When runners think of hills, they typically cringe. If they’re training for a road race like a 5K or a 10K they often neglect training with elevation. When it comes to race day and they encounter a hill, their mind stalls and that hill is the breaking point for their race. Whether you’re training for a fast road race, a marathon, or a trail race, incorporating hill workouts into your training will net you big returns.
Hill repeats will help you mentally and physically when it comes to race day. Physically, your body and legs are ready for the change in elevation and you’ll build less lactic acid netting you a better time. Mentally, you’ll feel prepared for the hill and know that you can tackle it giving you the extra boost you need (especially at the end of a race).
The Basic Workout
The name is in the workout. Run up a hill, recover, repeat. When you’re going up the hill you want to focus on your stride, breathing, and your form. It’s easy to hunch over while going up the hill, but that ruins your form and you end up exerting more energy going up the hill. Focus on short, quick strides while going up the hill and move your arms quickly. If you’re new to hill repeats, it may be hard to focus on your stride, breathing, and form all at the same time especially when you’re struggling to get up the hill. Over time, you’ll develop muscle memory, so it’ll feel like second nature.
Like all your workouts, you’ll want to warm up before you start charging up the hill. Find a route that’s relatively flat that leads to the hill of your choice. Your warm-up should be around 1-2 miles.
- Start at the bottom of the hill and charge up it
- When you get to the top, don’t stop, rather turn around and start jogging down (very easily)
- When you get back to the bottom of the hill, take a 30-60 second break and then charge back up
When you’re training for speed, like a 5K or a 10K, you’ll want to focus on shorter, faster repeats with less elevation. You’ll want to focus on a fast turnover just like you will experience during the race. The goal here is not to have to do long, steep hills because you typically won’t experience them in standard road races. We recommend doing this workout at least once every other week, but every week during peak training time (e.g. ~6-8 weeks before race day).
- 1-2 mile warmup
- 5-7 hill repeats
- 30s or ~150-200m long with a ~10% grade
- Jog down to the bottom, 30s recovery
- 1-2 mile cooldown
For half-marathons and marathons, you’ll most likely experience more hills throughout the course. Also, you’ll need to sustain a level of lactic acid in your legs for a longer period of time. Depending on the course, you may want to increase the elevation change. We recommend doing this workout at least once every other week, but every week during peak training time (e.g. ~6-8 weeks before race day).
- 2-3 mile warmup
- 7-10 hill repeats
- 60s or ~200-300m long with a 5-10% grade
- Jog down to the bottom, 30-60s recovery
- 2-3 mile cooldown
When it comes to trail running, you’ll typically encounter more hills that have more elevation. For these types of workouts, your focus needs to be on sustaining elevation gain over a longer period of time. We recommend you find a trail to do this workout on, rather than the road. When training for a trail race, aim to do this workout at least once per week.
- 2-3 mile warmup
- 3-5 hill repeats
- 3-minutes long with a 5-10% grade
- Jog down to the bottom, 60s recovery
- 2-3 mile cooldown
- Find a partner - These can get really tough, especially the later ones. Find someone that is near the same level as you to help push you through
- Find a good view - There’s nothing like a good view. Find a hill that gives you an inspiring view at the top. This helps you stay motivated and gives you a better sense of accomplishment when you get to the top
- Stay consistent - Many runners will go out slow and then finish fast. The goal of hill repeats is to stay consistent so when it comes to race day, it feels more natural
- Pat yourself on the back - Hil repeats are a hard workout. When you get to the top of the hill, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and do a little dance!
Hill workouts aren’t necessarily on the top of everyone’s list, but they help us become better runners. They help runners who are just getting started or are veterans. If you have any questions or suggestions, please reach out!