Hills, hill, hills. Did training in Chicago prepare me for Austin Half?

A map of the Austin Half Marathon course.

My good friend Kristel and I decided last September that we were going to run the Austin Half Marathon on Feb. 20.

That’s now tomorrow.

We arrived in town on Thursday and yesterday morning we drove the course.

With each hill we ascended my stomach churned more and more. “How am I going to run these,” I wondered out loud to her. [Link: See Austin race elevation map (PDF)]

She giggled, because, well we’re both from Seattle, where there are plenty of impressive hills. She helps coach runners there, and she told me (bragged to me?) that she had her runners doing hill repeats on bigger, badder hills than the ones we were driving up.

I know I’m from Seattle and should be used to challenging terrain. It’s just that I didn’t start running when I lived there. I picked up running after moving to Chicago in 2004. You know, where it’s nice and flat and fast.

So to sum it up, my stomach has been in knots for the better part of 24 hours now.

I keep trying to conjure up the image I had in my head when I was slogging through 10+ mile runs in the dead of Chicago winter with near-sub-zero windchill blowing in my face for the duration of said runs. The mantra I repeated to myself in my head? “This f***king wind is your hill training.”

I hope I was right. Those hills look scary.

And I’m not alone in that thought; I stumbled upon a good race-prep article in the Austin Post. It reads, in part:

So, the hills. They scare people. They keep some runners from running Austin, quite frankly. I know runners that will only run “fast” marathons. But many of those courses are not necessarily as fast or easy as they seem, and, I think completely cherry-picking races kind of misses the point.

Personally, I’ve only run Austin four times, and Chicago, a notoriously flat, “fast” course, twice. Chicago doesn’t even produce an elevation guide, because there’s only one hill, with 800 meters to go in the course. After 26 miles, it’s really just funny. I love the Chicago Marathon – running it in 2006 motivated me to volunteer with the Austin Marathon, because of the way that city embraces and takes pride in the event.

But Chicago isn’t necessarily any easier than Austin. The hills here are tough, but they have two benefits: they allow you to switch up muscle groups, so you don’t pound nothing but your quads or nothing but your hamstrings into mush. They also break the distance into smaller challenges, and that’s what we’re in this for. Like JFK said, we don’t do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard. Or, like Han Solo said: “Bring ’em on, I’d prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around.”

If you’ve trained properly, and if you’re disciplined and have a plan, then put your faith in those things – they’re stronger than the course, and so are you.

I hope so. I really do.

At the very least, I will do my best to remember the hardest run I’ve ever had (the 5K in the Lake Geneva Sprint Tri last September. It had a huge hill climb, and I thought I was sucking… but somehow I managed to PR on the run. By a lot.)

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2 Comments

Filed under Austin Half Marathon, Races

2 responses to “Hills, hill, hills. Did training in Chicago prepare me for Austin Half?

  1. Congrats on finishing the Austin Half! It’s definitely a hilly place. Good luck with your Racine 70.3 training!

  2. “The hills here are tough, but they have two benefits: they allow you to switch up muscle groups, so you don’t pound nothing but your quads or nothing but your hamstrings into mush” <– that's really interesting to me, makes me wonder if that was part of my injury problem after Chicago Marathon last year.
    Well, I already saw your Twitter post that you rocked the race! So congrats on that, I can't wait to read your full recap!