Coach Mike Mead

January 2010

Hit the Hills for Transition Training

“What next,” you might be asking yourself? You’ve logged in the miles and you’re about 12 weeks out from that first race of the season. You know that you have to do some speed work, but just how do you get from base training to speed training?

I do not know if we coaches and running guru’s explain it well enough for the novice runners or for that matter those of you who are training by the seat of your pants. Let me try to help.

Once you lay down a solid couple of months of base mileage (see my December 2009 column for guidance), you need a little transition time to go from base training to speed training. There are a few workouts that if you do twice a week for about four to six weeks will get you better prepared to handle more serious speed training.

One workout that is a staple with the college runners I coach is a variety of hill workouts about every 7-9 days apart. Typically, the first two or three hill workout sessions are simply running up a hill and walking or jogging back down. It is best to find a hill that is not too steeple and at least 100m in length. It’s important the hill workouts are done on soft terrain, so no pavement! The hill we use is pretty challenging and 250-300m in length depending where we begin on it.

The key to these first two or three hill workouts is running up the hill steady and focus on maintaining proper form and knee lift. You may want to over-exaggerate your knee lift when going uphill to get the most out of the workout.

The first hill workout should consist of running the hill a minimum of four times – up and down counts as one – but no more than six. The next two sessions, try to add one hill so that by your third hill workout you are doing six to eight.

If you find this type of hill workout too challenging, start out by marking off a 200m hill in 50m segments. These markings do not have to be precise. The idea is to break the hill up in segments. Then run to the first 50m mark and walk back to your starting point, then turn around and run to the 100m mark, then walk back to the start, and so on until you get to the top of the hill. Do this twice and you pretty much cover the same ground as the other previous hill workout described.

In between the hill workouts, it is good to do a weekly fartlek run. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “fartlek” it is a Swedish word for “speed play.” Starting out, you may want to do a controlled variation by starting out with a 10 minute jog. After the 10-minute mark, you will increase your speed for a set period of time then return to your jogging pace for an “active rest” period.

Starting out, you might pick up the pace for 30 seconds before settling back down for say a minute. Try repeating this 30 second fast/1 minute jog set for five continuous times before finishing up your run of about 30 minutes.

Once you get comfortable with speed play, you can lengthen the speed time and shorten the active rest period. Better yet, mix up the speed by using land marks. I use to go from mailbox to mailbox or power pole to power pole. When I did the mailbox to mailbox speed play, it was challenging since I did it in the country where it could be a quarter to a half a mile between mailboxes. Whatever works for you, do it!

Once you have done four of five hill workouts, you can punch them up to make them more challenging by doing hill circuits. On the hill we use, we’ll start out with two circuits. We’ll run up the 300m hill; walk/jog down the hill and then as soon as we get to the bottom of the hill run out away from it on a flat section of trail at least 200m and stop. Usually the ladies go out 200m while the guys run out 400-600m. After a brief rest (about 30 second per 200m), we run back on the flat and continue up to the top of the hill. We finish walking or jogging back down the hill to complete the first circuit. We’ll work up to three or fourth of these hill circuits in one session.

By this point in the training, if you can make the hill circuits, you’re ready to handle the more traditional speed workouts. The major benefit to the hills workouts, assuming they are run with proper form, mechanics and terrain, is that they prepare you for the speed without beating up your body.

So if you are in need of some transitional workouts to get you ready for speed then head for the hills!