For this month's column I have decided to cover something you either love or hate, but most of us hate - Hill Training!!
The first pre-requisite for a decent hill training session is the hill itself. Some of us are blessed with excellent long hills right outside the front door whilst others, namely me right now (based in North East Lincolnshire), a decent drive is required to find a worth-while hill. Choosing the surface you want to run on depends on what your goals are. I was never a particularly keen cross country runner, preferring the higher speed I could run at on the road compared to the relative 'slog' of grass hills. But if cross country is your thing then they are essential. Despite not doing much hill running these days I still find myself rating hills I come across by how good they would be for running up ( I know, I should Get a Life!). I look for the following; a wide pavement or quiet road, I hate it when a pedestrian or car ruins a good rep, the gradient should be challenging but not impossible and long enough to fit the needs of the intended session.
I was blessed with an outstanding hill whilst living in South-West London, the hill in question was Nightingale Lane in Richmond-upon-Thames. Well known to local runners it took me 50 seconds to get up, getting steeper as you went up, and eight reps with a 90-120 second jog back recovery would be more than enough for a good workout. I credit this session with my break-through onto the World scene, coupled with a 4 mile warm up and then the same home it is a tough old session! The success of this session meant I used the same structure on hills wherever I trained, namely 8 x 45-50 seconds with jog back recovery and it was a staple part of my training alongside the varied interval sessions I covered last month.
With a track season approaching the emphasis of hill training can be changed with the use of shorter hills. They are normally done in sets of 10 with a jog back recovery, any more and you lose count! 2 sets are ideal with 3 to 5 minutes recovery in-between. I enjoyed this session because I would often run it with a group of 400 metre runners. They would have a slow walk recovery and I would jog back as normal allowing me to fit in an extra rep as they rested. I tended to run the extra one 'steady' a couple of seconds slower enabling me to push the rep with the 400 metre guys. So with a little lateral thinking even unlikely training partners can become beneficial to the distance runner
At the other end of the scale are long hill reps, namely 3 x 3 minutes hills with a full jog back recovery, these are run hard and it's the kind of session you can not really build into. You have to go full throttle from the outset. To find a 3 minute hill is a challenge in itself but if you want a tough, tough session then look no further.
The final style of hill training was one I did whilst training in South Africa. It was given the well earned name 'Hill of Pain'. It entailed a hill, 900 metres long, marked every 100 metres, the idea was to run 200 metres up then 100 jog down allowing you to slowly work your way up the hill. 8 reps will take you to the top then you come down by running 100 metres up and jogging down 200 metres. It was made even worse by the fact we were at Altitude, but the principle would work on any long hill. Lamp posts, cones etc can replace our road markings.
So far I have built a pretty good case to never do any hills as they are far too tough, so what are the benefits to you as a runner? They certainly improve a runner's efficiency forcing them to concentrate on driving arms and legs especially at the end of a steep hill. This will hopefully lead to an increase in stride length allowing the runner to run faster per mile with the same effort. The cardio-vascular benefit is strong as all hills are real lung-busters, you certainly get a real sense of achievement when you finish a tough hill session.