With the sound of footsteps
With grunts they have born for a thousand years
The hills fill my ears,
With the groans of runners
My gut wants to puke
Every step I take
My heart wants to beat
Like in spastic shock
As I lie on the ground looking up to the trees
My lungs give a sigh
As they wheeze and collapse
From the torture they've endured
Okay, Okay, I'll stop. I'm guessing you know what I'm talking about. And no it's not the Von Trapp Family singers. Although, you know, Julie Andrews did do an awful lot or running with that brood of kids she tended. I'm thinking they probably were there first to wear team uniforms. I'm thinking that curtain fabric didn't' have much on today's techno-fabrics though. But I digress.... the point of this post is to talk about hills.
When you mention speed workouts, things like intervals, repeats, fartleks, Kenyan Out-and-backs, and tempo runs come to mind for many runners. But hill workouts are often overlooked by the average runner. Now this could be on purpose. You know, kind of like when Maria chose to have the kids sing even after the Captain strictly forbid music in the house. Sometimes, like in the case of Maria, it's for the good and then other times it's more of an avoidance which can be more for the bad. Many runners avoid hills because, well dang-it, they're tough. They make you sweat. Your heart races. You feel like you're going to pass out. And you ache all over. Man, those symptoms could be for either someone in love or someone with the flu.
Anywho...it's time we stop avoiding such a great workout. I read in Matt Fitzgerald's book, Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel, about famous distance runner, Haile Gebrselassie's (aka: Geb) favorite workout. It happens to be a hill workout. Well in this case, it's actually a Mountain workout. Let me clarify a bit more...it's a 90-minute run straight up Entoto Mountain. He says he likes it because it's his toughest workout. He also likes it because once he gets to the top, he loves the feeling of accomplishment that he's conquered the mountain.
Well, you don't have to go to Africa and run a mountain to get in some good hill workouts. A moderate hill with just a 5-7% incline will do nicely. Doesn't have to be long either—100m, 200m, 400m, any length will do.
Okay, Geb's story may have motivated you just a little and you may be pondering where the hills are in your neighborhood by now, but you may still be wondering why you should subject yourself to such a hard workout. Well, hill work provides a whole bunch of benefits (almost as many as there are Von Trap kids).
- Help increase your VO2Max (how well your body takes in and utilizes oxygen)
- Strengthens your calf muscles which help propel you forward
- Increases your power and speed
- Helps increase endurance (especially longer hills like Geb's mountain)
- Can help increase your stride or foot turnover
- Helps improve arm movement which is key in helping drive you forward develops maximum
So how do you do a hill workout? Well, there are very formal workouts that you can research and follow, but it really doesn't have to be that complicated for us Maria's of the running world. Typically shorter distance runners stick with short hills (something up to 100m) and distance runners may run hills that are 100m, 200m, 400m or longer. But you know, if you're a distance runner and the only hill near you is 50m, you can still get in a good workout.
The hills don't have to be very steep either. A modest grade of 5-7% is good. You should be able to carry out a fairly normal stride when running the hill. You'll exert more energy, but it shouldn't be so steep that you look like you're doing the Olympic ski jump. Find a moderate hill with a distance that will allow about a 30sec+ run.
So find a good hill and run up it. That's pretty much it. Well, okay, run up it more than once. Well actually run up it about 6-10 times. Start small and over time, work your way up to the higher number of repeats. Basically, treat the workout like an interval workout at the track. Kind of like a 6x200m. Run the hill at a brisk pace (depending on the grade of the hill, your 5K or 10K pace). Then walk or jog back down the hill and repeat. If you're running a long hill try running uphill for 30secs, and then walk down for 30 secs, then run up for 30 secs, then down again for 30 secs. Gradually you'll make your way up to the top of the hill covering the entire length of the hill.
Don't limit yourself to just running one hill either. If you live in an area with hills, plan one of your hill workouts to be a continuous run that's along a route with numerous hills of different grades. There's a park near my neighborhood that has a 1.5-mile loop around a small lake and half of the route is very hilly. Two or three loops around the lake makes for a great hill-run.
Don't have any hills where you live? Then hop on a treadmill and set the incline to 5-7% and run for 30 secs then reduce the grade to 1% and walk or jog for 30secs and then repeat for 6-10 times. Ta dah! Hill work!
So, get out and run some hills! Make those hills come alive with the sound of footsteps!