How I trained for my first winter hill race
The traditional New Year’s Winter Trial Run up the legendary Zobor Hill in Nitra is considered to be the toughest race in my hometown, Nitra, Slovakia.
Why is that?
The trial is 3,8 km long with the elevation of 262m. Since it’s scheduled on the New Year’s Day (31.12.), the weather conditions are as one would expect. Temperature is close to 0°C, usually accompanied by freezing wind and sometimes a snow blizzard.
Ergo ipsum, participants race ca. 4km uphill in a forest in a frosty weather. Kids under 15 years of age are not allowed to take part in the race. For older generations this makes up for a perfect opportunity to train their mental toughness and say ‘Hello’ to the New Year in a style.
This was also my first competitive race I did in years.
Short recap of the race and my placement
Because of the unforeseeable weather conditions, I knew that my participation would be a spontaneous decision left to the very last minute. To my pleasant surprise, when I woke up on the race day, the sun was shining, there was not a single cloud in the sky and the temperature was around -3°C. I couldn’t have asked for more. So I decided to go for it.
Apparently, many more people made the same decision in the spur of the moment. There were total of 329 runners of which 69 were women. Another 430 hikers were strolling alongside the trial and cheering us on.
All of the 69 women were the first group to start. We were divided into 3 main categories:
- Juniors under 18 y.o.
- Women under 35 y.o. (my category)
- Women 35+
At the starting line, I positioned myself directly in the front row, mainly because I wanted to be in the official pictures and on the camera. This also proved to be a good strategy for my overall placement, since I was able to stay in the front of the pack for the whole duration of the run.
I made one mistake though. I kept it too safe in the beginning. Since I didn’t have any prior experience with this kind of trial run, I wanted to save my energy for later. Better safe than sorry, right? Bad strategy. I didn’t catch up to the group of the 4 girls that separated themselves shortly after the start and was left behind in the 5th position.
Being left behind that early in the race, I run the whole race all by myself, but in a very comfortable training pace. I finished 5th overall, 3rd in my age category in 25:49. Just 2:34 behind the winning time. Not a bad rookie finish. Next time, I’ll know better.
Not a single long run was run in my preparation
The race is considered to be tough not because it’s long, but because it’s steep and the weather conditions are usually far from perfect.
I knew that the race wouldn’t take long. It shouldn’t have taken me more than 30 minutes. My guess was right. It took me 25:49 minutes to finish. At the end of the day, it’s only 4km. Exactly as I expected.
In my opinion, any activity under 30 minutes should not be considered as aerobic. Therefore, I didn’t include any long runs (or another steady state aerobic cardio) in my preparation for the race.
Instead of that, I focused on building basic level of all-round fitness with focus on strength and strength endurance. My training regiment was therefore divided into 2 parts.
- Strength Training – heavy compound movements with barbell
- Strength Endurance – moderate weights paired with short but faster runs
Through the combination of these two training principles I was also able to build a basic level of aerobic capacity. In addition, I found this type of training extremely fun (compared to just running) and beneficial for my general fitness preparedness. For anyone interested in my complete training log, have a look into my training diary.
Will I run next year? Maybe. If the sun will be shining, you may find me running up the hill, smiling all the way up.
The most important thing though is to have fun. No matter the placement, finish with a smile, greet the fans, blow them kisses. Just like you have just won Gold at The Olympic Games.