Spotlight workout: hilly long runs

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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I’m going to begin occasionally spotlighting some key workouts that I believe are important for running success. Given that this is HillRunner.com, it only seems appropriate that I start with something that focuses on hills.

The workout

This is quite simple. I hope you already have long runs in your schedule. Find some quality hills and take the long run to the hills. Keep the distance at what you wanted. Your pace will slow down some but, as I will mention below, you shouldn’t worry about that.

The benefits

I think we all know the benefits of the long run already. Building your cardiovascular system. Building mitochondria, the "power plants" of your muscles, where stored energy gets converted into usable energy. Building capillary beds that deliver oxygen carrying blood to your muscles. Building general stamina all around.

Likewise, I think the benefits of hill workouts are already well established. As Frank Shorter said long ago, hills are speedwork in disguise. They build your strength and, through that, speed.

Obviously, the hilly long run puts these two benefits together in one package. Double the benefit in a single run. Any time you can double up your benefits like this with no negatives, that sounds like a winning proposition.

How to run it

It’s pretty simple. Do you have a long run planned for this weekend? I hope you already do most weekends. Where can you find hills near your home? Don’t worry what the hills are like. Just take the best you can get and go that direction for your long run.

Don’t worry about pace. The great thing about hilly long runs is that you are combining two workouts that beg you not to worry about pace. For the long run, duration matters, not pace. When running hills, pace obviously takes a back seat to effort. Combine the two and you have the perfect reason to just run and focus on effort, not pace.

Where should the hills be placed? Wherever they fit. If you have a hilly race coming up, you may want to simulate the course if possible. For example, if you’re training for the Boston Marathon, you might want some early downhill stretches before some late run climbing, finishing with more downhill. More generally, though, it doesn’t matter. Just find the hills and run what is available. Depending on your location, this may mean long, grueling climbs or it may mean more rolling hills.

As you’re running, take some time at points to focus on form. Are you running tall with your hips forward regardless of grade? Don’t let your hips fall back on the uphills. Keep your hips as far forward as reasonable and let gravity help you on the downhills.

Photo credit: Mok Ying Ren by david albo, on Flickr

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