Hill Training Tips for New Marathoners

It’s time to start hill training! With about 11 weeks to go until the Ottawa Marathon, it about the time when the Wednesday training runs in the Running Room marathon training program shift from 10km at tempo pace to the dreaded hill repeats. This phase of the program runs for the next seven weeks, starting with four hills and ending with a ten hill repeat session!

Hill repeats matter!

Hills are a key part of the training program, so even if you think you’ll hate them, it’s important to get out and do the work. I’ve grown to appreciate hill training over the years and while I wouldn’t say I enjoy running hill repeats, but there is a certain satisfaction that comes along with completing these workouts.

poplar plains
Hill repeats start in March. Don’t skip them…they are important.

Some tips to get the most out of your hill repeats:

  • Find a good hill – look for a hill that’s about a 5% grade or a little more and about 400-500m long. It should be a challenge, but not overwhelming. If there’s nothing around that’s suitable, the treadmill can be a good alternative solution.
  • Warm up and cool down – get two or three kilometres in to warm up before you run the hills. And plan to run a couple kilometres after your repeats too so you give yourself a chance to see what it’s like to run on tired legs.
  • Don’t over do it – the goal here is to build strength and cardio, not to kill yourself. You should be running at a pace that puts some stress on your body, but you shouldn’t be huffing and puffing to the point of exhaustion. Remember that you should be able to run a consistent pace up the hill for each repeat, and maintain that pace for all the repeats. Consider wearing a heart rate monitor (if you have one) and make sure you don’t blow over your max heart rate which is a sign you are pushing the pace too much.
  • Focus on your form – resist the temptation to lean into the hill. Instead, stay upright, get your legs turning over quickly and run like you’re riding a bike. At the top of the hill, run through the crest of the hill and ease up the pace to bring your heart rate down after the exertion phase.

You might be surprised at how quickly time passes when you are doing repeats. Think about how the work put in on the hills now will make a big difference on race day. While the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon course isn’t especially hilly, there are a couple of good sized inclines to deal with in the first half of the race.

Good luck and enjoy your repeats!