Wimborne 20 and the benefits of hills

20 miles – I don’t think I’ve actually ran past this distance since completing the Rome Marathon back in 2012. Edinburgh Marathon I started walking about Mile 19, London Marathon last year everything started to go pants at Mile 20.

Find a hill, some steps, a steep road - anything to make a session harder!

Find a hill, some steps, a steep road – anything to make a session harder!

I’m a paradox, a marathon runner who hasn’t been able to run a marathon for several years. If anyone asked me what type of runner I am I would say long-distance. Then I feel like I’m cheating as I’ve not been able to do this recently. Who the hell am I?

All of us, every single last one, juggle many things and struggle in our marathon journeys with different issues… nutrition, cramps (anywhere, stomach, legs, back – brain!) time to train, weather, the ‘I’ word (I’m not saying it), new and unexpected niggles, rising physio costs. It’s not one thing that can go wrong; it is, of course, many. But, sometimes everything can go right, and if this doesn’t happen so be it. You have to come back another day to fight again. And try not to cry about it at the time. Cake and wine are good at soothing a disappointed marathon soul.

Doing a hilly 20-miler has got to be one of the best long runs you can plan into your marathon schedule. Why?

Let’s talk about hills…

There is no better way to build your leg strength than running hills – it’s that simple.

Team running with ladies who love hills

Team running with ladies who love hills

Doing a long tempo run, or race, on rolling hills, will increase strength AND running efficiency. The ultimate aim, whether it’s a 5, 10 or 20 mile outing, is to finish faster than your average pace. You don’t want to start these runs fast, then slow down. Your aim is to start steady and slowly build the pace.

This gives you plenty of chances during a training cycle to work on pace awareness. Being able to run the second part of your run/race faster than the first (a negative split) teaches you to start steady and finish strong. You’ll reap massive improvements in fitness, and also feel mentally strong if you can run long this way. Your heart will also become more efficient as it increases the amount of blood it can pump with each stroke (especially during short hill repeats).

The finish of Wimborne. this bit was downhill

The finish of Wimborne. this bit was downhill

You think hill running is all about going up? Nope. If you focus on correct form on the downhills,  you can prevent muscle damage and also make up valuable time (think relaxed form, slightly forward lean). Your quadriceps will become stronger and you’ll achieve better knee lift.

If your next marathon includes rolling hills, training on rolling hills will mimic the race, and allow you to practise improving your form over long distances as well as maintaining pace up and over the hills. The best way to approach a hill in a race is to maintain the same effort as you go up and down. Get this right in training and you’ll save yourself wasting energy come race day.

At the weekend I was booked into a hilly 20-miler, and expected to not make the distance, thinking that either my hip would make me shuffle in, or a foot injury from my last marathon cycle would get me. And for the last 3 miles of my 19-mile run a couple of weeks before I was moaning like a lonely elephant seal looking for its mate.

Looking for hills on the beach

Looking for hills on the beach

I kept telling my running buddies Mel and Paula that I would be shuffling in the last few miles, would never be able to keep up on the last few hills and they were to power on (there’s some hills in their legs and no one is stopping them on their road to Brighton Marathon).

A three lap course can be so demoralizing but I really enjoyed it, well, I say that, I didn’t actually *like* the hills third time round but I found the laps and miles, and hours, passed quickly. Really friendly and supportive marshals helped, as well as running in a team. It brings you outside of yourself and I’ve got into a really bad habit of running inside my limits, fearful of body breakdown if I don’t. I turned into a running wuss a while back.

I asked the horse if he liked hills, too

I asked the horse if he liked hills, too. He was undecided

What is it about female runners and self-doubt? You think you’ll never make it round while at the same time telling everyone else they are going to be awesome! Having someone beside you lovingly say ‘Shut up and get on with it’ is a great motivator.

There I was, beaming at the end thinking: what’s going on with my body? I felt OK during. I felt OK after. I went to my friend Sarah’s Back on Track group the day after. My legs felt OK. No aches, no limp, no dread, no resignation (though my stomach is feeling a bit sensitive). What’s happening? This isn’t the body I’ve been struggling with for years. A big part is a very good physio, so skilled at his trade that I always want to vomit when I see him. Yes Andy, that’s you. I’m also convinced that just by luck I’ve come across some incredible trainers that feel like they were made for me.

Getting ready for hills in Portsmouth this week and it was still daylight. Just

Getting ready for hills in Portsmouth this week. I was so excited that it was still daylight. Just

My adidas Ultra Boost X have been amazing to run in these last few weeks, especially for the ends of my toes that normally are rubbed raw from pushing up against my shoes during longer runs. The tight knit of the upper means my whole foot can move forward each time I strike the ground but without pushing against a dense surface. After 20 miles I had no issues with my feet. This is unheard of!

I’m still in shock I ran the whole 20, I was so mentally prepared not to and how that would be completely fine. Although, after some hills yesterday I have a niggle in my right ankle. Bum. I’m trying to ignore it while I ice it. Being a bit of a psycho-competitive-with-myself type I’m now hyper about how far I may be able to go without stopping, and will I be able to actually run a whole marathon again? This is exciting beyond belief. I even want to go out and try one this weekend, just to see. (No, I’m not going to…)

Looking for hills in Whiteley

Looking for hills in Whiteley. Goddamnit, where are they?

* If you’re hill training make sure you allow your muscles to recover adequately after your session or race; just as hills force our muscles to work harder, they will then need an increase in recovery time. Be kind to yourself.

QUESTION: Do you LOVE hills as much as me? Maybe we could start our own Let’s Love Hills group?

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