Despite being at the polar opposite of the spectrum from each other, in terms of effort, there’s no getting away from the fact that if you want to be a strong long distance runner, you need to include both hills and long runs in your training.
1. It’s all in your head
Veteran marathon runners are often heard to say that running is all in the mind and the odds are that you will finish your first marathon. The unknown bit is how fast you’ll complete it - which is where the long runs come into play. Covering the miles in training will give you that all important confidence to know that you’re going to be able to do the distance, so you can concentrate on your speed!
The other thing to think about is that the long runs should be fun. If possible you should run with some friends who are at a similar pace and have a good natter as you run around. You’ll then look forward to them, seeing it as a social occasion.
2. Don’t overcook it
The general rule of thumb is that by now you should be doing one long run a week with another slightly shorter long run mid-week, with the idea being to gradually build up your strength and stamina, i.e. get the miles under your feet.
But you shouldn’t be beasting yourself to the point where you feel as if you’ve actually run a race which your life depended upon. You should be running at slightly less than race pace, but treating the session with the same respect as you would the race itself. So, if you are planning on running a 9 minute mile on race day, then your long runs will start off at 10 1/2 or 11 minute miles and gradually decrease down to 9 - the point at which you can sustain your target pace.
Moreover you don’t want to be so tired afterwards that all you can do is lie on the sofa with a wet towel over your head! Rather, you should finish the run feeling full of beans and wanting to do more.
3. Hills are your friends
If you’re thinking that you don’t need to do hill training because the marathon route is flat - think again! Hills are where you’re going to gain your overall strength from.
It’s not just your legs that will benefit but also your arms, used to drive yourself up the hill, and your core strength.
Hill work is what often defines a true runner. You will gain a few funny looks and the odd remark from people as you pass them back and forth. But you’ll start to feel like an athlete on a mission.
The other great thing about doing hill work, is that it will make you look forward to running on the flat again. So mentally, you’re going to be in a stronger position. And in any case, there are always going to be slight ‘undulations’ in any marathon race - so this will stand you in good stead.
4. Find your rhythm
One of the hardest parts of hill training is finding a decent rhythm that you can sustain - which often depends upon the type of hill you choose. Ideally, it should have about a 10 per cent gradient and be at least 400m long. Think of the short, steep hills as great for building up strength and speed, whilst the longer, more gradual hills ideal for endurance. If you can do this off-road - even better, as this will engage more of your muscles.
Hill work is going to be much tougher than many other training sessions, because your legs aren’t going to be able to maintain the same cadence as running on the flat. But inclines teache you good form and will make you mentally and physically a stronger runner. Good luck!