Monday, July 26, 2010

Take to the hills, runner!

Since I started running seriously again, I have heard time and again how much benefit can be reaped from running hills in my training. I've heard that after a month of hill training, a flat land runner who isn't already in peak condition might expect to see up to a 1 min/mile decrease in their cruising pace on the flats. I've heard about the strength benefits, cardiovascular benefits, and even neuromuscular benefits and improvements in stride efficiency from running downhill on gentle grades. So, did I head for the hills straight off? Of course not. Like any self-respecting procrastinator, I avoided hills like the plague. I planned routes intentionally to exclude them.

But here's the thing. After awhile, I started to feel like my training was growing stagnant; like I wasn't making any progress. I began to grow concerned that I was reaching a plateau, and at the same time I was beginning to feel strong enough that I was more confident about tackling some serious hill training. Yes, I had heard about how one should ease into hill training, not biting off more than one could chew. So, did I start slow, with just a couple of hill repeats on a low-grade slope? Of course not. I headed to Dixon Canyon Rd. and rand the hills of the Horsetooth Half Marathon route. Up to Centennial Drive, then along the hills of the ridge top across Dixon Canyon and Soldier Canyon dams, then off the north end of the ridge to tackle Bingham Hill, and come back to the start of the Horsetooth Half course via rolling terrain along Overland Trail Road. 13.35 miles, with over 1000 ft. of climbing, and the same amount of descending.

Elevation Profile Screen Capture from Garmin Connect

Did I hurt myself? Fortunately no. I concentrated on my form, particularly when running the downhill, and just tried to put in a hard steady effort while going up, and I was pleased to finish the run in 1 hr 57 min. When I got to the top of the ridge along Centennial Drive, I lamented my lack of a decent packable camera that I could carry along, because the views from up there are pretty impressive.

I passed or was passed by many cyclists and a few other runners, and all but 2-3 offered a greeting or short conversation. It's one of the things I really like about running and cycling in Fort Collins. Most of the people you run into out there are courteous and friendly.

All-in-all, I probably ran too far, but that was ok, because I was also trying to get in fairly long/hard aerobic run. This just combined that with some steep hill work. The result was sore calves for a couple of days afterward (expected), and an overall good feeling about having accomplished the route without trouble, and having run into so many courteous folks out there.

So, I think my plans for this route for the future will be to use the first 4.25 miles as a hill training run. The lay of the land there is perfect for parking at the Maxwell Natural Area or along Dixon Canyon Rd. and then running a 1 mile warmup on the flat portion of Dixon Canyon Rd. before heading up the hill to Centennial Drive.

The structure of the hills is also nearly perfect for this type of work. The first two inclines are about a half mile solid of steady 8-10% slope/grade, and the dam the short downhill and the flat across the top of the Dixon Canyon dam make for a nice place for some recovery, before tackling the next incline. That one is followed by some rolling downhill for a couple of miles where downhill form can be practiced, before reaching Soldier Canyon dam, and heading up a rolling incline again for a quarter mile to a good turnaround point at the top and hitting it all from the other direction.

This up-and-down out-and-back route, followed by another easy one mile warmup and cooldown on the flat part of Dixon Canyon Rd. would make for a roughly 10 mile hilly run that should be more interesting than simple hill repeats - which may become my hill training approach on alternate weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good hill-training path to stick to! Seems like a beautiful view too - if you ever do take a camera, be sure to post the pics!


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