Hills: The Secret Weapon for Marathoners

 You want to run a marathon.  So, you run a marathon.  You want to run another marathon. Now You run marathons.  You might even say “I am a marathoner”!  But why aren’t your times improving?  You know other runners who talk about how they ran 10 or 20mins faster in their second marathon compared to their first.  It is less common to hear someone tell you that they ran 10minutes faster from marathon 6 to 7.  The law of diminishing returns in long distance run training will do that to you!

One can continue to improve by altering training methods.  Introduce new stimuli to your training.  There is a saying among runners, “Running hills are speed work in disguise”.  It is true.  As in all forms of exercise, if you produce the same stimulus and never change it, you will continue to get the same result.  You have to challenge yourself with something new.  Running uphill forces you to lift your knee, drive your hip flexors more efficiently and gets you off of your heels, this will build strength and create greater speed!

To say the least, if you are going to run a marathon course with hills in it, you need to do long runs with hills in them.  If you don’t live in a hilly area, that can be difficult to arrange. But a treadmill isn’t a road, so resist the temptation!  Yea, yea, I know Westfield sits at the foot of the Watchung Mountain. But the density of traffic on the roads in this area can be harrowing to deal with on a constant basis. GO WEST!  There are both steep, and long rolling hills in Hunterdon County.

My all time favorite is starting in the town of Whitehouse Station and going up alongside the Round Valley Reservoir, out and back.  While somewhat more visually rewarding, running across the top of the reservoir to make a full loop makes the run shorter (about 17miles), and has you coasting back down steadily instead of climbing on the way back. I prefer to do run out and back.  This takes you over Stanton Mt Road and Stanton Lebanon Rd. The shoulders on Stanton Lebanon Rd is very wide, which is an added benefit when running in a group.

I mapped it from the center of Whitehouse station, so to be honest, I’ve never run 22miles out there, my maximum was 21 (having started from Dreahook Rd and Tulpen Pl).  Depending on the number of months you dedicate for your marathon training period, you might have time to make gains by doing 22-23mile runs.  But if you are running a very challenging 20, your body does a similar amount of work.  Trust me, once you’ve run 20 on these roads, the course in NYC or Boston won’t seem so challenging anymore!  More time allows you to do more, and more is more in my book.

My preference in marathon training is to make my long runs loaded with rolling hills.  Every other week I will run a loop or out and back course that has the biggest hills that I have the time to get to.  Most importantly is to not turn these into a race by insisting on attempting to “run your pace”. Hills change everything, and everyone runs slower going up them. Remember, you will easily run faster going back down the other way!  On the flipside, you can run an uptempo mile amid the hills, doing this 5 or 6 times throughout your 20. You can do more than “just get through it”!

Follow the link below to see the Whitehouse Station/Round Valley run!

Go West! Hit those hills!
Mike A


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