Up and Down

Recently I've had a re-education on training and racing on hills. For the most part I've always considered myself pretty good with vertical changes, especially on the down. This view has changed. My descending is definitely a strength up to a point. For road running and even events like the Great Train Race it definitely is one of my advantages. Make things extra steep and things tend to fall apart. Going is not a strength. While I might be efficient over distances of half to full marathons, it hasn't been a point I can attack. My recent 10km highlighted precisely that.


So I have been working on trying to improve my hill running over the last few weeks. Prior to this my hill training really has be considered mediocre at best. Despite living in the hilly northeast of Melbourne, none of training was directed to getting fast in the hills.

Initially this took the form of a weekly run of hill repeats. Each lasting between about 90-150 seconds with a quick, but easy run back down. Each repeat was difficult and I chose to stop the sessions when my legs started to falter and I couldn't keep the initial time. That approach was aiming to avoid injury but hopefully provide enough stimulus for improvement. There was a bit, but far from anything ground breaking as tested in the 10km. I needed more.

Replacing a long run with 12x40sec steep hill repeats that were run hard enough for me to vomit and have my legs shaking and trying collapse in the cool down. Next I hit my Yandell Circuit. A rough and steep (11% gradient) course that has two climbs. Run hard I predicted it should take about 7:30. A few weeks ago I attempted this circuit. Even with a minute rest between, I managed 7:40 and 7:23 on my 1st two repeats. I didn't even make half way up the 1st climb on the third rep. That was it, I was done. I made the goal of at fitting in 4 reps plus warm up and cool down in 60 minutes to work towards down the track. This week I decided I just needed to be at that level already. So I gave it go and really pushed. Taking no rest between repeats. The down hills gave me some recovery. The times were good: 7:11, 7:07, 7:17 and 7:23. Plus I was home with three minutes to spare.

The lesson learnt is I can get a lot more out of myself. To run well up hill I need to keep my cadence up, use my full body and keep my stride length reasonable. No overly short pitter-patter steps or overreaching lunges. Power needs to be refined. It needs to create a fluid lightness, and not just be a big push off on each step. Then I need to make sure I work well beyond just maintaining this. I need to embrace the suffering that develops. The legs try to falter but they do keep working if I make them.


At this stage I am not focusing any effort on developing conditioning for down hill running. For the races at the Emergency Services Games, my fitness here is more than sufficient. Since hard down hill running has a large recovery requirement, I am better served limiting this requirement. That's not to say there isn't any effort being made to improve my descending. Even taking it easier, doesn't mean slow. I have been experimenting a lot with my technique. Keeping track of times and heart rates over set courses provides a good objective measure. To get the most efficient speed on non-technical to moderately technical descents, the focus for me is best served by the following points:

  • Just deal with the landing: don't be too concerned with picking footing. At speed most of the adjustments are made naturally. Thinking too much and adjusting where the foot hits the ground makes for a choppier stride and tends to result in some braking.
  • Relaxed cadence: don't force the speed, but make sure the legs are turning over fast enough to match how quickly gravity is bringing you down
  • Lean into it: that slight forward lean on the flat and up hill should also apply to down hill. It allows for foot strike to occur under the center of gravity.
There aren't any short cuts. To really improve in something you have focus on it, and put it in the work. Hill running definitely highlights this.


  1. There aren't any short cuts ...so true.

  2. Thanks Marv. We all know it's true, but I find I do need a reminder every now and than about what it really means to push for significant improvement versus going through the motions and hoping to get better.


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