Tag Archives: Hills

National Marathon, here I come!

I was almost wooed by a flat, fast course in Sacramento at the California International

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Me after the National Half-Marathon last year. Hoping the full marathon gives me just as many reasons to grin next year.

Marathon, or a similarly flat course in Miami in January, both of which would let me tackle a marathon again sooner rather than later after a disappointing experience at the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 25.

But armed with the knowledge that, for me, it seems it’s always better to err on the side of too much rest, I’m officially setting my sights on the SunTrust National Marathon on March 20 instead.

In a post for Examiner.com, I list reasons why this race should be on every Washington-area runner’s list: it follows a District-centric route (as opposed to MCM’s Arlington-heavy one) and boasts an unusually fast, though hilly, course (check that Examiner.com post for elevation charts and specifics). But here’s why I think it’s the race for me:

1. It’s smaller than the major fall marathons. While the spectators along the Marine Corps Marathon course were electrifying, the crowds during the first five miles of the race were harrowing. I made the mistake of trying to run with a pace group the first several miles, and actually got caught in a scuffle of four or five runners that ended in one guy falling, hard, and the rest of us stopping to see if he was OK. It was scary stuff I don’t necessarily care to repeat. I think the National Marathon’s limited field of 4,000 marathoners and 8,000 half-marathoners will prevent that.

2. It’s all in my hometown. Running helps me learn and appreciate the ins and outs of wherever I happen to be living, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity to learn more about this awesome city I get to call home.

3. It’s a race I can train for and run in cool weather. Miami was tempting, but after four years of living and running in Florida, I have a serious aversion to running distance races in the heat. The National Half-Marathon was almost uncomfortably cold at the start last year – my ideal race-day temperature. Please remind me of this fact the first time I have to do a long run in sub-20-degree temps.

4. It lets me tap into my most valuable training resource: my amazing and supportive friends, who I know will come cheer for me if I just ask, and if I promise them some sort of yummy post-race dinner in return (friends: start putting in menu requests now). This one is the clincher for running this race — the Shamrock Marathon is the same weekend in Virginia Beach, and that one apparently has a flat, fast course. But it doesn’t have my own personal cadre of supportive spectators, so National Marathon won out.

I’m going to wait until the end of the year to sign up, to make sure I stay healthy and race-ready. But I’m starting to train for hills now, starting with this hilly monster of a route with Pacers Silver Spring tonight.

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I guess you *do* use your abs when you run

First, let me apologize for my blog looking all messy-like today. I’m screwing around with some stuff with the goal of moving my personal Web site to WordPress, so my blog and my Web site can live together in perfect harmony one day in the near future. For now — well, bear with me.

Now. Back to the important stuff, like my run with Pacers Silver Spring fun runners last night. We did the Sligo-Ritchie loop, a 4.55-mile route that starts with a few lovely, flat miles on Sligo Creek Trail before it heads up Ritchie Avenue, which is steep enough to feel less like aerobic exercise and more like a set of leg presses.

After barely eking out an 8-minute-mile pace at the Crystal City Twilighter 5K last weekend, I wasn’t about to volunteer myself for the 8-minute-mile group for this hilly sweatfest. I hung back, waiting to declare my usual 8:30-9-ish-let’s-just-see-where-the-run-takes-us pace.

“Oh, c’mon,” said one of my regular running partners, a great pacer who’s training for this crazy marathon in Utah that involves climbing 2,000 feet over 26.2 miles. “You know we’ll end up going 8-minute pace anyway.”

I’m a sucker for an ego boost, and this sounded like one to me, so I bounded out the door behind him, and we headed out for what turned out to be a longer and hillier run than either of us anticipated.

Have I mentioned I can’t find my way out of a paper bag? Heck, I couldn’t find my way out of our building for a good month (to be fair, our building is like a snakepit. So confusing!). You know where this is headed: Rather than heading up the aforementioned killer hill, we chose to visit its cousin, Maple Avenue, in an  extended, 5.76-mile version of the run everyone else did.  Turns out Maple Avenue is quite a quad-burner itself.

When we realized our mistake, we had a few choices: Follow the sketchy directions we received from friendly but uninformed dog-walkers, or go the safe route and backtrack. We chose the latter, and sucked it up on yet another giant hill.

