Hill Reps for your PB dreams

Its that time of year when runners are starting out on training for races, often with big dreams of a big PB. They will have told themselves that this time is THE time and they're gonna smash it....but how to get from the post-Christamas January blues to a race-day PB? We've all seen training plans before that have regular running, speed-work and core exercises in it, but often hill repeats or hill training. But if you're not training for a hilly race then why train on hills?

Hill training is a key ingredient in the PB soufflé.  In much the same way as speed training it conditions your cardio-vascular system to being able to cope with the increased strain of racing. However, in addition to this, the different terrain can also improve muscular strength as well as injury prevention by not running in the same way all the time. Many runners avoid regular hill training because, well, it's hard. Depending on the grade of the hill, lactic acid builds quickly, the heart rate shoots up, several muscles fire all at once, and we tire quickly.

Even though the runner may not be in training for a hilly race, there are plenty of good reasons to incorporate hill training into the regular regim. These benefits include:

  • Increase in burst speed for overtaking
  • Strength building
  • Improvement in proper run form
  • Increase in aerobic capacity and VO2 max

There are 3 main types of hill run. These are long hill repeats, short hill repeats and the long hilly run and each will bring some benefit, so its a good idea to rotate these as part of training.

Short Hill reps: The main focus of these short workouts is on speed. In general, these repeats should take about 20 to 90 seconds and you should be running at or very close to your absolute maximum. The hill should be quite steep, like we do at Greenhill on Thursday night improver sessions. As you will be working hard for a short period of time this session should last about 30 minutes and include rest periods for you to recover between reps.

Longer Hill reps: When you are doing long hill climbs, the focus is more on aerobic energy recruitment and less about speed. These hills climbs can take up to three minutes, so it's important to start slower and manage your pace on the climb. Your perceived exertion will be approximately 6-8 on a scale of one to 10 so its going to feel like you are working but not as hard as with shorter hill reps. Here you will do fewer reps but you should again look to something like 30 minutes of training at this level, allowing your body to recover between reps.

Long Hilly Run: These runs are really very valuable, especially if you know that your race will be hilly. If you want to not suffer on race day then build some of these runs into your schedule, because as the saying goes...Train hard, race easy!  You should be careful with achilles when running up hills and remember to lean ever-so-slightly forward when running downhill to avoid heel-striking too much which can lead to back pain.  Finally, make sure you've built up a good running base before adding in too many hill workouts, because your body will need to be able to adapt to the new demand but do not have too many hill sessions close-together, your body will need time to recover from the added strain.

Hill training is one way to not only mix up your running and make things a bit more interesting, but when done as part of a group can be a fun session too. The sessions have been proven to add value to a training plan and if you are dreaming big right now about a PB at some race in the near future, you might want to consider adding hill reps into your schedule!

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