New York City Marathon: An Uphill Battle

The Montreal Half-Marathon starts with a 5.5 mile uphill climb. Photo of Montreal by Christine Scholes.

The Montreal Half-Marathon starts with a 5.5 mile uphill climb. Photo of Montreal by Christine Scholes.

Five weeks down, 11 to go…

With another solid, feel-good week of training for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon under my belt, I’ve decided to look forward to the week ahead. Namely, I’m looking forward to my big pre-marathon litmus test—the OASIS Montreal Half-Marathon on Sept. 5.

It’s going to be an uphill battle—literally. When I looked at the elevation chart, I gulped. How could I possibly prepare for this race when uphill climbs are my Kryptonite, my public enemy number one, my Newman?

Montreal’s course is a wholly different beast than New York’s, which gently undulates with the biggest hill coming in the first mile when you barely notice it.

But the Montreal Half doesn’t undulate; like New York, it starts up and over a bridge, but then it climbs, and climbs, and climbs. From the second kilometer to the 10th—a stretch of 5.5 miles—the course steadily scales what looks like one long hill from the St. Lawrence River (or Fleuve Saint-Laurent as the Quebecois say) to the center of Montreal in a gain of about 200 feet. Thankfully, the course is mostly downhill or flat from there, save one little bump. In a sense, the whole course is “up and over.”

A 5.5-mile long climb is nothing to sneeze at, especially when I have an allergy to hills—ah-choo! They are my least favorite element of just about any run. And hill repeats? Forget it. Don’t do them. Can’t stand them. Pretend they don’t exist. Naturally, thinking about the Montreal climb got me feeling runny-nosed and itchy, and worried that I might just crash and burn.

So this past week, my boyfriend and I—who is also running Montreal and NYC—planned as best we could a 12-mile run that mimics the dreaded Montreal climb.

A runner heads up Park Avenue near Grand Central in NYC. Photo by H.L.I.T.

A runner heads up Park Avenue near Grand Central in NYC. Photo by H.L.I.T.

We started in Brooklyn and used the Brooklyn Bridge as our stand-in for the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. From there, we took advantage of NYC’s Summer Streets program, which on August weekends shuts down to car traffic a 5-mile long stretch of Manhattan for bikers and pedestrians. We ran from the Brooklyn Bridge up Lafayette Street and Park Avenue to Central Park, which is more or less a slowly building 4.5-mile uphill ascent. Sure, it wasn’t steep—only 60 feet in elevation gain according to Google Earth—but it was relentless. With only two “downhill” breaks, my legs felt like wobbly stilts and my lungs felt hungry for more air. Then we ran a loop of Central Park’s rolling hills to drive the lesson home.

Steep or not, the run was brutal, and I had to take a slightly extended walk break after the 6-mile mark to regain my breath and composure. My pace ended up being 20 seconds per mile slower than my long run the week before, but I considered that a victory. It was good practice for Montreal, where I’ll face a slog that’s a mile longer and 140 feet steeper.

But more importantly, it got me over my hill hatred. For anyone who is anxious about an out-of-town race, I highly recommend trying to approximate the course in your hometown, especially the element that scares you most—in this case, a long climb. Having run up Manhattan, I feel ready to run up Montreal and more confident that I can do it at race pace.

Montreal will also be my first race that is marked in kilometers instead of miles. I’ve got to run 21 kilometers, not 13.1 miles! At a 6-minute pace! Wow, I sound fast in the metric system. So starting now, I’m clicking off kilometers instead of miles so that I’ll know what my target pace feels like in French.

Between now and then, I’m racing a tune-up 5K. It will be fun, fast, and—hooray!—flat. I love a 5K. And, like the marathon, I only get to run about one a year. So I’m really looking forward to gutting one out on Sunday. Then I’ll enjoy a mini taper going into Montreal. No long run for me this week; just a 7-mile, I mean, 11K tempo run at a 5:45 pace. I like the sound of that.

So goodbye miles; hill-o kilometers. Montréal, Je viens!

Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


08 2010

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  1. 1

    So jealous that you are Quebec-bound. The benefits of living in NYC.

    Enjoy the reasonably cool weather and the fun secessionist attitude!