Help me become a happy hill marathoner
September 15, 2016 6:35 AM   Subscribe

I’ve just signed up to run a marathon with 5,000ft of ascent in February. I’m excited! If you’re an experienced hill runner, what tips and tricks can you short-cut me to, to help make this step-up to happy hill marathoner go smoothly?

It’s not my first time out of the box - I completed this hill marathon three years ago (and have run a lot of fairly flat trail halfs). But my forthcoming race has about twice the ascent of my previous marathon, and my training for that one was pretty sporadic - I didn’t really stick to a plan, had a sore knee so didn't run at all for the final month on my physio's advice, and muddled through in 6h10.

Useful info:
* I’m currently training for a flat trail half in late October, and then I’ll start to introduce hills after that. Threw in 6x1min hill reps during one of my runs earlier this week and felt great (after I'd finished them) but apart from that, there are really no hills in my legs or my lungs at the moment. I was breathless on the slight but long hills on my suburban 9 miler last weekend.
* I’m a pretty slow runner (about 11 minute miles on the flat) so am looking to get round in as little pain as possible rather than aiming for a particular time (though the cut-off is 8 hours).
* I have no issue with walking the steeper uphills. I’m pretty speedy downhill and usually find that makes up for some of the loss in pace between an uphill walk and a slow uphill run.
* The training and the race will be during the Scottish autumn/winter. I have no issue with running in the dark with a headtorch.
* 42-year-old woman, long time runner, never very fast. Good at head-down-grit.
* Not a typical runner’s build or gait - short legs, chunky tummy. I suspect my gait is more of a jogger’s shuffle than the elegant antelope I like to imagine. Over the first half of this year I lost about a stone (14lb) and am now in the mid-upper end of my recommended BMI range (yes, I know BMI has issues, just a general idea of my build).

What do you wish you’d known sooner when you started running this kind of race? Particularly useful training sessions to incorporate? Important places to put bodyglide? Great running backpacks for women? Amazing recipes for indestructible energy bars? Best forms of cross training or bodyweight exercises? Hit me with them all!
posted by penguin pie to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Learn and start doing all the static stretches for your calves.

I'm not a stretcher because I found it usually caused me more problems than it ever solved but I developed calf and plantar problems the month I spent running a steady incline (and return decline) route while on vacation in 2012. They only went away when I incorporated 2 minutes of static stretching into my daily routine.

(I do this every night while I brush my teeth. My electric toothbrush has a 30 second timer and a two minute timer so I hold each stretch for 30 seconds and do two reps. )
posted by srboisvert at 7:18 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have two pieces of advice for the going up hills, both from an old running coach I had.

1. Maintain good form while going up hill. Your head should be upright and your gaze should be in front of you, not down at the ground. Head stacked on top of shoulders, on top of pelvis. A lot of people slump forward and they put their heads down because they're really digging in when they tackle a hill. This makes it harder to breathe properly and something something about which muscles you're activating. It's okay to lean into it, but keep everything in alignment, especially your head and neck.

2. The second tip is psychological. I hated it/laughed about it when I ran. A coach told me, "Make the hill your friend. The ground is rising up to meet you." So, grit your teeth, keep your head up and think "This hill is my friend. The ground is rising up to meet me. This hill is my friend!"
posted by purple_bird at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Train for the downhills just as much as the uphills - you use totally different sets of muscles and will really destroy your quads if you don't practice downhills or built those muscles properly, too. I know this from experience of training for a similar trail ultrarun and focusing on prepping primarily for the ascent (but assuming the descents would kind of be like floating). On a trail, you need to stay agile and nimble while also keeping a careful eye out for obstacles (roots, rocks, etc.) so it can be pretty exhausting - definitely train on actual trails as much as possible.
posted by DuckGirl at 9:04 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing calf stretches. Those little bastards take much of the brunt when you tackle hills.
posted by smoke at 2:26 PM on September 15, 2016

I ran my first ultra this year(a 60km with the same average vertical that you're running)

In addition to the good advice already:

1. Try to incorporate some core strength exercises as well as running.

2. Short steps and a fast cadence seem to be the secret to downhill running.

3. Practice eating and drinking on your long runs - experiment with different foods and see what keeps you going and what you're able to eat easily. (Personally, I found that after 5 or 6 hours it was really hard to keep eating gels or energy bars; mixing it up and eating fruit, or baked potatoes/sweet potatoes with salt, helped me).

4. Definitely walk the hills. All ultra runners do this to some extent, and although you're "only" running a marathon distance, the climb means you're effectively running an ultra.

5. Try to train on terrain similar to the race. And ideally find a training plan. (I used this one; you could maybe cut it down a bit and use it for a marathon...)
posted by Pink Frost at 6:19 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. If you aren't doing this already, I'd say include some squats and lunges into your strength training. In a way these kind of mimic what you'll have to do on those ascents, which is to push yourself upwards, against gravity, with each step. It's nice to do a bunch of them for endurance, but I would definitely work towards adding weight to build strength in your climbing muscles - you could place heavy items in a backpack if you don't have access to a gym.

2. I second adding core strength exercises. The core plays a huge role in running, especially on uneven terrain. There are a ton of exercises you can google, but common ones are planks (including side planks) and bridges (including single-legged). Also keep in mind that exercises like lunges and squats are core exercises too; to do them properly you have to keep your core engaged.

3. Even if an ascent isn't that steep, I'd think about power hiking any ascents that are long. When you're out there running up a hill, ask yourself if you could ascend at the same speed, or even faster, if you hiked fast instead. You would save a lot of energy that way, and that is important in a race of that distance.

4. Have lots of fun training, and experiment with different foods/exercises/techniques/etc! It seems like the longer the distance and the more varied the terrain, the greater the number of training options there are available to you!
posted by sweetpotato at 12:15 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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