The Hills are Alive…But I May Not be When I Get Done with Them

As I approach one week out till marathon training (my first!) I am excited and also full of questions. Whenever I write and share I am anxious to hear from other people; my hope is always to interest and engage and maybe even inspire. This time though, I am eager to hear from you because I need advice! This may become a frequent thing in the next few months as I set upon navigating entirely new terrain. I hope some of my thoughts and questions and concerns are on the minds of others more reluctant to reach out–it’d be awesome to help someone besides myself!

My first crowdsource subject? HILLS! 

As this is my first marathon, my only goal is to finish happy and healthy (injury free). I’m putting in a lot of different work with intervals, track workouts, and hills on my short runs and also really fine-tuning my nutrition (I don’t plan to fuel on carbohydrates, more on this in future posts). I know it might seem odd to do speed-work with no goal time in mind but I’d like to be in the best shape I can be for the race; the variance helps me work different muscles and adds to my endurance strength.

As I mentioned, I’ve got a little over a week before I start an 18 week program (Hal Higdon). Since I am on hiatus from work, I have spent the past couple weeks putting really great time in at the gym strength training, adding extra yoga classes, and mixing up my treadmill work. Also, I’ve been keeping my longer runs on Sundays to no more than 9 miles at a nice and easy pace. I guess you can say I’ve been pre-habbing. On my hill intervals on the treadmill I’ve been doing 2 minutes on hills and 2 minutes off, and steadily increasing the incline as the run progresses. The pace I keep on these runs is completely dependent on what I have in me on that day. Which brings me to the whining portion of my cry for help…are these hills going to get any easier?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no overnight success anywhere in my story; I know that everything is a process and takes work. Still, it’s always been easier for me to charge forward and stay on a path when I can see some progress, even if it’s tiny and incremental. I can even deal with the 2 steps forward, 1 step back approach, but I swear, these hills are giving me NOTHIN! It’s been about a month since I’ve been incorporating them into my runs at least twice a week and they have not gotten any easier. In the latter parts of my run it takes everything I have to not grab onto the handles on the treadmill and relinquish some of the weight off my legs.

Have you ever traveled up a few flights of stairs with someone and been winded and they turn to you and say, “But you’re a runner, how are you tired?” I always respond to this with, “Stairs are not the same, they don’t care how fit you are!” Are hills the same? Am I never going to conquer them? Or am I going too fast? Should I not be increasing the incline so steadily as I run, should steeper inclines come later in my training? What about pace–should I be dropping it down a bit more or should it match the flat intervals? Or should I just keep doing what I am doing and quit being so impatient?

Any and all comments and advice are welcome and appreciated. Please share your experience–I need some inspiration!

Also, how goes whatever phase you are in? Pre-habbing, training, resting, in limbo? Where are you at and what are you struggling with? I always think it helps to talk it out so please feel free to share. As always, thanks for reading! x

 

48 thoughts on “The Hills are Alive…But I May Not be When I Get Done with Them

  1. Hill are your friend. You won’t love them at first, but you’ll love how they transform your body and your mind. I can specifically remember the dates when I ‘conquered’ a specific hill. I would encourage you to get outside if you can and run hills – there is something about looking to the top and finally getting there, knowing you did it, and talking positively to yourself the whole time (or, just figuring out how to not trust that negative voice). It’s very empowering. Once you finally conquer that hill, the next one will be easier.

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  2. Pingback: Week #2: “I’m All Over the Place” – cat h. bradley

  3. Hills suck but they do get easier. I am about seven weeks out from my first 50 mile ultra. I have always ran my hood for training (unless it’s hotter than hades or snow on ground and then I run indoor track) because I cannot deal with the treadmill. It’s just too boring and goes by so slow. By training with hills it made my 50k much easier as it was essentially flat. I do run/walk and try not to freak about pace at this time. I will probably do a full at the beginning of October and the brain is already in the how fast can I finish mode. So keep up with hills they will make you stronger. I’m excited to follow you as you train for your first marathon!!

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    1. Thanks so much Rach! Yes, i imagine the treadmill would get quite boring especially considering the long distances you are logging! I have gotten so much great advice on hills lately, including yours, it has really helped. I am taking them slower as you said and not worrying about pace. As I work on them slowly I am seeing equally slow incremental progress–it is very exciting to me! I realized the other day, “hey, I’ve got 18 weeks to get better at these, that’s some good time, I can do this!”
      Thanks so much for your encouragement and thanks for following along–so so happy to have you. Please share your thoughts and advice as often as you feel compelled, I really value them!

