Sunday, January 30, 2011

Running for the Hills

Yesterday's training run was all about the hills. (Insert long groan here.)

After I ran the Flying Pig last year, I decided to do two half marathons in the fall/winter that were much flatter than the infamously hilly Pig route.  Since I wasn't training for anything hilly, over the summer and fall I ran parts of the Loveland Bike Trail (flat), the loop at Lunken Airport (flatter), and on the treadmill (flattest).  While I usually enjoy challenging myself physically whenever I can, running up unnecessary hills is one place where I draw the line. 

But now we're back in the thick of training for the Pig, and I'm back to running the hills. (Insert another groan.)  Of the many hills in the marathon, the most challenging is arguably the one at Mile 6 where, after running over three different bridges with no-joke elevation gains, you come off a very flat Seventh Street downtown and onto Gilbert Avenue which climbs for nearly a mile into the entrance of Eden Park.

This particular hill requires strategy. Unlike a regular old hill that has gradual, even elevation, Gilbert sneaks up on you and smacks you in the face.  The long gradual start to the hill sucks, but then you come to an intersection and the hill kind of flattens out at the base of Elsinore Ave. It makes you think, "Oh, well that wasn't so bad."  And that's when you see it ahead of you: the rest of the hill.  And while you're chugging along thinking, "Okay, I can do this," the once-gradual hill goes and gets all steep on you.  And then, the route turns off of Gilbert onto Eden Park Avenue, and as you hope and pray for flatness around the corner, there's just more hill. 

Runners climbing Gilbert Avenue
I see people all the time climbing Gilbert that seem to be in far better shape than I am, and I blow past them as they run out of gas. The secret to climbing a hill like Gilbert is not to go whole-hog.  (See what I did there? Flying Pig, whole-hog? Yeah, okay.)  You can't attack a hill with everything you have, especially at mile 6 of a 26.2 mile race.  You'll never make it to the finish line.  At the base of a hill, you need to slow your pace a little, and reduce your effort as you conserve energy for the big push at the top.  Even in the agony of it, you should maintain good running form; your arms should be swinging at a 90 degree angle and going backward and forward, not crossing over your body.  Also, while it's tempting to hunch over a little, keeping an erect body posture will help you have a more effective stride. Lastly, and most importantly, if a particular hill is difficult for you, keep training on it.  The more intimately you know a hill the more likely it is that you will eventually figure out how to run it effectively.  During Pig training, most running groups will include Gilbert in at least 5-6 long runs over the course of the 4 months.

Near the top of my nemesis hill yesterday, a walker from my group who appeared to be in her late 40s looked over and shouted, "You inspire me!"  I responded, "Thanks. Me and this hill have a long history.  I usually win."

No comments: