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Hills can make or break a runner. Some love them, others despise them. When it comes to road or trail, the runner who trained on hills is usually the stronger and better prepared runner.
The best way to strengthen your climbing legs and lungs is to add a healthy dose of elevation gain to your workout. I’m talking about hill reps, long hilly descents, and vert-focused climbs – they’ll all do the trick. However, if you really want to crush your competition, you should not only train on the hill, but also right after the hill.
I learned this workout from my high school cross-country coach, Jim McCoach (yes, really). Coach McCoach always told us that the battle is not the hill, but the minutes that follow the hill. He taught me that if you really want to break your competition, use a wave that starts at the top of the hill right when you are exhausted and least expecting it.
The key is to avoid riding too hard up the mountain so that you have enough energy to sway at the top. It’s okay for your competition to gain some distance as they climb up. With a good climb at the top, you can catch them and make up ground.
One of the main reasons this tactic is so successful is that virtually no runner expects anyone to accelerate the pace after the hill is over. It takes most runners about a minute to catch their breath and recover from the hill.
Credit: Andrew Wilson
Multi-benefit running training
This training I call tactical training, which means that its main purpose is to learn skills. Sure, it’s great for short distance racing, cross country skiing, and hilly road racing. But it also makes a fun, faster session for ultra runners. There are two ways you can do this: hill reps or Fartlek style as part of a hilly run.
When doing this as a hill repetition, find a hill that takes about 1 minute to climb, followed by a relatively flat section that you can run fast for 1 minute.
If you’re not a fan of Hill Repeats, the Fartlek version is for you. Choose one of your most hilly slopes. Each time you get to the top of a hill, take a 1 to 2 minute climb at a speed of about 3 miles before returning to your normal running pace. This makes the run more or less a fartlek, but the fartlek starts at the top of every hill.
Hill Repeat Running Workout
- Warm up: 1-2 miles, starting at an easy pace and going up to a moderately tough pace
- Walk uphill (4-8% incline) at a moderate pace for about 1 minute; Once you get to the top of the hill, climb for about 3 miles for 1 minute
- Walk gently back to the beginning of the hill for 2 minutes
- Repeat step 2 6-10 times depending on your skill level
- Cooldown: 1-2 miles at an easy pace
Fartlek style running training
- Use the first 1 to 3 miles as a warm-up, starting at an easy pace and going up to a moderately tough pace
- As you climb each hill, swing around 3 miles for 1-2 minutes, depending on the length of the hill
- Repeat these waves after each hill for the rest of your run
As with any hard run, this workout is extremely strenuous for the body. Refueling with a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4: 1 shortly after your run ensures your body is getting the nutrients it needs to rebuild and recover.
My favorite fuel after a long run is Endurox R4. It’s a tasty powder mix that is easy on the stomach and has a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4: 1.