Jack and Jill ran up a hill to make them faster runners. Jack fell down ‘cuz he couldn’t keep pace and Jill went barreling up faster. I think I like that nursery rhyme better, don’t you?
Hill running, hill repeats, hill tempos, hilly switch-backs, hilly long runs. All of them can improve your strength and speed as a runner. Some people seem to think that runners fall into one of two categories: hill runners or flat runners. To some degree it’s true, you may naturally be better at climbing than someone else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve by running hill.
“I by no means think I have mastered the hills or climbing but I am improving and for me that means hours running up vertical inclines, sometimes fast sometimes just a long grind, but always pushing to get better,” explains ultra marathoning champ Michael Wardian, “I am trying to do hills a few times a week, that is a weakness or has been so I want to fix that.”
During base training season is another instance where adding hillier routes into the mix is a great idea. “But I’m getting ready for track season, not cross-country, why should I be doing hill repeats now?” you may wonder. The answer is because hills will make you FASTER on the flats. The power and strength you gain from running up hills will translate to being speedier when you go back down to the flats.
Don’t believe me, then try this. When I was training with the Nike Oregon Project, Alberto Salazar would have us drive out to this sketchy little track at a local YMCA. It was comical that Olympians (not me, my training partners, trust me, I know my place! haha) would be busting out workouts while dodging potholes in lane one and sharing the track with tons of walkers who were completely oblivious. Why did we go to this track, because it sat right next to a hill where we could alternate between track intervals and hill repeats.
Try This Hill Sprints Workout:
* Warm-up (duh)
* 4×200 meters on a track (with 200 meter recovery jog)
* 8×200 meter hill charge (easy jog back down for recovery)
* 4×200 meters on track (with 200 meter recovery jog)
How much ‘easier’ did that second set of 200’s feel once you were back down on the track? Compared to the hill blasts you probably felt like you dropped the sandbags you were carrying. Strength from hills = speed for flats. If you don’t have a track next to a hill you could do this on the treadmill and adjust the grade.
Short hill repeats are just one example. Even doing your ‘easy’ days on hillier routes will build up those quads. With anything in your training you want variety, so mix it up. Doing a tempo run uphill is a go-to workout for the Hudson Training Systems group; Coach Brad Hudson stresses that here the focus is not so much on the actual splits but effort.
Long hill repeats…back to pothole, podunk track we’d do track/hill/track combo workouts anywhere up to 800 meters on the hill. That’s the longest this particular hill was, but that’s hardly stopping anyone from finding a longer hill. Back to Wardian, who actually does a lot of his training on a treadmill, he likes to do repeats of 3 miles in length; he ramps the incline up each mile starting at a 4% and ending at 8%.
The thing you do have to be very careful about in running hill repeat type workouts is running the downhills which is really tough on the knees in particular. Go really easy and keep in mind if you’re doing a long run with lots of rolling hills or downhills your quads can get mighty sore from the downhill portions…you may not think that would be the case!
With anything, practice makes perfect and there is a technique to running uphill. (Downhill too, but for brevity sake I’ll cover that in another post) Don’t let yourself hunch over; stand tall, if you feel your shoulders up in your ears, shake out your arms and relax.
Keep your eyes locked up and to the summit, that helps with staying tall, and be sure to power through the top and up over the crest. Don’t stop right before the top because you’ll break all the momentum you built up…you want to use the momentum to keep you moving and then fly back down the backside. (If you’re racing that helps a lot! What goes up must go down.)
So don’t be like Jack, follow Jill and tackle that hill. Then when it is track time you’ll feel that much faster.
1) Do you like running hills? Do you consider yourself a hill runner?
I tend to do a little better on flats…I need to build up some quad strength!
2) What kinds of hill workouts or runs do you do, if any? Do you do treadmill incline workouts?
3) Do you live near hilly trails or running routes? If not, how do you simulate hills?