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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Can Anybody Read Elevation Charts?

I'm horrible at deciding if a race is hilly or not based on an elevation chart. I keep looking at the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon chart to decide if it's hilly or not. It's not that I mind running a hilly race, I don't. It's that I want to manage my expectations about what I can hope to achieve at this race. There was this little race that I ran in September called the Philadelphia Distance Run where I set a PR at a pace that I never thought I could keep in 13.1 miles. And I didn't even think it was difficult to do so. Now, I'm so worried that it will be an insane amount of time before I can beat that time... or that I'll kill myself trying. I want to enjoy my races, but also feel good about my time. So, I've been studying elevation charts and comparing.

Let's start with the Philadelphia Distance Run. Looking back on that race, I felt that it was pretty much flat. I would describe it as a flat, easy course, with only a slight upward grade during mile 13. Here is the elevation chart for that one:
Indeed, my memory seems pretty accurate on that one. That big bump down in mile 5 is where we headed down into the riverfront area, and then we headed back up out of it during mile 13. I have no recollection of any of those extra small bumps elsewhere in the course.

Let's look at another one. This is the elevation chart for the Frederick Half Marathon, a race that I consider to be "rolling hills." Again, I had no issue completing this one, and set a PR both times I ran it (ok, the first time it was my first half marathon ever, but still). I do feel like a major hill is missing on this elevation chart, as it seems to mysteriously end at about 12.5 miles, and the largest hill is actually just before the finish line. But, close enough.

So, this is a "hilly" course, but doable. If I were doing Frederick again, I would think I could get *close* to my PR, but probably couldn't set a new one. Not this year, anyway.

Next... behold the elevation chart for the Baltimore Half Marathon:
This one was a hard, TOUGH race. Remember that I also completed it in a year when the temperature was abnormally high, so that didn't do me any favors. Still, I found this one to be pretty difficult, and I think the elevation chart shows it.

The Maryland Half Marathon:

The race for the insane. I didn't run this one, but I know people who did, and I admire them for it. It was a hot, miserable day that started with pouring rain and ended with 80 degree temperatures, and a finish line on a sand horse track. Awful, and this is generally considered one of the more difficult half marathons around. Maybe THE most difficult in Maryland (there's only been one so far, in 2009). That small bump ending at Mile Marker 11? Brutal, apparently. Steep and evil. That's a tough course. I can tell that by the elevation chart.

So, what about my race? Lehigh Half Marathon:

I don't know... I mean, that is a lot of small bumps, which worries me. But, in the end might not be as bad as the Frederick Half... I think I'll just go in with no expectations and see what happens.


Wacky Neighbor said...

The Lehigh race looks bumpy, but the changes seem to be sort of smallish and the scale of the chart is much smaller than the hilly races you noted (Baltimore Half, Maryland Half). I would expect that this isn't that bad and probably comparable to Frederick.

marathonmaiden said...

the lehigh half looks like it could be rolling hills but nothing substantial. more like youll be constantly going up or down slightly. might tire you out by the end or you might not even notice it.

granted i have no experience with elevation maps so everything i just said could be pure b.s. haha

Laura said...

I am the WORST about this! People always talk about "x feet of elevation change" and I have no idea what it means. I'm hoping to get my race report from Colorado up today, but that one had THREE THOUSAND feet of elevation change in the first 8 miles... and I was just like "oh, I guess it's a bit hilly?" WRONG - this was mountain climbing!

I should really learn what it means someday...

Christine said...

I found your question because I was asking exactly the same thing! All of my short runs around my house are hilly and all of my longer runs have been flat. So elevation change, while I am somewhat used to it, makes me nervous. This is my first half in 25 years, so it should be interesting. Good luck!

Kim said...

Christine, if you're doing hills for your shorter runs, it sounds like you're doing it exactly right! I think you'll do great!

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