Friday, October 15, 2010

5 Top tips and techniques for running hill repeats


This week I’ve changed the focus of my training to more strength related workouts. For the previous weeks, and indeed months, the core of the running I have done has been more slow and steady than anything else.


The results of this have been very pleasing, especially with regards to Cardio-Vascular fitness.  My heart rate is lower and recovery just great.  Where I have been failing is in strength, with legs getting pretty tired on the hilly trail runs.


So I have found a tough section of rocky, dusty, root and branch strewn track which is pretty steep, about 1km long, 100m vertical climb and conveniently 5kms from home (perfect for a warm up). I’ve done a couple of sessions this week (with another planned tomorrow) of 3 and 5 reps. These sorts of sessions really help you work on your strength and toughness, improve your running form and you get a lot of training benefit in a short period time.


I’ve come away with 5 things that have helped me get the most of the training session:


1 Thrust from your hips (!) – This applies to both the uphill and downhill legs, as it keeps your body upright and reduces the tendency to bend forward. Bending forward puts strain on your back, hamstrings and can cause your feet to lose traction, wheel spin if you will. By pushing from the hips you are ensuring that you engage your strong running muscles, your glutes, quadriceps and calves. So you will strengthen all the right muscles to improve and maintain good running form, and ultimately reduce your susceptibility to running injuries.


2 Run Smooth – this is a good general tip, but when running hill repeats pay special attention on the downhill legs. I like to visualise running on a silk carpet and try to land and lift my feet softly. This usually means keeps knees bent and feet/ankles relaxed on contact with the ground. You are trying to avoid the heavy foot fall associated with downhill running, and using your knee cartilage as a shock absorber – a sure fire way to a short running career.


3 Balance – carry your arms out to the side to assist with balance. The steeper the hill (or faster you’re running) the wider you hold your arms. On the really steep sections go all out and aim for the “kid being an aeroplane” style. This is purely for safety and can help recover a stumble before it becomes a fall (and potential tear, blood, break, enforced rest from training, DNF).


4 Have a squat at the top – I’ve found that at the top of a long tough hill my legs feel shot and my stride length is hardly measurable. To remedy this I squat down for about 5 breaths, sitting on my heels. It stretches the big muscles out and I can almost feel the lactic acid being squeezed out of my thighs. I can then stand up and jog comfortably back down for another repeat. Not sure if this is purely psychological, but it seems to work.


5 Don’t take no for an answer! – The toughest part of hill sessions for me is that point when you go around a bend and you see that you’re still not even half way up. At that realisation my legs feel like they are suddenly drained of all their strength and all I have going through my head are words like “tired”, “stop”, “walk”, “weak” and “rest”. I mentally took a step back from this half way up one set and thought why is it that I can feel relatively ok at one point and then without any reason feel so bad – the rational answer must be that it is in your head. When you acknowledge that the fatigue returns to the levels before you considered the workload ahead.


It’s the same reason why you feel like you could do 10 more sets when trotting back to the start, but can’t work out how you will complete just one set on the way up. So tough it out through those hard sets, and remember it is only when you are out of your comfort zone that you are training your body for the challenges an ultra poses.


Happy Running


Andy


“You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone” – Percy Cerutty


Training 12-10-2010 (16.9km Hill session on trails)
Training 14-10-2010 (21.1km Hill session on trails)