Tag Archives: hills

Wimborne 20 and the benefits of hills

20 miles – I don’t think I’ve actually ran past this distance since completing the Rome Marathon back in 2012. Edinburgh Marathon I started walking about Mile 19, London Marathon last year everything started to go pants at Mile 20.

Find a hill, some steps, a steep road - anything to make a session harder!

Find a hill, some steps, a steep road – anything to make a session harder!

I’m a paradox, a marathon runner who hasn’t been able to run a marathon for several years. If anyone asked me what type of runner I am I would say long-distance. Then I feel like I’m cheating as I’ve not been able to do this recently. Who the hell am I?

All of us, every single last one, juggle many things and struggle in our marathon journeys with different issues… nutrition, cramps (anywhere, stomach, legs, back – brain!) time to train, weather, the ‘I’ word (I’m not saying it), new and unexpected niggles, rising physio costs. It’s not one thing that can go wrong; it is, of course, many. But, sometimes everything can go right, and if this doesn’t happen so be it. You have to come back another day to fight again. And try not to cry about it at the time. Cake and wine are good at soothing a disappointed marathon soul.

Doing a hilly 20-miler has got to be one of the best long runs you can plan into your marathon schedule. Why?

Let’s talk about hills…

There is no better way to build your leg strength than running hills – it’s that simple.

Team running with ladies who love hills

Team running with ladies who love hills

Doing a long tempo run, or race, on rolling hills, will increase strength AND running efficiency. The ultimate aim, whether it’s a 5, 10 or 20 mile outing, is to finish faster than your average pace. You don’t want to start these runs fast, then slow down. Your aim is to start steady and slowly build the pace.

This gives you plenty of chances during a training cycle to work on pace awareness. Being able to run the second part of your run/race faster than the first (a negative split) teaches you to start steady and finish strong. You’ll reap massive improvements in fitness, and also feel mentally strong if you can run long this way. Your heart will also become more efficient as it increases the amount of blood it can pump with each stroke (especially during short hill repeats).

The finish of Wimborne. this bit was downhill

The finish of Wimborne. this bit was downhill

You think hill running is all about going up? Nope. If you focus on correct form on the downhills,  you can prevent muscle damage and also make up valuable time (think relaxed form, slightly forward lean). Your quadriceps will become stronger and you’ll achieve better knee lift.

If your next marathon includes rolling hills, training on rolling hills will mimic the race, and allow you to practise improving your form over long distances as well as maintaining pace up and over the hills. The best way to approach a hill in a race is to maintain the same effort as you go up and down. Get this right in training and you’ll save yourself wasting energy come race day.

At the weekend I was booked into a hilly 20-miler, and expected to not make the distance, thinking that either my hip would make me shuffle in, or a foot injury from my last marathon cycle would get me. And for the last 3 miles of my 19-mile run a couple of weeks before I was moaning like a lonely elephant seal looking for its mate.

Looking for hills on the beach

Looking for hills on the beach

I kept telling my running buddies Mel and Paula that I would be shuffling in the last few miles, would never be able to keep up on the last few hills and they were to power on (there’s some hills in their legs and no one is stopping them on their road to Brighton Marathon).

A three lap course can be so demoralizing but I really enjoyed it, well, I say that, I didn’t actually *like* the hills third time round but I found the laps and miles, and hours, passed quickly. Really friendly and supportive marshals helped, as well as running in a team. It brings you outside of yourself and I’ve got into a really bad habit of running inside my limits, fearful of body breakdown if I don’t. I turned into a running wuss a while back.

I asked the horse if he liked hills, too

I asked the horse if he liked hills, too. He was undecided

What is it about female runners and self-doubt? You think you’ll never make it round while at the same time telling everyone else they are going to be awesome! Having someone beside you lovingly say ‘Shut up and get on with it’ is a great motivator.

There I was, beaming at the end thinking: what’s going on with my body? I felt OK during. I felt OK after. I went to my friend Sarah’s Back on Track group the day after. My legs felt OK. No aches, no limp, no dread, no resignation (though my stomach is feeling a bit sensitive). What’s happening? This isn’t the body I’ve been struggling with for years. A big part is a very good physio, so skilled at his trade that I always want to vomit when I see him. Yes Andy, that’s you. I’m also convinced that just by luck I’ve come across some incredible trainers that feel like they were made for me.

