running up to the Poop out hill viewpoint during the 2000 CIF
Championship, I was asked by a fellow coach, "How do you train
for a course like this?" My quick reply on the run was, "we run
hills." Not a very helpful answer. I'll try to do better this
The program discussed
here is one that has been developed over a period of years at
Poly. It is in no way original thinking on my part, but rather
ideas borrowed from several very successful coaches in Southern
California and then adapted to fit our situation. The benefits
of hill training such as increased strength and VO2 Max, are well
known. The focus of this article
will be on why, what and when we do hill training at Poly High
One of our great physical
limitations due to our inner city location is lack of soft surface
terrain in the vicinity of the school. There are very few open
areas or sizeable parks with grass or dirt on which to run. Many
of the streets are too busy to run on asphalt forcing the team
to run on concrete sidewalks.
Fortunately, a just
one and a quarter mile away sits Signal Hill. When Juan Rodirguez
Cabrillo first sailed into the Bay of Smoke (L.A. Harbor), he
was the first to see the fires on "Loma Sintal." These signal
fires were used at least as early as the 1500's by the Puvuvitam
Indians to communicate with their relatives on Pimu (Santa Catalina
Island) some 26 miles away. The Spanish Padres that settled the
area in the late 1700's continued the long tradition of fires
on the hill. Over the years the land was used for the breeding
of horses, raising of cattle and sheep and with irrigation all
kinds of farming prospered.
In 1922 Black Gold
was discovered and the hill's vast oil reserves were tapped with
a gusher forming a new signal that took 4 days to cap. As one
of the richest oil fields in the world, the hill soon became covered
with so many oil derricks that it became known as "porcupine hill."
Because of oil production, the hill was not subdivided for housing
and open space was preserved.
That open space has
for many years been the training ground for runners for miles
around. At barely 350 feet above sea level, it is the only hill
within radius of15 miles. Though many schools use the hill, only
L.B. Poly is within a short jog of its base. Training here has
brought home a new kind of Signal Hill Gold
Train for the Course
At Poly, we train specifically
for the Mt. SAC course. Besides being site of the Mt. SAC Invitational,
the largest Cross Country Invitational in the U.S., it is also
site of the CIF-SS Championships. It is the gateway to the state
championships. With only 4 of the over 100 schools in Division
One able to advance, success here is of paramount importance.
There have been many successful teams in our area to advance to
CIF only to falter on the hills of Mt. SAC.
During this base period,
we run hills just one day a week. These runs range
from 6 to 9 miles most of which is done on trails. There are no
hill repeats during this period. Each run consists of a 10-minute
warm-up run to the top of signal hill from our meeting area at
Signal Hill Park near the base. At the top, we stretch before
a trail run of 20 to 50 minutes. The cool down run is an easy
jog back to the start.
The last two hill practices
before camp consist of general trail running and some long steep
grades (2-3 minutes) followed by a recovery run back to the start
Summer Training Camp
Those that have put
in the training time are invited to our Mammoth Lakes training
camp. This is truly the highlight of the summer for my wife, volunteer
parents, our runners and me. The camp runs 8 days including one
day of rest. Our runs range from 7 to 14 miles at elevations
between 8,000 and 11,000 ft. Each run is an adventure taking them
to scenic spots in the area including 2 wilderness runs and one
in Yosemite. This has given them great strength and confidence
on hilly courses. Our theme throughout the week is "SAC is FLAT"
meaning that compared to the tough runs done at Mammoth, the infamous
Mt. SAC course is relatively easy. Each camper receives a T-shirt
describing all of the runs with distance and elevation statistics.
All of our runs are done on trails or dirt roads. All campers
have daily jobs ranging from cooking to cleanup. Camp is all about
camaraderie and teamwork. The bonding that begins here may indeed
be the glue that keeps us together through the long season. In
fact, running may be the least important thing that goes on at
After returning from
Mammoth, we continue our weekly hill runs. During this period
we introduce hill repeats. A typical day will consist of a warm-up
run of 2 1/4 miles via streets and trails from school to Hill
Top Park at the top of Signal Hill. We will then do a trail run
of 20 to 40 minutes before assembling for repeats. Then the fun
begins. Our repeats are conducted on famous "Stanley" Street with
from 6% to 18%. Runners do loops, coming up this hill, cresting
at the top and then jogging down a side street back to the start.
The lengths of the uphill portions vary from 150 to 600 yards.
Early season runs consist of repeats on shorter sections. As the
season progresses, the length of the trail run decreases and the
number and length of repeats increases. Following the repeats,
we cool down retracing our 2 1/4 mile route back to school. A
typical hill day will range from 9 to 12 miles. These workouts
will often take the place of an interval session if there are
two races on the weekly schedule.
During this period,
we often do 2 hill runs per week. The number of our long repeats
increases to the point where we do 3 miles of repeats. Added emphasis
is placed on cresting. I usually mark off a 150-yard stretch starting
at the top of the hill. Runners must accelerate and run hard to
the line before going into recovery mode.
Mt. SAC specific workout
We will visit Mt. SAC
one time in October for a workout specific to the course. It consists
of a one mile on the first mile of the course (Valley loop) followed
by stretching on the soccer field. This is followed by an easy
run on miles 2 and 3 of the course followed by a water break.
The main set consists of 2 hard runs on each hill. 2 times Switchback,
2 times Poop Out and 2 times Reservoir hill. On each hill we run
hard both up and down and use flat stretches in between as a recovery.
This session is followed by a water break and a recovery run on
the first mile of the course. Total for the day is about 8 miles.
Mt. SAC Invitational
This race is held during
the 3rd week of October. This is when we find out where we are
in our training. This is the race that will likely determine which
nine runners will represent us in CIF and State. We often have
runners who are faster on flat courses that do not make the team.
After the League Championships
at the end of October, we try to get in a nice hilly tail run
in San Pedro. This marks the beginning of our cutback. Hill runs
will be much shorter (down to 7 miles). We do fewer repeats but
maintain a high intensity level leading up to the CIF-SS Championships.
One fourth of our season's
total mileage is done on hills, and during October the percentage
is one third. Our runners believe that the hill work we do gives
them a competitive edge on courses such as Mt. SAC. In fact, they
look forward to hill workouts so much that I must restrain them
from overdoing it.
This program has produced
eight sub 80-minute team times on the Mt. SAC course since 1997
including a best of 77:28 in 2000. For most of our runners, their
Mt. SAC PR is close to or better than their flat 3-mile course