The dog days of summer are here but you are still a runner. You have just set out for a relaxing recovery run (see my Blog “Hill Training For Runners,” posted 4-Dec-14). It is late in the day and still hot; so you turn off the main road for the shade of a quiet side street.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, they attack. Dozens of tiny black bugs swarm around your head. You swat at them to no avail. Then, ughh, you inhale one. Swat again but another flies into your left eye. Not good.
Then, miraculously, a breeze picks up. The bugs disappear. But your respite is only temporary. The breeze fades and they are back with a vengeance, more annoying than ever.
Being the person that you are, you don’t accept defeat. You are a problem solver. You analyze the situation and come up with a plan: create your own breeze!
You crank it up, leaving your leisurely 8:00 minute per mile jog. In a matter of six strides you hit a blazing 5:00 minute per mile sprint. It works! The bugs fall in your wake!
Only one problem: in the next four strides, your body totally rebels. You fall on your face, unable to keep up that ridiculous pace. The bugs swarm around you, sensing road kill.
Time for “Plan B.” You do have a “plan B,” don’t you? My plan “B” would be to limp back to my car, slam the door on any trailing bugs and crank up the ac.
Things do not always go as planned. It pays to have a “Plan B.”
When I was younger there was a group of runners who would get together for training sessions and races.
The training was organized by one of the more experienced runners. We would meet at a local high school track. After a two mile warm up, we would hit the track to do the prescribed workout. It was fun.
The racing was also great because we knew each other and had our own rivalries to keep things interesting.
One of the runners in our group was Cal Housler (not his real name). What a runner! He seemed to glide around the track while the rest of us would plod along, huffing and puffing. Without a doubt, he was one of the most graceful runners of the day.
When it came to racing, however, Cal had a problem. He never seemed to perform up to expectations. Oh sure, he would start out fine, often leading his age group. But then, within half a mile or so of the finish line, Cal would tie up. His fists would clench, his shoulders would bunch up, his face a grimace of sheer agony. His pace would drop and he would often be passed by less gifted runners.
We began to notice that this was a consistent phenomenon. The race distance did not matter. Put Cal on the starting line of a 10 K (6.2 mile) race and he would fade at around six miles, just two tenths short of the finish line. The same for a half marathon: blazingly fast for the first thirteen miles but the anchor would come out within the last tenth of a mile.
More often than not, Cal would fall apart within sight of the finish line. We called this The Housler Effect.
Do you fade as you near your finish line? The reality is, it is never as bad as you think it will be. Cal’s reality was, it always was as bad as he thought it would be. What is your reality?
Read my blog, “Where Is The Top Of The Hill.” Had Cal been able to do that, the Housler Effect would never have been born.
Hill training should be an integral part of any serious training program, for both runners and cyclists. This blog will focus on hill training for runners.
Cyclists will use hill workouts differently. Indeed, by varying the structure of the workout (length and intensity), the cyclist can achieve a variety of training objectives. Because of this variety, we will cover hill training for cyclists in separate blog.
As with anything, it is important to understand your objective before beginning. Your objective for hill training is to gain strength and confidence.
You need to find a moderate grade, preferably where there is little vehicular traffic, of between 50 and 200 meters in length. Mark the start and end point. If possible try to find a stretch of road where there is a peak and mark your end point just beyond that peak. This is important. The end point must be ten to fifteen meters beyond the topographic peak. (see my earlier blog for an explanation of this)
Cross your start point at a comfortable pace, slightly faster than your normal running pace. Hold that pace to the end point. This is a strength building exercise. You want to be thinking “strength” not “speed.” Try to maintain form from start to finish.
This hill interval should take between forty five and ninety seconds. Circle back at an easy pace. You want full heart rate recovery. (Wearing a heart rate monitor will insure precision on all of your workouts; more on that in another blog). When you first start hill training, opt for the shorter length.
The first time you do this workout plan to do four repetitions. You want to feel progressively more tired on each one, but you do not want to be so wasted that you cannot maintain form and pace on the last rep. Maintaining form from start to finish is important. As you gain in strength, you will be able to increase your reps to six or even eight.
Be sure to allow recovery days after hill training. Doing so will maximize muscle adaptation and will insure that your next hard workout will be productive.
Remember that your objective is to build both strength and confidence. As you become stronger, you will become more confident. (See my earlier blog, “What is Hill Training?”)
Hill training? What is that? If you thought that it meant obedience training for your hills, you would be wrong. Hills cannot be trained to sit, to woof, or to roll over. If you thought so, please skip this and go to my next blog.
In fact, hill training embodies the spirit of what I wrote for the letter “E” in the Youth Version of my workbook.
Hill training is a training regimen that uses an uphill grade to achieve a targeted training objective. It is a vital component of any decent training program. It is a tremendous strength builder and it works for cyclists as well as for runners.
As with anything, it is important to understand your objective before beginning. For both runners and cyclists, it is pretty simple. Your objective is to gain strength and confidence.
Don’t skip over that “confidence” thing. It can make the difference between 1st and 2nd place.
Have you ever run with a group on a hilly course? Did you notice how it got quiet just before hitting the hills? Why? Hills suck; that’s why. No two ways about it and everybody knows that.
By doing effective hill training, you will gain strength and confidence. Having done effective hill training, you will start any uphill section knowing that you are strong, that you have done this many times before.
Of course, your training will not make the hill less steep. It will not be shorter. But if you approach each hill with an attitude of strength and confidence, you will soon gain a reputation for being dominant on what most people fear. The edge you will have gained through your hill training will live not only in your own mind, but in the minds of those around you. You know it and they know it! How sweet is that?
We will examine the details of hill training for runners and cyclists in separate blogs.
Before we talk about hill training answer this question: where is the top of the hill?
No, for our purposes it is not where the hill stops going up and starts going down. It is twenty meters beyond that point. Understand this concept and you will grasp the essence of hill training.
Why twenty meters beyond the crest? What is gained by continuing beyond the topographic peak? You guessed it. By pushing twenty meters beyond the topographic peak, you gain what might prove to be a critical psychological advantage.
How will this happen? Simple. If you do decide to incorporate hill training into your routine, you will quickly learn that hill training does, indeed, suck. Oh and, by the way, racing on hills also sucks.
That is why every time you do hill repeats you must push to that painful point twenty meters beyond the topographic peak. Do that in training and it will become second nature when you race. I guarantee that any opponent who has not trained that way will cave. You win. Of course, if he has been following this blog, you might have a problem.
But there is more. This entire, sadistic, concept has real life value beyond athletic performance. It is relevant to anything you choose to do in life.
Ask yourself, do you want to win? Fine, we all should strive to win. But that alone is not enough. Winning is, well, just winning. But do you want to dominate? Ah, now we are getting somewhere.
If you accept this concept, the concept that the top of the hill is twenty meters beyond the crest, no matter what it is that you have chosen to do, you stand a pretty good chance of being dominant.
Try it. Learn to push beyond the top. Make the effort (see the letter “E” in the youth version of my workbook). You will be glad that you did.