"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hill Workouts (part 3 of 3)

Time to talk about what hill workouts I advocate.

Rolling Hills Run

One can try to run hills at a constant pace or at a constant effort. Trail races are generally set up in such a way as to make constant pace impossible, but it's a useful approach for some road races and one can apply it to minor hills in a trail race. The rolling hills run is simply a moderate paced run (for those who follow Jack Daniels, tempo or marathon pace) done over a hilly course, done at constant speed. Golf courses are the preferred place to start doing these, to get a feel for gentle undulations. One then works up to cross-country ski trails, which can seem like roller coasters. The better one gets at this, the tougher a hill one can disregard in a race.


Sprinting for distance runners has come back in vogue since Brad Hudson's book. Sprinters use a large number of tricks to increase their top-end speed and one of these is downhill sprinting, which can force the body to move at speeds impossible on flats. This is very demanding on the body - sore glutes are automatic - and one should stop at the first sign that any body part hurts. The sprints should be very short, 5-15 seconds, just to get to top speed. Start with sprinting on level ground, then when used to that, move on to a very gentle slope with solid and soft footing. The best way to measure progress I've found is to use a GPS unit that records maximum velocity; when one stops improving, move to a steeper slope.


Any interval workout can be translated into a hill workout and, given how much most people hate running intervals on a track, that should make these popular. Those who race 10K or longer try to reach (or reach and hold) their maximum oxygen uptake threshold, which is the same as running at or near maximum heart rate. Those who run shorter races do lactic acid tolerance repeats and these are also done at or near maximum heart rate; the difference being mostly in the starting speed. One can find one's maximum heart rate by using a heart rate monitor and running up a long steep hill as hard as possible as long as possible. I do these workouts with a monitor set up with an alarm that sounds when I go over 95% of my maximum heart rate.

The beauty of hills is that one reaches maximum heart rate much sooner than on flat ground and at a much slower pace, so it stresses the heart without stressing other muscles nearly as much.

If one only has short hills available, it's best to extend the hill by running hard to the base of the hill. I don't recommend running stairs, as they're hard and can lead to impact injuries; also, one lands on horizontal surfaces rather than slanted, and every step is the same.


These are the bread and butter of ultramarathoning trail runners. Upon running for hours up and down a hill, one finds that one's heart rate climbs when just walking uphill, so one has to learn how to walk quickly and efficiently. Also, as one tires, one brakes more on the downhills and this greatly fatigues some muscles, particularly the quadriceps. "Fried quads" are the bane of ultrarunners. Running downhill strengthens these muscles, which may be one reason it's more common to see muscular ultrarunners than muscular road marathoners.

What I've found works well is to run one third of the total elevation climb of one's goal race on a slope that makes the total about one fourth of the race distance, which, assuming the race has flat sections, approximates the course. The Superior Sawtooth 100, for example, has 20200 feet of climb. One third of that is about 6700 feet. My favorite hill (Brickyard) is 240 feet high, which requires 28 trips to get to 6700. Thirty times the hill's length of 0.4 miles times 2 (for up and down) equals 24 miles. Training for Hardrock: 140 times the Hyland ski jump hill (not the north ski hill, which most run there) = 25 miles.


(Pronounced fahrt-laik, it's guaranteed to make junior high school runners giggle.) Essentially, this is an unstructured run which incorporates elements of each of the above workouts. It is so misunderstood and so easily turned into a too-easy or too-hard workout that I don't recommend it and won't describe it in detail. Most runners, if running on a trail, will incorporate similar training without planning it. It's obvious: if you're going to race on trails, you should often train on trails.


keith said...

I like the variety that an unstructured workout might offer. I find it difficult to just tell myself I am going to "just" run hills or "just" do sprints. Of course, I am probably not reaping performance specific benefits out of all my runs, but I am still enjoying running, even on the myriad of tradmills and unpredictable terrain and climates I've found myself in lately.

Ask Matt Patten about the workout we devised before Kettle...ow.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

(Pronounced fahrt-laik, it's guaranteed to make junior high school runners giggle.)

Are you saying I look young enough to be in Junior High?

[*Blushing*] Why ... thanks!

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

P.S. Having flunked junior high math, I must needs ask:

When can we expect to see part 4 of 3?