So you signed up for a race that you know is going to have a few climbs, and you’ve been dutifully completing your hill repeats week after week in preparation. Race day arrives, and despite your best efforts to be ready, you struggle to make it through the challenging course. What gives? Hill repeats provide a lot of benefits, but if all of your other runs and workouts are done on flat ground, you may not be adequately preparing for a race situation. By incorporating hills into longer, sustained efforts, you’ll be prepared mentally and physically to handle a more technical, hilly course.
Hill repeats vs. hilly runs
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do hill repeats at all. Shorter, harder sprints on hills can help you get stronger and more powerful while also improving your running form, which will ultimately make you faster, even when running on flat ground. The only problem with hill repeats is that most of us tend to stop as soon as we get to the top. This doesn’t quite match with a race situation when you have to crest the hill and then keep running, which is why some runners struggle to translate their hill training into results.
Luckily, there is an easy way to overcome this by doing some of your easy runs on a route that features some hills. This will help you to get used to the mental and physical challenge of tackling hills in the middle of a run, and teach you how to pace yourself properly over the course of the run in order to account for the increased effort required to get up a hill. It’s also excellent practice for running through a hill instead of stopping when you get to the top.
Unlike hill repeats when you’re focused on running fast, when you get to a hill in the middle of your run you should instead focus on maintaining a steady effort. Your pace will slow down, but that is to be expected, and you’ll gain back that time on the downhill. Many runners also make the mistake of slowing down when they get to the top of a hill, so as the ground begins to level off again, do your best to maintain a steady effort here, too.
What if I live in a flat area?
If you live in a relatively flat area that doesn’t offer a lot of options for a hilly running route, there are still ways you can train hills to better prepare you for race day. One of these ways is to extend the length of your hill repeats to include a stretch at the top of the hill, so instead of stopping as soon as you get to the top, continue running for another 20 or 30 metres on flat ground. This will teach you how to run through hills and how to control your heart rate at the top of a hill while you’re still running.
Another alternative way to train hills is to tack on some intervals or tempo work at the end of your hill repeats. For example, do six to eight hill repeats followed by 10 to 15 minutes of running on flat ground at race pace. This will help you practice running fast even after your legs are tired from tackling hills.
Hill running is challenging, but just like with anything, the more you practice them the better you’ll get. By incorporating hills into your easy runs, you’ll get used to dealing with undulating terrain, and be more mentally equipped to handle a hilly course on race day.