Running up a hill is almost always the most dreaded part of a race.
Many people will avoid hills in their training runs even if they know their race will include them. Running hills also increases the risk of injury if you’re not using proper form. On the flip side, proper hill training can help you increase speed–whether your race is hilly or flat–and it also prepares you for hills on race day.
My first marathon was the Nike Women’s Marathon featuring a variety of hills through San Francisco. The first substantial hill, approximately 6.5% hill grade, hits a little less than 10km into the race. For this race, I trained on moderate hills of about 3%-4% that were about 400m in length. Living in Vancouver, I also include the Grouse Grind as part of my hill training regime.
My general approach to hill training has been repetitions.
Find a hill that challenges you, and is comparable to hills that will be faced on race day. I start out the first week of hill training by running the hill 3-4 times and then adding a repetition each week up until 2-4 weeks before race day depending on the race. I want to avoid injury in the latter part of my training season, and I also want to give my body time to recover.
So far in my races, I have been able to look up at every hill and feel confident in my ability to overcome it with relative ease. Hill training has also enabled me to maintain my race pace easily over gentler/less steep hills. On flat courses, I am able to increase my pace over the course of the season by including hill training because I am strengthening muscle groups that would not get the same sort of attention from other workouts.
Some hill training workout guides will tell you to begin hill training in week 6 or 7 and stop around week 12 or 13. The goal is to ensure that you have sufficient strength in your muscles to begin hill training, and that you back off during the taper portion of your training season.
When I was training for the Big Five Marathon on the Entabeni Game Reserve in South Africa, the elevation was quite daunting, as you can imagine.
I did not attempt to run hills that were similar to all of the race course hills, because I wanted to avoid injury and fatigue. Still, my hill training involved a short warm up and then running a 200m hill at a 9% hill grade, descending the same hill, immediately followed by running a 200m hill at 12.5%, then descending another 200m hill at 16.5%, climbing up the 16.5%, down the 12.5% and back up the 9%. Half way through my training season, I was reaching the top of the 9% and 12.5% hills 10 times.
Because of the steep grade of these hills, I would descend on zig zag diagonals to reduce the impact on my knees and quads. Controlling the descending portion of your hill training is very important for avoiding injury. The hills got easier to climb and I started to get faster at them. When I would encounter 4%-6% hills on training runs, they were easily climbable with no change to my pace.
Whether you are just starting out as a runner, or an accomplished / seasoned runner, I highly recommend including hill training that is specific to your goals.
Keep in mind, my hill training is/was race specific and not recommended for everyone.
The original version of this post first appeared on irunamok.com.
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