Running up that hill

Why hill training can give you the strength and endurance to finish a race just as strong as you start


Once you’ve been running for a while, you can run great distances and still exchange words of encouragement with fellow runners. Tiredness in the late miles is not much of an issue if you’re conditioned properly. If you’ve ever run or watched a half or full marathon, you’ll notice that even in the latter stages, when runners are really struggling, they’re not gasping for breath, rather it’s the muscles that begin to let them down. Your quads, hamstrings, lower legs and hips are screaming and getting heavier with each step. It’s an unpleasant sensation, and it can derail your hopes of

a PB, but, crucially, it is avoidable. Hill training can provide the strength and conditioning you need to ensure your muscles are still serving you well, even as you cross the line of a long race. However, running up a hill and expecting to be in the shape of your life is not the answer. You need to be doing the right type of hill session, depending on your goals. To coin a well-known coaching phrase: “It’s not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect”. If you get your hill training right, you will improve strength, endurance and power, becoming an all-round better runner as a result.

Master downhill

Descending at pace takes skill and practice. Done poorly, it can cause injury due to the huge eccentric contractions the body has to make. If you put the breaks on by digging the heels in and leaning backwards, you are more likely to get injured. Here are our five top tips for downhill running:

  • Aim to run your specific hill sessions on kinder surfaces, such as forest trails or good grass – this lessens the impact of   downhill running.
  • Make sure all body weight is falling forwards. You should have a sense of falling down the hill.
  • Land on the front half of your foot.
  • Your arms may end up all over the place assisting with balance – this is fine, we call it rag dolling, you just have to let go.
  • Assure the body is always slightly ahead of your feet. This will help you maintain pace and control.

Boost your climb

Follow these top tips to tackle ascents like a pro:

  • Maintain an upright posture by engaging the core and pushing through the pelvis. Avoid the temptation to slump in pain.
  • Always look ahead, not at your feet.
  • Keep your stride length the same as normal or slightly shorter, particularly as the hill gets steeper.
  • You will automatically be more on your forefoot due to the gradient.
  • Drive your arms in order to create force and momentum.

Rolling hills

Perfect for: Improving all distances, from 5k to marathon Some of us live in hilly areas, so we are naturally blessed with building leg strength as we are forced to incorporate undulations into our every day runs.  A very clever hill session is to run your usual flat threshold session, for example 4 x 5 minutes at threshold, but over the hilly route, incorporating the undulations. Naturally the pace drops slightly on hills so don’t obsess with your GPS device; the key is to keep the effort level the same. Maintaining an even threshold effort throughout the blocks, while absorbing the hills, will build strength and endurance whilst improving your running economy (your ability to run harder for longer).

Fast, steep hills

Perfect for: Shorter distances and cross-country racing This is probably the most commonly used type of hill training. It involves finding a steep hill, running up it as hard as you can for 45 to 60 seconds, then gently jogging down for your recovery. Repeat this 8 to 12 times for a session that builds extra strength, speed and power. This training was designed for sprinters and middle distance athletes seeking greater speed and power, but is not necessarily the answer to a stronger half or full marathon.

Continuous hills

Perfect for: All distances, but particularly half marathon and marathon These have incredible value for every runner but are often less talked about. The Africans, particularly the Kenyans, use these continuous threshold hills as the bedrock of their base training phase. Run up a 5 to 10 per cent gradient for 45 to 90 seconds at a steady-threshold effort. Turn immediately at the top and run down the hill at the same effort, then turn at the bottom and run up again, and continue to repeat without any recovery until the rep time ends. You should be working at about 80 to 85 per cent of maximum heart rate and be able to utter three or four words. Try 4 x 6 minutes with a two-minute jog recovery between the blocks. Whatever your level, these hills are awesome for simultaneously building strength, endurance and conditioning. Become a master at these sessions and you can guarantee that, come race day, you will remain strong in the final third of any race you enter.


Want your say? Email us at [email protected]

Join the Men’s Running community for more comment, analysis and race information direct your inbox. Follow us on twitter @mensrunninguk


David Castle

Written by David Castle | 306 articles | View profile

Please comment on this article below

blog comments powered by Disqus