Holy Hills

Several weeks ago, I was fortunate to sit down and meet one-on-one with the BAA’s High Performance Coach, Terrence Mahon. I somehow won a contest offered by John Hancock and the fundraising platform Crowdrise, and my prize was to pick the brain of one of the country’s most accomplished running coaches

About a week before we met, I received an email from Terrence, asking what I might want to use the time together to discuss. I’m sure I could have learned a lot from whatever her presented to me, but I was impressed he reached out to me to ask what questions I had. My choice of topics? Mental preparation and strategies for the race.

Regardless of my training the last 5 years, I seem to consistently run about the same time. I also know I consistently have the same problem – the hills. Despite running this part of the course hundreds of times, on race day, that’s where my wheels come off. I desperately want to change that, and I have tried several strategies to mentally and physically overcome this section of the course, yet nothing has worked.

I’m not a great hill runner. It’s hard work for me to maintain my pace uphill, much less pass people. Usually my running partners leave me in the dust on the way up. But I like the downhills.


Terrence advised me to stop working so hard on the uphills. Trying to maintain my effort on the hills was taking a lot more out of me than I could make up for. He advised easing up a bit on the uphills, and basically just get over them. Then, with some energy in the tank, attack the downhills.

This past weekend I had a chance to practice this strategy in a race. On Saturday, I ran the Marathon Park Prep in Ashland. I had been warned it was a challenging course, and the race did not disappoint. Here is the elevation profile of the course.

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Some of the hills were pretty daunting, but I stuck with my plan. I ran alongside a woman for most of the race. One each uphill she would pass me and on each downhill, I’d pass her. The plan was working.

The hills between miles 10-12 kicked my butt pretty hard though and my pace dropped a bit more than I wanted those 2 miles. I still came back to run my fastest mile of the race in the final mile, but I finished a few seconds per mile slower overall than I had hoped for the race.

It wasn’t my fastest half marathon, but I still finished feeling really accomplished. I ran with a plan and followed it. There are a few things I would change, but I know now what I need to work on over the next 4 weeks.

Because after all, the real race I am preparing for happens April 18th.