Posts Tagged ‘Heartbreak Hill’

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A week ago Sunday I went for my scheduled long run.  According to Mr. Pfitzinger, I was supposed to run 16 miles, 10 of which were supposed to be at marathon pace.

I know.  So what, right?

It was cold and we had just come out the back side of a very large snow storm. The roads were (still are) treacherous, the sidewalks non-existent. I contemplated doing this run on the treadmill, but finally decided to drive to a part of the Boston Marathon course that I knew would be relatively clear. The problem with this stretch of course is that it is only about 6 miles long.

I powered through the first five miles, my mind more or less numbed by the cold.  However, as I approached the end of the stretch, my legs tiring, I realized that I still had over 10 miles to run.  My heart sank, my will ebbed.  Very quickly my mind went from somewhat blank to a swirl of self-doubt.  Suddenly the lack of sleep from the night before felt very real; my legs were tired, my lungs were tired, my brain was tired.  As I rapidly approached the first of the Newton Hills section of the Boston Marathon course, I came very close to stopping.

This section happens to be at Mile 17 of the marathon.  I remembered that just as I was about to drop my pace to a walk up the hill.  I remembered watching dozens of runners slow to a walk last April right at this point and I thought to myself, “If I couldn’t do it after 6 or 7 miles, no matter how tired I am, how the Hell am I going to do it on race day after 17 miles?

I growled and forced myself into a quicker pace.

The legs struggled.

The lungs burned.

I made it to the top of the hill and cracked a small smile.   As I hit the next hill, my GPS chirped that I had run the last mile 12 seconds faster than the previous one.

I smiled.

Energy flowed back into my legs and lungs.  As I crested Heartbreak Hill for the second of what would be three times that day, I realized that my second 6 miles had been faster than my first.

Running, and life for that matter, is full of waves. The key is to ride the crests as long as you can and power through the troughs to get to that next wave.

Physical pain is pretty easy to gauge.  You know if something is physically wrong with your body and it’s time to quit.  It’s the mental part of running that is hard.  Judging what you have left in the tank, mentally, is never an easy task.  But this I know: if you don’t push past what is comfortable, if you don’t embrace the pain, the burn, you won’t grow, you won’t find out whether you can or cannot.

And you won’t make it to the crest of that next wave.

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With New York in my rear view mirror, I can now firmly set my sights on Boston.  The New York Marathon was a bonus.  I hadn’t planned on running 2 marathon this Fall, but when the opportunity to run New York presented itself, who was I to say no?  The thing is, I trained all summer for Smuttynose, not New York.  It isn’t a bad thing.  It paid off in spades.  I was able to qualify for Boston at Smuttynose.

But New York taught me something.  Well many things, really, but it taught me this one thing in particular – you must train for the terrain.  I purposely spent the summer and early fall running on flat surfaces.  Every recovery, tempo, interval, marathon-paced, and long distance run was done on ridiculously flat roads or trails, or on the treadmill.  Training this way allowed me to cruise through Smuttynose with relative ease (I stress the relative of course because as my good friend Mike reminded me recently, a marathon isn’t supposed to be easy).

But when it came to New York, I suffered  Yes, I had some nutritional and GI issues, but I think that, despite that, had New York been a flat marathon, I could have managed a significantly faster marathon.  I may have even been able to come close to a PR.

Which brings me to this winter.


I look to Boston, with it’s early, deceptive downhill and it’s late, heart-breaking uphill.  Training starts either in December or January, but either way, I know there is going to be one “must” in my training.


I must train for the terrain.  It will require doing runs of all kinds on the hills that are available around me.  Fortunately, being from the Boston-area, I will be able to drive over to the Newton Hills and do hill repeats without too much juggling of my schedule.  Heck, living in the Boston-area means that I can make sure my long runs make their way by those hills.  It’s not going to be easy; it may not be fun, but that is what I am going to have to do  if I want to take a shot at a 3:15 at Boston.

In Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning he states several times that you must try to emulate the conditions you will face in your goal marathon.  What better way to emulate the terrain of your goal marathon than actually run on the terrain of said goal marathon?

I’m curious to see how my body will adapt to this kind of training.  Will it accept it as a necessity?  Will it rebel after a summer of flat running?  Will it adjust?

Train for the terrain.

That’s gonna be the mantra this winter.

Train for the terrain.

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