Most marathon training programs will suggest you add a few hills to your runs eventually. Some coaches call it “speed work” in disguise, because you don’t have to run as fast to work hard. I would say it’s because you don’t have to run as fast to hurt equally as bad.
And saying hills are good for you is like your parent saying being punished was good for you. You just don’t see it at the time.
One thing for sure, no other workout quite compares. Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon, Cardiac Hill in Pittsburgh – you never know when you’re going to get that nice little slap in the face just as you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m feeling ok.”
But the benefit of hill training has been proven many times over…so here we go.
I bought this little book one time, The Running Book of Training Secrets. The cover reads, “Elite runners share their best tips and techniques.” Even though I was a bit skeptical that a competitive runner would actually share their secret potion, I bought the darn little book.
It was published in 1996 and mostly included elite runners from the late 80s to early 90s. Running hills came up right away in chapter 4….before speed training. Within each chapter were quotes from the top runners about the topic of that chapter. These quotes and the runners’ bios at the end are very interesting.
Nine elite runners weighed in on the hill training chapter. Six of the nine said that since they lived in an area with a hilly terrain, they didn’t do specific hill training. Well, I lived in a hilly terrain so I went to the bank with this one for years. No hill repeats for me. I got hill training on every run!
It happens sometimes when you get older that you realize you’ve been taking the easy way out.
For me personally, I’ve found that even though I run most of my daily runs in a very hilly terrain, charging up a hill repeatedly improves my training. Generally, I will run different routes around town so that I encounter climbs at different places in my run.
My theory is, as with many other workouts such as weight lifting and the strategy behind P90X, if you run the same series of hills, your body knows what to expect and it becomes complacent. But, running a hill quickly, over and over with a short rest between, gives you a workout that stresses the muscles, and the lungs, to the point of fatigue which makes you stronger.
A stream runs by my house that starts out as a waterfall just above. On the other side lies an old logging trail that’s just perfect for my hill repeats. The soft dirt and gentle incline are easy on my body and I can open the door and walk right over there.
My closest neighbor and friend’s house is at the top of the mountain and offers a little more difficult repeat of as long a duration as I can tolerate. This hill is much steeper and all gravel and I find myself dodging around looking for the smoothest place to land my foot — all good for building up strength in the ankles.
Then there’s the pretty little cemetery just on the outskirts of town, sitting high up on a ridge so folks can sit with their thoughts looking out to a serene pastoral view and mountains in the distance.
Although the road up is asphalt, it winds ever so slightly to the top where I rest for a few seconds to enjoy that view. Sometimes I take the stairs instead, taking them two at a time just for a change of pace.
After this speed work, I allow myself a cool down walk through the cemetery – a peaceful and serene end to a difficult session.
My only advice should you too decide to take to the hills:
- Don’t look up to see how much further to the top,
- Don’t stop when you reach the top – run right through the finish, and
- Learn to breathe through your ears – you’ll need all the oxygen you can get.