Hill Repeats. Bring it on.

Posted: August 14, 2010 in Training
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Last month I came clean with my feelings about my performance at Boston in April. 

Yes, it was a tremendous experience.  Yes, it was truly remarkable racing Boston as 5 years ago the chance that I would have qualified for the Boston Marathon was about on par with our dog Kayla winning the Westminster Dog show. 

When is this baby getting here?

Actually, Kayla probably had better odds than I did. 

But those 107 seconds that kept me from re-qualifying for this year’s Boston Marathon in last year’s race have really “stuck in my craw” as we say down here in Texas. 

If you asked me what was more satisfying, qualifying for Boston or running Boston – I would have to answer qualifying without question.  The fact remains that I simply did not run like I know I can at the 114th Boston Marathon.  The next time, things will be different.  I know I can do better. 

So in the months leading up to training for the Austin Marathon on February 20, 2011 – my next chance at a “Boston Time” – I decided that I was going to make some changes in my training. 

I feel like the traditional 18-week marathon training schedule is so “particular” and so focused on preparing you to run the 26.2 mile distance, that it does very little to help you truly “improve” as a runner. 

Those 18 weeks are about building endurance, stamina and mental toughness – all significant criteria when it comes to taking down lady marathon.  You of course will get stronger over that period of time if you stick to the program and complete the training plan. 

In my opinion however, very little is done to make you “faster” or “more hill ready”.  I feel as if those marathon training programs only took the runner I already was on the first day of marathon training and prepared him for race day. 

I do not think that I was necessarily a “better runner” at the end of the training cycle.  I was just a “better conditioned runner”

With June, July, August and September to train before Marathon training kicked off on October 18th, I was bound and determined to become a “better overall runner” – and the two things I needed to focus on was speed and hill work. 

Speed would be addressed by Tempo Runs every Tuesday, running 6-7 miles at sub 7:00 minute/mile pace in the TX heat and by racing 5K and 10K races at least 3 times a month.  Running at that threshold pace with great frequency proved to be very beneficial as my 5K PR dropped from 19:43 in 2009 to 18:12 in 2010.  

Racing at sub 6:00 minute/mile pace seemed outrageous to me just 12 months ago.  Now I find myself wondering if I can break the 18:00 minute 5K barrier when the temperatures cool later this Fall. 

As August began it became time to focus on hill-work.  I thought I had prepared for the hills at Boston last year, only to be sadly mistaken on Marathon morning.  My race was lost on the Newton Hills and I have no intention of letting a marathon course do that to me again. 

Many runners will tell you that they hate hill work.  I’ve never really fallen into that camp.  But given my choice, I would pick “flats” and “downs” over “ups” any day of the week.  

What I have come to realize over the last month however is how much hill-work can help the other areas of your running.  It is “resistance” training – seemingly without resistance. 

The concept of running hill repeats is quite straightforward: 

1.  Run a warm-up mile to mile and a half (about 10-12 minutes). 

2.  Run uphill at 5K effort (60-90 seconds faster than your avg. mile pace). 

3.  Jog back downhill at an easy pace (45-60 seconds slower than your avg. mile pace). 

4.  Repeat (beginners start with 4 repeats, experienced runners with 6). 

5.  When finished, run an easy recovery mile to cool down. 

6.  Add one repeat each week until you reach your target of 6-10. 

Now the length of the hill and the grade will have a significant impact on how many repeats you can do and how fast you will be able to run them. 

Focusing on “5K effort” is the key – as you will not be able to run your 5K pace uphill.  If you can, the hill is not steep enough. 

Headed Up

For me I was able to find a hill that is exactly 4/10 of a mile long and climbs 55 feet or about 5 ½ stories from the bottom to the top.  Just about perfect. 

The hill is .87 miles from my door, so I can simply take a longer route to the hill to get my warm-up in, and add a little “extra” at the end of my workout for a proper cool-down. 

I began this workout 14 weeks before the start of Austin Marathon training, which will allow me to take 6 weeks increasing my repeats from 5 all the way to 10 and another 6 weeks of running 10 repeats each Thursday – allowing for one week off when Landry arrives.   I’m betting I will have my hands full that week …. 

Over the first three weeks of the program not only are the repeats getting “easier”, keeping in mind everything is relative – they are still kicking my butt – but my times on each individual repeat are actually getting “faster”. 

The true irony is that I am starting to look forward to Hill Repeat Thursday on the training schedule. It is a run with a specific purpose, a specific approach and one that I know is helping me improve as a complete runner.  It will pay dividends from every race distance from 5 kilometers up to the marathon. 

So bring on the hills I say.  Let the rest of the runners keep to the “flats” and the “downs”.   

I’ll make sure to wave to you on the way by at Austin in February.  

Come race day, we’ll be ready.

  1. Jodi Higgins says:

    Did you just use the phrase looking forward to and hill repeats in the same sentence? You are my hero!! Great job. So, when I start training for my second attempt at Lady Marathon are you going to be my running coach?!? 🙂

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jodi! I know, I have clearly lost my mind. But I really am bouncing right out of bed on Thursdays to tackle those repeats.

      I would be/will be honored to serve as your running coach for that next marathon cycle Jodi. Anyone would love to coach you as I know you are going to go into that race with just enough desire to “kick assphalt” after Cleveland. You are going to crush it for sure. Best to you! J

  2. Jay says:

    Nice post. Do you run all the way to the dam? or stop at the rails? just curious since I run that same route about once a week.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jay! Thanks so much for the visit and the message. I run from the bottom where the gravel starts (and the cement ends at the bench) up to the top of the Dam where the hard right turn is. I turn around there right where it flattens out and the gravel driveway is to the left ….. then start my descent back down. Exactly 4/10 of a mile. Hope to see you out there sometime! Best, Joe

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jon Rust and Running Blogs, Joe Marruchella. Joe Marruchella said: Hi guys! We’re talking Hill Repeats on the blog today! http://wp.me/pHGel-AY thanks for the visit! […]

  4. onelittlejill says:

    The “hills” in NJ are quite pathetic…which leaves me with little opportunity for such workouts. So yeah, you can have my hills!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Jill – you really are in some “flat” territory where you are. You can always hit the beach for some training runs when you are “downtheshore” the next few weekends! Have a great vaca before school gets back in swing. Best, J

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