Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Hill training for endurance running

Last part of Parliament Hill - killer!
Looks easy.......Isn't.

Another part of the marathon des sables training plan is to add in more hill training sessions.

I've been trying to do a few hill training sessions here and there, but only now have I set them in to the training plan to run them at least once a week specifically, and at least once a week minimum into a run too.

Why is hill training good for endurance running?
First and foremost, it adds strength to your legs. Running uphill targets quads, calves, hip flexors and calves. Running downhill (often neglected) targets hamstrings. So hill training is a great way to improve leg strength in a running specific way (as, in case you hadn't clicked, you are running as you are training!)

By improving strength, you are also improving your running economy (how efficient you are, and how well you use your oxygen when you run). Therefore, you should be getting faster, and crucially, increasing the resistance of your muscles to fatigue.

By running hills, you are effectively training your muscles to be able to run for longer before getting tired. And this is the key to endurance running - being able to long periods of time (fast if you are really good!) without getting tired.

More specifically why is hill training good for marathon des sables?
Marathon des sables has A LOT of hills, or more appropriately, sand dunes, which must be the big daddy of all hills, as they move under your feet. Tres difficile!

You're running marathon des sables? You are going to be running many sand dunes! You want to be okay running over sand dunes? You gotta practice running over sand dunes. Simples!

The other week I did my first hill training session on the treadmill. I set the machine to:-
3-5% incline
3 minutes at 10km pace
2 minute rest
Repeat 4x

This felt okay to me - a bit hard but doable. Maybe I wasn't challenging myself enough?

So last week I had a MONSTER session. I reckon even Rocky would have been proud (maybe).
5 minute warm up on stepper.
Not sweaty.
15 minutes on stepper at level 8/9 effort carrying 10kg weight in bag.
Very sweaty.
15 minutes targeted strength exercises - lunges onto balance ball, one legged squats, side lie glut med lifts.
A little sweaty.
15 minutes on treadmill. 10% incline. Run 3 minutes at 8.5kmh. Rest 1 minute. Repeat.
Overly sweaty.
10 minute stretching routine.
Glowing.

And feeling on top of the world.

Of course hill training is not only done in the gym. In fact, there are HUGE amounts of variation in hill training, from short bursts of speed up really steep hills to prolonged tempo runs up slight inclines over a longer distance.

As I'm training for marathon des sables I'm not aiming to sprint up sand dunes, merely hobble up them, so I'm focusing on sustained slower hill sessions; increasing the distance and pace I run at, and decreasing the recovery period, over time. I'll also definitely be concentrating on the stepper with a pack - it's a fantastic, targeted workout for the marathon des sables, and is also very easy on my poor old joints.

Hill training will be done both in the gym, as I can control the environment but also outside. London has a wealth of great hill training spaces which I use a lot including:-
Primrose Hill
Hampstead Heath
Ally Pally
Queens Woods
The steep and not so steep section in Richmond Park

I think hill taining is a good plan for any beginners trying marathon des sables but also hill training is good for anyone training for any distance over any terrain.

It challenges your body in a different way and uses different parts of your muscles therefore improving overall performance and technique.

Plus it mixes it up a bit and keeps the motivation going. Always good if you are anything like me and suffer a bit from a lack of motivation for running sometimes.

This weekend?
The Big Dipper sand dunes in Wales. I want hills? I got hills!

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