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Legendary football player offers helpful hill running advice applicable to marathoners

One of the greatest running backs in the history of football, Walter Payton, was famous for his hill workouts.

He ran one hill so many times that locals named the hill after him.

He even invited some of the top track runners from the area to the hill to workout with him.

They would run with him until they wore out, gave up, and turned around to go home while Payton kept running.

In a nutshell, he had such a great combination of strength and endurance that he could even beat pure runners at their craft.

While Payton was not an endurance runner, he probably could have held his own in a 5K and it is safe to say that, from the accounts of his legendary workouts, he is one of the greatest hill runners who ever lived.

So, what can you learn from Payton? What advice did he give about hill running?

In one interview, he said that if you want to start running hills, you should find a hill around 60-80 yards long and it should have a fairly steep grade.

It should be challenging enough that it will only take 1-2 reps before you find the hill humbling.

It will be so challenging that you will begin to cultivate a desire to beat that hill.

Next time, you will want to do 3-4 reps.

Then, you will aim for 6-7 reps.

I suppose if you keep upping the rep counts, you will spend enough time on the hill that the locals will name a hill after you.

This is a pretty good strategy, but how can you realistically apply it in the context of an endurance training plan?

I have one of the simplest workout recommendations ever to incorporate Payton's plan into your training routine.

It is a low pain method to start hill running again and will make the process pretty fun.

On one of your hard workout days, cut out a few reps at the end of the workout.

i.e. If you are prescribed to do 1 kilometer repeats, skip a rep or two at the end.

Instead of completing those reps, follow Payton's strategy.

Find a steep hill that you can run up for 10-12 seconds.

Do 1-2 reps that day. Rest around 1 minute between each rep.

Next time you have this same opportunity, do 3-4 reps.

Eventually, you want to work your way up to 10-12 reps of 10-12 second hill sprints.

10-12 reps should be good enough.

This task can turn into an entire workout of its own as well.

It is pretty quick to complete so it works well when you are limited for training time.

Even better, this task also should be enough to give you some positive adaptations to your leg spring stiffness.

Improving leg spring stiffness is important because it typically means improved running economy (greater speed without greater oxygen utilization), which will be helpful for endurance events.

Want to learn more about that?

You can read more about leg spring stiffness here: https://blog.stryd.com/2019/12/05/the-secret-of-running-run-smart-to-run-faster/

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Angus Nelson

Angus Nelson

Angus is a cofounder of Stryd. He has trained for and raced every distance from 50 meters to Half Ironman & is pushing the run power revolution forward!

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