"Hills are speed work in disguise"
- Frank Shorter, Olympic Marathon Champion
There are many ways to use hills effectively in your training; from long uphill mountain runs, to rolling hills on your long runs, to hilly tempos, to hill repeats. Today I want to spotlight one hill workout that I find to be very effective for a wide variety of runners: 12 x 400 Meter Hill Repeats
I have found this workout works best if we find a moderate hill to do it on, one of roughly a 4% to 6% incline. Steep enough to get the strength work we want from the workout, but moderate enough to allow us to still run at a fairly quick pace. There are many on-line mapping tools you can use to help you identify the incline of a prospective hill, but the exact incline isn't paramount. Just make it a solid hill but nothing overly difficult, and if you want to change it up between a few different hills, that can be a great way to keep the workout fresh. We want the hill to be roughly 400 meters long (or longer if you note where the 400 meter point is) and be of as even an incline as possible (some moderate variation is fine). It may take some scouting around to find the best hill to use, but than can be fun and I have stumbled on to many new running loops in my hill searches over the years.
After a warm-up jog, run 12 repeats, at a moderately quick pace, up the hill with a slow jog back down for recovery. Then follow the workout with a easy cool-down jog to start the recovery process. The exact pace of the repeats will depend on the incline of the hill, but if you are able to stay in the 4% to 6% incline range your pace will likely be in the range of your short tempo run pace (lactate threshold pace) or slightly better. But don't worry too much about paces, instead focus on running the hill strong and maintaining good form and knee drive. The effort is the key determining factor of this workout not the paces.
You can easily do this workout on a treadmill as well, setting the incline at 5% for the 400 meters repeats and at 0% for the 400 meter jog recovery. Doing this on a treadmill has the added advantages of a consistent incline and not having the pounding of jogging down the hill on the recovery, making it somewhat easier on the joints.
As noted in the quote at the top of this blog, hill work has many of the same benefits of speed work. It builds leg strength, stride power and running economy, it can significantly stress your heart and circulatory system, and has a great mental callousing effect to hard difficult efforts.
2 time World Cross Country Champion Craig Virgin has told me that this hill workout (12 x 400 Hill repeats) was an instrumental part of his training for both his world cross country titles (1980 & 1981) as well as his 2nd place finish in the 1981 Boston Marathon, as it helped him develop the leg strength and toughness he needed.
How/When To Use It
Many coaches over the last century have used hill work as a regular part of their athlete's training programs. Some just in certain phases and some through-out the schedule. How you can best utilize this workout depends on many factors, but most everyone can benefit from having it in the program at some point.
It can also be a great option when you don't have access to a track or flat area for more traditional speed workouts. Simply find a moderate hill and boom, you are ready for a great workout.
Enjoy the change of pace and benefits this workout can provide.
Coach Mark Hadley