Mid-Season Hill Sessions

CBCG athletes attacking hills at our Bend Spring Training Camp

CBCG athletes attacking hills at our Bend Spring Training Camp

by Chris Boudreaux

Hill Repeats constitute a part of almost every training plan I’ve seen.  There are many benefits of hill training: run specific strength, good form (running uphill naturally puts your body in “proper” run form), high intensity quality efforts, so there’s not much reason to write an article touting the benefits of hill running.  But when (and how!) to incorporate hill training into your run is what I’d like to discuss today.

Coaches often prescribe hill work early in the season. Typically short in duration (one to three minutes per interval), usually at a fairly high intensity, they are a great way to start introducing harder work into the initial months of an athlete’s new year. Once April or May rolls around, however, it seems that hill sessions make way for tempo work, speed work, race pace specificity, and hills often get set aside until the following year. This is a mistake. Around 6-8 weeks out from our key races, I will typically bring back the “hill repeat” workout, as a way of sharpening athletes’ race pace work.  Tempo work (steady, longer efforts at or around various race distances do constitute the majority of “in season” work, as it’s the biggest indicator of success at a given race distance, and I set up these intervals to reflect that intensity. The hill adds a degree of difficulty, and doesn’t let the athlete back off the way he or she might be able to do on a track or out on the road.

These hill repeats are typically done as five-minute intervals, on a moderate hill (a 4-5% grade—similar to what you would see on a highway offramp).  We have a great soft surface hill in Portland (Saltzman Road), and I have a designated starting point, arrived at through multiple iterations of this workout.  It was something I found with Terenzo Bozzone (mulitple triathlon world champion), when he used to train here in Portland during the summers.  The five minutes are long enough that sprinting isn’t possible, but short enough to give a very honest effort (right around your 70.3 goal run pace, or open 10k pace). Recoveries are relaxed downhill back to the starting line. 

The total distance and efforts of these runs make up for a solid tempo run—not a true speed or total aerobic efforts. Remember that you will probably have close to a similar time going downhill, so these runs are fairly long (typically 75-100 minutes). As far as a progression week to week (assuming the athlete is absorbing the workouts well and recovering), we don’t increase the time of the interval.  For some reason, to me, 5 is the magic number.  It is a great distance for that uphill effort, allowing you to have a repeatable distance to compare each effort, and efforts from past sessions.  Instead, we increase the number of repeats we do, as well as adding some complimentary work, such as very short pickups to improve leg speed, or some downhill tempo work to make sure we’re not running with the brakes on.

I really love these workouts as one of our key sessions leading into key races.  They are difficult workouts, so I would caution against doing too much.  I wouldn’t prescribe these sessions all season, but at the correct time they can provide a huge boost in performance, just as you’re coming to your “A” priority race.

Sample workouts:


20 min warmup with 6x:30 pickups
4x5 min Hill effort (70.3 race effort) with downhill recovery back to start
Last downhill at tempo effort
10-15 min cool down


20 min warmup w/4x:100 pickups
4x5 min hill efforts (70.3)
After final interval, find a flat section of road or trail
4x2:00 fast (sprint distance effort) w/ 1:00 recovery
10-15 min c/d


20 min warmup w/ 4x1:00 pickups
3x5 min hill effort (Olympic dis effort)
1x10 min flat tempo (70.3 pace)
1x downhill interval with great form
10 min c/d


20 min warmup w/ 4x1:30 building efforts
7x5 min Hill repeats at Ironman effort
w/ last 2 intervals downhill tempo
10-15 min c/

Chris Boudreaux is CBCG's high-performance coach, with more than a decade of racing at the professional level. Check him out here.