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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hill extensions, hill accelerations

When you get a training schedule, it's easy to pick out the essential workouts, the ones meant to help you trim minutes (or hours) from your race times. A lot of the other runs, especially when training for a long race, seem like busy work, just "time on your feet" runs... and these can get to be boring after a while. It's common for someone on an ambitious marathon schedule to think "I ran 14 yesterday, and I've got 8 today and 12 tomorrow; it just never seems to end. I don't want to do it." That can be a sign of burn-out, but sometimes high mileage can really be drudgery. It's then that one needs to have a "bag of tricks," something that will add a spark of interest to a run.

The simplest way of doing that is the social run. Running with someone else can make a run a lot easier and more pleasant. The downside is that, if two people run together, one is either running too hard or too easy. When I was at the top of my game, I ran once a week with a group of the top local runners. We'd do 10 miles in 60-65 minutes; it was an easy social run for them, but I was doing a 10 mile race in the middle of every week and it was my downfall.

If I feel the need to do something a little different, I try to do a workout that touches on the finer points of racing, those things that might mean only a second or two in a race. If you've ever missed a PR or a trophy by a second or two, you've probably thought more than once about how you could've cut that little bit.

Most of my bag of tricks comes from coaching cross-country running and are team-related, so they aren't useful for a solo runner. The ones that are tend to be focused on hills and extremely fast running.

Hill extensions

Many runners, and especially trail runners, will do hill repetitions, where they just run up and down a hill over and over (somewhere I can hear someone saying "just shoot me now"). While they get better at running hills, they get in the habit of pausing or stopping at the top of the hill. In a race, on can often take advantage of this by pushing up a hill and then continuing to run hard past the top. To practice this, you need a hill that flattens at the top, rather than dropping off quickly. Run hard up the hill and intentionally push for another 50-100 meters beyond the top.

Hill accelerations

This is a more advanced version of the hill extensions. Hills rarely reach a sharp peak, but flatten toward the top, and this means the hill gets easier on the legs just at the point where one is tiring. One can learn to take advantage of this. On a course with rolling hills, when you get to a hill, maintain the pace you were running on level ground as you start up the hill. It will continue to get harder to maintain speed as you go. Look for the point where the hill appears to go from getting steeper to flatter and, when you reach it, force your legs to "turn over" more quickly, increasing cadence, if perhaps shortening stride. It will take a while for your heart and lungs to catch up with the extra effort. If you master this, you can often make a move in a race on a hill, even against faster runners.

If I were a girl, this is what I'd want to look like (except maybe the eyebrows)!


Robyn said...

After a brutal 9 mi tempo run in this morning's ankle-deep slush, I'm wiped out just reading about hill accelerations. Eek!

pensive pumpkin said...

Question: I've been running a two mile loop with most of the 300 feet of elevation gain and loss in the middle that I really enjoy, so I've been using it for even-mileage long runs. Running past your car makes you mentally tough, right?

Does that have a similar benefit to hill repeats, extensions, or accelerations? I'm so new that I don't run up all the hills every day but that is what I'm working toward, and I definitely try to keep running after it tops out.

Also- running downhill is more fun, for some strange reason. ; )

Thanks in advance for your answer! I have grown to like the redhead photos because now I can tell at a glance that a post in my sidebar is from you. LOL

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Caddy smells like hills.

Diana said...

I miss doing hill repeats. I had my favorite spot for them in the Santa Monica mountains. Conquering those hills made me feel amazing.
Here, where I live literally below sea level, hills are in short supply. There is one in a park, and it's called "the hill," I think the only hill in all of Amsterdam.