Some Thoughts on Hill Training – Physical

by Bob Grumbine

Clare and I talked a bit about hills training after the Grapevine race (wonder why?). Here are some of my thoughts on hill training. These are only on the physical side of the training. They’re missing comments about technique, and about the even more important part of mental attitude to the hills.

For hill training, you need to run hills. The first order of hill training is to run on routes with hills on them for your usual jogs. This is a very good form of hill training — you get used to running on hills and maintaining even effort as the terrain varies. This can get pretty challenging, as with, say, running to the first and second fence on the road in the park, or on Perimeter trail. If you can do these, you’ve got pretty good hill legs.

To get great hill legs, suited for racing on hills and laughing at most road courses, you want some more specific hill training. Same as you practice race paces by going to a track and running that pace — for shorter duration than the race — you do your hill training by hitting hills harder than your normal jog, but for shorter times.

One part is, you do the first training for ups separately from the downs, and vice versa. Running downhills is a different technique than the ups (regardless of what method you use). So on uphill day, you run the uphills hard and slow jog or walk the downhill. Then on downhill day, you power the downs and walk or jog back up to the top. While I envision it as an interval workout (and in a minute some will need to be that) you can also do it as a ‘hill fartlek’ run — run a hilly course and then power the downs, or the ups, as they come. The drawback to this is some courses don’t give good spacing and variety to the hills.

For hill intervals, you want 3 types — short and steep, medium and medium, and long and slow. ‘Short’ means 15 seconds duration, steep meaning that at the end of those 15 seconds, you’re breathing hard. Medium/medium is 1 minute of running, and, again, you’re breathing hard at the end (but not much before). Long and slow means about 5 minutes running time and going up the whole time without you having to slow down for lack of breath.

You don’t do these off a standing start at the bottom (or top) of the hill. You make note of your starting point, then back off 50-100 yards and jog towards it. Start slowly and then be accelerating towards your hill speed by the time you hit the start mark. Hold that pace the entire way up (or down) to your stopping mark, and then slow to a jog, turn around, and jog/walk back to the starting area.

This is a tough workout. It counts as a hard day if you’re doing hard/easy training, and you should have no more than 3 hard days in a week (generally speaking, for most of us — you’ll have more, perhaps, if you’re doing, say, 50+ miles per week and training many days per week). On the other hand, as you do get to having several running days per week, and your longest run is pushing 60 minutes, introducing a run like this (whether in fartlek or interval form) is good running strength training and will help you even if (like in my fast year at Grapevine) you are walking parts of a hilly course.

Other experiences and thoughts about how to do hill training?

Bob Grumbine


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