This thought has been hanging with me for awhile, but thanks to two recent blog postings I came across, I was reminded to write about it.
My best marathons have come on hilly courses, NOT flat ones. What? Doesn’t make sense, you say? If you think about it, it kind of does make sense, because on a hilly course, the flats, uphills and downhills make great use of a variety of muscles over time, spreading the damage, so to say. Others have recently proffered their explanations:
- Laura / Absolut(ly) Fit / 50 x 25 – you know, the first youngest female to run a marathon in all 50 states? Yes, in her recent post on how to recover quickly from a marathon (great post by the way), she devoted a couple of paragraphs on her thoughts regarding hilly vs flat marathons.
- Georgia Marathon Blog – my next marathon is the Georgia Marathon, and on their website they have a TOTALLY AWESOME BLOG that consists of a variety of (presumably) regular running people who write great posts on distance running. How cool is that? Other marathons should take note and copy… Anyway, a recent posting on that blog provided some additional insights on exactly the same topic!
In looking at my own history, some of my very best marathons were quite hilly:
- Big Sur 2005 – Has a very hilly reputation, lots of big hills, and a monster hill in the middle of the race. It was my 7th marathon, and can you guess what I did? That’s right, a PR! 4:37:37. This PR would stand for almost 4 years, through a few more marathons, lasting until:
- Austin 2009 – Not nearly as hilly as Big Sur, but definitely a hilly course. I had an unbelievable (for me) PR of 4:22:16, The nice thing about this hilly race is that the last 6-7 miles are downhill, and in that particular year, those last miles had a tailwind. While that combination of factors allowed me to cruise to that amazing PR, I believe it was the hilliness of the course that kept me relatively fresh at the end of the race.
- First Light 2011 – While not necessarily billed as a hilly marathon, this race is interesting because the first 10 miles are pancake flat, and then miles 10-21 are very, very hilly, and then the last 6 miles are pancake flat. I treated the first 10 miles as a warm up, and then attacked the hills, and honestly, this was the only marathon I ever ran where I didn’t feel like I hit the wall. My finish of 4:37:10 was far beyond what I thought I was capable of that day.
Of course, there are other factors that go into a successful race, like the training leading into it, and the weather on race day. Maybe it is coincidence that those 3 races I mentioned are the ones I feel are my best marathons, and were the hilliest ones I ever ran.
Also interesting to consider is my half marathon PR history, where FOUR TIMES my PR was set on the old Brooklyn Half Marathon course, the one that started in Coney Island and spent the first 8 miles on the boardwalk and on flat Ocean Parkway, and ending with 5 brutal miles twice around Prospect Park with LOTS of hills. Yes, every time I ran that race between 1999 and 2008 (4 times), I set a new PR on that very hilly course.
While several of the worst marathons I ever ran were of the flat variety, interestingly enough, the weather was not cooperative for any of them: New Jersey 2002 (cold, windy and rainy day), Chicago Marathon 2010 (super hot), Providence Rhode Races 2010 (super hot)
Another thought is perhaps I’ve always trained harder when I knew I had a hilly marathon coming up? Possible, I suppose, but I usually approach my marathon trainings in much the same way. Yes, my small sample of races certainly isn’t definitive, and perhaps many of my flat races were done in less than favorable conditions, but like I said, my best races have been on hilly courses and my worst on flat courses. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
My next marathon is the Georgia Marathon on March 18, which I hear is a hilly course.