Every year around this time I start to think about the upcoming fall cross-country season, even when I’m not planning to race over hill and dale myself. I have very fond memories of returning to campus with my college teammates for pre-season camp or, years later, meeting up with my post-collegiate training partners on Tuesday nights in Newton for repeats on the grass median that cuts right up the middle of Heartbreak Hill. Early season hill workouts have always been a staple of whatever program I’ve been a part of and with good reason: they helped to lay a solid foundation of strength and fitness that set us up for success the rest of the season. Even if you’ll never run a cross-country race in your life (though I highly recommend it!), hitting the hills hard for a few weeks early in a training cycle can get you ready to run a fast mile, go the distance in an ultramarathon, or tackle any distance in between. Here are the details:
What: Two sets of drills followed by 4-6 x 20-second strides on flat ground (i.e., accelerate for 5 seconds, spend the next 10 seconds at near-top speed, and then gradually decelerate to a jog over the final 5 seconds. Catch your breath for 40-60 seconds and then repeat 3-5 more times). After performing the drills, run 8-16 x 60-second uphill repeats at 3K-5K EFFORT (i.e. this is hard running but not all-out) on a moderately steep, runnable grade (~4-8% incline) with an easy jog downhill for recovery between reps. Note: Focus on effort, not pace, when running these repeats. Set a mark on the first repeat and aim to match or better it the rest of the workout. Also, pay attention to how you’re moving up the hill! Focus on maintaining good form from start to finish: upright posture, healthy tension in the core, slight forward lean, quick, powerful strides, knees driving and arms pumping.
Warmup/Cooldown: Warm up before the workout with 15-30 minutes of easy running. Cool down after the workout with 10-20 minutes of easy running.
Why: 1. This workout promotes and reinforces sound running mechanics. 2. It will improve your muscular strength, power, and endurance. 3. It helps to develop a solid foundation of fitness to layer the remainder of training cycle upon.
Where: A moderately steep hill that takes you ~60 seconds to run up at a hard effort will do the trick. Roads, dirt, or grass are all fine options. A treadmill works, too.
When: This is a great workout to do weekly early in a training cycle. I’ll often assign it once a week for 5 consecutive weeks and add 2 reps/week, starting with 8 in Week 1 and progressing to 16 reps in Week 5.