to believe that training on hills will make the flat course seem easy and fast. That’s one reason why I was happy to sign up for the Shamrock Marathon this spring – I train in a hilly area but that race, which parallels the Virginia Beach oceanfront, is just about as flat as they come.
But a friend on Daily Mile recently shared an article that contradicted that line of thought. It turns out that long periods of running on featureless terrain can actually have an adverse effect on a runner. Marathon guru Pete Pfitzinger says “this lack of variety enhances fatigue as your hamstrings and calf muscles and quadriceps repeat the same cycle over and over again.”
His solution – train on flat ground. Uh oh.
But it turns out all is not lost. While most of my weekday runs are done in my hilly neighborhood (according to my GPS watch, today’s 5.5-mile run had 1,200 feet of elevation gain), I generally drive downtown for my weekend long runs. I’ve done that mainly to escape the monotony of running my neighborhood streets every single day – it’s not a big neighborhood and after about 6 or 7 miles I start lapping back over the same route. But when I go downtown I have an unlimited combination of streets to create my route. And, as an ancillary benefit, it’s usually a bit flatter.
While my downtown runs are not quite as flat as the Shamrock course, they’re much flatter than the roads near my home. And Pfitzinger specifies that, when training for a flat marathon, your long runs should be on a flat course. To me, that means there’s still an important place in my training for the hilly meat-and-potatoes runs during the week. But perhaps I need to make more of an effort to map out my weekend long runs (and perhaps my longer mid-week tempo runs) so they follow routes that are mostly flat.
It sounds like a cop-out to intentionally seek out flatter routes, but it seems to make sense to tailor my training to a specific race – in this case, flat is where it’s at.Bike: 17.1/147.2 miles Run: 12.5/152.2 miles