What follows is a breakdown of the "dreaded" Hospital Hill. Located next to the Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, VA, this stretch of road is featured in both the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon (MCHH) and the VA Runner Blue & Gray Half Marathon (VARBAG). In both races, the hill appears to be daunting at first glance. But after spending some time on it, it's not really all that bad. Here's how you break it down into sizable chunks.
The first hurdle to getting over this hill is mental. And it's the biggest hurdle. My first time through the MCHH, this hill was all I could hear form those around me. Sure, the course is flat. Ugh, that hill is huge. But that's the only hill. Yeah. Right. Turns out the course isn't flat. At all. And it turns out the hill is certainly huge to some but isn't that bad. You see, the hill psyches you out before you even get there. You run by it and see it waiting for you, lurking there on the side street, just waiting to gobble you up.
The second hurdle is learning how to break it down into runnable portions. Bite-sized pieces if you will. The first portion is the section of road leading up to the hill. It's really nothing to think about but this is a great place to take a short walking break before you run up the hill. Catch your breath, grab some water, maybe a little fuel, and then get ready to rocket up the hill.
The second portion of the hill is really Part A of the hill itself. It starts easy around a curve and ends at the first cross-street on your right. This is easily runnable if you take your time, shorten your stride, and use your arms. When you see the cross-street on your right, take a short walk break.
Once you pass beyond the side street, you've moved into Part B. Start running again. This section is a little flatter but don't be fooled and go faster. When you get to the next side street at the stop sign, take another walking break.
On the other side of the intersection, you'll enter Part C. This part is steeper. If you need to, walk a few sections here. Walk to the fire hydrant. Or the power pole. Or the next crack in the road. Whatever mental or physical trick you need to get you there. This is the hardest section of the hill so be prepared to walk or run slower. And don't panic. You're almost there. Once you get to the next cross-street on your right, take another walking break.
Not too long though because you're now in Part D. This slowly curves around and is no steeper than the first two sections so run it nice and slow. There should be a water station at the top, so take your time and power through to the traffic light. Once you get to the light at Cowan, you've made it to the top of Hospital Hill. That's it, just four parts. Easy, hard, or somewhere in between, you've done it.
The third hurdle is to know what lies beyond the hill. In this case, Cowan Boulevard. A series of hills that will chew you up and spit you out if you aren't ready for them. Now these hills are really just some short rollers but they offer quite a challenge as they come right after Hospital Hill and in the final miles of the half marathon. So just when you've had enough, just when you think you're almost done, Cowan appears to smack your ass. But like Hospital Hill, you can't let it sneak up on you. Save some gas for these hills. They're short. It won't take long. And once you're over the Interstate, you're home free. Stretch out those legs until you hit the finish line. You can tackle these hills with a little planning and the knowledge that you've just dominated Hospital Hill.
The last hurdle is nearly as hard as the first. Having fun and learning to love the hill. I've done this hill three times in races and hated it every time. I've done it five times in training and hated it too, but by the third trip up, I learned to dislike it strongly. By my last trip, I had a mutual respect for the hill. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. It was manageable but not a killer. With time, I'll eventually learn to love the hill. But until then, I'll work at getting over it. After all, it's just a hill.
* Updated on 2013-05-17 to fix spelling errors.