Keep in mind that I’ve recently committed myself to an amped-up version of my usual core routine to get my body ready for the Marine Corps Marathon, which I’m still hoping to run this year. Anyone doubting exactly how much runners rely on our core muscles to move us needs to do a few 5-minute planks on the BOSU, then run a hard hill workout the next day. Every step I took, my abs reminded me that really, they’d already had their workout for the week.

Know what, though? It was an awesome run. We were totally synced pace-wise. Just as I’d start to worry I was slowing us up, my buddy (who, based on the number and age of his children, must be about 50) would apologize for holding us back. Other times, we both seemed to hit our stride simultaneously.

And we kept each other honest, averaging 8:23 minute-miles, which erased all the self-doubt lurking in my mind after my disappointing 5K on Saturday.

Almost all the other runners were back by the time we finished, and many were waiting outside. That didn’t stop me from taking off my technical T-shirt and wringing it out as I described our adventure, sending rivers of sweat down Fenton Street.

My friend Liz, who just qualified for the Boston Marathon last March (at her first marathon ever, I might add), looked at me with a mix of disgust and admiration (a cocktail of emotions only a runner or endurance athlete can appreciate).

“Dude,” she said, “You’re a baller.”

When’s the last time getting lost netted you a compliment like that?

In other news, Michelle at Runnin’ Down A Dream let me do a guest post on her awesome blog! Check it out here. Regular readers of this blog will recognize the mind-games theme; I tried to narrow down the tips that helped me most for a sort of greatest-hits list.

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Last speed workout

I set out this morning to do what will serve as my last real speed workout before the half marathon. To mix things up and boost my confidence in the hills, I headed for the Mormon Temple, one of Montgomery County’s landmarks and the site of one of its most brutal hill workouts.

I heard about this hill loop from Montgomery County Road Runners Club Coach Mike Broderick, who trains runners for the Boston Marathon. It’s part of a longer route that starts in Bethesda, but I’ve heard from many a runner that they’ve trained for Heartbreak Hill by doing loops of the hill portion — roughly between miles 11 and 13 on this map. A longer version of the route served as one of my first long runs, so going back for my final speed workout today felt kind of cathartic.

I never look forward to speed workouts. But today, I actually felt performance anxiety, like this was the race itself and I’d be publicly humiliated if I failed. But per my usual speedwork routine, I ignored the voices in my head and just got started.

At roughly half a mile, the hill is long enough and steep enough to really kick your butt. I attacked it every time. I told myself to leave it all on the (metaphorical) field, as tomorrow’s an off day and next week’s a taper. I told myself to run out the stress that’s been making me toss and turn the past couple nights. And I told myself that if I didn’t attack the hill now, I WOULD be publicly humiliated on March 21 (probably not true, but it kept me going).

I finished four loops — a total of eight miles — in an hour and 10 minutes. That’s something like 8:50-minute miles, which is pretty good for me on the hills, especially considering I wasn’t pushing it on the downhill and flat portions. I wish I could bottle the feeling I had when I finished — it was nothing short of euphoria.

Next up: My last long run on Saturday. (Gulp!)

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Conquering the hills

I grew up on top of a steep hill in a town called Highlands, N.J., named for the hills that rose sharply above the water. I then moved to Colorado, where I literally ran up mountains for fun.

Then, I moved to Florida, and my thigh muscles promptly forgot they’d ever seen a hill. I only lived in the Sunshine State for four years, but those four years effectively wiped out a lifetime of hill training, which was made all too clear during my first serious hill workout here. It was one of our first Pacers group runs, and we had a great time chatting with our fellow runners; until the hills rendered us physically unable to do anything but wheeze and spit. Running that route was like trying on your skinny jeans after the holidays — a painful confirmation of the fact that you’ve got some work to do.

So I greeted the news that we were running the same route again last night with trepidation.

I was Steve-less again, but this time, when the store manager asked for runners in the 8:30- 9-minute mile range, I found a healthy group in the same range as me. The group stayed together pretty much the whole route, which turns out to not be so bad after all. It’s a really gorgeous, if hilly, run through some of Silver Spring’s prettiest neighborhoods. We finished what mapmyrun.com counts as a 5.4 miler in 45 minutes. I’m never sure how much faith to put in mapmyrun’s distances. But whatever our pace was, it felt great — one of those nights where the route seems almost unfairly fast.

“Great run,” said one member of the group as we skidded to a stop back at the store. She sounded as surprised as I was.

Looking to improve your hills? Try these common-sense hill workouts from Runner’s World columnist Ed Eyestone.

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