This article, by Nate Jenkins, originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition of our magazine.
Nearly everyone who runs competitively has done tempo runs and hill workouts, but very few runners mix them together in a single session. This seemingly crazy mélange is a great way to get the most out of your body and the limited time in your training schedule.
As much as I would like to take credit for this idea the reality is that mixing hills with tempo work is fairly common among elite distance runners. Australian marathon legend Rob De Castella often would do either a steady 12 mile run followed by 6×1 minute hills or a 2-3 mile fast tempo with 4×1-2 minute hill reps afterwards. Famed Italian super coach Renato Canova often has his athletes mix in short hill reps as part of tempo intervals or in the afternoon after grueling, long tempo workouts.
I suggest the 2-3 mile fast tempo at 10K to half marathon pace followed, after only a minute or two break, by 4×1-2 minute long hill repeats run at max effort with jog down recoveries. This is not a particularly time consuming workout. It can be easily done in the evening after work. It is, however, quite challenging and super effective.
When you mix hills with tempo work you tax your body in a different way from most ‘normal’ workouts. Tempo runs are not leg blasters like hill repeats or hard intervals but they certainly can take the ‘pop’ out of your legs. They do exhaust your aerobic energy systems quite effectively. Hill repeats immediately following such an effort take on a new aspect both in terms of how challenging they feel but also in how they challenge your body. Suddenly you find yourself with heavy legs and an exhausted aerobic system trying to be fast and explosive against the always challenging resistance of gravity.
This session is the shortest I have found that nearly duplicates the exhaustion you feel in your legs when you are trying to finish fast in a half or full marathon. After a few sessions like this you will notice that you have a great advantage over your peers on hills during races. It is no wonder almost all of Deeks’ great victories came with killing drives up hills late in the marathon.
A second option, that is particularly effective for those of you speed merchants out there, is to reverse the order of this session. Doing 4×30-60 second hill repeats right before a 2-4 mile tempo run at 10K to half marathon pace will recruit a higher percentage of your muscle fibers than you normally would during a tempo run. These fibers stay active during the tempo. This, in turn, can lead to huge breakthroughs in your ability to hold a fast pace for a much longer period of time.
This odd twist may actually make the tempo feel easier than normal. It will also almost certainly result in more soreness than usual. It can also quickly result in you running your mile pace for a two mile race or your 3k pace for a 5K race. [Editor’s Note: This is not a bad thing.]
Sessions like these can quickly induce a huge improvement, particularly because they are a new training impetus. Think about how much you improved when you first added intervals or long runs. This is a chance to see jumps like that again.
So now, as Carrie Tollefson always says, “Now let’s get after it!” Ω
Nate Jenkins is a 2:14:56 marathoner and middle school math teacher who represented the USA at the 2009 IAAF World Track and Field championships and once survived an ice bath with Chris Solinsky and Matt Tegenkamp. He also has a beautiful wife and an amazing dog.
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