Saturday, August 14, 2010

Heat & Hills...I'll wear 'em out

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." - Andre Gide

Hi guys - When my dad was in the Army, he was also a boxer. That was before I was born, but when I was old enough, he used to enjoy telling me about his boxing exploits much more than he ever talked about WWII. He (like me) was only 5'6", so he didn't exactly convey fear into his opponents, but he would tell me that when they'd go out to center ring before the fight, he would say to his foe "You might beat me, but I'll keep the flies off your ass". Besides that, one thing that always stuck with me was he would wouldn't try to knock the other guy out - he would jab, jab, jab at the opponent's shoulders. He said eventually, Butterbean would wear out and couldn't lift his arms and would be ripe for the kill. What in this wide world does this have to do with running? Well, here in Birmingham, we're in our 41st straight day of 90 degrees or hotter and I feel like I've been jabbed and jabbed and I'm wearing out. I mean I got up at 4:30 the other morning to run and it was 80!! At least the humidity has plummeted to 85% and the run wasn't half bad. Oh well, like they say (whoever THEY are), if you don't like the weather, wait 30 minutes and it'll 'bout 6 weeks and it'll change! Then, this morning I was 6 miles into a long run and the lightning and thunder started popping all around me. It was pretty scary. As runners do, for no good reason, I came up with a mantra to get me through...Sweat, Pray, Run. Guess I've been reading too much hype of that new Julia Roberts movie! Maybe the heat streak will now break with this rain, but until then, this is purely survival running folks. Don't get discouraged with your training. Keep jabbing at the weather and IT will wear out! Trust my dad. It works.

In October, our local TNT Chapter has a group going to San Francisco, most of those runners and walkers to do their first long distance event. When one thinks of San Fran, one immediately thinks of two things - Ghiardelli chocolate and hills. Ok, maybe not everybody thinks of the chocolate, but this is my blog and that's what I think about. But, to every runner, mention to them "San Francisco" and the first response is going to be some comment about hills. So, let's calm some nerves and look at training for a hilly long distance event.

Now, I'm a big believer in hill training to make you stronger, but I'm also a believer that if you do it every day, it will flat wear you out! You know how they say (there THEY are again) hills are speedwork in disguise? Well, there's no disguise about it...speedwork sucks and hill training sucks! THEY also say hills are your friend? Well, THEY also say "With friends like you..."! But, if you're bound for SF or any other bumpy marathon or ultra, the first thing is to learn the course.If you see bumps and lumps throughout the course, the only way to beat them down during the race is to learn to beat them down in training. The Nike Marathon website says it's a flatter course. OK, fine, but looking at the elevation chart, I see 4 significant "inclines". So, I know it's hot as blazes here in Birmingham, but we have to start taking hill training a little seriously with the marathon only 9 weeks away. You always should try to mimic the basics of the course in your training. It's called "Specificity of Training" and I think it is one of the most important aspects of putting together a solid training plan. There are two basic ways to improve your hill running - one is to train on a relatively up & down course, or you can always opt for the more "hell-on-earth" method of doing hill repeats. This blog is not going to be a training manual, so I won't go into specifics of how many reps and how long the hill should be, but I do want to emphasize that for you to be able to become the bear that went over the mountain, you better meet that mountain many times before you put your toes on that starting line. Besides getting your quads (thigh muscles) and calves stronger, it will make you lift your knees higher (or you'll trip), increase your ability to control your breathing (or you'll be wheezing and gasping) thus improving how your body utilizes the oxygen you're sucking in, and it will teach you rhythm, one of the most overlooked and crucial aspects of distance running. If you let the hills break up your rhythm, you will slow dramatically. Those of you that run with me on Sunday mornings know that I have repeatedly said that you have to keep an even cadence. That means that if someone was just listening to you run, they shouldn't be able to tell if you were going up, going down, or running on level ground. It's just that going up will shorten your stride, and going down will lengthen your stride. An even effort is the key. If the grade of the hill is really steep, then use a very short stride - I also like to use the mantra "baby steps, baby steps" all the way up the hill. Try to keep your posture upright - don't lean too far forward or back as this will affect your breathing. If you start breathing more heavily, this is a sign from God that you're going too fast, SHORTEN YOUR STRIDE! When you (eventually) get to the top, try to run "through" the top of the hill and maintain the even effort until you start cruising into the downhill. It seems, most runners want to get to the top of the hill and yell "Woooooooooo" and slow to about a 30 minute/mile pace. Stay relaxed on the downhill and don't overstride (this will pound your feet, stress your hamstrings, and overuse your quads). Keep your feet low to the ground and your stride will be dictated by the steepness of the hill. Just ask a first-time Boston Marathon runner where he hurts the most the next day - odds are better than even that he will say his quads because it is mostly downhill for the first 16 miles and the quads are used for braking! With hills, unfortuneately it will cost you at least 10% more energy to go up than you save coming down using an even effort even if the total elevation gain and loss is zero! That's a bummer, isn't it?

Yes, it might be true that hills are speed training in disguise, and hills are your friends, and they are necessary in your training, but sometimes they're just a plain necessary pain in the butt! Good luck to all you TNT'ers training for San Fran. As long as you plan and train properly, you can't fail. That goes for hills, nutrition, pace, and all else that Mother Marathon wants to throw at you.Any questions? Email me
Keep jabbing away and I'll see you all on the hot and sticky roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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