This is such a common question and one which you’d expect to have a fairly simple answer – a yes or a no!
However, when it comes to the benefits of hill training, a yes or no answer is not as straight forward as you may think.
In short, physiologically – hill training is awesome!
It helps to strengthen your legs, lungs and heart and if done regularly, can take your fitness levels to heights you never thought possible. On these facts alone, my answer as to whether you should include hill training into your schedule would be a resounding yes.
However, hill training does come with a certain degree of risk and if you get it wrong, then despite its fantastic physiological benefits, all your hard training could be wasted if you end up injuring yourself
If you have never included hill training into your training plan before, then ease into them gently.
For the first few weeks, try and resist the temptation to run multiple repetitions of a steep hill or set out attempting to include as many hills as possible.
Asking your leg muscles (and heart) to all of a sudden meet the demands of steep hills can be a big shock to the system by overloading your leg muscles/tendons and sending your heart rate through the roof.
Runners who take on too many hills too soon, often find that injuries such as shin splints and Achilles pain can occur, potentially putting them off games for a few weeks - so be cautious.
Ease yourself into hills, so that your muscles and tendons can gradually get used to the increased intensity that hill running presents.
As time goes on and your body becomes more accustomed to the increase in intensity, increase the amount of time you spend tackling inclines.
To ensure your muscles and tendons are ready to take on steep hills, it’s essential that you warm up and stretch well before hand.
Jog gently on the flat for at least 10-15 minutes before you take on a significant incline and make sure your stretch out all your major leg muscles beforehand, paying particular attention to your calves.
These muscles are asked a lot of when running up-hill, so make sure they’re warm and well stretched before you begin your hill session.
Despite the huge benefits that regular hill training can offer, there are some runners who simply can’t get excited about it and would rather endure an hour of ITB foam rolling than include high intensity hill training into their weekly plan.
So, are regular hill training sessions an absolutely necessity for runners preparing for a race? Not always – but sometimes!
Consider the following example:
If a first time marathon runner came to me and said all they wanted to do was to get round the course in one piece without any care about chip time, my instinctive answer as to whether hill training was essential would be “no.”
Without doubt they would benefit from including weekly hill sessions to help increase leg and heart strength, but on the basis that they were solely interested in “completing” rather than “competing” their race, then I’d suggest that although a hill every now and again would be a good idea, they could spend most of their training miles on the flat.
All good advice - until they then tell me that their chosen marathon is the Snowdonia marathon……….
This changes everything.
Your choice of event and the topography of the course is vital if you want to make an informed decision about how important hill training will be throughout your preparations.
If your race is going to feature some fairly significant inclines, then no matter if you’re racing in a 10k or a marathon, including hill training into your weekly regime is vital if you have any chance of enjoying the race.
Tackling a hilly race without getting your body used to running hills will make for a tough and potentially miserable race. In this instance, regular hill training is an absolute must.