“All up” hill intervals for mountain running

Triple Tree trail, Bozeman

If you’ve ever followed a structured running plan, you’ve almost certainly suffered through hill repeats and/or hill sprints. Run hard up a hill, recover as you go back down, repeat. “All up” hill intervals remove the comfy downhill portion and require you to keep moving uphill as you recover. Yeah, I went there.

Why would you want to do these intervals? If, like me, you live in a mountainous area and want to trail run, they’ll probably naturally become part of your weekly routine. Many mountain trails climb uphill for miles at a time; it only makes sense to train for (and on) those long climbs. If you live in the flatlands and are training for a race with long climbs, you’ll also want to prepare yourself for the continuous uphill.

Of course, one way to train for running long uphills is to just run them. The intervals come into play on grades that are too steep to run continuously. “Too steep to run continuously” will vary depending on your hill running experience. For me, it starts at roughly 10-12% grade. Once you start running, you’ll find out pretty quickly whether your hill is “too steep”.

A couple notes on the workouts: I would start at maybe 10-15 minutes and gradually increase your uphill time from there. When I say “moderately hard effort”, I mean something around a half/10K pace, or the pace at which you can just barely speak in full sentences. And of course, do a warm up first.

Disclaimer: I am not a running coach; this is not professional advice, so don’t take it as such. This is just what I do myself.

Uphill intervals to prepare you for the long, continuous climbs of mountain running.

The intervals are listed roughly in order of difficulty, easiest to hardest, though you can always adjust the difficulty by changing your pace.

Effort-based fartlek

I recommend starting with fartlek-type intervals to get a feel for pace and effort. Your pace for moderately-hard uphill effort will feel slow – reallllly slow. It will probably take a few runs to get used to. Find a trail that averages around 8-12% grade, or set your treadmill incline there.

Start out running at what you think will be a fairly easy pace. (If you’re on a treadmill, try starting about 2-3 minutes/mile slower than your easy pace.) You’ll likely find that the effort required to maintain that pace increases quickly. When your effort reaches the point where you would struggle to say more than a few words at a time, slow to an easy-paced walk until you’re at the effort level of an easy run. Repeat these intervals for the length of your workout, trying to increase the length of your run intervals while staying at the same effort level.

When you find a pace that you can hold with a moderately hard effort for at least minute or two, remember that pace as you move on to some time-based intervals.

Positive rest intervals

Positive rest = rest intervals are longer than work intervals. My personal favorite is 2 minutes work/3 minutes rest. You’ll probably want to start with 1/2 intervals before moving on to 2/3, and maybe beyond. As with the fartleks, run at a moderately hard pace for the work intervals.

Equal rest intervals

Simple math here: the work and rest intervals are the same length. 2/2, 3/3, etc. Run at a moderately hard pace, recover with easy walking. You know the drill by now.

Negative rest intervals

Now the rest intervals are shorter than the work intervals. Start by gradually decreasing the rest from your equal rest intervals; say, 2/1:30 or 3/2:30. If you decrease your rest too much, too soon, you will reach a point in your workout where it feels impossible to stay at “moderately hard” effort. (I know from experience.)

If that happens, make your next rest interval however long it takes to feel like you can run the entirety of the work interval at moderately hard effort. You should never feel as though you’re putting in sprint-level effort – or even 5K effort. These intervals are training for long climbs, not fast ones.

I’m at the top, now what?

Run at an easy pace back to your starting point. Or walk, if you prefer. Foam roll. Stretch. Expect to be a little bit sore tomorrow.



Long hills: yay or nay?

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday Coaches’ Corner

17 Comment

  1. These sound fun! Although there’s a lack of mountains in Iowa, we have some hills (especially in my neighborhood).

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Only a runner would call this “fun”!

  2. I live in the hill country, so I know hills all too well. They are a great way to build both stamina and strength!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      They sure are!

  3. Kim G says: Reply

    Although I don’t like hills, these seem kind of fun! A great way to mix up hill training.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      At least you end up at the top of the hill this way!

  4. You are definitely an inspiration for me. I really want to start small and practice trail running and then work up to inclines. Bookmarked this post for later hahah

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      That’s the way to do it! You could also do these intervals for just a few minutes at a time.

  5. I will need to start doing some up hill intervals to train for our SanFrancisco to Napa Ragnar race in November.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I bet that will be super hilly!

  6. Debbie says: Reply

    I think this would probably be helpful as I train for my Ragnar trail race. I’m not sure that it would involve much running though at that steep of an incline :-).
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    1. Hannah says: Reply

      There was very little running when I started working on this! It’s gradually improving.

  7. Awesome workout ideas. I like the effort based ones, especially on an incline that’s hard for a GPS to track. Cool stuff.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Effort-based is the only way to go on steep hills.

  8. We don’t really have mountains here (but it is hilly). I did downhill repeats for my race, because, you know, it was downhill all the way. Although downhill basically translated into running up & down a pretty steep hill for 3 miles — not quite what the race entailed.

    I was so sore after my race (DOMs) — haven’t had that after a race in a long time!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Yeah, it’s amazing how different running a long way down (or up) feels from doing up & down repeats!

  9. […] off whatever he had for that long. On the plus side, being sick gave me enough time to publish not one, but two other blog […]

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