Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Hills Are Alive!

The hills are alive,
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.'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'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!


wendy said...

Definitely not singing while I am running, nor am I wearing curtains : )

I love hills, they are my favorite speedwork. Unfortunately, they are few and far between here (not to mention pretty small).

Great post, hope you had a nice weekend!

Unknown said...

We have tons of hills where I am. Somedays it seems no matter where I run, I'm always on a flat or going uphill. Whoever designed my town was not a runner - or, maybe someone who loved hill training!

Cute song!

Anonymous said...

I live near Dallas and almost all my races are flat, but there are a couple of rare creatures called hills in my neighborhood... and on the rare occassions I run in my own neighborhood, those hills kick my rear. Thanks for giving me the push to get out there and actually run those hills...

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Wendy!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Cynthia! You must have killer calves! Awesome!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Lesley! Kick back at those hills!!

Coachhrd said...

Like the song! Good hill workout.

Junk Miler said...

Another reason runners avoid hills is because effort doesn't show up in running times - a tempo run on hills can easily be a minute-per-mile slower than a tempo run on a flat; it's hard for the ego to work harder for a slower time.

Nice work with the song parody. You kept the rhythm and everything.

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Coachhrd!Now I can't get that tune out of my head! Guess I'll be humming it running hills today. LOL!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Josh! Yep, it's definitely one of those things where the fruit is in the labor but the bounty doesn't appear until race time.

Caratunk Girl said...

Another timely post - I plan on weekly hill work (after I recover from my HIM next weekend) as part of my training leading to IM Lake Placid next year (both on my bike and on the run).

It hurts so good, right?

RunnerDude said...

Hi Caratunk girl! Yep, I like that, "It hurst so good!" LOL! Good luck on those hills!

Aimee said...

Great post! I have to incorporate more hills into my training! I have a great hill really close to my house that would be perfect! I may just do it tonight! :)

Dena said...

Ever time I don't want to run a hill workout, I remind myself that I like the track even less. =) Hills are hard but I agree that they make a runner strong. Just hoping I can squeeze enough hill training into the next 4 weeks to make a difference at Blue Ridge!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Aimee! Let you know how you like that hill!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Dena! You guys are gonna rock that mountain relay!

Amanda said...

I have always loved hill workouts too, though since moving to the midwest I can't say there are too many hills here for me to run up. One question I have though, is that often I see a recommended X% incline for a hill. How can I tell what kind of incline a hill actually is?

When in doubt...I just run up the darn hill. It's not flat--it will work!


RunnerDude said...

Hi Amanda!
Well, it is kind of complicated. You calculate the percent of slope by determining how many feet (or inches or miles) the slope rises or falls per 100 of the same units. If the slope in question is quite consistent, you can just measure one hundred inches horizontally (use a level) then measure down to the ground from that point. The number of inches to the ground is the percent of slope.
Or you can just eye-it like me. Typically a longer hill with a steady grade that has a gradual rize is probably going to be more in the 5-7% range. A hill with a more rapid increase in slope is probably going to be the 10%+ kind of hill. The next time you're on a treadmill, set it at 5% or 7 % verses 10% and to get a feel for what those percent incline look like.