If you want to improve as a runner, you need to get stronger, both physically and mentally. Hill workouts are a great way to improve in both of those areas, and Halifax Road Hammers coach and founder Lee McCarron has a brutal (but beneficial) hill session that everyone should try. All you need is a long hill and a can-do attitude for this run, so lace up, toss on a few layers to help you brave the cold and get ready to hurt, because McCarron’s go-to hill workout is a tough one.
In Halifax, the Road Hammers are lucky (depending who you ask, at least) to have what McCarron calls their “Mini Heartbreak Hill.” This hill is about 650m long, and McCarron makes sure his runners hit it every month. “It’s probably one of the most dreaded workouts whenever people see it in the schedule,” he says. “But they know it’s coming every third or fourth week.”
Depending on where you live, finding a hill of similar length to the Mini Heartbreak Hill in Halifax could be very easy or very difficult. Go for a drive around your city or town and look for the longest hills. Really, whatever you find will do the trick, even if it’s not as long as the one the Road Hammers tackle.
The workout is quite simple, and all you need to do is attack the hill until you reach the top before turning back and taking it easy on the descent. McCarron notes that you should be working hard to get up the hill while still being in control. You should always be able to do one more, although it should be far from easy. He also adds that the number of total repetitions varies depending on the time of year. He only has his athletes run up the hill four or five times during the season’s “maintenance period,” but as the season progresses, the number of repetitions increases. “Since we’re starting the new year, we’ll start at six repeats, then eight, then nine,” he says. “We always use it as a workout ahead of the Boston Marathon. Those runners run up 10 times.”
McCarron says he wants to see a consistent effort throughout this workout, at least until the end. “On the last hill in workouts, I want everyone giving all they have left. That should be your fastest on the last if you do the workout properly.” Finishing the workout strong gives athletes a great mental boost, McCarron says, and adding a repetition or two to the workout total every few weeks does, too. “If an athlete sees that they ran more this session than last, that can help with their confidence and show they’re progressing.”
While McCarron only gets his athletes to run the Mini Heartbreak Hill workout once a month, he still incorporates hills into their other sessions. After most workouts, the Road Hammers will run 10 60-second hill sprints. Unlike the hill-specific workout, though, these aren’t about speed, and McCarron instead says to focus on form. “It’s important to work on your form when you’re fatigued,” he says. “It’s not an all-out sprint. We’re focusing on staying tall, keeping your hips forward, driving your knees.”
This is a great way to get used to running tired. If you can maintain proper form with these post-workout sprints, you’ll be much more likely to run with good form in the latter stages of a race, which will help you make it through to the finish line as quickly as possible.