XTERRA Couch to Trail – The Benefits of Running Hill Repeats

The Benefits of Running Hill Repeats

By Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance, 5x Age Group XTERRA World Champ 

XTERRA racing is fun and challenging! Developing off road running skills especially on the hills will add to your enjoyment of these great races.

One of the greatest tools to becoming a better XTERRA and off-road racer is running hill repeats. There is a

tremendous amount to be gained from doing moderate and fast uphill running. It forces you to have good form and to develop strong calf and quad muscles.  Furthermore, it’s great practice to run hard while being tired, as you’ll definitely be tired at the top of a hill.

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself: Are you doing hill repeats at the proper time in your training cycle, and areyou doing hill repeats properly? Without a doubt, hill repeats, next to aerobic conditioning, can be the single most beneficial part of your training cycle to make you a more efficient and stronger runner.

Over the years the biggest mistake I’ve seen in runners is incorporating hill repeats too early in their training cycle when getting ready for their XTERRA race, and performing hill repeats with bad form. Hill repeats should be added to your training cycle at the proper time in order to ensure that you’re going through the proper muscular adaptation process. As part of that muscular adaptation process there are two types of hill repeats that we’ll look at in this article.

First: Moderate effort, short hill repeats with a downhill circuit

Incorporating moderate effort hill repeats after you’ve come out of your aerobic base period of training is a great way to start conditioning your body for the harder phases of training to come. I like to have athletes repeatedly run a short, steep hill that takes about 10 to 30 seconds to climb in it’s entirety at a moderate effort.  This type of repeat allows you to work on your running form and proper foot plant.  It helps you strengthen your calf muscles, strengthen your Achilles and prepare your body for the harder hill repeats and speed work that you’ll do later in your training.

This is also great time to incorporate what I feel is one of the most overlooked aspects of running – downhill training. So many people take it easy on every downhill they come across in training, that when they encounter one in a race they feel awkward and unsteady. Downhills should be a place where you gain time! Downhills force you to turn the legs over faster than normal. One of the major keys to being as fast as you can be is to spend as little time on the ground as possible. For that reason, running downhill strides is especially awesome for those of you who weren’t blessed with a lot of natural speed.

Here is how to execute this workout:  Do an easy 10 to 15 minute run, allowing your body to warm up sufficiently. Then incorporate a few dynamic stretching exercises before you begin your hill routine. When you’re ready, start at a moderate effort and focus on body position, lifting your knees with a mid-foot plant for 30 seconds up the hill. Then turn around and practice running down the hill, again focusing on good form, with light fast feet landing under your center of mass. Try to have minimal ground contact. Practicing this is especially important for trail running because of the unpaved nature of trails.  You will undoubtedly encounter loose rocks, dirt and crevices forcing you to concentrate not only on your form but on where you are placing each foot.

Second: Long, hard gradual uphills

Incorporating long, hard gradual uphills into your training cycle is a key ingredient to becoming a stronger, faster runner. Again, after a nice easy warm-up and some dynamic stretches, start your repeats. You want the hill to be steep enough to be a challenge, but not so steep that one time up leaves you completely spent.  Remember, this is just one piece of the workout! I like to see my athletes do this workout at a pace that is about five seconds faster than their half marathon pace, or at your aerobic threshold. You want to maintain your race “effort” up the entire hill and then feel good enough to quickly get right back to your race “pace” as soon as you crest the top. Practice makes perfect.

Once again, incorporate running that long gradual downhill as well. You don’t want to do the downhill as hard as the uphill. The effort on the downhill should feel faster than you would on a normal run, but you should still be comfortable. Again the key focus on the downhill should be excellent body position, light fast feet, and keeping them under your center of mass so you’re not burning out your quads.

Always remember, no matter which type of hill repeat you’re doing, when you get to the top of the hill, practice running hard up over the crest. This will really develop your confidence and help you recover back into your race pace faster.

Developing your hill running skills by adding repeats will definitely make your XTERRA race faster, easier and more fun. Nothing puts a smile on your face like cresting a long climb with energy to push forward and attack the downhill on the way to your strong finish.

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance.  Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.