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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hill Training... Gotta Love It!

Today I completed my first truly difficult hill workout.  As much as I complain about the lack of trails in West Michigan, I am fortunate to have access to the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Specifically, I have access to sand dunes.  Sweet, sweet sand dunes.  

For those of you that ever have the opportunity to visit Grand Haven, Michigan, you have to run Five Mile Hill a few times.  It is located near the State Park.  The paved hill is one of the better training hills in the area.  It consists of a 1/4 paved road with a 10% grade.  Standing at the top, you can see about five miles offshore in Lake Michigan (hence the name.)  At the top, you can either go down the other paved section down to street level, or run down a sand hill on the back side.  The sand hill has a 20% grade.  See map below:

I ran five "loops."  Each loop started with a run up the sand hill, then down one of the asphalt road legs.  I'd cross to the other leg on the flat road level sidewalk, then run up the other leg.  Finally I would run down the sand hill.  

This was also one of my fist midday runs.  Temps approached 87° with fairly high humidity.  The day had been cloudy... until I ran.  At least I was able to achieve decent heat acclimation training.

The run totaled a mere 4.6 miles, but had an elevation change of around 2000 feet.  Total time was a pedestrian 45:42 with my slowest pace (~28 minutes/mile) near the top of the sand hill, while my fastest pace was 4:37 going down the sand hill.  Here's the elevation profile:

Hopefully, I will be able to squeeze in at least two hill sessions per week for the next month.  Based on prior experience, this is one of the most important aspects to ultra training.  The ability to run hills effectively can be the difference between finishing and abject failure.

While I am envious of my mountain-dwelling friends, I am also thankful to have training opportunities such as Five Mile Hill.  What do the rest of you use for hill work?


  1. Um, hills? ;)

    Sounds like a fun run. I actually prefer running hills to almost anything.

  2. That's an awesome elevation profile. That should get you set for the ups and downs.

    Here's my special hill:

    Here's my regular route ("hillwork" being repeats up that steep one just past mile 4):

    It's definitely good brain training; I'm used to running hills on my easy days, so mountains don't scare me a bit. That doesn't mean I'm fast or don't get tired, I'm just not scared, which counts for something.

  3. My best hill runs are when I run near the mountain epic course at Sunday River:

    More local and more often run is Pineland Farms, which doesn't have any 2000 foot climbs but has constant 50 foot climbs...the 25k course comes out to the same net ascent/descent:

  4. My hill starts at ~6.6 miles. You can drag over the bottom bar to see the different elevations and distance.

    The first bit of that hill is brutal. I end up doing switchbacks. It eventually levels out, but it gets the job done and makes me feel great after I'm done.

  5. Hey Guys. My name is Nick Lennon and I am interested in spreading the barefoot running revolution to American universities. I am working in London as an intern at a shoe company called Terra Plana, which specializes in the barefoot running shoe. I have been working with Galahad Clark, the head of the barefoot running field, to design and carry out this summer project. My goal is to spread the idea of barefoot running to the United States, mainly focusing on college students. I am a rising junior at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, majoring in Sport Administration and Business. By the end of this summer project, I hope to start barefoot running clubs in US universities and continue the barefoot revolution.

    I would appreciate any help, suggestions, or contacts you would like to provide me with to strengthen the network of barefoot runners. I am basically starting from the ground up to see how much of an impact I can make. If you are interested in helping out or know someone who would be interested, I can send a pair of our barefoot running shoes, called the Evo, to you for free. Once again, I am not trying to sell our shoe specifically, but I am trying to strengthen the barefoot running revolution and introduce it in American colleges. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon! Happy running!

    Nick Lennon

  6. In regards to my comment above, you can contact me at: if you are interested!

  7. During the winter, I like to run this route.

    I haven't done any dedicated hill workouts since the snow thawed and I could once again follow the trails; they all run up and down 200 ft river bluffs. I actually have to make certain that I get some distance on a flat course once a week, since that's become one of my weak points.