Head for the Hills

If you’re running the Auckland Marathon or half, right now you should be about to nail your longest run. But, at this time, it’s also helpful to include some hills in your training and here’s why …


Waiatarua Circuit – the start of the hills

Firstly, the Auckland Marathon takes in some significant undulations, not least the Harbour Bridge (rising about 40m in half a kilometre). You don’t want these blips on the race elevation profile to catch you by surprise and send you enter oxygen debt in a race that should be run well within your aerobic range.

Secondly, as a famous American marathoner once said, “Hills are speed work in disguise.” The action of driving off your toes up an incline, almost no matter what speed you’re running, simulates the extra force you need to apply to the ground when running faster. So including some hills in your plan now will (a) prepare you for the speed work you should do in the final weeks before race day, and (b) add a little sharpness to your legs in the meantime.

Hill Repeats

You can include hill work in your weekly mileage by actually getting out there to run hill repeats. Find a moderate incline anywhere between 100m and one kilometre to run repeated efforts (faster than jogging pace-about 5k intensity is ideal) up the hill with nice easy recovery jogs back down to the starting position. You might do five repeats of one minute in the first outing and then take it up to eight and then ten. Do this workout once per week at the most and be sure to stretch and then ice the calves after a warm down jog.

Great places to do these hill reps include basically any of Auckland’s volcanoes (Mt Eden, Cornwall Park, North Head, and Mt Wellington are perfect); the Domain (the track that runs up from Stanley Street to Domain Drive); and Brighton Road in Parnell.

Hilly Long Runs

An alternative or additional approach is to include some hills, run at your regular long run intensity, as part of your long training runs. This change in terrain can mix things up in the long sessions, get different muscle groups firing that otherwise don’t on the flat, and a hill or two can also take you to some beautiful scenery.

The undulations of the North Shore and eastern suburbs are great, as are the bush trails out west and in Totara Park (Botanic Gardens in Manukau). You can also simply add some hills to an otherwise flat run along Tamaki Drive by heading up into Parnell, Takaparawhau (Bastion Point), and Cliff Road at Saint Heliers Bay.

Arthur Lydiard’s 35km Waiatarua Loop is the classic example of how this type of hill running can benefit you. Each weekend Lydiard’s boys would leave his Sandringham home to journey into the hills out west. This course starts off flat but hits serious hills from 12k onwards, with a solid 4k climb in the middle of the run. You can easily shorten this course by parking closer to the Waiatarua hills. Check out the map for this run.

Hill Running Technique

When running uphill focus on overusing the arms, as this will encourage the legs to be stronger and faster. Shorten your stride slightly and take quicker steps so you’re not tempted to use an inefficient bounding motion. Keep your eyes on the summit of the hill and imagine a string tide to your waist pulling you there-this will help you to stay upright by pulling your hips forwards and up. Finally, run over the hill; don’t slow down at the top. Learn to let your competitors see you fly over and down the other side!

When running downhill stay relaxed and let gravity pull you along by leaning into the hill by bending at the ankles (not the waist). Reduce the impact on your legs by using a quick stride pattern and let your arms hang at your side like wings to provide balance.

Remember that hills can take a lot out of you. So don’t be staring at your GPS watch making sure you keep to your target pace. Accept that you will slow down and try to simply keep your subjective intensity levels constant both when racing and when out on a training run (this is where a heart rate monitor can be useful).

This article is an entry by Hayden Shearman on his training blog at Stuff.co.nz (published 9 October). 

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