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  4. OMG, this post makes me so excited. Hills are hard and they will stay that way but you’ll get so much stronger. Soon you’ll notice a huge difference on your regular flat runs. Trust the process. Stay patient. I’m speaking from experience. And go slower, if you want to stop chances are that you’re pushing the pace. That’s okay too, but then do short intervals. I trained on rolling hills for eight month and now my flat runs are almost a minute faster/mile than what they used to be.

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    1. Thank you Beans! (Couldn’t find your real name anywhere on your site so hope it’s ok I call you Beans 😍 ) This is SO encouraging. I am going to keep at it as you say but also go slower and shorten the intervals sometimes as you suggest. Thank you so much, I’ll let you know how it goes!!

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      1. I’m so happy to hear this. Love your blog, I got lost in it for a couple hours yesterday 🙂 My name is Csilla, I should fix that on the page. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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  5. You can do it!! My first marathon was the Little Rock Marathon which is very hilly and I had wished I had trained hills like you are doing! I sense that you will be well prepared!! I am currently in week 2 of marathon training so I’m right here with ya! 💪🏼

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    1. Hey Amy!! So awesome you are training as well, which marathon are you doing, Little Rock again or a different one? What number is this for you? I have seen a lot of people are running Chicago in October and are about where you are in training I think, it’s a lot of fun to read people’s progress and encourage each other. Thanks so much for reading and stopping by, please come back 😍.

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      1. Yes I am training for Chicago as well! Chicago will be my 4th so I am still very new at the training and process and can completely relate! You can do it! Try not to get discouraged when it gets hard 🤗

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  6. So… you read my post and know I’m in new territory too as I start training for my first duathlon. You couldn’t have picked a better plan than Hal! I used his training book like a new religion training for my marathons. Sane, practical and easy to work with.

    Now.. hills. I live in the “hill country” so I have many at my disposal. Actually, they are literal mountains that were paved over for a road. They are beasts. over the past few years I’ve gotten stronger and stronger on them.

    Nothing makes me feel more fierce than running big hills. The duathlon will be on many of the hills I train on so I think it’s a bonus I can work them in my training.

    All I can say is keep at it…. push a little more and a little longer.. in time your body will beautifully adapt. It will never be “easy” but it can start to feel like it takes less of your energy.

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  7. I love running hills outside, but when they start getting easier you just push it that bit harder. I do find hills make a big difference to my running and make me a lot stronger. I usually try and have some hills in my long runs. I’m on week 3 of marathon training and enjoying it! Good luck with your training!

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  8. I run hills all the time because they exist on my running route, but I would never choose to bypass them because they’re free speed. They will make you stronger and faster. You mentioned not using carbs to fuel. I’m the complete opposite of that. Until I started doing triathlon and in particular Ironman, I was bonking all the time. I learned how to fuel my training and races and found it was the missing link for me performance-wise, especially in marathons. I went from bonking/hitting the dreaded wall to taking big chunks of time off of my PR and qualifying for Boston. As you begin your 18 weeks of training please keep an eye not only on how you are progressing running wise, but how you feel energy wise as well. Good luck. A November marathon – NYC?

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    1. Thanks so much for the comments Chris! Yeah I know it’s pretty standard for endurance athletes to up their carbs but grains and such have just never felt very good in my body, so trying a different route, upping my fats especially. My mom is a holistic nutritionist so I work with her very closely on diet so will definitely be keeping an eye on it as you say 😉. And yes, NYC, woohoo!! Very excited. Thanks again for your advice and for stopping by!

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  9. My coach has me do a session he calls ‘Kenyan Hills’, which he says is based on what he’s observed Kenyans doing when he’s been out there. The session is designed to build leg strength and looks like this:
    10-15 min warm-up
    3 x 8 mins of Hill reps,
    10-15 min warm down.

    For the Reps, I find a hill with 8-10% elevation that will take 45-60 sec to run up at tempo pace. You run up, then walk or jog down, keep doing that for 8 mins, then take a 1:30 recovery before going again. Eventually the session ends up being 2×15 mins as you progress. It’s a short, sharp, session and one I quite enjoy now!

    We also build hills into my longer runs, and I’ve to run up those keeping my HR at the same effort as on the flat, which means slowing down and not dying on the hills as I used to do!

