The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Breathing

So I have been getting a few questions about hills and I thought I would jot down a few of my thoughts of training and hills, realizing that there are likely a few methods of “hills training.”

Personally I break up hill training into 3 types, and all have their place.  First of all though, what is a hill? In my mind, for the purposes of hill training, I would like to see a hill be a rise that is at least a 10m elevation over 300-400m, if not slightly more.  For most BLT Runners, that means James Street, Beechtree Run, but not something like Brunello, which is very short extremely steep hills.

Now to the workouts. Type 1: Easy run, Zone 2, low RPE style runs. These are your everyday run that make up 80% of your weekly training. We do a lot of these on the BLT or COLT trails. That is great as we get mileage in without really beating up our legs much, but we also don’t get hills.  so while these runs can make up a good portion of our weekly mileage, I strong encourage everyone to do some of there easy runs in the hills.  In this case it means slowing down a bit as we run up the hills, though don’t worry if you get  little out of breath near the top.  These easy style hill runs are giving our bodies a chance to adapt and build strength slowly. That is good. We limit the chance of hurting ourselves and slowly get faster.  I really suggest that every long run has a hill or 2, especially near the end.

Type 2: Tempo style runs. Threshold or tempo runs are a great thing. Usually for most of us this is  10k race pace level of run, or low Zone 4 (for heart rate people). I am a huge fan of these as you are in a race pace style of speed, which is fast but sustainable (ideally this pace is sustainable for 1 hour max). In this case I pick a hill that is about 300-400 meters long  and ideally on a loop, though an out and back would also work well. The idea here is a good warm up of 10-15 minutes, followed by running up the hill at tempo pace, then easing off at the top and gradually working back around. Doing such a loop 5-6 times is a great workout. This is a continuous run that will leave you breathing hard by the top of the hill, but should allow quick recovery as you come back down. In total 5-6 kilometers of tempo hill is a great workout to do every other week. This hill should take a minimum of 2 minutes to run up ideally, which will give your heart a good solid workout.  This workout specifically works toward building race endurance.

Type 3: Intervals. This is what people traditionally think of as hill training. Run up the hill as hard as you can, throw up, walk back down and repeat. I don’t like that style as it generally leads to injury at worst, or hatred of hills at best. Instead find a hill that takes you about 1-2 minutes at most when running up at a 5K race pace average. trust me, this will still feel like a tough workout, but the idea is to find a pace you can sustain for 6-8 repeats without getting slower each time.  After each interval, you will want t fairly quickly return to the bottom of the hill and start again. Your recovery time should be fairly quick and while this will feel tough to start, you will adapt. This type of workout builds strength and cardio power as well as sets the body up to recover faster. Running fast up hills helps you work also on cadence, and run form.

Every time you run up a hill, it is essential to stand tall. If you find yourself doubling over near the top, you are probably running too hard. The next day you will probably feel this workout in the glutes. That isn’t bad either.

Keeping control of pace depending on the style f workout you are performing is essential to having a successful workout.
Now when and how often? As I mentioned, Type 1 should be implemented as often as possible. This style of hill work is the least stressful and frankly the most beneficial. The other 2 styles are more akin to speed work. And thus, those styles should be used with a thoughtful approach. If you are currently doing intervals in training, stick to style 2 of hills for speed work. Your intervals are already doing the work of building strength and cardio power. The tempo style of hill training is slower, but still a great workout every other week.  If on the other hand you are limited for time, then the best bang for your buck is going to be style 3. Combining hills and intervals will give you a real boost and save time.

As is always the case speed work in general should be no more than 15-20% of your weekly mileage and every session should leave you feeling tired but generally good, with an easy recovery for the next day. When planing on adding in new stresses to your training, remember that it usually takes the body a minimum of 3 weeks to adapt to the new stress.