Runners are connoisseurs of hills. We’re always on the lookout for the best combination of length, grade, surface and mystique to create effective and memorable workouts. Competitor Running is gathering favorite hills from top coaches and athletes around the country to serve as models for butt-kicking workouts on similar grades in your neighborhood.
Runner: Michael Wardian, record-breaking prolific marathoner and ultra marathoner
Hill: Mt. Sipperly, Arlington, VA (commonly called “Mt. Wardian” since locals found out he lives on it)
Elevation Gain: 81 Feet
Average Grade: 8%
Surface: Paved, bike path and suburban street
The workout: 10 repeats @ full intensity, cruise down and head straight back up
Bonus credit: Keep going for 20 or 30 reps to enhance the endurance effect
Wardian does repeats on this hill just out the door from his house as often as once a week during the heart of training for a marathon or ultra. The hill rises sharply for first 50 meters (15.5% grade) on a bike trail, then it emerges onto a quiet neighborhood street and settles into a steady 7–9% grade until leveling off slightly at the crest. Wardian hits it hard at the beginning and hangs on. Each climb takes about 1:40 to 2:00, then he spends 60–90 seconds running down before heading straight back up.
The workout echoes Wardian’s approach to racing: intense, with minimal recovery. “I love this hill,” Wardian says. “It is steep and aggressive and you can push the entire time. I try and push the pace as fast as I can, and I don’t rest at the top—just turn around and get to the bottom.” The combination of steep ascent and relatively short recoveries works every system, develops muscular strength and enhances his body’s ability to quickly process waste products created from the anaerobic effort.
If he’s training for a mountain race, Wardian prefers to not have any recovery. “I love to do big, steep efforts on my treadmill,” he says. “I put the treadmill at 15% grade and go for a minimum of 1,500 feet, which can take about 25–40 minutes depending on pace. I usually go ‘slow,’ like 4 mph, but it can be a killer. Sometimes I will do 10,000 feet—that takes about 4 hours. Your legs are wobbly at the end for sure.”
Read More: Hit the Hills, Reap the Benefits