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The Peninsula Hill Program

By Joe Kelly
Peninsula High School

Any movie fan knows that in The Sound of Music Julie Andrews and all the Von Trapps joined hands and ran through the hills of Salzburg singing, "The hills are alive with the sound of music." The key word here is hills. Did you ever hear anyone singing, "The flatlands are alive with the sound of music"? Of course not. And, any runner knows that hill work is the backbone of a periodized program.

At Peninsula High School, and at the former Palos Verdes High School, there is nowhere you can run without going up and down, up and down. In fact, we sometimes have to drive to get away from hills. Honest. Nevertheless, hill workouts have been an integral part of our cross country program over the years, and we build regular workouts into our program at least twice every seven days. If hill workouts are one of our staples, our "hill circuit" is our most important type of hill workout. There's nothing terribly original about it; it's a basic Lydiard circuit that we have modified to fit our needs and that brings tremendous results in November. But we do it religiously every 14 days. Same place, same thing--boring. But our kids believe in it, and it's the only part of our program that doesn't involve a great deal of variety.

We start the circuit with a good warm-up, say five miles if we are doing one or two circuits, fewer miles if we are doing three or four circuits. The hill itself is fairly severe, similar to Reservoir Hill at Mt. SAC, and .35 mile long. We either run this segment hard (as in considerably faster than race effort), or we bound it, springing high into the air off the toes. One coaching point here is that we emphasize looking up the hill rather than only a few yards ahead. We don't want anyone to get away in competition, and if the head is down the eyes can't see the other runners. Early in the season we bound one and run one, and the effort involved is very demanding. We also emphasize the importance of the pack and, like coaches everywhere, accelerating the last few yards to move quickly off the top of the hill. Naturally, since the workload on the heart is less once the hill has been conquered, the body can tolerate the increased pace as the pulse rate drops.

From here we move onto a flat grassy field that is .4-mile. Emphasis is on recovery and striding out, getting the muscles elongated once again after the hill demands. Our kids don't want to stride out; they want to jog, so they have to be trained to open the stride even though the pace is not fast. Jack Daniels has some important ideas about cadence that apply here.

We then go from the grassy flats to some relatively gentle dirt downhill. This .4-mile segment is done very fast and usually timed. The idea is to demand near maximum performance here, saving nothing for the rest of the workout. The recovery is so little and the workout so long, however, that our athletes can't really run great times. But they can run great efforts, and those efforts produce the desired fatigue we want.

We place great importance on proper downhill form, and we try to get our athletes to first control thir hips by tilting the pelvis forward, and then to control their lean and arms. We are constantly on them to run perpendicular to the downhill surface. As the year wears on, their times improve significantly even though the number of circuits is increased.

At the bottom of the downhill, which is also part of our cross country course, there is a quarter mile of wood chips on which we now allow the kids to shuffle into the next phase. This last phase of our hill circuit involves power running. Near the start of the season we will sprint for 30 seconds and walk for 30 seconds, and we will do four sets of these. As September becomes October and then November, we increase the power running to 45 and 60 seconds with equal rest of jogging rather than walking. Sets remain the same. After a recovery of about a quarter mile (depending on where they end up on the sprints), they are ready to begin the circuit again.

This circuit is our catechism, our Rosary, and we never vary it, although we do vary almost everything else we do. We try to determine how far we think our team will go into the championship season and then structure our hill circuit in such a way that the last one is finished about fourteen days prior to the last competition. Of course, we also reduce the number of circuits as the year winds down, so that the kids do no more than two the last time they do them. In total they get in almost two miles each time they complete the loop, so it is a most demanding workout that must be followed by appropriate rest.

As mentioned earlier, we try to run some kind of a hill workout twice weekly--even and especially as the end of the season closes in. If we are competing on our course during the week, we count that as a hill workout. We have three major hills on our course, so we never want the team to get too tired. By the way, our course records are 16:24 for boys and 19:14 for girls--and we have had some outstanding individuals over the years--so you can appreciate the difficulty of the geography.

If we are in a week that excludes our base hill circuit, but that includes a competition on our course, we will do one of two things. We will run hill repeats, hills done at anywhere from .3 miles to longer .7 miles. We like to extend the distance of the hills later in the season rather than earlier, because to run them correctly (and timed as we sometimes do) takes great strength and stamina. By taking an extended run before the hill workout, early in the season when legs are still developing, we can accomplish the same task, but the kids don't know we're being sneaky. One of our last workouts before going into CIF is a series of long hills done very fast, but we take shorter warmup because we are starting to cut back mileage at this time. As an alternative to this kind of workout, we will sometimes attack a longer hill (as in one, two or more miles) and Indian run it. The team always likes this kind of a workout and its benefits, late in the season once their strength allows them to be successful, are great.

Without any question whatsoever, any success we have had comes from our incorporating consistent hill workouts into our program. In everything we do we make a concentrated effort to get on them twice weekly. Although our performances often go into the tank for a period of time at mid-season, it is a rare year that finds Peninsula athletes performing less well at the end of the season.

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