Hill Workouts for Marathon Training

By Rick Morris

The first thing that probably pops into your mind when you envision marathon training is a easy or moderate paced long run over a flat trail or course. There’s no question that those weekly long runs are critical for your marathon success but for top marathon performance you also need other types of training runs. You need to boost your lactate threshold with tempo and lactate run point runs. High intensity interval training will improve your vVO2 max and neuromuscular conditioning. Endurance, lactate turn point and vVO2 max are all important, but don’t forget about working on your running strength and power. Marathon hill workouts are not only a great way to improve your running power and strength but it also helps develop your lactate threshold and neuromuscular conditioning.

Any type of hill training will help but your hill runs will be more efficient at helping you reach your marathon goal if they are marathon specific hill runs. Here are some hill training workouts designed specifically for the marathon.

Finding an appropriate hill to run on can be a problem in many areas. If you can’t find a hill that will work for these workouts you can do them on a treadmill. That’s one of the great things about treadmill training – you can design and carry out nearly any type of training run.

Marathon Hill Blasters

Most of your marathon runs are performed at an easy to moderately hard pace. Those are good paces for improving your endurance, marathon goal pace running and lactate turn point but you also need some hard, high intensity running. This high intensity marathon hill workout fits the bill.

  • Description:  Run  6 to 10 repeats of about 300 to 400 meters up a steep hill of 8% to 12% elevation. Run at a pace that feels hard or right around 5K intensity. Your actual pace will be slower due to the incline but try to maintain 5K race intensity for the entire workout.
  • Pace:  A hard pace or about 5K race pace intensity. Judge your pace by perceived exertion, not by actual timed pace.
  • Recovery: Recover between each hill repeat by walking or running at a very easy pace down the hill. As soon as you reach your starting point at the bottom of the hill turn around at begin your next repeat.

Marathon Hill Repeats

This marathon hill run is similar to the hill blasters except you are running further at a slightly easier pace.

  • Description:  Run 4 to 8 repeats of 1000 to 1200 meters up a moderate to steep hill of around 8% to 12% elevation.  Concentrate on maintaining a strong steady pace throughout this hill climb.
  • Pace:  Goal marathon race pace. For this workout try to run at your marathon pace, don’t judge your pace using perceived exertion.
  • Recovery: Recover by walking or jogging down the hill at an easy pace. Begin your next repeat as soon as you reach your starting point at the bottom of the hill.

Marathon Hill Fartlek

This marathon hill training run is actually very fun and is an excellent run for improving both your running strength and your lactate turn point. The only problem with this hill workout is finding a hilly course or trail that will work. You may need to do this one on a treadmill.

  • Description:  Run between 6 and 12 miles on a hilly, rolling trail or course with frequent elevation changes between downhill running and 15% elevation. The exact distance of each segment of this unstructured run is not critical as long as you are changing elevation or incline frequently and are able to include some steep hill running. For your first attempt at this workout limit your distance to 6 miles and gradually build up to 12 miles as you progress through your program.
  • Pace:  Goal marathon race pace.
  • Recovery: No recovery

Marathon Hill Climb

This is a very difficult marathon hill run but it is also highly effective. This hill run takes a toll on your body so don’t do this one very often and don’t do it within 3 weeks  of your marathon. This marathon hill climb is also a good way to test your marathon race fitness level.

  • Description: Run between 10 and 20 miles up a steady grade of between 5% and 8%. If you do this one on the road or trail be sure you are fit enough for the easy run back down or have a mode of transportation to get back to the bottom of the hill.
  • Pace: Goal marathon race pace
  • Recovery: No recovery

Marathon Race Simulator

Most marathon courses have at least some hills. This race simulator will prepare you for the elevation changes of some of the more hilly marathons. This is also a good training run to prepare you for the hilly Boston course. You will probably need to do this marathon hill run on a treadmill because of the important timing of the hills.

  • Description:  Do an 18 to 23 mile long run. Perform the first 12 miles alternating every mile between 1% incline and 5% incline. Do miles 13 through 16 at 1% elevation then increase the incline to 8% for mile 16 through 18. Finish your long run at 1% elevation.
  • Pace: Run the first 12 miles at an easy endurance pace or about 30 seconds per mile slower than your goal marathon pace. Run the rest of your long run at goal marathon race pace.
  • Recovery: No recovery