By the Squannacook Runner

This week, we introduce the ultimate goal of this training program: the Groton Road race 5K course. I can vouch that it's a great run. Here's how it plays out (refer to our 5K course map at our website, grotonroadrace.com).

MILE 1: The 5K begins with a "reverse 100-meter dash" on the Groton-Dunstable Middle School track. You'll start near the finish line for the 100-meter dash, then run toward the 100-meter starting line. From there, you'll leave the track, follow the pavement around Florence Roche School, and continue down onto Route 119. On Route 119, you'll turn left and begin a long gradual uphill toward Groton center. About a half mile into the race, you'll turn left onto Hollis Street. As you run between the American Legion Hall and Boutwell School, you'll have completed the first mile.

MILE 2: After running a fairly level half mile, you'll bear left onto Longley Road. At this point, you're halfway through the race! About 200 yards after hitting Longley, you'll slant left onto Breakneck Road. Despite its rather ominous name, this road will be a blessing. It's a quarter of a mile of downhill running. Use it to relax and regain your strength. At the bottom of Breakneck, you'll pass the MILE 2 marker and turn left to begin a long uphill stretch on Common Street. Early in Mile 2, you'll come across a water station on the right side of the road. If you feel thirsty, slow down and pick up a cup from one of the race volunteers. Walk briskly as you drink, then continue on your way. Soon, you'll bear left onto Longley Road.

MILE 3: You now face the most challenging part of the 5K course, a long half-mile uphill stretch, not steep, but difficult if the first two miles have left you physically drained. It concludes at the top of Common Street, where you merge onto Hollis Street. A quick right puts you on Champney Street and the beginning of the final leg of the 5K. At first, you'll be running uphill, but eventually Champney crests, and you encounter a nice downhill (about 200 yards) that you can use to gather your strength for the finish. You'll begin to hear the cheers of the crowd at the finish line, and that should get you pumped! A quick right onto a narrow passway brings you back onto the track. You'll turn right onto the track and run two-thirds of the way around to the finish line. Time to open up your stride and turn on a great finishing kick! There will be plenty of onlookers to spirit you on. Enjoy these final moments -- regardless of how you place in the final standings, this is YOUR victory lap!

As you can see, the last mile, which begins with a long uphill grind, will be the most difficult part of the 5K course. Nothing strikes fear in a runner's heart more than the knowledge that the course he or she is about to run is "hilly." Just remember, everyone else entered in the race has to run those hills, too. Hills can actually become your ally, if you handle them properly.

The best way to tackle hills is to be physically and mentally prepared for them. Make hillwork a part of your training. Hillwork can be intense, a grueling series of repeats on a long, steep hill. It can be casual, a relaxed jog over hilly terrain (our preferred option for this training program). Hillwork strengthens your legs and boosts your confidence. When you come to a hill, you want to say to yourself, "I'm gonna hammer this sucker!" Then do it!

Running uphill means shifting into low gear. Lean slightly forward at the waist. Shorten your stride, as though you were running up a flight of stairs. Pump your arms vigorously, to give your body more lift with each stride. When running on flat terrain, you should stare at a spot far down the course. On hills, however, I recommend fixing your gaze on a point 5 or 6 feet in front of you. Looking all the way up can "psych you out." During a race, keep reminding yourself that the runners around you are struggling with that same hill. Hang tough!

Downhill running is almost as demanding as uphill. Novice runners tend to hold back on downhills to avoid running out of control and falling. Running downhill "with the brakes on" strains your legs, leaving you burned out when you reach the bottom. When running downhill, bend slightly forward at the waist, just as you did on the uphill. Open up your stride (not so much that you land hard on your heels). Minimize the arm swing, it's a waste of energy here. What you hope to maintain is a sort of "controlled fall," letting gravity pull you downhill as your body works to maintain balance and control. Done properly, downhills allow you to regain energy and make up for time lost on the uphills.

The intent of this training series is to get you into condition to run and finish a 5K road race. If the Groton Road Race is your first-ever race, I recommend that finishing the 5K be your goal. In future races, you may want to establish a time-centered goal.

Schedule

Sunday: Practice run on the Groton 5K course. You've read about it -- now experience it! If you can't get to the race course today, try a 3-mile run near home. Whatever course you run, maintain a relaxed pace.

Monday: Run a relaxed 2 miles. Take it easy -- you'll be running hard tomorrow.

Tuesday: 5K or 3-mile timed run. Run the Groton 5K course or the 3-mile course you ran Sunday. Try to keep a steady pace. If you want to do some speedwork, throw in three or four 30 to 60 second speed bursts with one- or two-minute relaxed jogs in between. Write down your final time.

Wednesday: Rest day, or make-up day, if you missed one of the above workouts.

Thursday: Fifteen-minute relaxed jog.

Friday: 5K or 3-mile timed run. Can you improve on Tuesday's time? You've run about 12 miles this week, down from last week, but the training has become more intense.

Saturday: Rest day. The race is April 27.