Last week I gave some guidance to beginner runners, this week I have a topic that is for the more advanced to elite runners that listen to the show. Our beginners can learn from the show too but it may be a bit early to put most of what I am going to share into practice right away.
For all of you competitive runners out there unless you only run track laps or on a treadmill with no incline, will be faced with some hills in your running. Today I am going to share with you my tips and some workouts on how to get over the hills a bit faster.
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Here are a couple of my favorite quotes about running hills…
Eamonn Coughlin, 3-time Irish Olympian
“Running hills breaks up your rhythm and forces your muscles to adapt to different stresses. The result? You become a stronger runner.”
Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist
“Hills are speed work in disguise.” –
I am one of those weird runners that when I have my legs, meaning that I am well trained, I love running hills! I actually look forward to it. I recognized through my cycling experiences that working on hills or long climbs means that I am developing force, muscle endurance, speed, focus and in some cases explosive power. If you are an intermediate runner or stronger and have not incorporated hill work in your training you are really missing out. Let’s learn why
Like Frank Shorter stated, “Hills are speed work in disguise.” Think about that quote for a minute and couple it with the training factors I mentioned such as force, muscle endurance, speed, focus and explosive power. Other than focus all of the forementioned are traditional training factors and the ones required to make us faster and not just in the hills.
Force is the factor that is required to recruit the muscles that help you push off after a foot strike.
Muscle endurance is what is desired when you need to work harder or faster for longer periods of time.
Speed refers to cadence and in the case of running how fast you can turn your legs over.
Explosive power is the maximal recruitment of the type 1 muscle fibers when one needs to sprint, accelerate quickly or bound over a hill faster than your competition.
Focus is more of a mental factor in sports but it can certainly be trained. I have found that long steady state runs and hill repeats are excellent for putting focus into action.
However, we should also consider what Eamonn Coughlin stated, “Running hills breaks up your rhythm and forces your muscles to adapt to different stresses. The result? You become a stronger runner.” We coaches call this variability in training. When we run on a track or a treadmill for hours on end and never see a change in terrain then we are not being forced to adapt to new conditions. While I do most of my running on a treadmill due to my own training constraints I will add long easy runs in the hills and then add specific hill training outdoors the closer I get to my races.
So what sort of workouts do you recommend to improve a runner’s performance in the hills?
Well as I stated earlier in the show today’s topic is aimed mostly at intermediate and stronger runners but what does this mean. To me, an intermediate runner is someone who has graduated from a couch to 5K programs or a runner that has repeatedly been able to run their desired distance several times without injury. When I say several times I mean more than a few times!
There is nothing like hill sprints to improve your pace, increase force, muscle endurance and explosive power. I know I said that hill running improves focus but hill sprints are too short to really help with focus but they will test your resolve. Here are a couple of my favorite Hill Sprint Workouts.
Warm Up for 3x the amount of time it will take to run the intervals. A warm-up would likely be an easy jog or run for 15-20 minutes followed by some light stretching and knee lifts.
Depending on your experience level and your goal distances you can start with 4-5 ten-second hill sprints and go up to as many as 3 sets of 5 hill sprints. The hill you pick can be on the road or in the grass. The hill should be about 3-4% in grade and no steeper than 6%. Your rest interval between each sprint will be approximately 2 minutes of walking. I say approximately because you should be fully recovered between each sprint. This means that breathing should not be labored before you start the next sprint. Do not be surprised if the latter intervals require more recovery. Cool down after your last hill sprint by walking 5 minutes and completing some light stretching. When you choose to do these as sets you will want to recover 3-4 minutes between each set. The progression of how many sprints you do week after week is hard for me to say as each athlete adapts to this type training stress differently.
My other favorite hill sprint is a ladder of increasing time. Once an athlete has completed 4-6 sessions of 10-second hill sprint intervals I may add hill sprint ladders to their plan. Hill sprint ladders use the same warm-up, recovery and cool down guidance as for the 10-second hill sprints. A ladder will be comprised of 4-6 intervals and up to 6 sets depending on the athlete’s experience and distance they are running for. The ladder would comprise a progression of a 10 sec interval followed by a 12 sec, 14 sec, 16sec, 18sec, 20sec interval. If you are capable of running 6 intervals with approx. 2 minutes of recovery between each interval and you are ready to do multiple sets you will want to increase the recovery between each set of intervals to at least 5 minutes.
What if you don’t have hills where you live but your race has them?
There actually a few things you can do to improve your odds of performing well in a race that has hills when your home roads and trails are flat. All of these options have to do with resistance. You can do the same above workouts on a treadmill programmed with an incline similar to those mentioned above or close to the grade of your race. You can also run into the wind but it will need to be a pretty strong wind to accomplish the same things as above. So if you don’t live where the wind is strong enough on a regular basis then you can complete intervals with a sled or a parachute. My problem with all of these alternatives other than the treadmill is that your body isn’t going to be in the same position as if you were on a hill but you can lean forward slightly into the interval. It’s not perfect but we do the best we can with what we have. Remember we don’t want perfection get in the way of good work!
Some race guidance when I tackle hills
When running up hills in a race I know where they are across the course I am competing on. I will back off slightly before the foot of the hill and as soon as I am at the base of the hill I open my stride, lean in and will push off harder. I will maintain this bounding stride until I get close to the top of a hill then I will push off even harder for the last several strides to clear the hill. The whole time I am doing this I will lean into the hill just a little. I find that doing so improves my center of gravity but doesn’t adversely affect my breathing. Once I crest the hill I will change my posture to being more erect and as I run down the backside of the hill or across a flat after a hill I will shorten my stride and actively work on making sure that breath is under control. I can’t begin to tell you how many times that by using this tactic I have been able to clear several competitors in a race.
Music for show intro, outro, and mid-play break: “Jahzzar (betterwithmusic.com) CC BY-SA”
Intro and Outro music: Battle from the Crime Scene Album from Jahzzar
Mid-play break music: Please Listen Carefully from the Tumbling Dishes Like Old-Man’s Wishes Album
Other Resources mentioned in the show
Tools for annual training plans
Specificity is required to win
The Warm Up and the Cool Down
How much rest is enough?