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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. PodiumRunner is gathering favorite hills from coaches and athletes around the world to serve as models for butt-kicking workouts on similar grades in your neighborhood.
Runner: Mike Verdisco, 54, lifetime runner, lately turned regional-class ultra trail runner (50K–100 Mile) and running adventurer.
Hill: 4 spokes down and up from where a bike trail crosses a running trail at the top of “Croom Mountain,” near Brooksville, FL
Length: 1.25 miles total circuit
Spoke 1 about .5 mile (400m each way); Spoke 2 about .3 miles (250m each way); Spoke 3 about .2 mile (160m each way); Spoke 4 about .3 mile (240m each way)
Elevation Gain: Approximately 50 feet per climb, 200 feet per circuit
Average Grade: 4% on longest spoke, 10% on shortest
Surface: Sandy single-track
The workout: 4–6 sets of the full circuit, up and down each spoke without pause, staying strong going up and fast on the downs
Bonus credit: Run roundtrip back to trailhead (5.0 miles) then complete 2–4 more sets before cooling down 2.5 miles. Or, embed 1–4 sets of spokes into a long run, one to two times over the course of the run.
Living in Florida, “hill” is a loosely defined term and one has to get creative. My training group has resorted to a section of the Florida Scenic Trail in the Croom wildlife management area that we have coined “Croom Mountain.” Croom Mountain is a 50- foot high sand mound where the hiking trail and a mountain bike trail cross at the top, providing four “spokes” that we cover up and down. Each spoke starts at the top of Croom Mountain (the hub) and then runs down to a set point — the top of the next small rise in the trail — where you turn around and run back up to the top.
Part of the appeal of the workout is that each spoke provides a different feel and effort. Spoke 1 is the longest section at close to a half mile round trip and provides a long, winding gradual slope. Spoke 2 is much steeper but has a flat section mid-way that provides a break. Spoke 3 is steep but shorter, and the finish on spoke 4 is a longer sharp descent / climb. The full 4-spoke circuit (a set) is a little over 1.25 miles.
Running the Spokes usually starts with a 2.5 mile warmup from the trailhead out to Croom Mountain but sometimes we will incorporate the workout into a longer loop. The workout consists of running 4 to 6 sets of Spokes, concentrating on both being fast on the down as well as strong on the up. The goal of the workout is to make the spokes flow from one into the next which can be a challenge as there is a temptation to lag at the top before moving onto the next spoke. This temptation only grows stronger as you get later into the workout.
The idea for the spokes originated with my training partner Scott a few years back as a way to train for the Pikes Peak marathon in August so we began running them in June and July — and always seem to run them mostly over the summer. We now usually run at least one set anytime we are at Croom, which is most Saturdays from May to October. (Croom stays dry over the summer whereas a lot of the other trails we run get flooded.)
Lately we have been incorporating the spokes into the main running loop. Depending on which loop we run we hit the spokes at mile 2.5 or mile 15 during a 20 mile-run. We will then do anywhere from 1 to 4 sets of spokes before continuing on the loop. If I am feeling really ambitious or panicking because my fitness is not where it needs to be for an upcoming event, after completing the loop I might go back out the 2.5 miles for 2 to 3 more sets of spokes.
Every other week or so, I will run a spoke specific workout — these are hard days. It’s about 2.5 miles from the trailhead out to the spokes. From there I will typically do 4 to 6 sets and then return 2.5 miles back to the trailhead to reload with water and go back out to the spokes for a second round of 2 to 4 sets. That is the “plan” but the second round can get pretty hot and usually ends up with 2 sets. My record is 2 rounds with 8 sets. The course record is 3 rounds with 10 sets.
The hill may not seem like much, but combine it with the heat and humidity of a Florida August day, throw in a few biting flies for good measure, and running the Spokes makes for a perfectly miserable time. One that I thoroughly enjoy (once it is over).
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