Runners are connoisseurs of hills. We’re always on the lookout for the best combination of length, grade, surface and mystique on which to create effective and memorable workouts. We savor each hill’s unique blend of effort and fatigue, and its aftertaste of muscle burn, satisfaction and strength.
PodiumRunner is gathering favorite hills from top coaches and athletes around the country for you to sample when you’re in their neighborhood and to use as models for creating butt-kicking workouts on similar grades in your neck of the woods.
Coach: Ben Rosario, former elite runner, coach of the highly-successful HOKA Northern Arizona Elite
Hill: Buffalo Park Hill Circuit, Flagstaff, AZ
Length: 2 miles
Elevation Gain, 1st Hill: 55 feet
Average Grade: 6.5%; First half of hill: 9–11.5%
Elevation Gain, 2nd Hill: 110 feet
Average Grade: 5.6%; Steepest: 8.5%
The workout: Steep downhill @ 3K effort, 200m recovery jog, 250m climb @ 5K effort, long downhill, 200m @ mile race pace, recovery jog, 600m climb @ half marathon effort. Repeat 3X.
Bonus credit: Keep going for 4 or 5 hill circuits.
Every runner should find their very own hill circuit. It can be in a park. It can be in a neighborhood. The location doesn’t really matter. There are just a couple of requirements—uphills and downhills. And hey, throw in a flat section for a stride while you’re at it. I coach the HOKA NAZ Elite team in Flagstaff, Arizona and our preferred hill circuit has all of the above—and at 7,000 feet of elevation, it’s no joke.
Buffalo Park is one of the most iconic places to run in all of Flagstaff. Name any of the famous professional runners who’ve come through town and they’ve run at Buffalo. The three-time NCAA Champions from Northern Arizona University are out there almost every week during the cross country season. The park consists of a two-mile, hilly dirt loop, marked every quarter mile. We use part of that loop for our hill circuit, but not all of it. That would be too easy!
Our circuit goes like this: We start out at a jog for about 200 meters. Next up we run a 150-meter downhill stride at 3k race effort. It’s important to work on downhill running form, especially when you’re training for cross country or for road racing. Then we have another 200 meters or so of jogging before hitting a steep 250-meter uphill at 5k race effort.
That’s when we leave the normal loop and jog across the parking lot to a 600 meter-long monster of a hill. We run down it, again—working on proper downhill running technique, at marathon effort.
After a short jog where the hill flattens out we run a 200 meter stride at mile race effort. That’s followed by a fairly lengthy recovery jog before we tackle the long hill, but going up this time.
Those 600 meters uphill are run at half marathon effort—and they are tough. The key is not to give in as the hill steepens near the top. We have to continue to pop off the ground, stay relaxed in the face and shoulders and continue to drive our arms forward.
After the monster, we jog back across the parking lot and back to the start. The entire circuit is two miles long. Believe it or not, some our athletes have run as many as five of these circuits in one workout, though three is a more typical day.
We will implement this workout just about any time of the year, but we especially like it fairly early in a training segment when we are building aerobic strength, or later in a segment if we are preparing for a hilly race.
So there you have it. The famous Buffalo Park Hill Circuit. Come try it if you ever visit Flagstaff—and find your own hill circuit in your neighborhood.