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Jackrabbits Discover Signal Hill Gold

Article By: George Wright
Long Beach Poly, Long Beach, CA

While 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 time.

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 School.

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 (4 minutes).

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 camp.

Late August/September

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 grades varying 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 PR.

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