Include Hill Repeats to Be Stronger on Race Day and to Transition from Shorter, Higher Intensity Work Bouts to Longer Tempo and Goal-Pace Runs During Your Training

“Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.”

Hello Runners,

As I reached mile 25, I saw the beast in front of me. It was the last obstacle standing between me and qualifying for the Boston Marathon for the first time, and it was formidable. I saw it take its toll on other runners before me as they struggled to ascend, with many having to walk. It seemed like a cruel joke.

I’d arrived the day before without my luggage, including my running shoes and running clothes, which had been taken from me, by an overzealous flight attendant, as I could not stuff the carry-on they were in either under my seat or the overhead bin. Unfortunately for me, my flight later got redirected, as did my luggage, because of a thunderstorm. As a result, I arrived the afternoon before the marathon without my luggage, and I was now in need of running clothes and shoes. I got the clothes at the expo and shoes at a local running store. I walked around as much as possible to break them in that evening.

When I arrived at the start line the next morning, I had pretty much given up on my goal of qualifying for Boston. Sure, I’d put the training in, but now I was running in new shoes that weren’t broken in and I wasn’t absolutely sure they were the right size and fit.  Who knows if they were going to cause blisters and other issues during the marathon. However, my mindset changed after about a mile when another runner flew by me. I decided to catch him and it was “game on” as far as qualifying for Boston.

After each mile, I did the math in my head as far as what pace I needed to run to still qualify. As I got to mile 25, qualifying for Boston was within my reach. However, I’d forgotten about this hill. The last major obstacle I would need to overcome to qualify. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to spare, so to me walking any part of the hill was not an option. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, however part of my training had included hill work, including hill repeats; the topic of this post.

How To Perform Hill Repeats 

I recommend performing hill repeats on a hill with approximately 4-6% incline. The best surfaces to perform these on are a hard-packed trail free of roots, rocks, etc. or on a treadmill. You can perform these on the road, which I did in preparing for this marathon. If you perform hill repeats on the road, I do recommend recovering with a walk to minimize stress on the joints.

Perform a dynamic warmup and easy run first, of at least 15-20 minutes before performing hill repeats. Then perform 4-6 hill repeats at a comfortably hard effort (~5k pace). Recover with a slow jog or walk for at least 3 minutes. To start, I would perform hill repeats lasting 30-45 seconds. Then progress the length of the hill repeats for the next two weeks.

Sample Hill Repeat Progression

Week 1: 4-6 x 30-45 second hill repeats with 3 minute recovery in between hill repeats

Week 2: 4-6 x 45-60 second hill repeats with 3-4 minute recovery

Week 3: 4 x 60-75 second hill repeats with 3-5 minute recovery

Benefits of Hills Repeats

  • Strengthen the muscles of the legs (quadriceps, glutes, calves, etc.)
  • Increasing range of motion of the ankle joint
  • Help transition from shorter, higher intensity work bouts like VO2max intervals to tempo and goal-pace runs
  • Improve running form and running economy (efficiency)

Fortunately, I had incorporated hill repeats in my training for this marathon. I was still strong enough to attack this hill and run all of it. Then, I was able to push myself and finish strong for the last two tenths of a mile. As a result, I beat my qualifying time and I was able to laugh at all the obstacles I had encountered in my way, including that last hill.

So, I recommend that you consider incorporating hill repeats into your training. I typically include these with runners I coach.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Embrace the hills during training because they will pay off on marathon day.

Your friend and coach,


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