Justin Daerr on Hill running

This is from IM Talk episode 245. I found the discussion they had on hill running very interesting, but I know podcasts aren’t everyone cup of tea, so I thought I would transcribe the gist of the conversation and add a few thoughts.

Justin has been given a hills session by a listener Richard Swan. He tried it out then discussed his thoughts. The basic session was this:

10 min warm up,

6 x hills (1.2km long) run at a HARD pace. (reps can be increased)

Warm down, 20 mins.

Justin says he believes that hill running is one of the best things to do all year round to keep yourself strong and fit. This kind of work out will bring your form on. You would do this leading into a race, 4 – 12 weeks out perhaps. He imagines the effort here should be close to threshold. It could be a little tough as an off season workout, however. A MODERATE pace uphill would be better, create a heavier load on the legs in prep for the tougher sessions pre season.

He consulted Alan Cousins for advice. He was told that hill running is used to recruit fast twitch fibres you need to increase load on your legs. Your cadence is going to be slower on hills. The load is increased on each leg when running up hill. To do this on the flat would mean increased pace.

What is the benefit of hills? Don’t beat yourself up with fast pace but recruit your fast twitch muscles through hill running, so when you come to transition to fast pace running on the flat, you have been training the right muscles. He says he tried to look for scientific research, but studies are scarce.

What intensity? He says there are a few ways to approach it. Off season, it would be fartlek, focus on form not effort. Another type would be to run at a good clip, 1-2 mins max. Any more – you would lose form due to lactate build up. Make sure you have good recovery so you can maintain the pace and effort.

IDEA: Initial run – carry a rock, good effort, not all out, drop rock 1 min up, then aim to keep hitting it, if not, you started off too quick.

6 weeks before a race should you do hill reps? YES! He says he incorporated it 6 week before ironman, 2k hill, 8%, 3 – 5 reps. his HR would be a tempo run on the flat, AT threshold. Make sure you have a nice surface to run on – perhaps grass, softer surface to get down the hill. Treadmill workouts can be a bonus – you don’t need full recovery to get back down the hill.

Preferred gradient? What’s best? If you are doing something for power, or short, then use a steeper hill. Most coaches prefer 4 – 6%.

What should less experienced athletes know?

People seem to think they should be destroyed after a session with ‘intervals’ in the title. Set the distance. Is it sustainable? If not, the next time you need to back off to maintain the quality of the workout.

Hill running, may be initially taxing if you haven’t done it before, may be tiring in a way that you didn’t think it would be…. i.e. you may be slower than you think, higher HR than you think. Be flexible and alter the workout so suit.


·       I like the rock idea, it would get me away from being obsessed about numbers!

·       I hadn’t really thought of hill running as an easier way to do the same training as sprints!! But logically, I guess it is, you are putting more load through your legs because you are having to fight gravity to drag your sorry ass up that hill, are you not!!?

·       Intensity balance seems very logical and is already what I do. More intense speed work closer to the start of race season

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