Running Hills? Guest Post from Michelle the Runner

Hills – starting from the bottom PT. 1


Running hills (training) is a very important phase in everyone’s run program. Generally after several weeks of base building you move into a strength-training phase; Hills. Hill training can be in the form of long hill runs, short or long hill repeats, hill bounding and downhill strides. For this piece I’m dealing with long hill repeats. This particular phase should never last longer than 4-5 weeks in your run training schedule. It’s a workout that is done only once per week as one of your quality workouts.

For beginners, hills are not to be treated like any other run. Hills are absolutely necessary to build strength and increase leg turnover, but hills are also where things can go south quickly.

Let’s start with the how to:

  1. Like anything, ease into your hills. First day of hill training should not, I repeat, should not be 10 x 400 metre hills. Try something more like 4-5 x 60 or 90 second hill repeats.
  2. Don’t look at your watch. Ever! Hit the lap button and the beginning and end of the repeat. The speed is based on effort (roughly a 5km effort for most)
  3. Focus on form (chest up, shoulders back and down, arms relaxed)
  4. The mental cue I use is to think about riding a bike while running up a hill. Knees up high, feet spinning like you would spin on a bike.
  5. As the hill gets harder to climb (and it will), the arms are necessary and getting them involved will recruit more core muscles.
  6. Most important, and trust me so many forget to do this. BREATH.

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The grade of the hill does matter. A 6-7% grade hill for most hill repeat workouts is best. For the math/run nerds here is the formula: Elevation Gain / Length of Hill = % Grade 

A short 101 on muscle fibres used during the course of our training.

Type I – slow twitch fibres (aerobic fibres that take a long to fatique)

Type IIa – intermediate fast-twitch fibres (most associated with middle distance running, producing more force than the slow twitch fibre)

Type IIx – Fast twitch fibres (anaerobic fibres useful only for short bursts)

For the endurance runner, the long hill repeats will allow you to work through all three fibres. The power you need to get from the bottom of the hill to the top in approximately 60-90 seconds will mostly use your intermediate fast-twitch fibres. Since fast twitch fibres fatigue quicker, your systems will soon begin recruiting as many slow twitch fibres as possible to finish the workout.

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Safety first:

  1. When in doubt stop the workout. If you feel any pain, pull or tightness during a hill repeat workout. It’s important to stop and not attempt to run through it. A muscle tear can set you back up to 8 weeks. It’s best to take a few days off.
  2. Often times I wear compression socks to reduce muscle vibrations and prevent calf tears.
  3. Starting with warm muscles is a must. A 2km warm up isn’t going to cut it. A full easy 5-6 km warm up is highly recommended to ensure your muscles have some elasticity.

Next post will be all about the long hilly run. Stay tuned!


Ryan Light

About Ryan Light

I started to run after a very stressful time in my life. I suffered most of my life with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), panic, and anxiety. I tried everything from diets to conventional medicines – nothing worked. Running saved my life – literally, I was at the bottom with my OCD, panic, and anxiety, and on the verge of suicide. Running gave me a new found adventure, a goal, an escape so to say. It’s been seven years since I took my first run…Currently I have run over 40 Half Marathons, Three Full Marathons, and countless amounts of 5 & 10Ks” and loving every minute of it. I’ve made some outstanding friends, overcame challenges I thought I’d never could, and best of all found a passion in life! To learn more...

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