Hilly Race Training Tips and How to Manage Pace: Lookout Heartbreak Hill


A hilly race requires a different training strategy and a different plan on race day. Not just gentle rolling hills, but one’s that have a known name like Boston Heartbreak Hill or tackling your first trail race with a lot of vert.

Once I committed to the insanity merriment of running the Hat Trick {5k, 10K,half marathon in a weekend} at the Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Festival, I knew it was time to to start making mountains out of molehills.

The best way to train for any course is to mimic the terrain…in this case rolling hills.

How to Train for a Hilly Race

At the time I was living in Florida which meant my access to hills involved running bridges or running parking garages. Eventually those aren’t quite enough to mimic what you want to do…which is when you can get a little fancy.

Use Treadmill Maps

Many at home treadmills for running now let you pull up the specific race course and the treadmill automatically adjusted the incline

  • I pulled up the RW Half course map
  • Utilizing Google Maps within iFit, I plotted the first half of the route for about 8.5 miles
  • Then I created a shorter route for the last portion of the race, roughly 3.5 mile course
  • Bopped over to the treadmill, logged in to iFit and both course were synced up
  • I selected the shorter course for a quick test run and then…I ran.

I get that I’m a running nerd to the core, but seriously this is cool!ifit

Use a Treadmill

Even if your system doesn’t have programs built in, I’ve found that treadmill runs are often one of the best ways for runners to consistently get in enough hills when training for a super tough race.

UNLESS you are hitting the trails and live in Colorado like me. Then I get a hill just for waking up.

How to Best Utilize Hill Training

No fancy schmancy treadmill for you??

Good news I’ve got something for you and it’s free…we call them…wait for it…hills.

For those racing Boston, Heartbreak Hill is merely a blip on the overall race. But it’s a 700 meter blip after mile 20 just as many are facing the dreaded wall.

No matter what course you’re doing, these tips will help you to show up on race day feeling strong and confident.

  • Hills early in training program – this will build quality leg strength and has been shown to help with injury prevention per Matt Fitzgerald
  • Long hills, not fast repeats – Repeats early in training as noted are good for strength, but most Boston courses involve long gradual hills which require extended endurance. Try longer hill repeats or setting the treadmill on an incline for a couple miles.
  • Down jumps – Jumping off a bench and landing with bent knees is great to practice the impact created from downhill running {an often overlooked aspect}
  • Drive – If hills aren’t regular around you, then take a little extra time on the weekends to drive to a hilly route. Luckily in Orlando in about 40 minutes we can get to a great hilly area and on race day it makes that drive totally worth it.
  • Ending on hills – After a longer run, try to end with 5-10 hill repeats, no speed required just get used to using different muscles as your legs fatigue.
  • Starting with downhill – Everyone worries about making the climb, but running downhill creates a lot of stress on the quads (here are some downhill running tips). If you can use decline on the treadmill or start your runs heading down, then finishing back up that’s ideal.
  • Fuel – During hills your heart rate increases and your body begins switching to carbs for fuel. Ingesting some carbs prior to hitting the steep portions can help.
  • Intervals in long runs – During a mid-distance run start to add intervals, the increase and decrease of heart rate will mimic the intensity of hills late in the race.
  • Pace or effort – Learning to focus on effort over pace can make conquering hills easier. As you allow your body to slow conserving energy on the way up, pick up speed on the way down and even out in the flat areas.

Stop dreading hilly races (eh hem Boston!!) and get ready with these tips! #bibchat Click To Tweet

How to Run Hills in a Race?

After months of training, now you’re ready to tackle what the course throws at you. But there is a best way to run hills in a race:

  • Focus on effort during the uphill
  • Remind yourself that the slow down there will be repaired with the coming downhill
  • On the downhill relax. Don’t overstride. Don’t break.
  • Do NOT let early downhills cause you to run well beyond your normal pace, your legs will absolutely still feel this later in the race.
  • Trail runners often lean forward, placing hands on their thighs and power hike up super steep sections. This conserves energy and allows you to run faster on the flat or downhill.

Form for running hills:

  • Shorter, quicker steps
  • Stop looking at your feet, look up which keeps you tall and your shoulders back
  • Arms should be pumping up, almost in a upper cut motion
  • Knees come up in front of you, rather than in a butt kick motion

Looking for more marathon preparation:

What’s your best hill training strategy?

Do you prefer flat or hilly courses?

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Heartbreak Hill Training Strategies that work for any hilly race





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