Hills are inevitable. Unless, of course you live by the coast. Many people have asked me how to train for a race with big hills so I put together a guide on hill training and how to better prepare yourself for conquering those inclines during a race.
First off, let’s go ahead and say that a hill is anything with a significant amount of change in elevation that will impact your form. Typically you will lean more forwards with your upper body, take shorter strides and even remind yourself to keep breathing. It’s important to place your forward foot directly underneath your body in order to give yourself maximum stability along with allowing yourself to use the most force from your legs. Don’t over-stride, you’ll end up wasting the energy that your legs are producing.
Depending on the terrain of your upcoming race generally dictates what surface area you’ll train on. If your running a road race I’d stick to the roads. You’ll practice a faster turnover rate with your legs and avoid any unwanted ankle twists you might get on the trail. If your race is on trail you should practice both on trail and road. The trail will provide you with practice of where to place your feet and help to strengthen your feet, ankles and knees on the unstable terrain.
One of the first hill workouts I usually recommend for someone who is already running 20 miles per week is to run 1 minute uphill fast (consistent speed is key) and then run slowly on the way down to recover. Repeat this 5-8 times. It’s important to warm up and cool down around this hill routine. This one is short and sweet but it’s a good start. Even if you don’t cover a lot of mileage during this workout, it will increase the intensity of your running. Generally you only want to increase your weekly intensity by 10% to avoid overuse injuries.
Add this workout into your routine every other week for 4-6 weeks. After you’ve completed this training period you can begin to increase the intensity. A couple ways of doing this is by making the hill longer or steeper. Look around for areas in your community and even venture out to bigger hills outside of your typical running locations. The more interesting the hill is the more likely you are going to be excited about running up and down multiple times. I try to find something that will give me the satisfaction of a good view at the top.
What if you don’t have many hill options around you’re area? You can substitute stairs or even a long stretch of stadium stairs. Another idea is the treadmill. While the latter is not my favorite sometimes it’s necessary and having complete control over the amount of incline you use is helpful when you need to increase the intensity down the track.
Is walking ok? Well, that depends on your goals. If you’re planning on running anything from a 5K to marathon and your goal is to run the entire time then I’d say no walking on the hills. If you’re training for something longer like an Ultra or an extremely steep race then I’d include walking/hiking. Walking up hills is an important skill to practice. I’ve learned this first hand when I signed up for a race with extremely steep terrain that was a “must walk” and my quads were fried because I only practiced running on lower grades. Don’t make my mistakes.
If you’re training for a specific race find out the incline grade and length and try to practice that. If you’re climbing a long hill for over a mile then make your hill repeats long. If you only have short and quick hills to get over then practice short and steep hills. Train your body for what’s to come in the race so you don’t have that element of surprise that can easily throw people off mentally.
So don’t leave out the hill repeats in your running plan next week! You’ll be happy you did them as you feel yourself getting stronger and more prepared for an upcoming event.