You've settled into a groove and packed up with runners around you. The weather is great and you're on track for your best time if you can maintain the pace. As you start the climb of one of the four notable hills on the course, you pick it up a little and charge to the top.
It feels good to pass people and prove your toughness. And it's, well, instinctive, isn't it? You see hill, you feel compelled to push yourself up and over the top.
And also it's the whole immediate challenge thing. The hill presents an immediate challenge that beckons your attention and effort. You aren't gonna back down are ya? Wuss!
Unfortunately, picking up the pace or, more accurately, your effort is usually the worst thing you can do from an energy management perspective during long distance races. In the endurance world we call this “burning your matches”.
See, your body loves homeostasis. It loves to stay on an even keel and is way more efficient if allowed to lock into a rhythm and stay there.
By surging up the hill you increase the rate at which your body is using energy (carbs). Each time you increase your effort and leave your rhythm, you burn a match. If you run out of matches, you're cooked and it's game over. Your pace slows dramatically, you're forced to walk, and it's a pretty demoralizing feeling if you ask me.
When you run a long distance race, lot's of coaches recommend an even pace. I take that one step farther and recommend an even effort. This means that whether you're running uphill, downhill, or flat, you're maintaining the same feeling.
This is highly important in very long races like marathons or long distance triathlons where you are generally racing well inside your comfort zone. It can seem inconsequential to surge up a small hill in the early miles of a race, but I assure you, you will pay the price later. Wouldn't you like to have some matches to burn in the last few miles?
**One caveat – if you are directly competing with someone and surging up a hill is the tactic you choose to utilize, then go for it. At least now you know the risks!