Getting ready for hills in Portsmouth this week and it was still daylight. Just

Getting ready for hills in Portsmouth this week. I was so excited that it was still daylight. Just

My adidas Ultra Boost X have been amazing to run in these last few weeks, especially for the ends of my toes that normally are rubbed raw from pushing up against my shoes during longer runs. The tight knit of the upper means my whole foot can move forward each time I strike the ground but without pushing against a dense surface. After 20 miles I had no issues with my feet. This is unheard of!

I’m still in shock I ran the whole 20, I was so mentally prepared not to and how that would be completely fine. Although, after some hills yesterday I have a niggle in my right ankle. Bum. I’m trying to ignore it while I ice it. Being a bit of a psycho-competitive-with-myself type I’m now hyper about how far I may be able to go without stopping, and will I be able to actually run a whole marathon again? This is exciting beyond belief. I even want to go out and try one this weekend, just to see. (No, I’m not going to…)

Looking for hills in Whiteley

Looking for hills in Whiteley. Goddamnit, where are they?

* If you’re hill training make sure you allow your muscles to recover adequately after your session or race; just as hills force our muscles to work harder, they will then need an increase in recovery time. Be kind to yourself.

QUESTION: Do you LOVE hills as much as me? Maybe we could start our own Let’s Love Hills group?

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Spice up your spring training with some new sessions

Running is just as intellectual as it is physical. How can you keep your motivation up if you’re doing the same old warm-ups, sessions and races? It’s very hard. Adding variety into your training is essential – to push your body and your mind. It will keep you tuned up and ‘fresh’.

I asked some coaches for their favourite sessions, and have added in one of my own. Hopefully trying out something new, and different (and hard!) will see your spring running soar!

TRY ME:  Acceleration run
“This is one of my all time favourite sessions,” says Andy Blow, international level triathlete and founder of Precision Hydration (precisionhydration.com). “Basically you start at a jogging pace to warm up and either each mile or each kilometre you lift the pace in a linear way to a degree that means by the end of the session the final mile or kilometre is run at a hard effort (usually between 5K or 10K race pace).

On my way out I always ask Rosalind what she thinks of my sessions - she's useless at feedback

On my way out I always ask Rosalind what she thinks of my sessions – she needs to work on her feedback

“You need either a measured loop, or a GPS watch, to give you real time access to your splits to make it measurable and repeatable. The session can be anywhere from three to six/seven miles long, depending on your fitness level and training goal. I used to start at three miles in the late winter and build up to six over a period of about two months to allow for some progression in the level of endurance required. The differential in pace from mile (or KM) to mile depends on how long or short the run is and it really does require (and therefore train) good pace judgement to get it right.

Why do it?
“It also teaches you the value of starting relatively conservatively in races and picking up the pace as you go, as this is opposite to what seems to come naturally to most people. It’s a tough session but also very rewarding when you get it right and manage to hit your splits as intended and see each one being ticked off faster than the last.”

TRY ME: Short sets of speed
“Planning to do a parkrun? Have a 5K coming up? This is a tried and tested session that I think will be great for you,” says James Thie, performance director of athletics at Cardiff Metropolitan University (@TeamThie). “Aim to do the session on the Tuesday before a Saturday event (or equivalent number of days before). You can use a road or a good trail surface, a measured loop or go out and back.

“The breakdown is 5 to 6 x 1km with a light recovery jog between. Recovery will range on ability (e.g. 2min rest for 15min goal time, 2.5min/17:30, 3min/20min, 4min/25min). The recovery should be slightly shorter than the time you run, which is based on your current and goal pace.”

Find a hill, some steps, a steep road - anything to make a session harder!

Find a hill, some steps, a steep road – anything to make a session harder!

When you are more confident, you can increase your speed, says James, with something around five seconds per kilometre faster than goal pace being optimum. “The key is to think about the rhythm, feel and pace,” he adds. “Keep your full exertion for the coming weekend effort. It should be comfortably hard…but don’t leave all your best running out there in training! Then, run easier into the weekend; your legs, mind and body will be ready to roll at the event. Remember, be realistic with your current fitness. Training should be specific to what you are trying to achieve.”

TRY ME: Fartlek fun
“Fartlek in a local woodland park, which has a hilly loop of about 1350m, is at the top of my list,” says Olympian and Level 3 performance coach Penny Forse. “There is a 200m gradual hill, a 100m steep hill and a flat path for sprinting. After the warm up I ask my group to do four, five or six continuous loops followed by a cool down.

“The warm up includes the loop and I explain the paces at various points plus some technical aspects of hill running. One loop is roughly 200m steady, 200m fast uphill, 150 steady down, 100m sprint, 100m steady, 100m fast uphill, 150m recovery jog and 350m steady slightly downhill.

