How to Read Race Elevation Maps

Interpreting course elevation maps is something that trips up many runners.

It’s wise to get a handle on your course now so you can develop a solid training strategy. You’ll want to train on terrain that’s similar to what you’ll face in the race.

On elevation charts, the elevation (listed in metres above sea level) is located on the left side of the chart and reads from low (on the bottom) to high (on the top). The distance of the race is located along the bottom of the chart and will read from left to right in kilometres.

First, note the range of elevation from the bottom to the top. If you’re not checking range, you might think a relatively flat course is hillier than it is. If there’s a small range it means that even the largest hills aren’t that large.

If the scale of your map ranges in tens of metres, it means there will be some elevation change and it is likely a rolling course. If the elevation chart’s range includes hundreds of metres, it means you’re going to be tackling some tough hills.

To get a sense for what the elevation changes in your race mean in real life, try running a rolling or hilly route near you. If you have a GPS watch that measures elevation change, use it, or chart the route using an online running tool that includes elevation (like MapMyRun.com) to see how your run’s elevation chart compares to that of your race.

If you start to get into this, you can determine the grades of the hills you run in training versus those you’ll face in the race to see how similar they’ll feel.  The grade of a hill equals the vertical gain divided by the horizontal distance you’re covering. So, for example, if you gained 90 metres over 1K here is how you would calculate it:

Firstly convert 1K to metres.
1x 1000 = 1000.

Then divide the amount of gain (90 metres) by the distance covered (1000 metres).

90 metres of gain / 1000 metres = 0.09, an nine-per-cent grade.

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