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.

Coach: Dennis Barker, author and coach of runners from high school to Olympic level

Hill: Benhill Road, St. Paul, MN
Length: 650m
Elevation Gain: 90 Feet
Average Grade: 4%
Surface: Paved street
The workout: Options: 8×200, 8×400 or 4×650
Bonus credit: Run a ladder such as 2×200, 2×300, 1×400 + 2×300 + 2×200

Benhill Road climbs gradually at a 2–5% grade in a straight line for about 350m. Then it rounds a turn to the right, increasing in grade to 7–10% for about 200m before becoming more gradual again on the last 100. The turn hides the highest part of the hill, keeping runners from holding back too much in anticipation.

The hill is marked off in 100 meter segments, letting us do a variety of workouts here depending on the type of athlete and time of year. Examples include:

  • Straight sets of 8×200, 8×400 or 4×650
  • Up and down ladder such as 2×200, 2×300, 1×400 + 2×300 + 2×200
  • Descending ladder such as 4×400 + 4×200 + 4×100

It’s enough of a hill to provide good muscle stimulation and a higher heart rate, but not too steep to inhibit running form. The increasing grade near the end of longer intervals boosts intensity when fatigued and builds mental toughness.

photo: Dennis Barker

This is a good hill to do during the early track season (March) in Minnesota because there is frequently still snow on the area tracks. The hill is mostly in the sun so if it snows it’s clear within a day.

It’s exactly one mile from the high school which makes a good warm up and cool down for beginners, and easy to add on some additional distance for more advanced athletes.

Dennis Barker has coached All-State runners at the high school level, NCAA All-Americans at the collegiate level, an Olympian at the professional level of the sport, as well as runners of all abilities. He is the author of The River Road, a running novel. More coaching and book information is available at coachbarker.com