Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe

Since my last half marathon in Alaska, Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state, I’ve been training for my next half marathon, which is in November. The race in Alaska was in August, which I trained for during the hot, humid summer and I went straight from that into my current training cycle with no break. Where I live, it starts to get cooler in mid-to-late September but there are still plenty of days where it’s pretty warm until October hits. Then, for the next month or so we have pretty much ideal (to me) running conditions where the nights are cool and the days are warm with a bit of a chill to them some days and the humidity has thankfully dropped.

All of this means after suffering through the heat and humidity to train for my race in Alaska, I’ll finally get a bit of a break weather-wise for my next race. Lately I’ve been thinking about the best routes to take for my long runs. While there are of course many places I can choose to run my long runs, there are a couple of obvious choices to me. The first choice is a place I used to run all of my long runs on before I moved a few years ago (I only moved to the next town over, so not far). The trail is part of a converted railroad bed that is now a perfectly straight, what looks like mostly flat trail with crushed gravel and/or paved asphalt. The second choice is a greenway that I’ve been running my long runs on for the last three years. It’s full of hills, hills, and more hills along the asphalt trail.

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Running along the converted railroad bed trail last weekend

Last weekend I was supposed to run 11 miles, with the last 5 or 6 miles at race pace. I thought maybe I should try running on the flat trail because it’s nearly impossible for me to hit race paces on the extremely hilly trail but I might have a chance on the flat trail. Here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from my 11 mile run on the flat trail:

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The elevation changes from 237 feet to 374 feet, so there’s a difference of 137 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. My average pace per mile was fairly consistent, with a difference of about a minute and a half from beginning to end. However, I was certainly not hitting anywhere near what I would like to be race pace for the last 5 or 6 miles. I think my mind wasn’t really into the run, but more on that later.

Last month, I ran 11 miles on the hilly trail and here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from that run:

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The first thing that strikes me about this run compared to the run on the flat trail is how much more consistent my pace is on the flat trail (unsurprisingly). My average pace per mile on the hilly trail (shown directly above) differs by two minutes from my fastest mile to my slowest. The elevation changes from 326 feet to 466 feet, so there’s a difference of 140 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. Hmmmm. It looks like my “flat” trail isn’t really so flat after all, just more consistent, without the sudden increases and decreases in elevation I see on the hilly trail.

Here’s where things get interesting. My fastest times on the “what I thought was flat but isn’t really that flat” trail, which I will now call the “not really flat” trail, are not as fast as my fastest times on the hilly trail, because of running faster downhill. Since there aren’t really any steep hills to run down on the “not really flat” trail, I don’t get that boost of speed that I get on the hilly trail. Sure, I’m going much slower when running (and yes sometimes walking if I’m going to be totally honest) up the steep hills on the hilly trail, but because of the speed I get when running down hill, the average is not as bad as I once thought it was, before I did this analysis comparing the two trails.

Bottom line, I ran the hilly trail an average of 21 seconds/mile slower than the “not really flat” trail but moving time was almost 20 minutes longer on the hilly trail, because of walking, I’m sure. Elevation gain for the hilly trail is 676 feet and 284 feet for the “not really flat” trail. All of this makes me question whether I should run on the “not really flat” trail for my long runs. Since the idea was to be able to hit my race paces, but that didn’t happen, I think I may want to continue running on the hilly trail.

As I mentioned earlier, my mind wasn’t really into it during my long run on the “not really flat” trail. What I mean by this is the run seemed very ordinary and mundane. There wasn’t a whole lot of change in scenery and there were many other walkers, bikers, and runners on the trail. The hilly trail, on the other hand, is mostly much more quiet with maybe a handful of other runners or walkers along the way. More importantly, the scenery is more varied, with twists and turns, glimpses of different neighborhoods, ponds, often rabbits and birds, and yes, many hills.

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One small section of the hilly trail I like to run on

I used to hate hill running but several years ago I began to appreciate hills and what they can do for me as a runner. I think hills definitely make me stronger and I feel more of a sense of accomplishment when I can run all the way up a long, steep hill rather than just running along what seems like a flat trail. So in the end, I think I’ll stick with the hilly trail for my long runs after all. The scenery is better and I love the peace and quiet. Now if I can just tell my brain that I can run up the hills instead of giving up and walking the harder ones.

How about you guys- where do you run your long runs, or does it vary from week to week? Do you choose where to run based on trying to hit race pace? Do you think I should go back to the “not really flat” trail to work on trying to hit race pace or just keep running on the hilly trail and work on trying to run up more of the hills? I’d really love some input!

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon, Tennessee- 27th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Tennessee was my 27th state.

Who knew Knoxville, Tennessee was so hilly?  Certainly not me when I signed up for the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon.  Typically I tend to steer away from a course that’s full of hills, although some hills are fine.  I just feel that running a half marathon is hard enough without having to climb up and down hills as well.  It’s kind of funny I even ran this race at all.  For years I always thought I would run the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis for my Tennessee race.  Somehow that wasn’t happening; the timing was never right, and I really needed a half marathon during my daughter’s spring break in April, and this Knoxville race fit the bill.

The marathon and half marathon courses both go through World’s Fair Park and finish at University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium but in-between are many, many hills.  Here’s a question take from the race website FAQ page about hills that I find interesting.  Pay attention to that last part of the last sentence- “there are not very many miles that are just flat.”

Q. Is the course very hilly?
A. The course has some hills, particularly in the first half of the marathon.  It is not terribly hilly though. You can see a course profile in the race information page. The total elevation change is not dramatic, but there are not very many miles that are just flat.

Translation:  there’s not more than 25 feet of flat land on this course, so just realize pretty much the entire course is on rolling hills.  Yes, of course it’s hilly.

Both the marathon and half marathon start at 7:30 am which helps to get you off the course before it gets too hot.  Knoxville typically has great weather in early April so heat shouldn’t be a factor at this race, however.

Knoxville is the third largest city in Tennessee and is full of things to do including Market Square with restaurants and shops, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Knoxville Museum of Art, World’s Fair Site, and much more.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a little over an hour away and is one of the few national parks with no admission fee.  Oak Ridge is a unique area close by with its claim to fame being part of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb.  You can tour the American Museum of Science and Energy to learn all about this and more.  One could easily spend 3-4 days in Knoxville and extend that time further if you went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Nashville International Airport is the closest major airport to Knoxville, at roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive.  Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina is about 3 1/2 hours away by car, as is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia.  You definitely want to get a rental car for Knoxville unless you don’t plan on spending any time before or after the race or checking out the area.

Would I recommend this race?  Probably not.  It was insanely hilly and just not scenic enough to justify all of those hills.

From my post-race notes:  “One of if not the hilliest course I’ve ever ran.  Was scenic-ran through nice neighborhoods with huge houses and nice lawns, ran past the water some, ran along a greenway, finished on the 50 yard line of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football field at Neyland Stadium, which was fun.  Nice medals and tech short sleeve shirt.  I skipped the post-race party because I was too tired but it looked like fun.  There were some bands playing along the course.  Aid stations were good.  Finished in 2:07, which was good considering the hills.  Great weather helped!”

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Knoxville Marathon