Welcome to the third part of our series on marathon training. In this article, we find out how to improve running style, efficiency and technique by taking to the hills...
As we approach week 6 of your training schedule, you will have already built up base mile endurance and now developing the habit of regular running.
Now it’s time to add some power.
A trusted way of achieving this, used by top professional and amateur runners everywhere, is the hill climb. Running up inclines adds resistance that builds strong fibres in your quads and other vital muscles quickly, helping to add speed and strength to your stride.
This type of training is closer to plyometric, fast-twitch muscle activation, which will increase the power in your thighs and calf muscles. The benefits are a stronger, longer, more efficient gait, better stability, and more agility.
It is also possible to get these kinds of strength gains from plyometric jump training or powerlifting, but these also put a lot more pressure on delicate joints and ligaments which hill running does not.
By combining your endurance, slow-twitch training with the more aggressive hill climb techniques, you’ll become a more complete athlete, armed with both speed and staying power.
Hill climbing techniques
In week six of our outline schedule (below), you will have completed at least one set of 3x1.5 mile interval training sessions, boosting your vVO2max (velocity at maximal oxygen uptake). These intervals are completed at a faster pace than normal, pushing your body’s aerobic upper threshold.
Now it’s time to put that training to good use – on the hills.
There are three main types of hill training:
Short hill runs
These short workouts should focus on speed and power. Each repetition should take about 20 to 90 seconds and your level of effort should be very high.
Preface your hill runs with a 10-minute jog, which will simultaneously act as your warm up. After your short run, find a relatively steep incline and start at the bottom. Run 8 x 30 second uphill charges, jogging down again after each run. Your pace should be faster than your ideal race pace.
You may need some extra recovery time due to the level of excursion - one to two minutes - to bring breathing and heart rate back to near normal.
Complete your session with another 10-minute jog and warm down.
Try to ensure proper form throughout and complete the required amount of repetitions.
Start with a few repeats and gradually increase the repetitions throughout your training cycle.
Medium hill runs
Long hill climbs focus on developing aerobically and less about power or speed.
Again, you should book-end these sessions with a 10 minute run on the flat for a warm-up and warm-down.
Using a more deliberate pace throughout the climb than a short climb exercise (above), complete a three-minute incline at around 70% of your total effort. Take on four repetitions at the beginning adding more repetitions on subsequent sessions. Make sure you have recovered, with your heart rate back to near its baseline between each repetition (one to two minutes rest).
Concentrate on form and technique throughout, try to keep as upright as possible, knees high, and with full extension throughout your strides.
Long hill runs
As they closely simulate marathon-conditions, long incline exercises are really valuable for your confidence and performance on the day.
It’s best to attempt this type of hill run when you have already developed a solid base of endurance and power.
For long hill training, use of four repetitions of around 400-800m (sometimes longer), up a moderate slope, with a jog down recovery.
You should aim to complete each repetition at your goal race pace.
As you progress, extend the distance and the repetitions.
Hill running technique
You will naturally lean into the hill to keep your centre of gravity over your stride, but try to resist exaggerating your lean.
It’s important to drive your knees upwards to get through as full a range of motion as possible, then fully extend as you complete your stride.
Try to stand tall, with your back reasonably straight, and use this full motion to push off the ground, engaging your calves and using your arms to generate lift and momentum.
You’ll find your hip flexors and quads coming into play, and you should feel activation throughout your legs, not just in one or two muscles.
Check out the top hill-running technical tips from trail running coach Sam Lutman-Pauc in the video below for some expert guidance on running up and down gradients.
How do I hill run when I have no hills?
If you’re living on a topographic pancake, you may be struggling to find somewhere to get these incline gains.
Check out nearby farmland and parks, or search for your surrounding area on Google Maps and then click on the ‘terrain’ option to reveal the various elevations near you.
Another option is to head city-bound and find some steps instead. Check out the below video featuring Adidas running coach Claudia Schroegel to find out how to get the most out of urban incline running.
- Be careful when adding too many hills to a workout regimen. Doing too much too soon can lead to injuries. You will also need longer recovery times for your leg muscles after these heavy incline workouts (at least 36 hours after each session).
It’s vital to note that you will not see the benefits of hill climbing without the right nutrition.
The purpose of running inclines is to build the muscles in your legs that will provide a more economic and stronger stride, which will make your marathon running much more efficient and ultimately faster.
But the exercises themselves are only half the battle. You need to feed your now punished muscles the right building blocks with which to create the stronger muscle fibres you’ve earned during the session.
To build muscle, you need to consume a healthy mixture of complex carbohydrates and protein before and after you exercise.
It’s recommended you eat around 1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight if looking to add muscle, consuming around 30 grams of this daily amount within an hour of completing your workout.
Sports nutrition is a complex area, with many approaches to energy, hydration, and recovery. The advantage of the below protein and carbohydrate bars, however, is their convenience. Pop a few into your training bag, and never be caught short in those golden windows before and after training.
You should be consuming carbohydrates primarily before your training session and protein afterwards, although it's fine if the portions are mixed. Combine your supplementary protein and carbs with a nutritious and balanced diet to ensure your body has everything it needs to turn your efforts into healthy muscle, stronger bones, and resilient cartilage and ligaments.
Nutrition specialists High5 have developed a convenient Protein Bar containing 13g of protein and 24g of carbohydrate - an ideal ratio for a post-hill-climb session.
Protein hit contains a mix of fruits and nuts for both fast and slow releasing energy. Suitable for vegetarians, they provide the building blocks for muscle growth and maintenance, along with healthy bone growth.
A fast-acting high protein and carbohydrate recovery drink delivering 20g of easily digestible protein including 2g of leucine in every 50g serving. A great start for your muscle recovery and repair after exercise.
Designed for consumption after exercise, these bars deliver a high amount of premium quality Trisource Protein, which is a special mix of casein, whey and soy. Supporting muscle growth and maintenance, the bars are free from collagen protein and aspartame.
Packed with protein and free from gluten and trans-fat, these delicious bars make a great pre- or mid-run snack.
High5 Energy Bars provide a balance of simple and complex carbohydrates for fast and sustained energy with a great tasting blend of fruit and grains, and a chocolate or yoghurt coating.
Meridian Peanut Bar is crammed with 55% of peanuts, offering 8g of natural protein to providing a natural energy boost. They're a great source of fuel and speedy muscle repair after exercise.
Wiggle Nutrition Energy Bars contain a mix of oats and fruit pieces to deliver 45g of carbohydrates per bar. This is perfect for a tough session on the inclines or long runs as you build toward your marathon goals.