[151] Hills

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
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8 Responses to [151] Hills

  1. David H. says:

    While this article has some good points, I can tell you from my experience with Shamrock that the hills will pay off. The race will not seem “easy,” but the hills provide speed work without even knowing it. Take my last Shamrock Half for example, when I rarely had runs under 9-minute mile pace around Bedford, and I still busted out a 1:42. Also, something to consider for Shamrock, you are training above sea level; the difference at sea level vs. where you are in Richmond vs. mountains you can run in will go a long way on race day.

    • traintotri says:

      Hmm – I didn’t even think about sea level. And looking back, I’ve always done well on flat courses after training on the hills in my neighborhood. I think it’s just the length of this race that’s intimidating me a little, as far as the topography being the same for the entire distance. But really, it’s just another little thing for me to fret over!

  2. steena says:

    Well thanks for further justifying my avoiding hills during the long run! I just avoid them during a long run because a long run is hard enough as it is for me. But I think David’s comment has some good points too,

  3. jnkmiles.org says:

    Very Very interesting….we don’t have too many hills here, but I managed to pick hilly course for my half and I’m still not recovered!! There is something to be said about training to the course conditions, but I’m thinking the hills you do are only going to help. The strength and anaerobic capacity those legs have acquired will carry you well….I can’t wait to see your results!! 😉

  4. Rebecca says:

    If it makes you feel any better, I trained in my hilly neighborhood for a super flat marathon (at the beach) and qualified for Boston. Don’t worry too much about it.

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