Last year, I wrote a post about the importance of knowing a course so that you don't miss a turn and go the wrong way. Another important reason for knowing a course is so that you do not encounter unexpected features that freak you out.
This week, the team I coach will be running a course with hills. The last thing you want to do is to start a race, run along smoothly, feeling great and then: OMG! Where did that hill come from?!!
Hills are no different than any other feature that might be on any given course, in that there are certain techniques to run them. If you know you have one or more hills in a course and if you know more or less where they are, you can plan ahead.
So, to continue the example I started above, the course that the frosh-soph and junior varsity divisions will be running this week starts out mostly flat for about a half mile. At that point, there is a fairly steep hill that goes for about a quarter mile. After reaching the top of the climb, the course heads out onto a loop that goes around the tops of the adjacent hills - the loop is about a half mile. During the second half of that loop, there are a few small, rolling hills. Then, you find yourself back at the top of the quarter-mile hill. Down you go, back to the path that you started on, and then you mostly retrace your steps to the finish line.
Since you know that there's a steep-ish hill at the half-mile point, it would be wise to not kill yourself in that first half mile. Then, knowing that there aren't any significant uphills after that point, you can pretty much run as hard as you can on the loop part and then all the way back to the finish.
I was able to race on this course a couple of years ago, and it was fun because, even though it is a difficult course, I knew what the terrain was like, so I was able to plan how to run it. Different runners may want to approach the same course in different ways, and I always encourage runners to make a plan of some sort and try to follow it. After the race, it is always important to assess how you did. Did you execute your plan? What parts worked? What didn't work? Was there a part of your plan that you did particularly well or poorly? Is there some other way you could have run it that would have resulted in a better place?
If you have had experiences where you have either had a plan and it worked or didn't work, or if you didn't research a course and had a bad experience because of that, please share in the comments.