Train for Terrain


What I’m liking this training cycle more than last is that i’m FINALLY slowing down during easy runs and pushing during hard workouts. This is leaving the ol’ legs refreshed on the hard days, and is letting me enjoy the easy days because they are finally, truly easy. It only took me about 6 years to get that concept.

Running lately has been tough though. Where i live is nothing but hills–and not hills like baby bunny rollie pollies–They’re monsters. The kind that remind me of the Rock N’ Roll DC race from this year. The kind that defeat you, force you to stop, wheeze and angrily shake your fist to the sky!

Okay, alright! I don’t live in the mountains or anything, but this Midwestern girl has flatland legs that never forget. Which brings me to my next point. The half and full marathon I’m attempting in the next 6 weeks are “flat and fast” as the websites always claim. However, when you run hills all the time, flat and fast can equal muscle burnout when you’re not used to it. The best advice I was ever given as a newbie runner was to train for the terrain.


After a treadmill run in my new Saucony Mayhem’s

The first time I put this into practice was Cincinnati’s Flying Pig. When i found out the first half was a 7-mile climb i panicked. I was training on pancake flat roads in Indiana. The 2 things I turned to for help was the treadmill’s incline button & the trusty stairmill. I did 2 workouts a week that I considered hill work. (Hey i was a newbie, i had no clue what to do!) I would climb the stairmill for 20 minutes at a moderate effort, then finish with miles on the treadmill. I wanted to get my legs used to running tired. The second workout I did was hill sprints. So I’d do a normal/easy run on the ‘mill and sprinkle in hard sprints on a 3-4% incline. Those workouts saved me and proved effective when I hit a 9 minute PR.

While training for these flat races, most of the time I get outside, but right now for a few of my speed workouts and recovery runs i’ve hit up the treadmill. Strange I know, but I feel like I need to get used to the same muscles being used over and over again so I don’t burn out during these flat races.

Making sure I don't burn out from Froyo either.

Making sure I don’t burn out from Froyo either.

The uphills/downhills/straightaways on a hilly course give your muscles relief by changing the muscles being used. On flat courses you repeatedly exhaust the same muscles the entire race. This sometimes gets overlooked when you see “flat and fast.” I swear sometimes I look forward to small hills just to work a different muscle and get a break.

Basically what I’m getting at here is that I know the hills I live in are gonna help me kill these races, but I can’t overlook the fact that flat is not what i’m used to. Always do your course research and see if you can mimic the difficult parts in your hometown. The Chicago Marathon has a lot of straight miles or mile and half spots that have no turns, nothing but running in a straight flat line. I found a trail that runs alongside an expressway and it’s straight and seems to go on forever… I’m trying to get my mental game into it!

Kara's running Philadelphia 1/2! Hope to see her sometime during that weekend.

The always inspiring Kara, who’s running the Philadelphia 1/2! Hope to see her sometime during that weekend.

Kristina recently hit up an overpass to prepare for the hill in the Portland Marathon (her 1st!) this fall. Such a smart thing to do because once she hits that hill in the actual race she can picture the training she did up the overpass. These tricks help during races!

How do you train for destination races with different terrain than what you’re used to?


Author: She's Going the Distance


10 thoughts on “Train for Terrain

  1. Such a good point! I was so not ready for the hills in Raleigh even though I was occasionally running some small hills while training. I know that there are a couple hills in my next full but the second half of the race is pretty flat, so I am trying to do the early parts of my runs on hills but then try to do a faster finish where its flat. I learned that flat can feel really hard after enjoying some downhills during my 12 mile race last month!

  2. Oh, I never really thought about how flat running on straight roads leads to usage of the same muscles over and over! No wonder I sometimes look forward to going up over the bridge even though it should be the toughest part. I’m a little bit scared about the ‘gentle hills’ that I’ve been hearing about that were NOT described on the Portland Marathon website. What is a “gentle” hill??

  3. I like to feel I am ready for anything on the road – I have long flat areas, and also my 1200ft hilly sections that for some idiotic reason I like to do repeats on! My only terrain weakness is trails, which I did a few times this year but not enough … certainly not enough based on last summer’s ‘PA Grand Canyon Marathon’ with torrential downpours, nearly 6000ft total up/down elevation change and flowing mud … ugh.

    But you are so right about training for terrain! πŸ™‚

  4. I agree- I like the hills! Running on flat surface trashes my legs, because I feel the motion is too repetitive and none of the muscles get a break. The first marathon I ran was on a super hilly course in my hometown, and I ran a time I was really happy with. The second marathon I ran was all flat, so I thought I would run way faster. I got carried away in the beginning and died from mile 14 on, and it was the hardest race on my legs (Besides Boston, but that one’s in a league of its own). I could barely walk for the next few days after that one!

    I am lucky enough to live in a really hilly area, so just by going out my front door I am forced to strengthen my legs for hills. I really enjoy it, and I find that it helps me on flat courses too because my legs are that much stronger. Also, if I have a trail race coming up, I always try to hit some uneven terrain beforehand. I find that this helps strengthen my ankles and lateral muscles more for more stability on race day.

  5. Yes, totally agree on the hills and the hill workouts that I do here in Boston, are definitely some of my favorite. Love those Friday mornings on Summit Ave with November Project. I’m also originally from Cincinnati, and definitely know what that 7 mile incline was about, those hills are no joke either.

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