There are many ways to improve as a runner. Varying terrain, pace and distance all help but one of the most effective ways to improve fitness is to incorporate hill training into the weekly running regimen. That said, to some the mere mention of the word ‘hills’ seems to bring them out in a sort of cold sweat, although it doesn’t need to be that way.
The first thing to understand is that there are many different ways to incorporate hill training, and they don’t all have to involve climbing mountains.
• Long Hill Reps: Running fast up, then jogging down longer, less steep hills will build stamina for races, especially undulating ones, and lets be honest how many races are actually flat? Ideal sessions would be to have uphill bursts lasting between 30 and 60 secs. You can increase the length of each rep or the number of reps as you progress.
• Short Hill Reps: Running fast up, then jogging down shorter, steeper hills will improve finishing ability and assist with times for shorter races by developing the body’s aerobic system. The aim would be to start by factoring a set of between 3 and 9 reps into standard runs depending on ability. Because of the increased difficulty, each rep will be shorter than with Long Hill Reps.
• Hilly Runs: This is ideal for those that like to run off-road. Plan a trail that takes in a particularly hilly area. Within the immediate area, and slightly further afield, there are lots of areas where such a run can be done. The aim is to convert one of your normal race training runs into a ‘hilly run’. Therefore you do the same distance as planned, only it contains more elevation. What you can vary here as you progress through the training plan, is the amount of elevation and this is perfect for those that have GPS sports watches and have been wondering how to get more out of them. Each Hilly Run, the aim is to increase the total elevation of the run. Start with 200 meters of total elevation and aim to increase that by 50 meters each time. To achieve that sometimes its good to run halfway up a hill, run down then complete the hill 😉
• Stair Reps: What? Yes you can even do this at work. Take the stairs. Each set of stairs ever constructed is clearly different so work in blocks of time. Try 5 mins of climb/decent with 1 min rest then repeat.
• Advanced Hill Reps: The concept here is to do a normal hill rep, where an effort of between 30 and 60 seconds is expended climbing, but by this time you should reach the top of the hill. Instead of jogging down, you carry on the flat with the same level of effort for the same duration as the climb. You should feel yourself speed up noticeably on the flat. So a 45 second climb to the top, should be followed by a 45 second effort on the flat at the top.
So in principle if you factor in weekly hill work into your running plan you will develop your performance, not overnight, but the results do come quickly. This much is true, but by how much? This is variable and depends on the efforts you put in. I find it particularly useful to train with others when hill training as you can stagger the session, so some run while some rest and this way get to encourage and be encouraged. It helps.