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If you hate hills, I feel your (calf, quad and hamstring) pain. I started running in the pancake-flat Chicago suburbs, so when I did my first hilly 5K in the northern Midwest, I thought I was going to pass out. In fact, when I finished I could barely walk.
I continued to struggle running uphill until I went on a mountain climbing expedition up Mount Rainier. It took us two days to summit and another half day to hike down. That’s when I had a light-blub moment—in order to reach the top of any hill, you have to accept the climb, slow down and find your rhythm. You must work with the terrain, not fight it.
Once I applied my mountain-climbing flow to my running, my relationship with hills completely changed. I knew that if I stayed in tune with my breath and my body, there was no hill too big or small that I couldn’t navigate efficiently.
Get Your Climb On
The Hilly 5K Training Plan is designed for runners who have a solid mileage base (20 miles per week) and have run a 5K before. If you aren’t quite up to that level, no worries, simply add the Green Hill (easiest) workout to your schedule once per week to start. After four weeks, you can gradually add more challenging workouts to the mix.
Training Key for Hilly 5K Plan
Easy Run + Flex: Run at an easy effort on flat terrain and finish with stretching or foam rolling.
Green Hill: The goal here is to learn to run hills efficiently—slower on the way up, and faster on the way down working with the flow of terrain. Find a hilly route of the indicated distance and focus on maintaining as even an effort as possible the entire run.
Red Hill Repeats: This true hill workout is a toughie.
- Warm up by walking and running easy for 10 minutes on flat terrain.
- Find a moderately steep hill (outside or on a treadmill). Run up the hill for 60 seconds at a very hard effort.
- Jog very easy going back down the hill, or at a 0 percent incline on the treadmill for 2 minutes and repeat as many times as indicated.
Hill Climbers: This workout includes longer, more moderate hill climbs that build strength and endurance.
- Warm up by walking and running easily for 10 minutes.
- Run up a hill for 3 minutes at a moderately difficult effort (you should be able to hear your breathing, but you’re not gasping for air).
- Recover by jogging down (or jogging easy) for about 3 minutes. Repeat as many times as indicated.
Race Simulation: This workout will help you get in tune with how your body should feel during a race. You’ll run this on flat terrain. Leave the Garmin at home (or just use it to track your distance) and focus on effort, not pace.
- Run the first 2 miles at an easy effort.
- Run miles 2 to 4 at a moderately hard effort.
- Run the final mile at a very hard effort.
Stairs + ST 30/30 Minutes: Hit the stair climber (or a nearby stadium). Climb stairs at a moderate effort for 30 minutes. Follow with a 30-minute total body strength workout (yoga, Pilates, body strength, kettlebell or weights).
Easy Cycle + ST 30/30 Minutes: Ride a bike (indoors or outdoors) at an easy effort for 30 minutes and follow with a 30-minute total body strength workout (yoga, Pilates, body strength, kettlebell or weights).
Rest or Restorative Yoga: A complete rest day or very light flexibility session.