Set Yourself Up For A Successful Heart Mini Marathon

The road running season is in full swing, and the unofficial start of Cincinnati’s race season begins with The Heart Mini Marathon 15k and Half-Marathon coming up on March 12, an event that has you running through the streets of downtown as well as Columbia Parkway.  This race is notorious for being deceptively challenging due to the rolling hills on Columbia Parkway and the long, steep-ish ascent AND descent on Torrence Parkway. In order to help you have an enjoyable race, we’d like to provide some race day tips that will ensure you run this course like a boss!

Familiarize Yourself With The Course

This run course starts downtown and becomes fairly challenging once you leave downtown and travel east on Columbia Parkway. When driving on the parkway, it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of elevation gain/loss but traveling on it by foot proves otherwise. You will not encounter a flat section of Columbia Parkway, and so if you’re not running uphill then you’re running downhill. To add an extra level of difficulty to the 15k and ½ Marathon (there’s also a 1k and 5k), the race course veers up Torrence Parkway, a long and steeper ascent that will require you to run back down it before you make the turn to downtown and the finish (15k) or continue through Kentucky in order to finish back downtown (½ marathoners). Familiarizing yourself with this course is key to creating a race strategy that allows you to run at a sustainable pace as well as utilize running tips that will allow you to be efficient in navigating the hilly portions of the course.

Manage Your Pace Like A Pro

When running a long distance race, the pace you had planned to run on race day may need to be adjusted when external variables are put into consideration. These factors can include wind, air temperature, precipitation, humidity, and elevation profile. In order to prevent “hitting the wall” – ie. running out of energy which leads to considerable slowing of your pace, cramping, feeling ill, or even experiencing gastrointestinal issues – it is important that you not run beyond your energetic capacity. Translation:  Do not run at a pace that gets you out of breath too early in the race or out of breath too many times during the race.

On this particular race course, this means keeping your breath rate at a level in which you’re able to talk to someone without gasping for air. Your breathing can be labored, but you should be able to talk to someone next to you without having to take deep breaths between every few words.

Quick Tips For Managing Your Pace Like A Pro:
  • Slow your pace when running uphill if your breath rate begins to rise too much.
  • Increase your pace when running downhill to make up for lost speed on the uphill.
  • Use the talk test to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself.  You should be able to talk in short sentences without gasping for air or losing your breath further.
  • If it is warmer or more humid, your heart rate and breath rate will rise automatically.  Know and understand that you will not be able to run at the same pace during these types of conditions as compared to cooler, less humid conditions unless you have been specifically training in these same conditions.
Run Up and Downhill Efficiently

Powering your body up and down hills can either be done efficiently or less efficiently.  Doing so in an efficient manner allows you to control your heart and breath rate better (which you now know is very beneficial for managing your pace), and it also reduces your risk of developing a tissue injury–ie. soft tissue strain, bone irritation, and stress fractures.

Running uphill requires more muscular force to push your body up the hill, thus creating an opportunity to strain a muscle. Running downhill magnifies the stresses placed on bone, tendons, and muscles as they work to manage the extra forces placed on the body.  (Learn more about preventing injuries while running on hills.)

Crossing The Finish Line
Quick Tips To Improve Your Running Efficiency On Hills

When running uphill:

  • Lean into the hill slightly by leaning forward at the ankles (not the waist) with a tall posture.
  • Keep your head held upright, and look 4-5ft in front of you. Don’t look directly down.
  • Run with a quicker cadence to help maintain a short step length. This allows you to land underneath your center of gravity, which is much more efficient than if you land further away from your center of gravity.
  • As each foot makes contact with the ground, think about pushing your foot through the ground to propel you forward and up the hill. This allows you to recruit the appropriate hip and thigh muscles without over-recruiting your hamstring and calf muscles.
  • Keep your hands high and use your torso to help swing your arms back and forth at the same cadence as your legs.
  • Smile!  And if the going gets tough, recite an inspirational quote or sing a happy song to yourself. You will feel lighter going up the hill if you do this as compared to grimacing the entire way up.  Guaranteed!

When running downhill:

  • Maintain the same upright posture, but do not lean forward unless you are experienced in running downhill at a higher rate of speed. Leaning forward downhill is a good way to pick up “free” speed (making up for lost time without expending much extra energy), but you must be strong and coordinated enough to handle such speeds. Otherwise, leaning into a hill can set you up for an overload injury. Rather, lean backward slightly into the hill behind you to prevent yourself from picking up too much speed.
  • Maintain a quick cadence so that your step length does not get too far in front of you.  Again, this will improve your efficiency and allow for less impact forces to enter your legs no matter what pace you are running. This will not only allow you to conserve precious energy while maintaining a good pace, but running in this manner will reduce your risk of developing excessive tissue strain that could lead to a significant injury.  [Learn more about running cadence here.]

Mid-March is always an exciting time for the Cincinnati running community because of the start of road racing season. The Heart Mini Marathon is a harbinger of more races to come, and if you manage this race well you can set yourself up for a good spring and summer running season ahead of you. Happy running!

Want even more information to help you become a better runner?  Check out The Runner’s Corral for tons of free content about training, injury prevention, and performance!

By Eric Oliver, PT, Run Coach

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