Some completely serious and sciencetific tips for running up and down hills

I’ve seen hillwork described as “interval training in disguise”, and in terms of potential for sweat-drenched sweariness, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate comparison. Hillwork and interval training are the evil twins of the running world.

I’ve found a nice steepish hill close to home that’s about 0.2 miles long (and feels about 2 miles high by the time I crawl to the top). My weekly hill session usually look something like this:

  1. Blissfully flat warm-up jog for about a mile, finishing at the base of the hill.
  2. Run to the top as quickly as my little leggies can carry me.
  3. Slow jog back to the bottom.
  4. Repeat as many times as I can without falling over and/or crying.
  5. Okay, maybe cry a little bit.

Here comes the stats bit: At the moment I’m doing my ups in around 1:25 during which my HR peaks at around 170bpm (90% MHR). I take it nice and easy on the way down, which usually takes just over 2 minutes. by which time my HR is back down to around 135bpm (65% MHR). NB: All calculations are approximate and were worked out by someone as good at maths as he is at breathing underwater.

Hill sprints hurt, so I thought I’d share a couple of motivational tips with you…

  1. Put something at the top of the hill that you can’t leave behind. Depending on how safe the area is, this could be your car keys, jacket, gloves or infant son. If my wife is reading this, I would probably NEVER do the last one. By leaving something at the top of the hill, it means that when you get to the bottom you’ll always be motivated to bang out one more sprint to the top. Or just cut your losses and hope that it’ll still be there next week.
  1. When things get tough, rather than telling yourself “just one more rep” try instead saying “just two more reps”. I’m no psychologist1 but by moving the goalpost a little further away, you won’t find yourself dwelling on the pain of the moment quite so much.
  1. This one is more of a coping strategy than a motivational tip. It’s sods law that, while on your umpteenth  downhill recovery jog,  you’ll come face to face with a fellow runner who’s powering steadily up in the opposite direction. When this happens, you’re entirely within your rights to let them know that your sweaty near-death exhaustion isn’t just due to a gentle downhill jog, but rather because you’ve been doing what they’re currently doing, several times over and possibly faster. This can be abbreviated by thumping your chest and proclaiming “hill sprints, yaaarghhhhhh” or simply “me king of hill!”

    Incidentally, if you look like death and have only done a gentle downhill jog, you can still use this.

Anyway, let’s finish with a nice graph…



1Or runner. Or (as that judge kept pointing out) a registered heart surgeon.

PS: Want more? Really? You’re a bit odd. Well, if you insist, you can have a look back through some old blog posts here at Most of them contain ducks. Alternatively, you can chase me round the playground that is twitter (@borntoplodblog) or pop over to Facebook and check out my page.

11 thoughts on “Some completely serious and sciencetific tips for running up and down hills

  1. Hmmm. I haven’t had the pleasure of hill work for ages. I’m inspired now.
    If I’m feeling really masochistic next week, I might have to go and play with my favourite local hill – just to see if it still breaks me.

    • Do it! I’m crap at hills, but they’ve quickly become my favourite session. I think they appeal to the stat geek in me – if you use the same hill it’s so easy to compare the splits week by week.

  2. Love it! The graph is pretty much exactly what I’m thinking when I’m doing hill reps. Except you’ve missed out the very brief bit of speed halfway up the hill where the stinky dog poo bin is and I have to speed up to escape the smell or attempt to breathe through my eyeballs or something.

    • You might be onto something there. If I ask the council to install stinky poo bins every 10ft along the entire route, I could smash out 4 minute miles!

  3. In my head I love hill reps and I’m quite dismissive ‘yeah I’ve got this’ but in reality my bravado is all for show and they make me want to throw up!

    • I haven’t quite come close to throwing up yet, which makes me worried that I’m not doing them right 😦

  4. Pingback: #juneathon day 24: that escapism thing | I can. I will

  5. Is there a specific pace that turns the hill reps in to just going for a walk? Like, for example, if 73% of your readership (the kindly old ladies) walk past you while you’re on your way up, does that count as a fail?

    • The thing about kindly old ladies is that they’re VERY easy to push down a hill, so that never tends to happen.

      In all seriousness, there’s no specific “tipping point” pace where a hill run becomes a walk. I’m sure that to many club runners (and, let’s be honest, a few kindly old ladies) my hill sprint pace WOULD be a walk. It’s all subjective, and in my mind I’m flying along.

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