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Training - The Critical Weeks

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How to overcome the hill challenges

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Marathon Success Secrets

How To Improve Your Training

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'26.2' - The Marathon Training Website: 

Conquer Those Hills!

Hills are hard work, and marathon hills are even harder! 

In our marathon survey, the top reason people gave for not meeting their time goal was 'adverse conditions'. “Hilly Course” was often cited as being a cause. The article below discusses things you can do to run well on hills both during training and the marathon event.

Be Prepared:

This might sound obvious, but if you are going to run a hilly marathon course you need to train on hills. Actually your marathon training should always include some hill work as our Marathon Training Program suggests. 

You must do this hill work to get your heart rate up and exercise some under-utilized muscles. Running successfully up a long hill is also a great confidence booster. If you can do this regularly, without over-training, you will be mentally well prepared to tackle the marathon – flat or hilly! 





Don’t push too hard on the hills, (especially early in a marathon) because you will expend a lot of energy you are going to need later on. It’s much better to relax, slow down and try and maintain your normal running form (stride, posture) as much as possible. Your stride will be shorter of course, and you’ll need to lift your knees instead of pushing hard from the back of your legs. Ideally you will be putting out the same, or just slightly more, effort than running on the flat. This needs practice, which is why you include regular hill training in your marathon program.

During the race don’t try to keep up with others, who seem to ‘storm’ up every hill. They could easily be running into oxygen debt, and if you stick to your hill training routine you will soon catch up with them.



Running downhill can cause as much pain as going up. If your legs are tired you will definitely feel this (again in the quads) as you descend. If the hill is steep and you have to hold yourself back it gets even worse.

During your training you should focus on downhill running as well as the uphill parts. But be careful, your knees can suffer with too much or to hard downhill running. If you have had knee problems previously my advice is to cut back on this kind of training and avoid the really hilly marathons.


Other Training: 

The reason we have a harder time running the hills is that we use different muscle groups. The quadriceps


 especially will suffer if you haven’t trained properly. Some things you can do to strengthen your quads are:

  • Weight training – leg curls are good. Knee bends with free weights will work also. (As a general note, weight training is a great way to complement your running).

  • Cycling – this is an excellent cross training sport. Nothing gives your quads a better workout than pumping those pedals up a steep hill. I prefer to stand up when doing this and really feel the effort.

  • Hill Repeats – for the truly masochistic, there’s always the hill repeat workout. Yes, you run up a hill, then go back down and do it again! Repeat several times!


Walking breaks:

This is my ‘aspirin’ cure for everything related to marathoning. If you find yourself struggling to get up to the top of a hill, then walk! You won’t be going much slower than you would running, and you’ll be in much better shape for tackling the downhill.


Marathon Course: 

Even ‘flat’ marathons usually turn out to have some hilly sections. At mile 22, just a slight incline can feel like a mountain to your weary legs. So, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the course. Find out where the hills are, so you will be mentally prepared at least. The first time I ran Boston I knew where Heartbreak hill was, but I ended up having to walk part of it anyway!



  • Include regular hill work in your marathon training program

  • Don’t push too hard up hills and run out of energy later

  • Slow down and try to maintain your running form and level of effort

  • Focus on downhill running as well during your training

  • Do cross training exercises like cycling and weights

  • Choose to walk up a hill if necessary, you will recover the time later

  • Know where the hills are on your marathon route!



The 100 Day Marathon Training Program

by Marius Bakken, Olympic Runner

“ I've found a faster, safer, and far easier way, combined with my world-class training methods to help hundreds of motivated marathoners like you drastically slash their personal best times, decrease their training injuries, and eliminate burnout.”

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