Tempo Infused Hill Repeats

No Vert, No Prob: Try This Hill Repeat Workout for Faster Mountain Runs

Adding a tempo run before these ascending hill repeats turns any run-of-the-mill incline into a true mountain workout.

Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in a mountain town, it can be hard finding consistent elevation gain to properly train for mountain races. If you don’t have easy access to tons of vert, this workout is for you.

The workout has two parts: a short tempo run, followed by hill repeats that get longer with each rep. Most of the mountain races like the Cirque Series or Skyrunner start climbing right out of the gate and keep climbing for 3-5 miles. That’s a bit of shock to the system.

While you might not be running a very fast pace — because you’re climbing — the aerobic effort is still hard. By adding a short tempo before starting the hill repeats, you’re able to mimic that aerobic shock on the first hill repeat while working to improve your aerobic capacity.

Following the short tempo, launch right into hill repeats that are purposely designed to get longer with each repeat versus the typical descending ladder you see with most hill workouts.

By increasing the distance of the hill repeats as the workout progresses (as opposed to decreasing them), you’re forced to run the longer vert repeats while tired. This approach also teaches you to pace yourself, because the later reps require more energy.

Tempo Infused Hill Repeats

Tip: It helps to do a little logistical groundwork before trying this one. Find the longest incline you can run. Trail is obviously preferred, but if that’s not an option, the road will work. Look for one with a moderate to steep grade, ideally 6-12%.

A great tool I use to search out running routes and incline grades is Gmaps Pedometer. Once you find your incline, take a look at the 2 miles leading up to the hill. The best-case scenario is a relatively flat route that’s not too technical — something you can move quickly on without worrying about rolling an ankle.

Now that you’ve picked out your route, here’s the workout.

Hill Repeat Workout for Mountain Training

Beginner

  • Warmup: 1-2 miles starting at an easy pace, gradually picking up the pace to a moderately hard pace
  • Run roughly 1 mile at tempo pace to the start of your predetermined hill; you can use this running calculator to find your tempo pace
  • Once you reach the bottom of your hill, run up it at a moderately fast pace for 30 seconds; turn around and jog back to the start and do another repeat but for 40 seconds
  • Continue for a total of 5 repeats, adding 10 seconds each rep (30, 40, 50, 60, 70 seconds)
  • Cooldown: 1 mile at an easy pace

Intermediate

  • Warmup: 2 miles starting at an easy pace and gradually picking up to a moderately hard pace
  • Run roughly 2 miles at tempo pace to the start of your predetermined hill; you can use this running calculator to find your tempo pace
  • Once you reach the bottom of your hill, run up at a moderately fast pace for 1 minute; turn around and jog back to the start and do another repeat but for 90 seconds
  • Continue for a total of 5 repeats, adding 30 seconds each rep (1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, and 3 minutes)
  • Cooldown: 2 miles at an easy pace

The Beast

  • Warmup: 3-5 miles, starting at an easy pace and gradually picking up to a moderately hard pace
  • Run roughly 2 miles at tempo pace to the start of your predetermined hill; you can use this running calculator to find your tempo pace
  • Once you reach the bottom of your hill, run up at a moderately fast pace for 2 minutes; turn around and jog back to the start and do another repeat but for 3 minutes
  • Continue for a total of 5 repeats, adding 1 minute each rep (2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 minutes)
  • Cooldown: 2 miles at an easy pace

Hill Repeat Training: Recommended Gear

If you’re in the market for a new pair of running shoes, the Salomon Sense Ride 3 is by far one of the best trail running shoes on the market right now. The Sense Ride 3 is my go-to for any faster training run like this workout. It’s responsive for faster running yet holds enough cushioning and protection underfoot to keep you comfortable.


Cory Smith is a Santa Barbara, California-based athlete, online running coach, and freelance journalist specializing in running- and climbing-related content and gear reviews. He draws from over 25 years as an elite runner and rock climber for ideas, inspiration, and expertise. Check out his portfolio at www.storiesbycory.com.

His work has been featured in Outside Magazine, Trail Runner, GearJunkie, Gear Patrol, Muscle and Fitness, Philadelphia Magazine, and Gear Institute.