When it comes to hilly races, there are runners who tear up the hill and then there are those who run fast and pass everyone on the downhill. Who has the better hill-running race strategy?
There's no one-size-fits-all secret. How you should handle a hilly race depends on who you are and how you run. That means that the best way to finish on top, or at least to finish strong, is to follow the mantra, "Train your weakness; race your strength."
"I, for one, am a speedster on the downhills," says running coach Andrew Kastor, of Mammoth Lakes, California, who created the official ING New York City Marathon online training program. "I have too much mass to lug my 170-pound frame up 'poop-out hill.'" On the other hand, Deena Kastor, Olympic bronze medal marathoner (who also happens to be married to Andrew), "is probably one of the best hill runners in the world. She can climb up a grade, especially at altitude, like no other woman I know."
Catering to your strengths is only part of the equation (you knew it wasn't that easy). When it comes to hill running, you also need to train your weaknesses so you can hold your own throughout a race.
Training on a course similar to the race will help you figure out how to manage your energy through the ups and downs. "In 2004, I had the pleasure of being there for every step of training for Deena and her U.S. Olympic marathon teammate Meb Keflezighi as they prepared for the Athens Olympic Marathon," Kastor says.
The Athens course was the hilliest of any Olympic marathon before it. Deena and Meb's coaches devised a running route they would run weekly that consisted of the most brutal hills here in Mammoth Lakes (at 8,000 feet altitude). The theory was to train on a course that was much more difficult to challenge the mind and really be prepared for any little up or down grade on the course. This hill training proved successful, as Deena took the bronze medal and Meb grabbed silver.