When people discuss the race course of the Baltimore Running Festival, they often bring up the hills. Yes, we’ve got them, and we’ll never deny that fact. But the course is a fair one, with plenty of downs and flats to go with the ups. And if you prep the right way for the hills, you’ll handle them like a champ.
I recently connected with Jim Adams, owner of Falls Road Running Store, the running festival’s official shoe store partner, to talk about the course. We focused mainly on the marathon course, but this includes all of the half course as well. Both Jim and I agree that your toughest miles generally fall between miles 16 and 21–much like the Boston Marathon course if you are familiar with it. But Baltimore is different on the front end because it also starts with some climbs.
The best approach for a course like this? Start conservatively, says Jim. “If you start out nice and easy for the first four miles, the climbs won’t get to you,” he says. “Even when you get to the 16 mile mark and the series of climbs, keep in mind that they ‘stair step,’ and flatten out in between.” This is a good place to catch your breath and pace before moving on to the next one.
The best thing about the course, in my opinion, is that after the Howard Street Bridge around mile 24, it’s all downhill to flat to the finish. This always makes the going easier mentally.
Knowing that you have hills to face, how do you properly get ready? Incorporate hills into your regular training. You can go about this with either hill repeats or long runs that include lots of hills along the way. For repeats, Jim suggests two different approaches. The first is to find a long hill–around a half mile in length with a grade of about five percent to six percent–and do repeats on it. Start with about three or four repeats and increase that number each time you do the workout.
The second way to do repeats is to find a shorter hill, something that might take one or two minutes to climb, and hit it hard anywhere between six to 12 times. Always jog easy back down to recover between efforts. “Do these workouts two times per month in August and September, and you’ll be in good shape for race day,” says Jim.
What if you live in a flat area of the country? You need to get creative in that case. Find a bridge, for instance, and treat it as a hill for your repeat workouts. If you don’t have any bridges nearby that fit the bill, another option is to hit the treadmill. Set the incline to around five or six percent and then run repeats on it for about four minutes each. Incorporate easy recovery between your “climbs.”
While a conservative approach to a course like Baltimore is the smartest way to handle it, if you make hills your strength, you can put them to good use on race day and drop your competition. “This is a great way to set yourself apart if you’re in a position to do so,” says Jim. I agree.
Hills–love ‘em or hate ‘em? How do you prep for a course like Baltimore?