Stadium Stairs

Over the weekend, I wrapped up week 2 of my training with a 13km “long run”. I say that in quotes because 13 kilometres isn’t all that far. But you’ve gotta start somewhere and build your way up. Sometimes it’s hard to hold back. It’s hard to go slower, or shorter distances. I know that sounds crazy, but other runners out there will get what I mean.

My first two weeks of training have been great so far. We’ve been blessed with record breaking mild weather in Ottawa for December, which has made training much more enjoyable. I’m pretty happy with my performance and progression so far, focusing on the 5 key elements of my training; Hills, Speed, Distance, Cross-Training, and Rest. Don’t forget to rest.

Every time I run a marathon, I learn something new. There are always lessons and take away’s. Things that you could have done better. Things that you need to more of. Things that you need to do less of. In training for my last marathon, I upped my hill training, and was rewarded with the results I was looking for. As I began planning out my training program for Boston (and Heartbreak Hill), I vowed to refine my hill strategy even more. Instead of dedicating only one day a week to hills, I’m weaving them into my entire program - and adding stairs. 

Hills vs. Stairs

Every runner knows that running hills is a crucial element of your marathon training program. But what about stairs? Since they tend to be steeper than hills, you need to power your legs higher and work against gravity, pushing both your legs muscles and your heart rate to the max. To put it into context, most stairs have a 65% grade, while Boston’s infamous Heartbreak Hill is 4.5%. 

Don’t get me wrong - hill training is still massively important to marathon training. Instead of replacing my hill training with stair training, I’ve started to combine them together in my workouts. I’ll run 5 hills, hitting a staircase at the top of each hill. Or I will run 8 hills, and then 4 sets of stairs. Furthermore, based on Chelsea’s advice from her experience at Boston, I’ll be adding hills and stairs here and there into my long runs. This will not only teach my body how to attack hills long into a run, but also how to continue at a desired pace after you’ve completed that hill, rather than stopping to catch your breath. Keep in mind that Heartbreak Hill occurs between kilometres 32 and 34 of the Boston Marathon. That’s right where most people hit the wall. 

Both hill and stair training help improve your strength, endurance and speed, working different muscle groups. It also helps your body understand how to react to climbing different pitches - as well as descending them. This is one of the most common misconceptions in running. Running downhill is not always easier. Go run 10km at a slight decline and tell me how your quads feel after. Yeah, they will hurt.

Aside from running my regular hills behind Parliament Hill and  along the Rideau Locks, I’ve recently discovered the staircase inside TD Place, the football stadium for Ottawa’s CFL team, the RedBlacks. Since my office is right next door to the stadium, I’m able to go do my stair training at lunch. It’s a pretty cool spot to train, and it’s a hard workout since it’s much longer than your average staircase.