Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hill Repeats

Yesterday I started hill repeats as I get ready for the Leadville Trail 100 (and the Jemez 50-Mile on 5/21). Hill repeats will be a part of my weekly training program (as will tempo runs and track workouts) for the next four months. The last time I had a serious commitment to hill repeats was going into my win at the Mohican Trail 100 in 2009. Focused like a laser beam, I was out there every Tuesday morning hammering up the boulevard into Chagrin Falls, and then jogging back down for another repeat, followed by another and another....

Hill repeats at over 6,000 feet, like I'm doing now, are a different ballgame than sea level repeats. Right now I'm starting rather conservatively and will add more intervals on every week, and perhaps extend the distance a bit, too.

Runners respond to certain elements of training differently. For me, hill repeats build strength and speed for late in the race, and obviously make me stronger on the climbs. I remember two things about Mohican in 2009 that have always stuck in my head as far as the value of hill repeats:

1) I did a seriously challenging 13-mile hill run--at about 6:30-6:45/mile pace--in South Chagrin Reservation a few weeks before Mohican and just flew up and back down the dirt trail hills, never weakening and just basically feeling stronger with every step. I remember thinking to myself as I effortlessly cruised up and back down the constant hills in South Chagrin (and if you've run in South Chagrin, you know what I mean), "Wow, I'm in really good shape." To this day, that was one of the best confidence-building workouts I've ever had. A few weeks later I was the first to break the tape.

2) Late in the race at Mohican, I felt strong as an ox and was cruising up all the hills to the horror of my pacers who feared I'd eventually bonk. But I never did! When I came into the 80-mile aid station and someone told me the leader wasn't too far in front of me, I knew I'd reel him in because I was feeling so strong....and sure enough I did. I credit hill repeats for making me so strong late in the game.

I think my commitment to hill repeats at that time really made the difference. And it's clear to me that hill repeats were a huge missing component of my Leadville 100 training last year. My hope is that hill repeats will help me achieve my goal of a sub-20-hour finish at the 2011 LT100.

If you're interested in starting hill repeats, here are a few suggestions:
  • I like a hill that's not too steep but is steep enough to give you a good workout. I like to shoot for a distance of 1/4-1/3 mile but occasionally I'll extend the distance. If the hill is longer than the interval distance you're running, no worries--just run a section of it; that's what I do!
  • I like to do an easy warm-up of 3-4 miles beforehand. What I do is just run to the hill and then begin my workout (and then run back home).
  • Back in Ohio, I was able to cruise up Chagrin Boulevard at about 6:00 pace, which isn't far off from my 10K race pace. Here in Parker, Colorado, right now I'm at about 6:15 pace, and I'm sure I'll see improvement with time and sustained commitment.
  • Be in control. Focus on proper form and arm movement. Don't look at where you need to go because that might discourage you; take it one step at a time.
  • Jog back down for your next repeat. There is no need to hammer it back down the hill or else you risk injury. Also, if you need to take a quick breather once at the top, go for it.
  • How many? This week I started rather conservatively with *only* 4 hill repeats but I plan to build up to several more over the next four months, potentially getting in 10-15 repeats in the late stages of my LT100 training (in addition to lots of mountain trail running, which works the quads nicely). Whatever you do, don't overdo it in the first few weeks. You want to gradually build so that you peak at just the right time.
  • Hill repeats will tax your hamstrings (making them stronger). Keep them loose, being sure to stretch afterward. I love yoga for stretching and usually do my yoga stretches about every other night and always after a tough workout. I'm a huge believer in yoga. Also, go easy the day after a hill workout. The next day is not a day for going super long or super fast; it's an easy day.
Good luck!

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