Hill Training

When you finish a session three hours later doing a static ‘prisoner squat’ to failure, you really do know that you’ve worked hard.

Robbie and his friend Rebecca ‘Coxy’ Cox had invited a dozen or so runners out for a hill session and we met, all smiles and frivolity, at the car park at Rykas Cafe at the bottom of Boxhill. From here we jogged up to a point about a quarter of the way up the Burford Spur and set up camp here.

The premise of the day was working on strategies for mental perseverance and training on tired legs. Coxy talked us through the differences between eating muscle and building it. On a fairly obvious note, I guess, when running on a flat route for a long time we generally don’t build new muscle, instead it wastes away as it continues to be eaten to fuel the run. What we want to achieve is muscle building by virtue of micro tears which then rebuild themselves – making us stronger.

How do you practise running on tired legs when you’re at the beginning of a run? You get Coxy to start your workout. At our Burford Spur basecamp we set about a monster lactic acid building set of exercises.

10 Squat Jumps, 10 Squat Thrusts
8 Squat Jumps, 8 Squat Thrusts
6 Squat Jumps, 6 Squat Thrusts
4 Squat Jumps, 4 Squat Thrusts
2 Squat Jumps, 2 Squat Thrusts
4 Squat Jumps, 4 Squat Thrusts
6 Squat Jumps, 6 Squat Thrusts
8 Squat Jumps, 8 Squat Thrusts
10 Squat Jumps, 10 Squat Thrusts

Did I mention that this comes without any recovery time?

From here we set off on a number of hill sprints. Full-on, eyes-out, sprinting up hill. 20s, 15s, 12s, 10s, 8s. By now my quads were on fire. So it was time for the really fun stuff.

After a quick gulp of water we set off on about 30 minutes of continual hill running. Robbie’s theory is very much that we should feel as good at the end of a run as we do at the start. We should aim to set off at the speed we would like to be going at the end. For this task that means starting the hill as we would hope to finish, oh and to walk if we needed to!

The Burford Spur

The spur is something of a rare breed in the UK in that it is a long and slow drag uphill. It’s about 0.4miles long and climbs 220ft (according to the garmin) into the sky over that distance. On the first rep (about 3/4 of the whole hill from our basecamp) I walked quite a portion of the climb as the gradient kicked up. I summitted in 3:52 and jogged all the way back down to the road. On the next full slog up the hill I took 6:04 before running the entire way on my third attempt in 5:07. The fourth and final attempt took 5:30.

VERY tired legs = mission accomplished.

Now we come to the next part of the session; an hour or so nice easy run along the North Downs Way, starting off heading uphill (naturally) along the side of the Denbies Estate to Ranmore Common. This was a fantastic opportunity to chat with fellow runners about races and training, kit and preparation. The group had a fantastic mix from 24 hour track racers, to MDS competitors through to novice 10km and sprint-distance triathletes. We also learnt the noble art of dropping the C-Bomb from Coxy – that’s right, Chump!! :-)

Little sprints at the beginning, bigger hill reps in the middle, then the big mother****** at the end
Little sprints at the beginning, bigger hill reps in the middle, then the big mother****** at the end

A gentle cruise back down hill and along the main road saw us back at the Burford Spur for the final two activities of the session. They were vicious!

25 Pressups, 25 Squat Thrusts, 1 minute plank. No knees touching the ground and no rest. Straight into 20, 20, 45s and then 15, 15, 30s. Thankfully, we went at the pace of the fastest person. So although by the end I had done about 6 pressups, when the fastest guy got to 15 we all moved onto squat thrusts. Phew! If we had waited for me I think we’d still be on that hill now!

And finally, the last exercise of the day. This had earlier been described as ‘prison yoga’ and I was intrigued to find out what that entailed. I now wish I had never found out! Coxy had saved the best for last and this task was all about the mental ability to keep on pushing. No matter how big or small your muscles are, this was going to be all about mental toughness in pushing through the pain barrier. Adopting a squat position; bum level with knees we had to stay here to failure. Everyone’s muscles were burning now, it was all about getting through it.

I failed.

My squat was pretty good actually; certainly less bending at the waist than some others. But at the first twinge of ITB related knee pain I welcomed defeat and stood up.

At the end of the day I really, really, felt like I had worked hard, but it had been a really rewarding experience. Thanks must go out to the other guys who I was running with today and to Robbie and Coxy for beasting us up and down that hill. They are likely to offer this training session again some time soon, and I cannot recommend it more highly. If you are able to come play on the hills with these guys, then I encourage you to do so. I will definitely be back for more.

What an idiot!

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