Even a tiny hill, run in a continuous fast loop, can dramatically influence your fitness

Even a tiny hill, run in a continuous fast loop, can dramatically influence your fitness

“I stress the change of pace they should run, otherwise the session can become just another steady run. If fatigue sets in slow the ‘steady’ efforts in order to maintain quality. The venue is popular with us all as it is attractive, the terrain is varied, it is away from traffic and the paths are a mixture of earth and gravel, so it’s low impact on the joints. This session works on endurance, strength and speed and is ideal preparation for cross-country races.”

TRY ME: Teamwork
“Work in teams of three, A, B and C,” says Steve Nolan, a coach leader at Fitmums & Friends (fitmums.org.uk) and international tutor for UK Athletics. “A runs round an oval of about 400m. When A gets back to the start B runs with them and ‘pushes’ A to run harder. When they get back again, A drops out and C ‘pushes’ B. Next round A ‘pushes’ C and so on. The number of reps depends on the fitness of the participants and the focus is on running faster than ‘normal’, not a steady jog.

“The frequency and intensity can be varied by changing the size of the oval, or by including more in the team. It’s important that the runners are of similar ability otherwise this session won’t work. When the runner is doing the ‘pushing’ they should not run away from the other runner.

Running with friends makes you run outside of yourself

Running with friends makes you run outside of yourself

Why do it?
It’s fun to run in teams as so much running is done on our own. It encourages runners to go out of their comfort zone and really push themselves. The focus of ‘just’ running around the oval is taken away as you are listening to someone else.”

Try me: It’s a hill, get over it!
Sarah Gardiner is the resident coach at Back on Track Runners, based at Hilsea Lido in Portsmouth. “I love leading my group in a hill session. The hill we use has three distinct parts to it, with linking roads and different gradients. After a dynamic warm up we do an easy run to the hill (1K) and then some drills on the slight incline focusing on triple extensions, ‘bouncy’ drive with knee lifts, foot flexion and arm drive.

“I follow this with a time trial hill climb (1K from bottom to top), times are recorded to monitor progress and then we do an easy jog back to the second section of the hill. We then do 2-3 hill repeats, with a climb of 300m, followed by a slow jog back to recover. You can add team efforts as a relay on this section, or run the hill in reverse (using the linking roads) or do another 1-2 intervals on an easier gradient.

My fav hill, Butser, along the South Downs Way. Him and I have history

My fav hill, Butser, along the South Downs Way. We have history

“Finally we take a slow run back. The session is 7K and takes an hour. Options are always available to do different reps, change directions, focus on key technique points, do shorter efforts and work on anaerobic fitness. Hills are great training for all abilities, they develop strength in key muscles such as glutes, quadriceps and calves. Very few people enjoy them but the payoff soon shows!”

TRY ME: Tough it out on the track
“My absolute favourite session is a tough track 300m repeat session, done in pairs,” says Peg Wiseman, co-organiser of the Women Can Marathon (womencan.co.uk). “I match my athletes for ability. Both start on the start line, one running anti clockwise at a good pace (mile pace) whilst the other jogs 100m clockwise slowly in the outside lane aiming to arrive at the top of the home straight at exactly the same time as their partner. Runner two now turns and runs at mile pace for 300m whilst runner one recovers by jogging back 100m.

“They continue until they are no longer able to hit their first 300m time, when they then take a full lap recovery before setting off again. The full session would be 12 repetitions. The key is to get the right pace and recovery, so the time stays consistent.

Why do any of these sessions? The cake after, of course

Why do any of these sessions? The cake after, of course

The recovery starts off feeling easy but the pressure soon mounts and a quality lactic/aerobic session also aids pace judgement.

The pairs element adds fun and focus. It’s suitable for all abilities and if you have an odd number just partner up two number ones.”

TRY ME: Shingle and steps
Obviously not everyone lives by the beach – maybe you can find a local track or trail. Ideally you want some steps or a hill – it doesn’t matter how small the incline is, even a tiny hill, run in fast repeats, counts. On my Friday morning we start a figure of eight loop – along the shingle (great for core and proprioception, tough on your legs though) then up some local steps, recover on the road at the top, head back down to the beach for another shingle stint that leads back to the steps, then up again to recover on the road in the opposite direction at the top. This is not an easy session but it works your whole body. Find a similar path or track with an incline in the middle then loop round it – try to push up the steps/hill to the top, recovering once you’ve made it. Don’t give up and aim to do a 20-25minute block of effort  in your loops around your steps/hill/incline.

Me running backwards down Butser. Why? I have no idea

QUESTION: What your fav session?

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