"I've got all my PR's on hilly courses" -- Is this possible?
This comment nearly caused me to fall out of my seat yesterday.
"Bring on the hills! I've got all my PR's on hilly courses."
This is impossible given any common sense around hill running.
Hills always slow you down, right?
It is impossible?!
Well, maybe, it is possible.
I have assembled some reasons why it may be possible for some runners to finish faster on hilly courses.
1. You stop thinking in terms of pace
Pace is a dangerous number. It is often self limiting. Some runners define themselves by their personal records. So, if they start running faster than their personal record, they immediately think, "There is no way I can do this! I am only a 45 minute 10K runner, not a 40 minute runner. I need to slow down."
I'm not saying that you should not think about your pace. Rather, I am saying that pace has little to do with your capability. Your capability is actually dictated by how much power you can exert. Pace is only the expression of the power you are putting out.
That pace value is defined by things outside of your control such as hills and wind.
When you are on a hilly course, you lose track of your real pace and you are allowed to run to your max potential instead.
2. Hill running uses different muscle groups
Utilization of different muscle groups likely does not make a big difference in how fast you can run, but it can have a huge psychological boost to some runners.
For the boring stretches of flat roads, it is easy to get distracted. i.e. You can become hyper sensitive to even light fatigue in some of your muscles. When you begin to focus on the wrong things such as minor fatigue, you stop focusing on your race plan and more on your current distractions.
However, when you are constantly rolling up and down hills, you are constantly switching muscle groups, cadences, and paces. This cuts out the distractions since you must dedicate all of your mental energy to the task at hand. You can't "zone out."
This means hilly races result in higher effort and more focused racing.
3. Hills are what you practiced
Any good training plan should have you running on hills since hills are such a great tool to maximize effort while minimizing necessary recovery time.
When you practice on hills, you have developed a skillset that means that the "speed slowing" effects have been minimized. So, your theoretical best time on the hills is not all that much slower than your theoretical best time on a flat course.
That original statement that "hills = PRs" may not be all that crazy.
Hills can be quite friendly to you, runner.
And, one of the best methods to make hill running quantifiable is to use Stryd.
Stryd quantifies your effort in terms of power. So, when you are running uphills & downhills, you can compare that to your efforts on flat ground.
This makes training and racing on the hills far more straightforward since you don't need to create unique pace targets for specific hill grades.
You can get Stryd here: https://store.stryd.com/
Want more tips? Subscribe to the newsletter here: https://www.stryd.com/newsletter