In just a few short weeks I will be running in the New Hampshire Marathon. My last 20 mile training run is behind me and I have started my 3 week taper. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to enter this race simply because Newfound Lake has been a frequent vacation spot for me over the past 10 years and I thought it would be cool to actually race on roads that I have completed countless training miles. It is really a beautiful course at a great time of the year.
I thought it would make sense for me to share my marathon strategy for this race since I know the course so well. This is a very challenging course. If you were looking for a PR course this is not it. There are several demanding hills on this course that will test your legs both going uphill and downhill.
The strategy I am using to tackle this course is not for everyone. If you are a strong marathon runner or someone that is looking to run a specific time then my strategy is not for you. If your goal is to finish the race intact with hopefully some zip in your legs for the last 10k then consider my strategy.
My goal is to finish the race with enough energy left to take advantage of the last flat/downhill 10k. What is my current pace? I completed my last training run on the course last Saturday and ran 20.5 miles at 8:32 pace. I parked at the school where the race starts and ran the entire course. I only skipped the out and back portion of the course that heads out to Sculptured Rock. If you are looking to run a solid race consider my strategy...it may work for you.
Start to 8.5 miles
The race starts on Route 3A right in front of the Newfound Memorial Middle School. This first section of the course is completely on route 3A and has no turns. That is the good news. The bad news is that most of this section is uphill. The key to this first section of the course is pacing. Having a tough uphill soon after the start is very dangerous to an inexperienced or nervous runner. You will be full strength and the temptation will be to power up the first set of hills. Please...do not make this mistake. Start this race very slowly and gradually pull yourself up the first couple of miles.
Soon after you pass West Shore Road (check out course video and map here) you will have a short but nice downhill and then you will be faced with a short but tough uphill. This is the first hill I suggest you walk. Yes, I said walk at the 2 mile mark. At this point you probably think I am crazy and that you are in better shape than me. All I can tell you is that I left my watch running for all of my walking breaks and averaged 8:32 last weekend. The goal is to walk when you feel your pace slipping and your heart rate accelerating. It just does not make sense to push your body over the "red line" at the 2 mile mark. If you walk 20-30 steps on the steepest part of the hill you can stay in control and not burn out your legs.
I use this walking strategy on the first hill after West Shore Road and the last big hill right before the left turn on North Shore Road. If I am having a bad day I may walk a few steps on a couple of other hills on Route 3A as well. This whole first 8.5 mile section is either uphill or downhill. There are no flat sections. This strategy also works for me because as soon as I start running again I return to my steady pace. I also take advantage of the downhills on this section by lengthening my stride and increasing my speed. I do not lean back and slow my pace.
North Shore Road to the Village Store (Miles 8.5-11)
This next section is short and is all on one road. No turns on this section. As soon as you take the left on North Shore Road the first feeling you will have is relief that you are finally off route 3A. Unfortunately you will not have a lot of time to think as you will immediately be faced with a screaming downhill. I stay in control but I do take advantage of this downhill to make up some time. If you are not a confident downhill runner this part of the course will not be enjoyable for you. After flying down the hill there are a couple of tough but very short rollers followed by a tough climb to the top of Devil's Hill. This is the next hill on the course that I walk. I make it about half way up and then walk the rest of the way. At the top of the hill you will have no time to rest as you will be faced with the toughest downhill on the course. This is an extremely steep downhill. I run down this hill but some of my friends walk down it to save their legs and avoid injury. Again, if you are not confident it doesn't hurt to walk the steepest part of the downhill to save your legs. After you get past this downhill there is another short but tough uphill as you approach the Village Store and then the road flattens out.
Out and Back to Sculptured Rock (miles 11-17)
This next section is more rolling hills but does have a few flat sections. Since this part of the course is still early in the race you need to ensure you do not increase your speed too dramatically on the flats. There are also several tough uphills in this section. After the turnaround you will head back towards the Village Store so you will know what is ahead of you on the return. There is another hill I walk on the return trip to the store. Again the key is to listen to your body. If you feel that walking would be similar to the pace you are "running" then switch to a walk and save your legs. Way too early to exhaust your energy stores at this point. The key to surviving this section of the course is to maintain an even pace.
West Shore Road to Route 3A (miles 17-24)
This part of the course starts with a couple of tough uphills. I use my walk strategy on a couple of early climbs on this part of the course. There are a few tough uphills from miles 17-19 and then you hopefully will be able to take advantage of the flattest part of this course. After you crest the hill shortly after Berea, you will have a nice downhill and then the course is flat or slightly rolling for the remainder of this section. This past Saturday I ran 7:58-8:08 pace for miles 19-24. The only exception is one tough but short uphill at the ice cream stand before taking a left to stay on West Shore Road. I actually walked about 20 steps on that hill and used that opportunity to take in nutrition (Snickers Bar) and Gatorade. (See my nutrition plan here)
This section has the most beautiful views on the course as well with the iconic Newfound Lake view right at mile 20.
At the very end of West Shore Road just before the right turn on to Route 3A and the final section of the course there is another short but very tough uphill at the church. I walk this uphill and take on some final nutrition before my push to the finish line.
Route 3A to the Finish Line (miles 24-Finish)
This final section is the easiest section of the course. That is if you think the last couple of miles of any marathon are easy. Remember that tough uphill that started the race? Well, here is some payback. You now get to run down that hill to finish the race. The last section of this course is mostly downhill all the way to the finish. If my strategy works on race day I hope to still be running a solid pace to close out the race.
With a tough and technical course like the New Hampshire Marathon proper pacing and strategy are key to a great performance. This course has some tough uphills but if handled properly you should still be able to take advantage of the downhill sections and the last 10k. Don't let your pride get in the way and refuse to walk when your body is screaming at you early in the race. If you are not fit enough to run this entire course then walk the tough parts and run solid on the easy parts. It is a simple strategy that I hope will result in another 8:30 pace performance in 3 weeks!