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Up the Hill

December 28, 2011

We have nine weeks until race day in Tampa Bay. It’s time to get to work. With that in mind, my training partner Little G and I knew it was time to get some hill training in. One of the things we both felt really good about during our half marathons this fall was how strong we felt on the bridges and the late miles, even during hot and windy days. We knew it was because we had put in some very tough workouts, doing repeats on the only hill that exists around here, which is the drawbridge over the intracoastal waterway, about half a mile from the ocean and about twenty minutes from where we live.

We always plan these workouts in the evening. Little G works from 7 to 4, so when we run together we can either run very early in the morning or in the afternoons. The bridge is impossible to run in the dark–there are just too many places to lose your footing. So we do a lot of evening runs, though these are easier in the summer when it’s light out until 9pm. We planned to start at 6 or 6:30, whenever the Boss got home from work, and hope for the best, planning to wear a headlamp if necessary.

It was one of those days . . .

Unfortunately, it started raining around 4 o’clock, ranging from drizzles to pouring rain.

Fortunately, the rain brought cooler temperatures, which we sorely needed.

Unfortunately, the bridge’s metal span is notoriously slick when wet, and neither Little G nor I can afford to slip and fall during a speed workout.

Fortunately, it’s early in the week, and we knew we could reschedule the workout if we needed to.

Unfortunately, it’s a holiday week, so our schedule isn’t really our own, as we both have family commitments we need to attend to in the latter part of the week.

In the end, we decided to go ahead and head eastward, and hope for the best. The satellite map showed that the showers, though heavy, would pass through our area in the immediate future, and we figured we’d check the bridge out. If it was too slick to safely do our sprints, then we figured we’d do an easy run instead, and come back for our hill workout another day.

When we got to the bridge, the rain was still coming down, though not as harshly as it had been earlier. However, it was quite definitely the leading edge of our first cool front of the season, and the air behind it was decidedly cooler. At the beginning of the run, not yet warmed up, facing a brisk wind, wet through, we were very cold indeed. And as we turned toward the bridge, it got worse. But we stubbornly kept heading up, up, up, knowing that race day yields to no one, and training has to get done.

The rain stopped on the way to the bridge, and we found its span wet, but doable. We went over the bridge the first time running easy, testing its girders, and putting in that first mile at about ten-minute pace, getting our legs and arms warmed up. Then we started our sprints up. The workout goal was to do four sprints up the bridge, about a quarter-mile, and then walk down. It’s a tough workout because we absolutely tear ourselves up running up, so the cooldown counts for a lot.

The first two intervals came up short because the drawbridge went up while we were running them, so we couldn’t quite get to the top. After that we were able to get to the top and we were actually a little long on our hill repeat, running a third of a mile instead of a quarter. And gluttons for punishment that we are, we actually decided to run six repeats instead of four, just because we are so close to race day and we were on the bridge, so we decided to just get the workout in while we were there.

I wish my times had been more consistent, but here’s what I ended up with:

  1. 1:18–6:15 pace (one-fifth of a mile)
  2. 1:16–7:05 pace (short of one-fifth)
  3. 1:58–6:25 pace (one-third)
  4. 4–1:55–6:34 pace (one-third)
  5. 5–1:57–6:30 pace (one-third)
  6. 6–2:00–6:40 pace (one-third)

I think it’s interesting that my fastest interval was #4, the one I thought would be last until, walking down on our recovery from that one, we decided to throw down two more–but I’d already expended most of my energy. I had a little bit of a burst on #6 but it wasn’t enough to make up for what I’d already spent on the way up five times. I need to remember that part of the goal of this workout is to nail the pace and get up the bridge in the same amount of time each repeat, but when you change the number of repeats halfway through the workout, that’s near impossible.

Still, I’m happy with my pace. As I stormed up the bridge, I kept remembering how good it felt to be able to pass people on the bridge during that miserable Halloween race–in the dark gale of that race, as I thought I was finished, I still had the legs to power up and over a tall causeway, and it was because I had entertained the bridgetender by going up the bridge endlessly as the sun set, every Tuesday night through July and August.

Rule #5: The harder you work during training, the luckier you’ll get during races. Her’e’s to the kind of “luck” that comes from hard work.

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