Understanding many will scoff, gasp, or just shake their head in disbelief at such a statement, I ask you why? Sure it’s argued that hill training helps improve strength and works the anaerobic system – but so what? Are hills the only way to build strength? Why do you want to specifically develop your anaerobic system as an endurance runner? …and if you do… why do you need to do it on hills?
What we like here at MCKEP is the principle of specificity… that is to say that to become better at something, you must practice it; training should be relevant and appropriate to the activity in which we wish to compete. This applies to hills as much as anything. I’m a road runner, and the majority of my running, (including races) is spent on flat or minimal gradient terrain. So given this, together with the fact that running uphill is fairly unenjoyable, why would I choose to sacrifice an alternative session in favour of being able to run better uphill?
MCKEP shy’s away from unnecessary hard work – Chris’s planned routes will avoid hills at all costs, mine will do similar, however I am more willing to include the occasional incline if it enables the route to be more exploratory and cover new territories… invariably this incurs miles of grumbling from Chris, such is his strong beliefs against the need for hill training.
It’s at this point I shall even mention that certain members of the elite project (not me) have been known to run 8mile threshold runs around an athletics track to ensure hills are avoided altogether. But I applaud this – since the session target was to train the lactate threshold – and this is optimally done by working at, or just under lactate threshold pace (/effort) – I challenge anyone to do this as efficiently on a hill or hilly circuit as on a consistently flat surface, at a consistent pace.
Hills are also unenjoyable. While some may take great satisfaction in ‘conquering’ a hill, I find they impede progress – sure I can get to the top of them, but not without having to slow my pace, possibly even walk, and experience great discomfort (on steeper hills) – I certainly do not reach the summit feeling it’s bettered me as a runner. Instead I wake up the following day with aches and pains that simply don’t occur with ‘normal’ intervals, or even the longest of long runs. Give me 1mile reps @ VO2MAX any day!
This is quite a psychological aspect of training too – during periods of intense training in particular, motivation is absolutely key to maintaining training consistency and encouraging you to get out the door and train, morning and night, day after day. If you hate your training, you’re not going to feel fully committed to it, and probably won’t get the full training benefit from it, that’s if you do actually force yourself out to do the session; so why not focus on the productive sessions that you do enjoy?
Okay, feel free shoot me down immediately and tell me that if you avoid all training that’s hard work, you’ll never achieve anything – well a) I’d argue with you anyway, and b) that’s not what I’m saying – refer back to my earlier comments reference specificity. If you do need to be able to run hills fast then of course you need to practice them, but if you’re in that situation and reading this thinking how much you hate hills – why the bloody hell are you competing in hilly events?
Thus I leave you with the thought that for us endurance athletes/road runners, Hill training is not needed, and no matter how much Runners World says otherwise, we will survive without it.