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Weekly Workout: Hit the hills for stealthy speed work

Frank Shorter, winner of the 1972 Olympic marathon, famously said that "hills are speedwork in disguise."



Most workouts are highly specific and train the body for the demands it will face on race day. Long intervals, short fast repeats or race-paced tempo sessions will likely make up the majority of one’s hardest training efforts.

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Occasionally however it’s important to mix it up and challenge the body (and mind) in unfamiliar ways.

Hill workouts combine speed and strength training while also testing one’s mental fortitude. And while it’s unlikely that your next race will feature an all-uphill course, running hills will provide race-day benefits that other workouts cannot.

Hill training offers a number of unique benefits. It forces you to exercise better running economy, including using the arms and upper body. It provides a challenging cardiovascular stimulus which involves heavy breathing and a pounding heart rate. It is also mentally tough and trying but will feel so good once you finish. Best of all, hill training is relatively low risk, places less stress on the body and can help avoid injury.

The options are seemingly endless when it comes to hill training and workouts but here are a few guiding principles. First of all, find a hill of medium grade that is at least 200m in length. You should be able to run no faster than about 10K pace–if you can, the hill is probably not steep enough–but fast enough to hit marathon pace. Regardless, running up the hill should feel tough to do.

Unlike hill sprints–which are shorter, faster and done up a steeper incline–you’ll want to run intervals that are at least 30 seconds in duration. The shorter the interval, the more you should aim to do.

As with any workout, you should begin by warming up and including some strides or dynamic running drills. Once ready, aim to complete one of the following workouts at a comfortably hard effort. The speed/pace you run the intervals will usually fall somewhere between half and marathon pace. In all cases, walk or jog slowly back to the bottom of the hill between intervals.

Workout 1: Run 8-12 x 30 seconds with easy (~60 second) jog between

Workout 2: Run 2 sets of [4-6 x 60 seconds] with 5 minutes between sets

Workout 3: Run 2-3 sets of [3 x 90 seconds] with 5 minutes between sets

Workout 4: 3-4 sets of [30-60-90 seconds] with 5 minutes between sets

Workout 5: 4-6 x 120 seconds (2 minutes) with 4 minutes easy in between

Over time you can progress to doing more repeats and/or longer repeats. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you’re able to run the last interval as fast as you run the first one.