Train Your Terrain

The other day I wrote about how it is important to research the perfect race for you.  There are many variables to consider when doing a race; travel, time of year, weather, and costs related are just a few.  One factor that many of us consider when looking for a race is whether it is a Boston Qualifier and then we look to see if the race is considered “fast.”  This usually means that the course is flat or even slightly downhill throughout.

Last week I was working at the Shamrock Shuffle Expo and I mentioned to someone that the New York Marathon is a fabulous race but also incredibly difficult.  When I said that the race was rather hilly a few people were surprised to hear this.  For one, the route travels through all five boroughs and if you have ever run over just one bridge you know that means a lot of up hill work!

I arrived in New York City earlier this week and so far have logged about 30 miles here.  On Wednesday I mentioned to my husband that I couldn’t believe how tired and sore my quads were.  I typically run 40-50 miles per week and although I was doing a lot more walking here as well, it shouldn’t have that kind of effect on my legs.

But then it dawned on me; Chicago is as flat as a pancake.  And if we are going to use pancakes to compare, New York City is one tall stack of pancakes!



New York

New York

Then last night I was running a lap of Central Park and it reminded me just how tough running in New York City can be.  If you have never run around Central Park I am here to tell you that it is a serious challenge.  It has some long and tough uphill climbs, but on the flip side the downhills feel pretty sweet!  For a girl that likes to run long and isn’t afraid of mileage, this run was hard.  It was also making me feel pretty out of shape.

This was a great reminder that when you do pick your race of choice it is important to do some research and figure out the terrain of the course.  If it is flat, you might have less work to do and less planning to figure out.  But if the course is hilly or slightly uphill, you need a plan that takes this into effect.  No one wants to train on flat ground for 16-18 weeks only to arrive at a hilly 26.2 mile race and have their legs give out on them.  Even worse, you don’t want to injure yourself during the actual race because your body suddenly revolts.

So what do you do if you live somewhere like Chicago where it is hard to find hills to train on?  Don’t worry there are some options for you to work with.

The first option is to do some research.  Go online and scout out nearby running routes.  With sites like and you can find runner approved routes along with descriptions.  This might mean packing the car early on Saturday morning and driving an hour or two for an occasional run, but believe me, you will be glad you did this.  You don’t have to do every long run on hilly terrain but a few will help your body and mind get used to what you might expect on race day.  Plus, there is something pretty fun about researching a new route and going away for part of a day to run long in a new location.

Second you need to add some hill workouts.  Maybe you don’t have hills at home but you can still mimic the effects for your legs.  Find a gym or stadium and run stairs as part of your speed work or leg work day.  Or head into the gym and set the treadmill on an incline.  Unless you are running up a mountain you don’t need to do the whole run on an incline but create an interval-like workout that involves some climbs and descents.  Your quads will first hate you and then later thank you.

And don’t forget to add in some leg workouts.  You are going to want to squat and plie’ til the cows come home even before training gets started.  Work those quads, glutes, and hammies and your legs will be much stronger and ready to attack any killer hill.

Remember that this doesn’t just go for hills.  There are other considerations to keep in mind.  If you live in Northern Michigan and are training all winter for a race in Key West you need to consider that your race is going to feel brutally warm and sticky. This can tire you out much faster than normal.  If you do all of your training runs outside in the frigid temps, you might need to head into a warm and humid gym for a few long runs.  Just have plan to keep yourself entertained and hydrated.



Half of the fun of finding new races is going somewhere completely new.  Did I mention that Rock and I both have the itch to do the Great Wall of China Marathon and Yosemite Half Marathon?  As crazy as we are, it is so fun to read about these races and day dream about how we would run the race.  There is nothing wrong with picking something outside your daily norm.  Just make sure that you do some research and know what to expect.  With a little creativity you can be prepared for the conditions on race day.

Ever run a race in a place completely outside your norm?  Do you think the Great Wall of China Marathon sounds as fun as we do?


Anyone else notice that the pregnant lady used only food items to describe running conditions?  Yep, it’s becoming a problem!

16 thoughts on “Train Your Terrain

  1. so glad to hear someone else recognize how hilly it is here in NYC! i don’t run Central Park as much as i used to, but those hills definitely get you! hope you’ve been enjoying your time in NYC!

  2. Those hills in Central Park sneak up on you. From a distance they don’t look like much at all! One of my favorite paths to run is along the west side waterfront from 145th street down to the southern tip and around to the Brooklyn Bridge. Aside from the bridge it’s not too hilly and the views are nice. Hope you enjoy your time here!

    • Oh you are speaking my language. I just told Rock he should run over to 96th and up to the lighthouse and back tomorrow. Last spring I ran from the east side to the light house and then down to Chelsea. My first 20 miler was the lighthouse to Battery Park and then home. Love, love, love running that west side!

    • Haha, I know the pancakes got me too! Central Park was where I did my first ever long run. My now husband took me one day and suggested we do a full loop. I felt like a million bucks (sweaty million bucks) afterwards!

  3. Love the food comparisons! I guess I’m a little lucky in SLC – we have hills everywhere. You can’t avoid them, so it’s great training. Am I’m really looking forward to running in the East Coast in a few weeks and enjoying the benefits of all my altitude training – because if you ever run in UT or CO it’s going to hurt!

    • I remember going to skating competitions in Colorado Springs. My lungs hurt just thinking about it. The nice thing about living somewhere hilly is that you stop paying attention to the hills. Our summer home is in a super hilly area and at first it is terrible but by the end my legs look fantastic and I am sooo much stronger!

  4. Such a great post and so true! Living in Lake Tahoe, I usually experience the opposite, as there are no shortages of mountains around here! That makes those flat, sea level races that much easier from a terrain standpoint. But I do have to say that the hot humidity has derailed a race for me more than once. I thought I was going to die in half marathons in Florida and Virginia Beach. This mountain girl is not used to that! One other thing that I really try to do is train for the time of day. I am usually an afternoon runner and morning races can be really hard without getting a few AM training runs in. My legs just don’t want to wake up like that in the morning!

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