One of the most challenging and unique aspects of any race is the course itself
The B.A.A. Half Marathon features a rolling course with significant downhills during the early miles and uphills towards the end of the race. In order to effectively navigate the course and take advantage of the fast start (as well as the hilly finish), runners need to make sure that their legs are resilient enough to handle all sorts of elevation changes.
The safest and smartest way to get your legs strong is to do some basic strengthening exercises. The combination of these two exercises will strengthen your quads, hamstrings and glutes, and will serve as a great primer to the hill training that you will do in the coming weeks.
Exercise #1: Wall Squat (aka Wall Sit)
Stand with your back up to a smooth wall where you have space to extend your legs outward. While keeping your head, shoulders, and lower back touching the wall, gradually place your feet approximately 12-18 inches away from the wall. As you do this, bend your knees so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and adjust your feet so that your lower legs are perpendicular to the ground. Your legs should be shoulder width apart, and knees should be kept in line with both your ankles and hips. The proper position should resemble a chair. Remember to keep your upper body touching the wall from the waist up, and keep pressure throughout your entire foot – especially focusing on keeping your heels down. Once in this position, hold for as long as you can up to 2 minutes. If you cannot hold 2 minutes without losing form, then do sets of holds up to 2 minutes. The goal is to build up to 3 sets of 90 second to 2 minute holds. This should be done 3 times per week.
Exercise #2: Double Leg Hip Bridge
Lie on the floor with your back on the ground (supine). Once in this position, bend your knees to a comfortable position so that your heels are closer to your buttocks, but your entire foot can still rest on the ground. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and knees in line with your feet and hips. From this position, raise your hips and lower back up by pushing your feet into the ground and contracting your hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Raise your hips up as high as you can without arching your lower back. In order to do this effectively you want to be contracting your abs and focusing on keeping your hips level. Remember to keep your whole foot on the ground and avoid the temptation to go up on the balls of your feet. Try focusing on squeezing from the top of your hamstring muscles.
To add greater difficulty, put your arms across your chest so that you can’t use them for balance or to help push up. Once in this position, hold for as long as you can up to 2 minutes. If you cannot hold 2 minutes without losing form or cramping, then do sets of holds up to 2 minutes. The goal will be to build up to 3 sets of 90 second to 2 minute holds. This should be done 3 times per week.
The main point for doing these two exercises is to build up strength in the main muscle groups used to both absorb the pounding of the downhills, as well as drive you up the uphills. After you have done these exercises 3 times per week for 3-4 weeks, then you will be ready to effectively add in hills to your weekly training plan.