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Can hill sprints or hill repeats replace flat intervals?

PostPosted: Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:05 pm
by veganjoggler
Happy New Year all. Marathon runner here. Sometimes I think I am overdoing it with the intense workouts, like with intervals in particular, especially if I do them the same week as a challenging hill run. I often feel very exhausted and a little too sore by the end of a week like this, almost to the point that I come close to injuring myself.

This leaves me wondering if hill runs, in particular, hill sprints, can replace interval runs done on a flat surface? Do hill sprints(run up hill at max or near max speed for 10 to 12 sec, walk down hill during rest, rest for a minute) have the same benefits as interval runs performed on flat areas? I used to do intervals for about 15 minutes, 30 sec fast/30 sec rest. Hill repeats I often do for 20 minutes as part of a longer run(though not a "long" run).

I'm thinking of replacing flat intervals with hill sprints once a week, plus hill repeats once a week(or alternatively, a long run through a hilly area). Is this a good idea? Any recommendations?

Re: Can hill sprints or hill repeats replace flat intervals?

PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 10:38 pm
by hakko
I'd say there are a lot of different aspects that together make up how fast you can run a marathon. Running economy, lactate threshold, VO2max, leg strength, aerobic metabolism etc. Most types of training improve some but not all of these aspects. Hill sprints and flat 30/30 intervals are somewhat overlapping but definitely not equal in term of what they aim to improve.

People have different reasons for running and different strength/weaknesses. Choosing your type of training program should be based on a long term idea of purpose - what do want to achieve? Have fun? Lose weight? Run faster? Improve endurance? Depending on the purpose of your running, you probably want to choose different ways of training.

To me, doing 30/30 intervals to a point of feeling exhausted close to injuring yourself sounds like unusual and not ideal marathon training. Hill workouts in the middle of a run sounds more sane. In general (although there are a lot of different ways to success), I guess marathon training is normally based on a pretty high volume of low intensity training with at least one long run per week. And as you get closer to your race, you start adding long intervals, tempo runs, speed blocks etc, but rarely super short high intensity intervals.

However, the most important thing is figuring out what works for you. Look at other athletes and how they train for inspiration, but don't copy somebody else's training program blindly. It's a good idea to keep a diary so that you can evaluate later on what worked for you.

Re: Can hill sprints or hill repeats replace flat intervals?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:33 am
by hakko
I might also add that the training effect of your 15/15 intervals depends on the way you run them. If the fast pace is just above lactate threshold and the slow pace is just below, then it's mainly lactate threshold training. If the fast pace is maximum speed and the slow pace is more recovery, than it's rather VO2max training.

So instead of asking "can I replace this type of interval with this other type of interval", I think that you should first consider what you're trying to achieve and then choose your training accordingly. Do you simply enjoy feeling totally exhausted? You can sure achieve that with hill intervals. Are you trying to work on your cadence? Hill intervals works for that, too. Are you trying to improve lactate threshold? Then maybe hill intervals isn't the perfect choice, even though it helps a bit. Etc.

Re: Can hill sprints or hill repeats replace flat intervals?

PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:10 pm
by veganjoggler
Thanks for the info, Hakko.

There are 2 main things I am trying to accomplish, which are:

1) Improve my marathon time.

2) Run an ultra-marathon.

I've already accomplished 1) at my last marathon by beating my old time by 11 minutes(though I'de prefer going even faster), but I've been looking into running an ultra-race. So far I haven't done any official ultra-marathons, but in training I was able to run 64 km or 40 miles in a little less than 8 hours. At the end of the 64 km run, I felt like I could have run much farther. I haven't decided on which race to run yet.

So I guess to rephrase my question: How important is hill-running for training for an ultra? Or should I just run longer distances? I tend to run 40 to 50(80 km) miles per week. My long runs are usually 20 miles(32 km), sometimes 16. To answer my own question, it seems that the hillier the ultra-run is, the more important it is to train on hilly routes. Any insights are appreciated.

Re: Can hill sprints or hill repeats replace flat intervals?

PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 6:35 pm
by ninearms
The importance of hill training depends on the race, and so does the type of hill training. I've done 6 hours of hill repeats before (300m long, 45m ascent, so 2-2.5 mins up at a steady pace), but only because I have no big hills around here. I've also done 3 reps of a 5km/650m climb. The latter was more useful, because the climbing was more sustained and the race I was training for started with a 20km/2500m climb. However, if the course was more undulating then the former would have been better. However, I will say that too much emphasis on hills can be detrimental (and I've done it). Better fitness and better downhill skills are probably more important for most people than climbing ability IMO. Mostly easy runs, something quicker early in the week, hills near the end (short hills early in the cycle, long hill towards the end), long run at the weekend (I also like your hills in the middle of a long run approach, but there are other ways of doing them, e.g. hilly start-flat finish).

Distance-wise you don't need to go much above 20 miles on a regular basis. Generally I will have 1 big outing around 5 weeks out, but otherwise I will hover around the 30-35km range, maybe higher if there happens to be a race nearby that I can use as a catered training run (I did a 55km race last month for that reason, off 3 weeks race specific training and a 5 day taper). If you can keep in that range, and not weight all your mileage towards the weekend (I've done that too), then you'll be in good enough shape to take advantage of those sorts of opportunities when they arise. Just don't race them!

Re: Can hill sprints or hill repeats replace flat intervals?

PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 11:38 pm
by hakko
ninearms is much better suited than me for answering questions about ultra races! but for improving your marathon time, my approach would be identifying your current weaknesses and eliminate them.

One way of doing that would be looking at your current race speed for 10km, half marathon and marathon. For myself, it was a year ago since I ran a HM, and more than a year since I ran a flat marathon. My latest race paces for the 10km was 3:30 min/km, HM 3:45 min/km, M 4:10 min/km. (5:38 min/mile, 6:02 min/mile, 6:43 min/mile). Obviously I was much better trained for the 10 km.

So for myself, I'd recommend exercises to improve speed endurance, such as:
4x4 km at target marathon pace, 1 km jog rest
3x6 km at target marathon pace, 1 km jog rest
3x3 km at HM race pace, 1 km jog rest
7 easy km + 9 km at target marathon pace + 7 easy km
10 easy km + 5 km at HM race pace + 5 easy km

While for a person with a very small pace difference between a 10 km race and a marathon race, it would make more sense to focus on speed. But I think this is more unusual, most marathon runners need to focus on marathon specific training such as the examples I posted!

I also think it is a good idea to use different kind of cycles in your training, both short cycles (for example letting every 4th week be easier than the three previous) and long cycles. Where the long cycle is rather made up by phases such as a base conditioning phase, a speed phase and a specific phase where you practice a lot at your target race pace to prepare your body for that. So I would jog up and down hills during the base phase and turn to the intervals during the specific phase.

And a final recommendation: do as much of your training in an environment that is similar to your planned race. Doing a mountain ultra? Run mountains all the time! Doing a trail ultra? Run trails! Doing a desert ultra? Yeah you guess it. Hill training is always good but the necessity depends on what race you want to be competitive for.