Training for Race Day Elevation

Training for Race Day Elevation

My 10K experience

The first and only time I have ever ran a 10K was the most miserable race I’ve ever experienced.  Prior to this race, I had successfully completed a handful of 5K’s.  Each of these shorter races left me feeling strong and accomplished.  I completed each 5K quicker than the last and didn’t drive away feeling completely wasted.

As a rookie runner, I’ve only trained on the trails and roads near my home.  To prep for each race, I would just set my watch to the time or distance I was aiming for and head out.  It was easy, convenient, and so seamless it was hard to punk out.  This approach to training has its advantages; cheap, effective, simple, and of course convenient.  This approach to training also has its disadvantages… mainly, you train on the same terrain day in and day out which isn’t necessarily the same terrain for race day.

I showed up to my 10K on a chilly day in March completely unaware that the course ahead of me wasn’t just longer than an actual 10k (6.5+miles instead of 6.2 miles) but there were MONSTER hills on the course!  A total gain of 279 ft when I was used to training completely flat — nearly no gain.

The hills broke my spirit from the start.  The course’s starting line was a huge hill for the first quarter mile.  Then you round the corner to be faced with an even steeper hill (15% incline) for the next half mile.  To make matter worse, the course was designed around a tiny campus, so to get the mileage in loops were formed.  You have to face the starting and follow up hill FOUR times before you can “move on” to the next segment of the course.  Knowing that I had to take on that hill not once, not twice, but FOUR times broke me!  Mentally I just wasn’t prepared.  Physically I wasn’t prepared at all!

Lesson learned — TRAIN ON HILLS!

I ended up biting down, cursing each hill, and finishing the race.  I decided to just embrace the downhill stretches and use every curse word I knew to get through the uphills.

Putting my Experience to Work for me

I vowed never to feel that unprepared and broken (before a race ever really started) again.  Never again!  Now I prepare for the race day course by doing my research!  Here are my steps:

  1. Go to the race’s website and find the course map & elevation map if they have it posted — most do.  If they don’t, I recreated the course using MapMyRun.com — they’ll make an elevation map for you!  They’ll look like this:Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 7.36.04 AM
  2. Grab a notebook, pen/pencil, and calculator to start calculating inclines…  Each of those peaks and valleys is a red flag in my mind and about this time in my training (week 4 or 5) I’m going to start incorporating hill runs in my training using either designed road courses that match or a treadmill.
  3. For each hill/valley, calculate total elevation increase in feet and divide by total distance run in feet — (using conversion relation 1 mile = 5,280 feet).
  4. This number, written as a percent, is the incline or grade of that portion of the course.  On a treadmill, you can make a workout to run however far (quarter mile, full mile, etc…) at that incline to prep for race day.

I’ll be working on this course later today and will provide updates on how this has impacted my training!  Stay tuned!!


A quick note — I should mention that this route includes some highway running — the stretch from mile 7 to the end… THANK GOODNESS!!  When I saw this, I swear I heard angels sing!


Do you train on hills?  

How do you incorporate them into your workouts?  

How else to you make sure you’re “Race Day Ready”?

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