Hills really are one of the best training aids that any runner can use. Depending on the type of session the extra resistance they provide will increase your strength and improve all running parameters from technique and speed to endurance.
To help you select the right session for your specific requirements I have identified types of hill training by purpose.
1. Base fitness and stamina
Best session: 20-60 minutes continuous steady pace run on undulating terrain
Run at 85% of your 5k race pace trying to sustain the pace on the climbs. You should feel in control on the flat and downhills but depending on the steepness and length of the hills will need to increase the effort temporarily on the up hills and recover on the downhills whilst maintaining the pace.
Undulating grassy parkland is the perfect terrain but undulating trails and road courses are also good as long as you avoid hammering the downhills. Cross country races on hilly courses are the toughest form of this type of training.
This is excellent off-season base training for every event from 800m upwards but can be very fatiguing, so once a week is enough, and try to avoid this type of session in the 5 days before an important race.
2. Improve running economy (Reduce the amount of effort required to run at any pace)
Best session: Short hill sprints
Choose a short fairly steep hill. Run powerfully uphill at 95% effort for 10 seconds or slightly less maintaining a good range of movement. Walk down to recover, with an additional 60-90 seconds walking/jogging at the bottom for further recovery. Repeat until form starts to fall apart.
Progress will come as you get stronger and technique improves, but don’t overdo these (8-10 reps is enough). Firm grass is good, but a harder surface is fine because you are not running downhill. More effective than most running drills you will gain considerable benefit from incorporating some of these hill sprints into a shorter steady run once or twice a week throughout the year.
3. Increase cardio-vascular capacity and specific muscular endurance for higher intensity running
Best session: 30 second hill repeats
This is similar to interval running on the track and is highly beneficial for all running events from middle distance track upwards.
Run up a medium steep hill at 85-90% effort focusing on a good range of movement for around 30 seconds with an immediate relaxed downhill recovery, i.e. not a jog downhill, before immediately starting the next rep.
Start with 4-6 reps and increase the quantity progressively up to 15-20 reps. If you are aiming for shorter track events do the reps in sets of 4-6 at a higher intensity with 3 minutes of easy running between sets. Grass is ideal because of the reduced impact on the downhill. Do this session once every other week during the cross country season, and once a week for 4-6 weeks pre-track season.
4. Increase cardio vascular endurance and specific muscular endurance for events with longer hills
Best session: 3-5 minute hill repeats
This is of particular benefit to runners with longer hills in their target events such as hill and mountain races.
Run at target race pace up a hill similar to your target event for 3-5 minutes with a relaxed run down recovery of similar time before immediately starting the next rep. Start with 4 reps and aim for a maximum of 8 reps. Keep the effort controlled throughout. Do this session once a week for 4-6 weeks pre main racing season. Focus on finding the most efficient way of climbing the hill. If your target event has very steep climbs you should also practice hiking, particularly if the race distance is long and greater economy on the climbs is required.
5. Specific cross country race preparation
Best session: Split hill-flat repeats
This session enables you to cope better physically and mentally with undulating terrain at continuous high intensity.
Run hard for approximately 30-40 seconds up a steep grass hill, and without stopping continue running for 3-4 minutes at race effort off the top. Recover with easy running for 2 to 3 minutes before repeating the rep. Build up from 4 to 8 repetitions depending on your standard racing distance. Do this session once a week for 4-6 weeks pre-cross country season.
If you have a question or need additional advice, or you want to give me feedback on how this advice worked (or didn’t) work for you, please don’t hesitate to contact me
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