I’ll be the first to admit that I have been known to try and avoid (or at least minimize) the hills in my neighborhood on the occasional training run. Let’s face it, hills kind of suck – especially in the beginning of a training season when you aren’t necessarily in your best shape yet. The reality is that running hills makes us stronger runners overall, and with a hilly goal race like the Williams Route 66 Marathon, you’d be remiss to avoid them in your training. If right now you’re questioning your sanity at choosing a hilly goal race, take comfort in knowing that hills can be your friend. When we run on a flat surface for a long time, we’re engaging the same muscles over and over again, which causes them to fatigue. As a result, your calves, glutes, and quads can get trashed by the end of your race, causing you to slow down and possibly miss your goal. By contrast, hills offer a welcome change for the muscles in your legs and help spread the effort around ­– if you train properly and use them to your advantage! Here’s how to incorporate hills into your training program.

Route 66 Marathon

  1. Start small and build up: When it comes to hills, there’s no such thing as starting too small. If you’re running in an entirely flat area currently, choose small hills to train on at first, limit the number of repeats you’re doing, and keep your overall mileage done on hills low. There’s plenty of time to build up! If you want to start making hill repeats a part of your regular routine, for example, start out by doing 3 on a small and/or short hill. Then add on as you feel the workout getting easier!
  2. Make hills a part of your easy runs: When we think of hill work, we tend to think of hill repeats, but you don’t have to be running your hardest to gain benefit from hills! The simplest way to add hills into your training is to incorporate them into some of your easy runs. Just pick a route that includes a few more hills than you’re used to and run it once a week at an easy pace. Keep your effort level the same up and down the hills, and don’t worry about your pace. This way, you’ll still get a good workout in without the intimidation factor!
  3. Hills are everywhere if you know where to look:  You might not live in a hilly area, but I promise you that there are hills near you! If you’re in a flat part of the country, find a bridge or a low-traffic exit ramp to practice repeats on. It’s not ideal, but any incline is better than none at all! Worst case, jump on the treadmill and bump up the incline.
  4. Forget about your pace: The key to being strong on hills isn’t exhausting yourself by sprinting until your lungs burst and then jogging back down. On race day, your goal on hills should be to keep your effort level the same as it is on flat ground, which likely means going a little slower uphill and a little faster downhill. During your workouts, increase your effort level slightly up a hill (just enough to elevate your heart rate higher than your average) to start building stamina. Then, jog or walk back down for recovery. As you get stronger, you can start working harder, and maybe one day you’ll find yourself sprinting!
  5. Remember, hills are a strength workout: If you find yourself getting frustrated by the perceived loss of speed on hills, remember that hills are like a strength workout for your legs. You should expect to be sore, and you should expect to be slow, at least at first! You’ll get faster as you get stronger. Consider adding some squats (weighted or unweighted) to your routine, as well as some hip and glute strengthening exercises. You’ll be flying up those hills in no time!