The Coventry half marathon is now just three weeks away, and I have been taking a look at the route in preparation for the big day. Following last year’s cancellation, I last ran Coventry in 2017, but they have altered the route slightly for this year’s race, and I have plotted the new route in Garmin Connect to analyse the elevation profile. It doesn’t look pretty.

To be honest, not a lot has changed since 2017. The start and finish have moved (not by much), a short, horrible down and back section has been removed from around mile 9 and a short section has been added in at around 2 miles, to compensate. So, I broadly know what I’m in for come race day, but two years is a long time and there’s been a lot of running since then, so I thought I would refresh my memory.

Coventry Half Marathon Route, 2019

The first eight miles then are gradually uphill, with the final four by and large downhill. I remember the final section of the main climb, with the peak coming at a right-turn from country lane to city road just before the turn for mile 8, and I remember it being a tough one. My pre-race tactic was to put my foot on the gas at this point and make the most of the final, downhill miles, but the climb took it out of me, and I had very little left to push on.

The question then, how can I better prepare myself this time round? How can I ensure that I still have something left to be able to finish strong, without of course simply going slower in the earlier stages of the race?

I’ve done a bit of research (reading and podcast listening) on this – how to train for a hilly race and, looking at the profile above, I would say that this constitutes as a hilly one.

The automatic thought and assumption is hill reps, lots of them. Short, explosive ones to build leg strength and long, progressive ones to improve stamina, but that is not what comes recommended. Hill reps are good for speed work, but when you reach the top of the hill, you turn around and gently jog back to the bottom. This does not replicate a race situation, where you want to be powering off strongly from the top of the hill, not slowing down to a recovery pace to catch your breath.

The best way to train for a hilly race is to ensure that you incorporate hills into your normal, everyday running. Your long/slow/easy and your threshold/tempo runs should be completed over a terrain that is, ideally, like that of the race that you are training for. And basically, that’s it. Nothing specific, just don’t shy away from hills. After all, you won’t be able to shy away from them in the race.

There is another, more specific hill workout that you could add into your schedule, which should offer some additional benefits over the standard hill reps, and that’s ‘Kenyan Hills.’ If you’re not familiar with Kenyan Hills, they are hill reps whereby you return down the hill at the same pace at which you went up. No recovery jog, if you ran to the top of the hill in 2 minutes, it should take you 2 minutes to return to the bottom, before turning around and going again. This replicates the race a little better than the hill reps mentioned earlier, as you don’t break pace. For this type of workout, you could do 2/3 x 10 minutes, with 3 minutes of rest in between sets.

I’ve not tried the Kenyan Hills in preparation for Coventry, but I have been adding in more hills into my running, in particular for my recent threshold sessions. I live in the middle of a slanted estate on the top of a hill in North Rugby. This means that there’s a long, gradual hill (just over a mile) coming into the top of the estate and a short, sharp hill (0.2 miles) coming into the bottom of the estate. It is, of course, more inviting to use the long hill going out and the shorter hill coming back in, but I’ve been reversing my routes recently to take in the long and nasty one towards the end of my sessions.

This involves a climb of 47m over the course of the mile. Coincidentally, the main climb at mile 7 in the upcoming half marathon lasts for a mile and sees a total elevation gain of 44m (according to Garmin). Almost perfect. I guess we shall see in three week’s time if the additional hill work has paid off.

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