So what is it? Super simple. You just hammer every time you go uphill. I really like to be a stickler about this. I mean a two stride bump in the road and I drop two hard strides. You run at your regular pace between runs. On a loop that is largely flat this is a nice moderate run with a few nice hard efforts to open up the system. On a very hilly loop this can be one of your hardest sessions. I would do this on a 1.5 mile loop in the Phillips Academy Sanctuary that is basically a loop around a valley so it has two killer long climbs each loop. Six or seven loops in there and I would be DONE!
When to do it? First I'm a huge fan of fartlek and hills most anytime as a workout on a day when the main plan may have fallen through or as the second workout for the week. Second this is a great bread and butter session if you are preparing for a cross country or hilly road racing. You can adjust the distance of the fartlek depending on the the distance of the race you are preparing for.
Goal Race Fartlek distance
5k 3 to 5 miles
8k/10k 5 to 10 miles
half marathon 8 to 15 miles
Marathon 10 to 25 miles
What are you trying to accomplish with this workout? First anytime you do hills you are building your muscular strength. With this workout specifically you tend to get long breaks so you are working on flushing out latic acid completely which makes it a great transition workout between base work and heavy anaerobic work for 800 to 10k runners or early in cross country season. This is also an awesome session for building mental fortitude. It is real easy to get motivated for and not intimidating but you really have to dig down to get a good effort on tough hills later in the session.
You can run faster, as fast as fundamental tempo run pace, on the stretches between the hills to make this a specific prep for a race strategy where you plan to hammer the hills. This makes it a great aerobic session and really forces your body to flush out a lot of acid at a quick pace on the recoveries.
Another option is to do this on your long runs. This can be a great first step towards some of the hard long workouts I and others advise for the marathon.
A variation on the long run is to find a place with real long climbs. One summer I lived near Northfield Mountain in western Massachusetts and it has a ton of trails. I would do my Sunday long runs up there. I often would push the long uphills, 1 to 3 miles, and just recover and fly on the long downhills. It was ok if I found myself completely hammering quads burning and gasping for air at 7 miles into a 22 mile long run because I was going to recover on the next downhill but it really can build the mental fortitude as well as the aerobic and muscular endurance. This session was almost like doing a series of uphill tempos with 10 to 20 minute easy running breaks between them. I'll tell you I never ran better on hills than I did the fall after I spent the summer doing those runs!
So the next time you are about to skip a workout because life got in the way or whatever and you are about to just head out for your regular old training loop MAN UP and Hammer the Hills!! You will sneak a workout in where you would other wise have just a regular training run, you will be tougher for having done it and chances are you'll have a lot of fun in the process.