How to run a hill session

Just about every endurance athlete will have a hill session as part of their regular training program and these sessions are likely to vary from one runner to the next. So I thought I would just let you know how I like to construct a hill session.

A lot of coaching magazines or websites talk about doing a Kenyan Hill session, this is where you run the hill session at a continuous pace.  Therefore if it takes you 1 minute to run up the hill then it should take you 1 minute to run back down. Kenyan Hill sessions are nothing new, we were dong them back in the 70’s and 80’s, we just called it ‘a Hill Session’. Personally I think this is the best way to tackle hill sessions.

The Hill

I don’t like the hill to be too long or too steep. The great Frank Shorter once said “Hill running is just speed work in disguise”.  An athlete should be running quick and powerfully up the hill, therefore use a hill with a gradient between 5-8%, which will take you 2 minutes or less to ascend, preferably one which flattens out at the top for about 30-40 metres. Having the hill flatten out at the top allows you to power up the hill, run strong over the top and get back into your normal running stride much like you would want to do in a race.  If you can run the hill on grass, rather than the road, then that would be my choice.

The Technique

You should be running on the balls of your feet, powering the knees up and forward. Don’t stare down at the ground. Resist the temptation to lean too far forward or hunch your shoulders. Keep your head up and look in front of you. You should power the arms back from the elbow, the arm movement should be more pronounced during a hill session, this will help to generate power. As you run over the top of the hill, your posture becomes more upright and you quickly return to your normal running style and your arm movement will become less pronounced for greater running efficiency as you reach the flat.

The Session

For the novice runner I would start with a weekly session of 8×1 minute hills with the recovery being the 1 minute it takes you to run back down to the same starting point. Use a hill of about 5-6% gradient. Try to run every hill at the same pace, with the aim being that you are running at your limit for the last hill, but it’s no faster or slower than your first. Don’t forget to do a proper warm up and cool down as part of this session. After 3-4 weeks you can increase the number of hill repeats to 10, and in another few weeks increase the length of each hill repetition by 15 seconds.

For the experienced athlete the hill gradient can be increased to 6-8% along with the number of repetitions and length of effort. However, I would recommend that the total amount of time running up the hill is in the region of 15-20 minutes.

Happy hill running everybody.

Quote of the week

“Learn to run when feeling the pain: then push harder.” William Sigei – Twice winner of the World Cross Country Championships (1993 and 1994) and former world record holder of the 10,000m (26:52.23)

Quote of the week

Sometimes I run and I don’t even feel the effort of running. I don’t even feel the ground. I’m just drifting. Incredible feeling. All the agony and frustration, they’re all justified by one moment like that” Steve Ovett – 1980 Olympic Gold medallist and former world record holder at 1500m, 1 mile and 2 miles. 

Quote of the week

“Even when you have gone as far as you can, and everything hurts, and you are staring at the spectre of self-doubt, you can find a bit more strength deep inside you, if you look closely enough.” Hal Higden – American writer and runner, contributor to Runners World magazine for longer than any other writer.