Hill training


Hill training for runners is a great way to build strength and endurance.

Many runners will ignore running hills because it just seems too hard and they believe it has little value in the big scheme of things as far as their training goes.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I was guilty of ignoring this method of training for many years myself, but once I incorporated it into my regular training schedule for several months I became a fitter and stronger runner.


One thing I soon found out about running hills is that it’s a very important aspect of marathon and Ironman Triathlon training.

One Spring after reading an article on hill training I decided to incorporate “up” and “downhill” repeats as part of my training leading up to a marathon that was about 4 months away.

For ten weeks I tackled a large hill near my home once a week and worked my way up to 10 repeats. I concentrated on maintaining speed and building strength on the uphills and economical form and balance on the downhills.


I credit my personal best marathon and Ironman Triathlon results that season in large part to my solitary runs up and down that hill.

hill training

Great form! Lean slightly forward on the uphills.

Many great marathons have been decided on the hills and we can take a lesson from some of the best runners in the world.

Few people realize that the winner of the Boston Marathon is not really determined on Heartbreak Hill, but rather in the miles of downhill proceeding it.


Runners who can handle the Boston downhills with economy and speed will almost always catch the runners in front of them who have trashed their quads on the downhills and can’t maintain their pace on Heartbreak Hill.

Add to that the fact that Heartbreak Hill begins at the 20 mile mark where most runners run out of glycogen and hit the wall, and it’s easy to see why the more efficient downhill runners will more often than not conserve energy, maintain form, and wear the laurel wreath of victory.

So whatever you do, don’t be afraid to make downhill as well as uphill running part of your preparation for an upcoming endurance race.

I found the best time to begin a hill training program is when the your big event is about 13 or 14 weeks away. That allows 10 weeks to slowly build up your hill training and still have 4 weeks to taper into your event.


First of all, find the right hill. For this type of training a hill that is on the steeper side and not overly long is best.

I found a steep hill that can climbed in around 2 minutes and made sure it came with a flat stretch about 200 meters long once I crested the hill.

I decided I would do a 9-week hill training program and for those 9 weeks did hill training once a week.

I started with 2 hill repeats on the first session and every week I added one. So on the final week of hill repeats I did 10 of them.

I tried to run each hill repeat at the same strong, steady speed.

I had a starting point at the bottom of the hill and a finishing point 200 meters beyond the crest of the hill.

Once I crested the hill, I pushed myself to keep on running and until I reached my finish marker 200 meters away. It can be a tree, a telephone pole or a house. In my case it was a fire hydrant that I sprinted toward.

Often I’ve been in marathons where runners will push to the top of a hill and then slow down big-time once they reach the top. I was training myself to keep on running once I reached the top and I believe this really helped my endurance.

sand hill training

Some runners hill train in the sand to increase the degree of difficulty.

I never stopped running for the duration of the hill session. Once I reached the end of the repeat 200 meters past the top of the hill, I turned around and slowly began to run back toward the crest of the hill. The slow run downhill back to the starting point was the recovery phase.

On the downhill I really concentrated on maintaining good energy-saving form and avoiding the braking action that most of us runners seem to be guilty of when we run downhill. When I reached my starting point again I started my timer again and did another repeat.

It’s best if you have an easy 15 or 20 minute run before and after your hill session. One is for a warm-up and one is for recovery.

It’s best to have an easy day before your hill training day and a full rest day after. For a triathlete that easy day might mean a fairly short swim and for a marathoner perhaps an easy 30-45 minute run.

As I have often said, I am not a coach. This is just a hill workout that really worked well for me and I’m passing it on to you to try if you like.

You can always modify your hill workout to suit you any way you like.

You could always start out with two repeats in the first week and increase it by one every week until you reach four or five repeats in one session and just stay at four of five instead of continuing to increase the amount by one repeat per session.

I’m certain that whatever time you commit to running hill repeats will pay dividends.

However, I feel there are three very important points to keep in mind.

-Once you crest the hill continue running at a steady pace for 200 meters or so before turning to run the down the hill and back to your starting point.

-Strive for proper form on the downhill as well as the uphill.

-Stay in constant motion for the duration of the hill repeats and make a slow, steady downhill return trip your recovery before the next hill repeat. I believe by doing this, you can improve both your strength and endurance during the hill session.

When race day arrived and I came to a hill I could at least tackle it with confidence knowing I had done everything I could in my training to prepare.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that I was able to keep better control of my heart-rate going up the hill instead of having it spike with the extra effort.

This in turn helped to conserve energy that is often lost pretty rapidly whenever heart-rate skyrockets.


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