Hill training- it doesn't have to be torture!

Hill Training- it doesn’t have to be torture!

As those of you that have read previous posts from me will know, I am not a fan of running up hills. I adopt the trail/ ultra mentality that they provide the opportunity to gather, eat and conserve some much needed energy for running back down.

However, the benefits of hill training are huge. Repeated runs up and down a good enough gradient helps to build muscle endurance, strength and CV capacity. Not to mention the mental benefits of knowing that you can do it, if you choose to.

So, for the past 2 weekends I have headed off to do hills in 2 different forms; knowing that I have a couple of slightly hilly events coming up in North Yorkshire and Wales.

Last weekend (a Bank Holiday, which is always a bonus to have an extra day to recover) we went to one of my favourite places: The Peak District. Parking in Baslow, it was a generous climb up onto Curbar edge, with jogging and walking to warm up as our legs grew accustomed to gradients that we only get round here on car park exit ramps.  The day was overcast, with drizzle at the top, although this did not ruin the impact of the stunning view from the top of Curbar Edge. My love affair with the Peaks is torn between different areas, with a tough contest between the White and Dark Peak split. The views as we trotted along the edge towards Froggatt were difficult to beat on a gloomy Sunday, though. Attempting to reignite my running/navigating skills ready for events later in the year, I was a little disappointed that we over-shot the turn first time round by about 2k. It was a beautiful trot, though, so no-one was going to complain too much. As we turned around to try and hit the right trail to take us back down into the valley, I once again managed a slight navigational hiccough- taking us down an interesting bouldering drop for about 100m. Once this had been negotiated, we were back on the trail and it was obvious where my OS Map blindness (a real medical problem) had occurred. The drop down off the edge was fantastic, rocky trail through the woods rapidly descending to the valley floor, where it was a skip across fields to meet the river and a relaxing flat run back into the village of Calver, where we would head back up to the Edge. 

After 1 loop of this it was obvious that it was a tough route and so the plan was to do 1 more complete loop and then run the route back down into Baslow as the final part. The climb was the clincher – a hands on knees, pumping legs, screaming glutes climb that makes you question why you weren’t driving up the damned thing like everyone else seemed to be.

Anyway, the second loop was actually more enjoyable, as we knew the route and there was no pressure to go at a certain speed (there was a definite speed split once we got to the top), which meant I could potter along at my own pace and enjoy the views. It is one of the best advantages of trail running versus road – the views tend to be better and offer some solace to the pain the body is feeling to get to see them. On this loop I decided to be a bit more daring on the way down (coming down hills is as technical as going up, and to do it quickly as well as efficiently you have to think about it!) and bounced between, across and over the rocks to get down to the rolling fields at the bottom.

The stretch along the river was beautiful, and offered the chance to take some pictures and revel in the freedom of running in such clean air.

We regrouped at the bottom of the climb and girded our loins (almost literally) for the climb back up to the top. The combined efforts of 2 climbs and 2 descents were now telling in the legs and glutes, with various protestations from muscle groups not used to the steep elevation after a few months off crazy events! The feeling of dragging up the hill was compounded by the fact that several walkers were heading down in the opposite direction, all carrying cups of coffee. Apparently there was a coffee wagon in the car park over the hill, which was tempting, but I decided to promise myself a tea once we were back down in Baslow.  This renewed optimism for what might be waiting at the finish drove me onto the top, where I had a handful of dried mango and then continued the undulating path back to the trail that would drop into Baslow… which was more fun than I have had running for a while! Due to the fact that my knees are currently behaving much better (well done them), I was able to attack the drop down with a vigour last seen on a fell somewhere last year. Remembering to keep my head up, my stride short and my weight on the forefoot, I frolicked (no better word to describe it) down the path, much to the amusement of some of the families walking up. It was a tough day out, with some beneficial training had, but overall it was a lovely day out that happened to include some running… and it planted the seed that I needed more hill training in my life.

Forward to today (Sunday) and a small but determined group of nutters gathered on a hill at the back of the country park section of Draycote. Armed with waterproofs, drinks and weights (yes, actual weights from the gym), we prepared to do as many hills as we felt were right for us. I opted for a 5kg weight in my pack, joined with a few coats etc for padding. Now, as much as this sounds like torture of a very specific kind, it was not as bad as it sounds. For me, it was the chance to refamiliarise myself with running with a full pack; for the others it boosted the impact of the training- making their muscles work harder and forcing their CV systems to push more to get the extra weight up the hill. After 10 reps with the pack, I dropped it to do 5 reps on the longer hill – pushing up as well as skipping down. Then the pack was put back on for another 20 short hills- 10 running, then 10 walking with purpose, mixed in with backwards and alternate sprints (if you have never tried a steep hill backwards, give it a go… it is a very interesting experience!).

After this glorious experience in the rain, we did a gentle 5 mile lap to get the legs used to pushing though the pain and getting the muscles working differently.

So, my concluding thoughts as I sit and wonder how long my dinner is going to take (hills make you hungry!); although I will probably never run full pelt up a hill during a long event, I certainly have enough in me to do it for bursts in shorter events… the test will be in 2 weeks when I put this training into effect on the moors of the Rosedale half marathon.

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