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    1. This is great to have in my mind Alasdair, thank you! I never know the exact elevation of a hill but I can definitely find one that takes me about a minute to get up to do those hill repeats. I like this idea. My hubs and I just did a “long” run with some hills but the biggest one is at the end and I always bust up it as fast as I can cause it’s like pushing at the end you know. But now that I am listening to you and others, I’m thinking that may not be the best for my training because the hills come throughout the course. Good stuff to think about! How’s your training going? I will head over to your blog today to see 😉! x

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  10. Hi, Cat! I’m sorry I can’t give you any advice but I just want to share that I’m planning on joining a marathon as well. I believe it will be on September which is a good time cause I’m still losing some weight as of now. Your writing has inspired me to go out there and put my energy to good use!

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    1. That’s so great Mariella! Running can be a really exciting thing to do when you start losing weight. Although progress can be slow and incremental, you will be ABSOLUTELY amazed by what your body can do. Then when you start looking at your body and appreciating it for what it can do rather than just what it looks like, that is truly rewarding. Good luck on your journey and thanks so much for reading and commenting, please come back! 😘

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  11. alabasterbeachgirl

    You inspire me to start running again. I have never run an entire marathon. The most I have done is a 1/2 and even then, I don’t really consider myself a true runner. I have a mitral valve prolapse and have to run/walk all my races to keep my heart rate in check. With that said, I worked in a 9 story building for years and often took the stairs as a means of increasing my endurance and stamina. With time, it does help. But it takes time. Good luck with your marathon!

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    1. Hey! I’m so glad this could inspire you, I’ve only run 1/2s so far as well…it’s a big exciting jump 😍. I know a lot of people use run/walk as a regular technique so you will definitely not be alone, hope you get started again. Good luck, and thanks for reading! x

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  12. I haven’t experienced the physical effort of hills getting any easier yet, but I have seen an improvement in the mental effort. Hills are slowly getting less scary and I find I have more mental ability to push further and faster up a hill before needing a walk break. I’m also one week out from a training session and I hope to incorporate more hills this time around too. Stick with it and I’m sure you will see the hills getting easier….eventually.

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  13. Did you ever try training in stairwells? I have never trained for a marathon, but for track and field training we used to hit stairwells..After a few weeks training on 21 floor tower at the university, we saw great improvement in our ability. A typical workout consisted of running straight to the top and then dropping down gradually (2 flights, 4 flights, 6 flights etc until 21 flights) or sticking to 5 repetitions of 18 flights. We felt incredible afterwards! I hope this helps!

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    1. Thanks Emmanuel! I did used to run stairs in high school. It was brutal, but you are right, it strengthened those muscles for sure! I am not sure that would be the best for my knees at this point in my life–especially the going down the stairs. I have been thinking about doing some cross training on the stairclimber at the gym though, just slowly and for a short amount of minutes. Doing a LOT of strength training as well, trying to build up some powerful quads :). I appreciate your comment so much, and thanks for the follow! Do you have a blog? When I click on you it says site not found. Always appreciate your thoughts!

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  14. Steve

    Essentially every training plan I’ve seen, for any race of any distance, calls for hill running to improve strength and form. Sadly, there are no hills in my part of the country, so I can’t answer your key question. What I can say is that the sprint training I’ve done has absolutely gotten easier (it took a couple months), and was probably the most effective workout I’ve done. Best of luck, and stay healthy!

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  15. I think the hills will get easier, especially if you incorporate some type of hill/speed interval workout.

    I’ve wondered about the stair thing and I have an untested hypothesis. Typically most people kinda stomp and put all of their weight on their legs when climbing stairs. When most people run, they try to run “light”

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  16. Personally for me, I find running on a treadmill way harder than outdoors. Outdoor hills never seem quite as bad and I always remind myself that what comes up must come down, so usually that means there is a nice downhill afterwards. Good luck with your first marathon!

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  17. Firstly – I’ve just started training for my first marathon too and completely relate to the whole full of questions/excited thing. Think I may be starting to annoy people!

    Re: your hills – I’m probably not the best person to give advice as my experience of hill training is on the real thing, not a treadmill. But I’m finding it is definitely getting easier, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. Tonight I ran up a hill with some friends which we’ve done a few times before and it felt as hard as always but, when we looked at the times, I actually got my fastest by a significant amount. Give it time and keep at it – you will see results. More importantly, adding hills to my training always helps me on the flat – not sure if it’s a mental advantage or a physical one but I figure if I can get up the hills I have to be able to run the flats a lot quicker.

    Good luck!

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    1. It’s funny you say that about the “real thing” cause I guess when I think about it, my pace and endurance on the real hills on my long runs is improving–maybe I’m just being greedy looking for that improvement on the treadmill as well! After all, I won’t be running any races on the treadmill so I guess outside is what counts. There is just nothing that makes me doubt my fitness more than stairs and hills 😜. Thanks so much for your thoughts! x

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