Monday, November 26, 2012

Proof Against Running Hills

I, like many others, recently participated in a glutton-fest commonly called Thanksgiving. I, possibly unwisely, decided that Turkey Day morn was the perfect time to do my long run. I wanted to empty the tank before I tipped the scales.

This recent week of running offered up a rare opportunity in course comparison. On Saturday of last week, I did a 9+ mile run in the confines of my local stomping grounds. Five days later, I repeated the process, only this time on my old stomping grounds.

One aspect of my training, not that I have anything to train for, is pacing on my long runs. I have a history of doing my mileage outside of my means, leaving me as spent and useless as a drooling vegetable. Most people don't notice the difference between this state and my normal state of being. But I know (and isn't that really all that matters?).

Anyway, back to the point of this post: comparing runs. Since I am a science teacher, I know everything a little bit about the geologic history of my neighborhoods. Currently, I live in upstate NY which has been glaciated by at least 2 major movements. My former home of NW Indiana has only been pummeled once and the ice didn't go that far. Now, if you think that scouring the Earth with miles high mounds of hardened water would have a flattening effect, you'd be wrong. Glaciers provide more contours than they eliminate. Untouched icescapes leave no deposits.

Translation: Indiana is flat.

Big deal. What the hill giveth on the way up the hill returneth on the way down. It all balances out in the end. Or so I thought. Then I gathered the proof.

Run 1: Upstate NY
This run takes place between 0.5 and 3 miles south of Great Lake Ontario. The temperature was balancing in the mid 50s. I set out to run at an 8:30 pace. I tend to suck at pacing and, contrary to expectations, ended up at 8:27 per mile. The hill profile below features 367 feet of elevation gain. Yet, according to Garmin, only 351 feet of loss even though I started and ended at the same place.

Run 2: NW Indiana

This run takes place between 5 and 6 miles south of Great Lake Michigan (which, in my opinion, is infinitely more fun of a Great Lake). The temperature was in the mid 50s. I set out to run at an 8:30 pace. Having recently succeeding at this objective a week ago, I remembered the feeling and intensity. I sought to maintain that level of perceived exertion. I, as per expectations (finally), failed miserably and held a 8:16 including an extra 0.5 miles in the run. The hill profile below shows an elevation gain of a whopping 83 feet. Enigmatically, Garmin shows a loss of 69 feet. See problem statement above.


Not running hills makes you faster. When you compare the 2 runs, the hillier run was significantly slower despite a shorter distance. Under similar times of day, similar weather conditions, and similar levels of pansy, the flatter run triumphed.

Therefore, don't believe the articles citing that you should do hill repeats. Running hills will not make you faster. In fact, the hills will slow you down. Avoid them at all costs. Find the flattest parcel of land and run on that. Your Garmin will thank you.

(P.S. That conclusion only applies to non-Banter coached athletes. My peeps will definitely be hitting the hills. But, since most of you are all local, you probably can't escape it anyway.)

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