July 3, 2018

Why Hills Are Speedwork In Disguise

1972 Olympic marathon champion, Frank Shorter, once said that hills are speedwork in disguise. It’s a great quote, here’s why!

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Over the past 10 years as a professional coach, I have worked with literally thousands of runners.

In this time, speed is rarely the limiting factor in how fast you can race, even for a distance as short as 5km.

You are not limited by how fast you can run, rather you’re limited by how well you can maintain the desired pace for the distance of your race. While it’s tempting to think that this is a function of speed, it’s usually not.

It’s a function of aerobic capacity, the ability to generate energy from fat, lactate clearance, strength and power.

Listen To Frank

Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion once said…

"Hills are speedwork in disguise."

I really love this quote.

To understand why you need to understand the two main benefits that come from running over hills.

1. You get stronger.
2. Your muscles become more resilient.

Let’s discuss each of those points.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

1. You Get Stronger

As you spend time running over hills, you build muscular strength. The simple act of carrying your weight up and down the hills provides resistance and as a result, your muscles grow stronger.

The outcome of this improvement in strength is an increase in stride length.

Stronger muscles put more power through the ground, so you’re able to generate more forward momentum with each step.

When stride length increases and cadence remains the same, you are faster. BOOM!

2. Your Muscles Become More Resilient

Muscle fatigue plays a major role in how much you slow down during your race. By building strength, your muscles become more resilient and are in better condition to handle the load put on them throughout a race.

If you can delay the rate at which your muscles fatigue and your running form deteriorates, this will translate into a faster overall finishing time. It will also contribute to a faster recovery post-race too.

If that’s not enough, your chances of injury will also reduce too.

In Closing

Now that you understand why hills are speedwork in disguise, it is time to take advantage. Lace up your runners and head for the hills.

Run a mix of short, moderate and long hills. Run different gradients. Run continuously over a hilly course or focus you effort with hill reps.

With all these options, there are countless sessions you can leverage to make you a stronger, more resilient and faster runner.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.