At Run Club last Monday, we faced the dreaded Hill Sprint session.
For me, hill has always meant hell. To be honest, although I’ve known for a long time that I should incorporate them into my training, I have avoided them like the plague.
Which is a bit tricky when whichever way I turn out of my house, it’s uphill. Hence I tend to drive to the lake or the beach for a relatively flat run and mentally tick off each tiny incline I know I’m going to encounter until I can say in my head ‘all downhill from here’.
They’re just so HARD!
Deep breaths. Time to embrace the Hill.
There are a few different ways to tackle hill sprints. On Monday we did some drills on flat road first to warm up our bodies and prepare our legs for what was to come. So hopping and pushing off, reverse lunging and pushing off, that kind of thing… Then after a few dynamic stretches and a pep talk from Stacey (Williams, our Running Coach), we were off.
We started at the top of the hill. Stacey had divided our hill into three sections (marked by lines in the road, but obviously, you may need to use other landmarks like trees or telegraph poles). We jogged down to the first line and sprinted up, straight away jogging down to the second line, sprinting up, then jogging down to the third line (the bottom of our hill) and sprinted up.
The last part of the final (longest) sprint, well all sorts of unpleasantries were going through my mind and a couple of expletives may have even been audible.
Stacey timed us, then dropped the ‘repeat but do it faster’ bombshell. Three times we did that. Heart rate was nearing ‘maximum working’ by the end. Phew!
After a short recovery/stretch, we went again, this time running all the way down to the bottom first and sprinting all the way up. Again, three times, trying to run each set faster. Stacey was helping to get us to free up our downhill run a bit, get a bit more loose. Tricky when you have bad knees, as you’re just so conscious of the pressure you’re applying going downhill more than up.
Funnily enough, doing hill sprints is actually supposed to be safer than going longer distances on flats, and can help injury-prone runners (like me!) by strengthening the right muscles. OK, so that’s a pretty good reason to keep going with hill sprints… now I’m interested.
Our final push on the hill was incorporating it into a slightly longer run that included a bit of flat running as an active recovery before repeating the lap. By the end of this, we were well and truly spent. Or so we thought, because Stacey had us doing a few more drills before the end of the session. And wow, what a session.
So what did we learn?
Well, first and foremost, after running hills, running on the flat will be easy peasy (I’m yet to test out this theory as I’m still recovering from Tuesday’s Tabata class!).
Also, Stacey’s right – the feeling you get when you make it to the top is such a massive sense of achievement and relief…. I think I could even hear ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on my life’s soundtrack at that point. I need to remember that feeling to give me the motivation I need to tackle the hill in the first place.
Plus running hills helps with all of your running – it doesn’t just build muscular strength. It improves your cardio fitness and endurance too. And helps you to increase the power in your stride.
And it’s a really good workout. You’re going against gravity, people, this is going to work up a sweat.
I’m totally sold on the need to include hills in my training regime, despite my ingrained fear of them.
How about you? Here are a few more tips to help you with your hills:
- Remember to warm up properly first with some dynamic stretches, maybe a couple of short flat sprints or a longer gentle jog
- Keep your chin and chest up, don’t look down, as tempting as it is
- Run on the balls of your feet, push up, stay there, don’t let your heel touch the ground until you’re back on the flat
- Take smaller strides, faster footsteps up the hill
- Work at your hardest rate sprinting up
- Loosen up and go slow on the jog down, recover ready for the next full-throttle up hill effort
- As you get more used to it, find new steeper hills
- Mix it up a bit; maybe start at the bottom and do intervals of sprinting and jogging up a long hill, or start at the bottom, sprint up and jog down
- If you’re just starting out, maybe 5 sets is all you can manage, but build it up over time
- Cool down at the end with a flat walk/gentle jog to bring the heart rate down before doing some final static stretching
Now, go find your hill and make it your own. Good luck.