Run Speed with Your Hills

A couple of days ago, I had our multisport team run hills instead of the customary track workout.  It was a fantastic workout that demonstrated a few key ideas that every athlete should fold into their longer hill workouts.

The Workout: Long Hill Efforts with Interspersed Sprints

Map of 65th Street Hill RunNear my house in Seattle, there is a nasty hill on 65th Street Northeast.  It’s about 0.4 miles long and starts off at a moderate a 5-7% grade for the first half and then pitches upward to about 12-15% along the last 40% of the hill.  I told folks to run the first part of the hill at about 5-K pace but to hit the last steep section really hard.  65th Street HillMy thinking was to use the first bottom part of the hill to tax the system a little bit and knock the freshness out of the legs and then use the top half to really kick up the lactic acid.  Each effort took me about 3:40, which is a perfect amount of time.

After running up the hill– and virtually collapsing on some guys driveway (I’m sure he sees that a lot)– came the recovery section.  We would jog down Princeton Avenue, walk down an incredibly steep 60th Street, and then hit the trail for a near all-out 0.3 mile pancake-flat sprint back to the start.  My Garmin was telling me I was hitting about 5:00 to 5:30 pace here, which felt crazy fast for a hill workout.

Rest 3:00 and do it again for a total of four repeats.

Why This is Such a Great Workout

  • Turns Strength into Speed.  Way back in the winter months, I was chatting with one of the coaches from the Wednesday Night Runners, an elite corps of runners from the Club Northwest.  These folks are fast runners many ex-collegiate runners who haven’t lost anything to old Father Time.  It was a cold, wet and dark evening (typically Seattle) and the group was running a zig-zag course of sprinting short hills, short recovery, sprinting on the fast, short recovery– and repeating for about five miles.  Even though I knew that their training program was classic Lydiard (which I’m not a huge fan of), I saw immediate value in what their coach were preaching.  From a physiological perspective, building strength by running hills is great– but the body is really dumb and, without something to “tie” that extra strength to the mechanics of running fast, it really wouldn’t make anyone faster.  But doing a solid sprint effort shortly after a hill is an entirely different workout because it marries the two together.
  • It’s a Safer Form of Hills and Speed.  I had an old coach who was virtually allergic to running hills at maximum intensity, despite the fact that so many great coaches (Canova, Hudson, Magness, etc) think the world of them.  Nevertheless, running the last part of a hill at maximum intensity would get a grudging nod of acceptance from my old coach.  By the time we hit the top steep section of road, we’re pretty tired already– even slamming them hard won’t be generating the kind of impact or tensile forces that hitting that same hill fresh would incur.  Same thing goes for the 0.3 mile sprint at the end– a bit of fatigue coming into the effort that naturally blunts the intensity (and consequently risk of injury for us older runners).
  • It’s Great from a Lactate Perspective.  Looking back over this workout, it is absolutely perfect from a lactate perspective– basically the same stimulus as a Canova “blend” workout.  As I’ll describe in a later post, I am coming round to absolutely loving these kind of workouts for building stamina in the 5-10K range.

How to Fold Workouts Like This into a Training Program

I originally thought that these kind of workouts belong much earlier in the springtime as a way to build up to much more high-quality longer tempo sessions.  While I still think they have a place there because I think diving into varying pace hard tempo runs is otherwise a bit too ambitious for most older athletes, I think it’s important to keep a fair amount of intense workouts similar to this one together with blend workouts later into the season.  My thinking now is that MCT-1 needs a bit of constant prodding.  I’ve recently learned that the body can pump out MCT-1 very quickly in response to even a single bout of intense exercise— and usually that means that it can disappear about as quickly as well.  Plus, my workouts are suggesting that there is a nice synergy between this kind of stimuli and hard tempo efforts generally.

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