Hill Work for Race Training

A few weeks ago I posted about speed work during half marathon training in a collaboration with Race 13.1 series.  Today I thought I’d touch base on my hill work.

I love this quote from Runner’s World about the importance of adding hills to your training:

A weight lifter looking to improve his maximum bench press doesn’t add lighter-weight reps to his workout. He doesn’t do his reps more quickly. Instead, he increases the weight on the bar, thereby increasing the force required to complete his reps.

It’s the same with running. If we want to get stronger and faster, we must increase the force requirements of our workout. Tempo runs, time trials and fast reps on the track are good, but they don’t generate maximum force. Hills do.  SOURCE

I have found a new website I’m obsessing over through Runner’s World called Sweat Science.

 This guy has his ear to all the latest studies on running and puts them in everyday terms.  I searched through his site to give you some hill stats on recent studies:

After an uphill, it took an average of 78 seconds on level ground before runners resumed their normal speeds. After a downhill, runners maintained higher speeds for an average of 23 seconds.

Another study showed that participants ran 23% slower on uphills, but only 13.8% faster on downhills, telling us that we do not make up for running faster downhill.  SOURCE

What should hill workouts look like?

Running hills calls on all types of muscle fibers, slow, intermediate and fast- ones that take long to fatigue and the powerful ones that, unfortunately, don’t last long.

My suggestions:

1. A long hill run (just like a long run).  Start with adding a half-mile of moderately steep hill into your long run every other week with a comfortably aerobic effort level.  Running harder uphill will only hurt you!  Eventually, you can work on 2-3 mile upgrades.  Sounds fun huh!?

This will work those slow-twitch muscles.

2.  Hill Repeats.  Try a handful of repeats going uphill moderately for 30 seconds at first (maybe 8-10 reps) with a 2-3 minute recovery.  Then, work your way up to 60 second and 90 second hills, gradually adding more reps.

This will work your intermediate-twitch muscle fibers.

3.  Steep, quick climbs.  Try 4-5 reps of your steepest hill climb for 5-10 seconds with the same recovery time as above.  Work your way up to 8-12 reps (according to Runner’s World).

Guess what?  This will work those fast twitch muscles!


You hit them all.

It’s also important to work on strides… that downhill form.  Nothing hurts more than bad form on tired legs spiraling out of downhill control!

I am primarily a treadmill runner, so how do I do these workouts?  Here are my two favorites (ok not favorites, I hate climbing hills)


1.  1 mile flat warm-up.  Then, 1/2 mile repeats at marathon pace (slow) on a 5-6% incline, followed by 1/2 mile flat at half marathon pace (faster).  Repeat for the remaining miles, followed by a 1-mile cool down.

2.  Warm up and cool down the same, but 1/4 mile at 7-8% incline at marathon pace (slow) with a 1/2 mile at 0% incline and half marathon pace.

If you are a treadmill lover as well, check out this article.

Here are some tips from Runner’s World experts



How do you incorporate hills into your training?


4 thoughts on “Hill Work for Race Training

  1. vitatrain4life says:

    I love the hills. I love that image and I want it on a t-shirt! I’m also loving this science guy and already checked out his page. The way I see it, hills are necessary to any training program. I’m lucky to be surrounded by them but they absolutely improve my overall running fitness and economy…and I love passing people on the hills in a race!

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