There's (racing) gold in them Hills !
At the height of my running racing career I (very often with my training partners) would complete a once per week, six week cycle of hill repeats, completed during three separate phases throughout the training year. A total of eighteen weeks of hill repeats. To tell truth, in the beginning, I really didn't understand the concept, I just knew they brought pain ! It wasn't until running a hill repeat session with my good friend and training partner Jimmy Clarke one day that I came to understand their meaning. Jim was the one that taught me the power yet nuance of the hill repeat session. He taught me that it took time for the adaptation to take place physically and psychologically and he taught me that it was not a speed session but rather a controlled strength session. Don't get me wrong, we were not jogging the hills but yet it was a a different arena, a different style of running with a different purpose than a speed session on the track for example...Combined however, these two arenas can serve to bring you to the very top of your game.
Many of Jimmy's and my training partners were wonderful people and wonderful runners from Mexico. Specifically one of our fellow runner's Oscar, I remember one day after we completed our warm up at the track and were running the mile or so to the infamous 'Fairway' hill was particularly pensive and quiet. "Everything ok Oscar" I enquired....Oscar turned his head and looked at me almost with a glazed look in his eye, paused, sighed and uttered this phrase "El Dragon"...my Spanish was very limited but I knew exactly what he meant in the literal and figurative sense. Hill repeats can indeed be 'El Dragon' but as is so often in life, nothing worthwhile comes easy...
Over the years I am ever reminded that by the time the hill repeat sequence commences I have usually been on the track for a while and in seemingly decent shape but by the time I complete the first sixty* second repeat (* Sixty was a common interval time we started with but multiple variations were used in the cycle and season) it is as if I am not in shape at best or haven't been running at all at worst....I have come to know to be patient...If we completed six weeks of ten repeats then I know it is not about the first repeat but rather the sixtieth...and even then the fruition does not come to the fore for a further two to three weeks (training adaptation) but then when it does, look out....the crossroads of speed and strength come together and with appropriate sharpening, we are ready to race...
Hill repeats run at a 10k -3k type effort depending on its length develop stamina, muscular endurance, increase cardiopulmonary output and develop and promote better running mechanics.With a few exceptions I suscribe to the 2-1 protocol Eg. 60 secs interval followed by a 2.00 minute jog down recovery and be ready to go right at the 2.00 minute mark.
Another great opportunity afforded you by running hill repeats is to experience the self study and analysis of where running mechanics and fitness (cardio output) meet, namely in your breathing cadence...self analyze where your out breath is in relation to your footstrike- mine is every second left foot as I use the 3-1 cadence (one short breath out on my left foot followed by one longer breath in over the next three steps)...without a rhythmic cadence you are 'flying without instrumentation'....the breathing cadence allows you the opportunity to stay in the moment, to remain calm and block out all negative 'chatter'...
Ultimately speed is your ace and the strength gained from your hill repeat cycle will provide a tremendous foundation for your speed and speed work allowing you to sustain repeatable speed so critical in effective racing and this applies whether you are racing on the track, on undulating hills or over a hilly cross country course...
Add a regimen of hill repeats to your annual training and you will find 'Gold in them there hills" but beware, run smart otherwise you may come face to face with El Dragon' !