Tuesday Training Tip: Know the Course

I get really grumpy if I don’t know where I am. Micah can attest to this fact. He’ll be cruising merrily along while I contemplate nudging him into on-coming traffic because I have no idea where we are or how much farther we have to go or what I’m going to be dealing with in the next few minutes or miles. Hills? Dirt paths? Winding roads? Or straight, flat nothingness? Whatever it is, I want to know! Now! Meanwhile, Micah is blissfully enjoying the scenery, the sunshine, the people. I could trip him for his nonchalance.

This happened (and don’t stop me if I’ve said this before) during our first marathon. I had heard talk of “tank trails” and vaguely knew they were to make an appearance in the second half of the race. But I disregarded it simply because I knew that just before I hit mile 26, I would be faced with a hill that rose at a 90 degree angle to the road. Or something like that. I also knew that I would get up that monster hill, turn, and find myself faced with another one of equal proportions. That is the thing I focused on and I blocked everything else out. So when the tank trails reared their ugly heads, I was lost and in pain and totally unprepared for them. And I wanted Micah to pay for it.

But last year when I ran the Ragnar Relay, I did things a little bit differently. I studied maps of the legs I was going to run. I knew when I would be hitting hills and where the turns were. I knew if I would be running through towns or woods. And it made such a difference. (Especially when running in the dark in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a headlamp to illuminate the way.)

They say knowing is half the battle. I’m not sure I would go that far in the case of running a race. You still have to put a lot of miles in on your legs, and even if you don’t know much about the course you can still make it through. But it is ever so much nicer if you know what to expect, be it up hills or down hills or stretches of trail or places where you run on a highway. Then you can gauge your distance, pace yourself, and feel a little bit more in control rather than clueless, lost, and irritable.

It’s pretty easy to find course maps, elevation profiles, and directions (“Turn left at mile 3 . . .”) on the race website. Familiarize yourself with the course early in your training so you can better prepare yourself. If the race course is hilly, train for hills. If it is flat, focus on speedwork. If there are trails, spend some time on trails.

It’s a good way to save yourself some angst. Believe me, I know.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m like you, I think. Once I could physically train no more for the half-marathon, I “trained” by studying the course and tried to memorize the hills and turns and landmarks. I actually think it helped a ton because I knew when I had reached the tops and I knew I’d have long enough to regain some energy on the long downhills. I think it definitely helps you know what you are getting in to!


    lizzie Reply:

    That’s so great. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who needs that kind of prep.


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