Running shorter, steeper hills or longer, more gradual ones, will force you to stay up on your toes and drive off the back of your stride. You will have to keep great posture and pump your arms in concert with your pumping legs to avoid getting bogged down by gravity. You will learn to drive your knees up and forward in order to keep you forward momentum and avoid slowing down. You will have to remain relaxed because needlessly flexing muscles robs the working muscles of precious oxygen. All of this, and more, teaches you greater running economy, or what I like to refer to as “easy speed”. Fast running should look effortless. The more efficient you become, the faster you will run.
Hill repeats can be short – in the 15- to 45-second range – or they can mimic the duration of reps you would run on the track – 1-3 minutes. It is best to keep them on the shorter end in order to keep the intensity higher and your form (or running economy) perfect as well. When your form starts to suffer – for example, when you start dropping your arms and stop using them to drive you up and forward – it’s time to stop the current rep and jog back down the hill. If the next rep is no better, then the workout is over. You’ve had enough. Regroup and prepare to add a couple reps to your next hill workout.
Here are just three examples of hill workouts to get your own creative juices flowing.
- Ascending repeats. Start with a 15-second repeat. Jog back down to the starting line, then immediately turn around and complete a 30-second repeat. Jog down and immediately complete a 45-second repeat, then a 60-second repeat. Take a rock or stick with you each time and drop the marker at the edge of the road (or edge of the trail) at the end of each repeat, with the goal of equaling or surpassing the markers each subsequent set to keep yourself motivated and honest. Walk or jog for 3-5 minutes, then repeat the sequence. Repeats can be done at 1-mile speed for 3-4 sets, or 3k speed for 5-8 sets.
- Sustained climbing. Similar to a set of short rest 400s on the track. Pick the longest climb you can. Run up at 10k effort or slightly faster for 75-90 seconds, then continue climbing but jogging easy for 30 seconds. Start the next 75-90-second repeat, jog easy for 30 seconds and so on, until you complete 6 reps. Turn around and start jogging or walking down the hill nice and easy for a total of 3 minutes. Turn around and complete another 6 reps. Start there and ultimately add a 3rd set of 6 reps.
- Moderate duration repeats. If it’s challenging to find a sustained hill for the second workout example, hopefully you can find one that is at least 60-90 seconds long. Run up the hill for up to 90 seconds at 5k effort. Jog down easy. Start with 6 reps and build to 10-12.
If there just aren’t any hills close to your house, or if weather and traffic prohibit you from running hills, you can certainly replicate any hill workout on the treadmill. In the off-season and early-season, run hills at least every 3rd day. This can be a mix of short and long repeats, as well as extended, more aerobic hill running during your longer runs. It all adds up to more strength in the legs, greater running economy and, ultimately, faster running.