Yesterday I did another one of my long tempo runs on the ever-so-hilly Umstead Bridle Trails. They’re tough work. For those familiar with the park, I start at the Harrison entrance, go right at the lake and do the Turkey Creek loop. This means starting down a big hill for 1.25 miles dropping about 250 feet, going back up about 125 feet for about a mile, then roll down to the creek crossings, then stair step up (with some really steep pitches) to Gralyn, turn left to descend for about a mile, climb maybe half mile, another big 1 mile descent then climb back up to the starting point. Most every long run I’ve done over the past several years has been on these trails, so the hills aren’t too big a deal. That is, unless I’m running them fast.
These long tempo runs have really driven home to me how difficult it is to race big hills well. When climbing for a mile or so, I get into a pattern of shorter steps and a different stride altogether. In fact, managing the effort so that I don’t overdo it is the easy part, except maybe on some of the super-steep sections, but those don’t last long anyway. Maintaining the effort as I crest the hill and try to stretch it out to descend quickly is easier said than done and has been taking a lot of focus. Interestingly, keeping pace and effort up going down the bigger hills later in the run is fairly difficult.
So what do I pay attention to when I’m trying to improve my technical hill-running? Serendipitously, I found a couple of articles by Richard Lovett of Team Red Lizard Racing that explains things better than I ever could. Beyond the fact that the group’s name includes the word “lizard” and is thereby super-awesome-cool by my standards, there are some fantastic hill-running tips in these two pieces. First article is mostly about arm swing when climbing and leaning into the descent even if it feels a little out of control. Second article in the series is about racing the hills and managing effort up and over the crest of the hill. He really covers all of the issues that I happened to notice during these hilly long tempo runs. What he doesn’t really tell us is how much more difficult it is to execute these skills effectively than it is to just understand them.
I’m really glad I’ve been practicing these skills because I hear Portland, Oregon is hilly. Tri Nationals is in Portland. So is Team Red Lizard, coincidentally. I love lizards. They’re so cute and adorable.