The Power Of Hill Sprints
There are a number of elements that influence how well my training goes. One that seems to have a surprisingly large influence is the regular inclusion of hill sprints. In short, my training can go well without them, but everything goes so much better with them.
What are hill sprints?
You'd think just saying hill sprints would cover it, but no, it doesn't. Running terminology is all over the place with people claiming they sprinted for 5km or that they completed a 10km marathon. So I define a hill sprint as an all out effort, running up hill for a very short distance. How far? Generally nothing that takes over 20 seconds, but usually 6-10 seconds. How steep? Whatever I have in front of me, variety of incline is good, but I'll opt for the steepest if there is a choice.
What's the point?
Well there's a few. First and foremost I get a training effect on the higher threshold, fast twitch muscle fibres that don't get recruited in the majority of my other training. It also improves my ability to recruit these fibres and therefore my sprinting ability in races, which isn't exactly my strong point. Moving away from physiology talk, there is a lot more that improves the rest of my training.
Faster running just feels better after some regular hill sprints, and race paces feel more natural. There is a spring in my running and I am less likely fall into the flat shuffle that plagued a fair portion of my ultra training. Recovery between hard sessions feels more complete. It seems to keep away some recurrent hamstring and calf tightness that tends to creep in with the longer distance runs.
Of course all of the above is helped by a well executed training plan overall. It just comes together better when hill sprints are included.
How I Do It
Everyone is different, but this is what works for me. I include some hill sprints about every three days, as part of an easy run. This is usually on the day before one of my key runs. The sprints will either be interspersed throughout the second half of the run or as a block of repeats with walk back recoveries near the end of the run. I tend to hit 4-6 repeats, and only occasionally will increase that to 8. This seems to give me all the benefits listed above. The key is that each sprint is a true attempt at a maximal effort. Anymore repeats hits me pretty hard and I tend to require a good amount of recovery over the next couple of days. Which means the rest of my training suffers. Sticking to 4-6 sprints appears to be optimal for me as long as I include them every 3-4 days.