Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Get Faster By Running Uphill Runs

By Terrence Mahon

You don’t win a New York or a Boston Marathon until you have conquered their legendary hills. For the five-borough race, it starts with going straight up the Verrazano Bridge, then across the mile-long 59th St Bridge and finally finishing with the rollers through Central Park. Without the series of Newton Hills, and the appropriately named Heartbreak being the greatest, then Boston wouldn’t be the legendary course that every runner wants to battle at least once in their lifetime.

Running hilly race courses makes training over hills a must in your marathon preparation. However, hill training doesn’t just make you better at running hills. Adding in a steady supply of hill work throughout your training program will increase your speed and endurance for every type of race.

In our typical marathon training program we include one specific uphill run every 2 weeks and more hills in both our sprint work and our weekly long runs. The bread-and-butter workout is the continuous uphill run at a moderate effort (approximately 80-85% of max heart rate). It will start at 5k in distance and move up to 15k of continuous uphill running as the season progresses.

The hill runs we use in Mammoth Lakes (actually they are mountains) climb at about a 3-4% grade on average with a few 6-7% climbs thrown in every so often. Due to the combined effect of the altitude (ranging from 7,000-10,000 ft) and the length of the hill our running speeds will not be very fast. Ryan will often hover somewhere between 6:15-7:00 mile pace over the entire workout. For an athlete that has run a marathon under 5:00-per-mile pace, this seems like an easy run, however, both the aerobic and muscular challenges involved make this a really tough workout.

So why do we add in hill training when we are preparing for a flat marathon in Chicago? Hill training – either as continuous uphill runs or as hill intervals accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. The hill itself will provide you with great resistance training as you run. If the incline is steep enough then you will recruit many more muscle fibers over the course of the workout. Your hips and glutes work over-time when you are climbing over 2000 ft of elevation in one run.

With time and repetition you will get physically stronger as well as run faster once you hit level ground. Hills are also a great way to improve your running mechanics. Since the energy demand to climb a hill is that much greater than running on a flat surface you will learn how to use the right muscles to get you to the top. This workout has a way of getting rid of what isn’t working in a hurry.

In addition, hills provide you with the aerobic training that you need, but with much less pounding then when running on flat or downhill surfaces. Since you are always going up there will be less joint stress and eccentric muscle overload and this means that you can add in miles on hills without feeling like you ran a marathon in training.

Finally, hills are great for teaching mental tenacity and patience. If you go full steam into a hill you will probably get knocked over quick. A few more attempts like that and you will see that the prudent way to make it to the top is the steady approach. Conquering hills is much like conquering a marathon. The wise runner is the patient runner. Don’t give up if your first attempt goes south. Take the tortoise over the hare approach here and you will see a steady improvement that will bring tremendous dividends once you hit the streets. Running on a flat surface will feel like you are not working hard at all and then you can just watch the miles will fly by.

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