Is it Important to Know your Race Course?

By: Brian Elder


Is it important to know your race course? The quick answer. Yes. It's crucial. 

Although training is ongoing and the past weeks and month have been difficult to maintain a routine schedule, there is still reason for me to have confidence that I can complete the Peak to Creek Marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2016. Some might be skeptical and naturally so. “Why are you confident that you can run a marathon in 3 hours and 5 minutes (14 minutes faster than your PR) when you have not had any proper training thus far and the race is a two short months away?” This person would have a valid point. I normally would be skeptical, but I have an incredible advantage that plays to my strengths with this particular race. That advantage is the course.

I want to talk about the Peak to Creek course specifically because of two reasons: Elevation and surface. I’ve signed up for the race and I have never seen this race course, but when I look at the elevation and surface of the course it seems too good to be true!

The elevation of this course has a total descent of nearly 3,000 ft! The majority of races courses you encounter cause concern over the total elevation ascent, not descent. The location of the greatest elevation decline is also crucial: mile 6-14. There is little to no incline in a 8 mile stretch in the middle of the race. This will allow me to conserve energy in the portion of a marathon where you expend the most energy. The few hills that are found on the course are located in the first six miles and have a grade no greater than 2% (practically flat for a runner from the mountains in North Georgia).

The surface also plays to mine and I would argue all of the runner’s advantage. In the first few miles when your legs are going to need time to warm up completely, a paved surface provides exactly what you need with sure footing. Once your legs are loose around mile 5, the course begins to slope downward and transition to dirt and gravel roads which are two surfaces I have run on most as a runner which brings me more comfort and confidence.

As a high school runner, each year we marked our calendars with races we knew we could run fast times because of the advantages a course offered. Some had solid footing such as races on golf courses and others were flat and had large downhill sections. This appears to be one of the “mark your calendar” courses. Elevation and surface are two important aspects you want to look at when you sign up for a race of any distance. Ask yourself: “Is it going to be hilly? Is it run primarily on roads or trails?” The answers to these questions will better help you understand how you need to train and what goals you can realistically set.

Run far, run hard, and happy trails!


Brian Elder is a learner, amateur explorer, and nomadic runner that is going to run until it takes him somewhere. He is a senior at the University of Georgia studying English and Religion.  After running competitively on trails and roads, he fuels with an appetite so big you would swear it’s competitive.  Follow Brian's training on Instagram.