I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!
Mention hills to some runners and their response will be "Ugh!" That certainly used to be how I felt. They're hard work, they slow you down, and if they're steep, they're even a pain to come back down. Everyone loves an anecdote so I'm going share one of my own.
A few years ago I was running the Henley half marathon. It was only my second half and at about 10 miles there was a relatively short but fairly steep hill to go up. I was beginning to tire and was angry about this. So when the hill arrived I charged up it as fast as I could, bounding with huge strides and overtaking people in the process. The problem was that by the time I reached the top and started to come down the other side I was in such oxygen debt that everyone I'd just passed went by me like I was standing still.
The correct way to approach running hills is summed up perfectly by marathon guru Hal Higdon.
Here's what I did:
- I did not enjoy the hill.
- I did not look up.
- I did shift gears - but I increased my stride length.
- I did push - I increased my pace.
- I did not run over the top. I staggered.
A full house of wrongness, right there.
Since then, I've changed both my technique and mindset for hills. Short, choppy strides, head up, pumping the arms. Embrace the challenge, because hills make you stronger. They are, as the old saying goes, speedwork in disguise. But they use different muscles, which rests your usual running muscles and recruits and tests new ones.
Doing hills regularly also give you a psychological advantage. If you've never run up a hill and one turns up in a race, it can be a bit scary. If you've done hill sessions as part of your training, there's nothing to fear. You've done it before and you will do it again.
Running downhill is another skill that can be learnt. Unless you're taking part in a hilly trail race though, it's unlikely you'll be doing a lot of downhill running so many will use the down part of their hill session as part of the recovery. If you do want to run down, focus on landing lightly and leaning forward slightly - both of these approaches will reduce trashed quads and sore shins, either later in the race or in the following days.
Some people have hills and mountains on their doorstep and as strange as it may sound, I'm quite jealous of them. Do all your running on these and on flat ground your PBs will start tumbling. But even if you're a city dwelling Londonite like myself, you can usually find something approaching a hill not too far away where you can do some reps. If there really aren't any, treadmills can be used for an uphill session or multi-storey car parks have nice wide ramps for an impromptu run after hours.
Hills are your friends. Get in one good session a week and they'll give a lot back to you. You may not ever fall in love with them but you will see the benefits and appreciate that they're good for you.