August 16, 2007

A short history of hill repeats

Arthur Lydiard is indelibly associated with the history of long distance running in New Zealand. It's a history of great achievements in the 1960s, lack of official recognition in the 1970s, and growing appreciation for Lydiard's achievements in the last two decades. It has been interesting for me to watch a talented guy in Arizona work through Lydiard's schedules, including hill repeats, faithful to the schedules Lydiard drew up in Auckland and beyond.

Although Lydiard is associated with New Zealand, within the country he is associated with Auckland running. Hill repeats are a good example of the association with Auckland. Around the country, the influence of Lydiard on New Zealand running is clear, though "the schedules" have been modified by succeeding generations of coaches who have been dissatisfied with the periodization or other aspects. I could not claim that no one in Wellington does hill repeats, or that no one ever has, but I will claim that there's a strong tradition in Wellington running that disregards hill repeats for the long or hard run "over the hills".

Lydiard's hill repeats are not a general theory of the best way to train, but a specific adaptation to the local environment. Compared to Wellington, Auckland has lower, fewer, and flatter hills. You really have to work hard to avoid the hills in Wellington, and you can design a relatively long run with regular steep climbs and steps that gives you all the benefits of the hill repeats with none of the structure. You come to a hill, you run up it hard. You come to a set of 200-500 steps. You run up them. As my high school coach used to say, "you can shuffle uphill, but if you shuffle up steps you'll break your legs." If you think hills are good for your leg strength, steps are even better. Taking them one at a time teaches quick movement, while bounding up two or more at a time builds power in your push off. If you have a flat stretch you might stride out a bit, but save something for the hills to come. You could plausibly do 20 miles or more in this fashion in Wellington. This is much less possible in Auckland. The hill repeats were the way to get in lots of hills in that environment.

The Wellingtonian attitude to hills is in no way a disdain for the idea that hills are really good for you. The disdain is for the idea that you need a formal structure to running on hills. When you live in a place where 300m of vertical gain in an hour's recovery run is normal you really don't to run hill repeats.

Posted by eroberts at August 16, 2007 7:27 PM