Training for a Hilly Half Marathon on a Treadmill

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | By Hal Higdon
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Training for a Hilly Half Marathon on a Treadmill

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I am training for the half connected to the San Francisco Marathon. It will be my first half, and I am currently using your Intermediate Half program. The trouble is that everything around here is flat, so I have had to turn to the treadmill for help. What incline should I use to train for those hills? I am having trouble finding the specific incline of the route, or interpreting what the available information means. A course description says that the minimum elevation 26, maximum 296, with a gain of 819 feet. I don't know how to interpret that.

Also, how many of the runs (or which runs) should be done on the treadmill? Should I use the "varied" setting or just keep it on a certain climb? Any specific exercises to help build strength?


I would not overthink the situation. 819 feet divided by 13.1? That comes out to 62.5 feet per mile of climb. Yes, that is somewhat steep. Normally, I would class the course as "rolling" more than "hilly." But on closer examination of the map, I notice that the last 3 miles contain 200 feet of climbing. Gulp! Not much of a problem if you live and train in the Bay Area, but for someone in, say, Kansas or Florida, I can understand why you might be nervous.

Still, it's not like you are going to be given an 819-foot mountain with a straight ascent that does not vary. You're going to be running up and down all the way, at least until those last 3 miles. Some inclines will be steeper or gentler than others.

That being the case, I would play around with different angles. It sounds like your treadmill has a varied setting, but you can simply manipulate the buttons yourself rather than trust whatever formula the ‘mill is set to follow. At least some of your training should be for a period of 10 or more minutes, angle kept the same. Not too steep. Do not overdo the setting, so you are gasping for breath at the end.

Once a week on the 'mill should be enough. And are you sure there are no hills where you live, not even if you got in a car and drove to find them. Even flat-as-a-board Jacksonville, where we spend the winter, has bridges over the St. Johns River that runners use for their hill training.

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